Types of Sanders and Their Uses

Updated
Get to know which sander does what.

When it comes to sanding, there are plenty of options. You can choose manual sanders or power tools to speed up the process.

Whichever is best for you and the task at hand, check out our rundown of the different types of sanders available.


Types of Sanders

1. Sanding Block

Sanding blocks are the most basic type of sander. They have a surface and some kind of handle or grip. The sandpaper locks into place via two slots at either end of the block, and unlike other sanders, they require manual effort to get results.

PROS:
  • Cheap.
  • Easy to master.
  • Best for detail.
  • Easy to change sandpaper.
CONS:
  • Laborious work.
  • Not suitable for large projects.
  • Energy-sapping.
  • Slow.

Additional Specs

Specialty Finishing, Detail, Small projects
Power Manual
Control Easy
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $

2. Strip Sander

This is another manual sander that resembles a hand-planer. It has a large handle for better grip and control, and this design has stood the test of time, changing little in hundreds of years. For small detailed projects, this is an ideal tool.

PROS:
  • Great for detail.
  • Ideal for small tasks.
  • Achieve smooth results.
  • Suitable for beginners.
CONS:
  • Labor intensive.
  • Slow process.
  • Small projects only.
  • Limited use.

Additional Specs

Specialty Finishing, Detail, Small projects
Power Manual
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $

3. Bow Sander

Product Image of the SANDING BOW

A bow sander gets its name from the bow-shaped body. A strip of sandpaper stretches across the bow and gives you greater control and precision when sanding irregular or curved surfaces. Again, it is a manual tool, although you can replicate this tool using a stationary belt sander.

PROS:
  • Great for curves.
  • Shapes edges.
  • Easy to master.
  • Cheap.
CONS:
  • Specialist tool.
  • Limited uses.

Additional Specs

Specialty Rounding edges, Shaping
Power Manual
Control Moderate to hard
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood
Price $$

4. Belt Sander

Belt sanders are either tabletop or hand-held varieties. They have a strip of sandpaper that scrolls at speed between two cogs to create a fast-moving surface. Tabletop belt sanders are superb for sharpening knives and achieving fine details.

PROS:
  • Ideal for large surface areas.
  • Rapid sanding.
  • Achieve fine detail.
CONS:
  • Hand-held varieties are not suitable for small tasks.
  • Tabletop varieties are not ideal for large projects.

Additional Specs

Specialty Large projects, Small projects, Rough surfaces, Sharpening
Power Electric
Control Moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal
Price $$$

5. Disc Sander

Product Image of the Delta Power Equipment Corp 31-140 Disc Sander, 1/2 Horse Power, 12-Inch

A disc sander resembles an orbital sander in that it has a motor, a dust port and a rotating abrasive disc at the bottom of the tool. The other alternative is a tabletop version with a vertical disc and a plate to support the material.

It is ideal for shaping rather than smoothing wood.

PROS:
  • Best for shaping material.
  • Comes in a tabletop and hand-held version.
  • Easy to swap discs.
CONS:
  • Better for shaping rather than sanding.
  • Limited uses.

Additional Specs

Specialty Small projects, Shaping, Sharpening
Power Electric
Control Moderate
Maneuverability Hand control, Stationary
Used for Wood, Metal
Price $$$

6. Detail Sander

Product Image of the BLACK+DECKER Mouse Detail Sander, Compact Detail (BDEMS600)

As the name suggests, this sander performs detailed work. They typically have a triangular sanding pad to enable you to get into tight spots and achieve super-smooth results. A detail sander is the tool to use when you want your results to show and get the praise they deserve.

PROS:
  • Great for fine detail.
  • Reaches tight spots.
  • Super-smooth finish.
  • Lightweight and maneuverable.
CONS:
  • Only suitable for small projects.
  • Not advisable for use on very rough surfaces.
  • Lighter duties only.

Additional Specs

Specialty Finishing, Detail, Small projects
Power Electric
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $$

7. Orbital Sander

Orbital sanders are the workhorse of the woodshop. When you have a larger project, an orbital sander is your new best friend. It smooths the roughest of surfaces and is a favorite of woodworkers, carpenters, and auto shop owners.

Orbital sanders are not suitable for detailed work, so you will likely start with an orbital sander and progress onto a detail sander.

PROS:
  • Great for major workpieces.
  • Works on rougher surfaces.
  • Ideal for car bodywork.
CONS:
  • Not suitable for detailed work.
  • Not ideal for small tasks.

Additional Specs

Specialty Large projects, Rough surfaces
Power Electric
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $$$

8. Random Orbital Sander

Random orbital sanders look and feel like orbital sanders. They share many of the same attributes except the sanding motion. They get the “random” name thanks to an off-center axis that not only spins but moves the sanding pad from side to side.

This motion is referred to as oscillating, and it works harder than an orbital sander at removing surface material. If you have ultra-rough surfaces to smooth, this is the tool to get.

PROS:
  • Removes more material.
  • Great for robust projects.
  • Ideal for auto repair shops.
  • Works on rough surfaces.
CONS:
  • Lacks detail.
  • Not suitable for small projects.

Additional Specs

Specialty Large projects, Rough surfaces
Power Electric
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $$$

9. Oscillating Spindle Sander (OSS)

Product Image of the WEN 6510T 3.5 Amp Oscillating Spindle Sander,Black

Oscillating spindle sanders are either floor standing or benchtop models. They use an oscillating motion to smooth edges on boards like cabinet doors. A small drum protrudes from a tabletop and moves up and down as well as rotates.

The result is a super-smooth edge without burn marks and patternation on the wood. These tools are typically used in woodshops and bespoke furniture manufacturing.

PROS:
  • Ideal for smoothing edges.
  • Works well with cabinet doors.
  • Burn-free edges.
  • Achieves a high level of detail.
CONS:
  • One-use tool.
  • Expensive.

Additional Specs

Specialty Detail, Finishing, Sanding board edges
Power Electric
Control Moderate to hard
Maneuverability Stationary
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $$$

10. Drywall Sander

Product Image of the WEN 6369 Variable Speed 5 Amp Drywall Sander with 15' Hose

A drywall sander is a specialty tool that removes plaster, paper residue, paint layers, adhesive residue, and loose plaster. They resemble orbital sanders mounted on a long pole with a vacuum tube to remove the dust safely. Imagine a metal detector, and you get the picture.

The vacuum hose is crucial because sanding interior plaster walls is a messy business, and the debris contains pollutants that cause lung conditions. Drywall sanders work when sanding walls, ceilings, and floors.

PROS:
  • Covers large areas.
  • Vacuum hose for dust.
  • Extendable handle.
CONS:
  • Specialty tool.
  • Only suitable for drywall.

Additional Specs

Specialty Large projects, Drywall, Plaster
Power Electric
Control Moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Plaster, Drywall, Interior walls
Price $$$

11. File Sander

Product Image of the WEN 6307 Variable Speed Detailing File Sander with 1/2-by-18' Belt

File sanders are often called finger sanders because they have long, thin sanding strips that give an extended reach and fit the smallest spaces that other sanders struggle to do. For this reason, they are popular in garages and auto repair shops.

They enable the user to get behind tight contours of car bodywork to remove rust and smooth filler. They are not designed for large-scale areas and major projects but are better suited to small and detailed tasks.

PROS:
  • Extended reach.
  • Ideal for awkward spots.
  • Popular with auto repair centers.
CONS:
  • Specialty tool.
  • Only suitable for detailed tasks.

Additional Specs

Specialty Detail, Finishing, Small projects
Power Electric
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $$

12. Table Sander

Product Image of the POWERTEC BD4600 Belt Disc Sander For Woodworking | 4 In. x 36 in. Belt Sander with 6 In. Sanding Disc

Table sanders remove a lot of material quickly. They are not the tool to use when you want the smoothest result. Table sanders enable you to tackle large-scale projects efficiently.

Typically, these sanders use low grit paper to remove as much roughness as possible and shape the wood. You would then need to switch to another method of sanding once you’ve shaped your workpiece.

PROS:
  • Removes a lot of material.
  • Shape wood.
  • Large-scale projects.
CONS:
  • Better for rough surfaces.
  • Not suitable for flooring.

Additional Specs

Specialty Large projects, Rough surfaces
Power Electric
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Stationary
Used for Wood, Metal, Plastic, Composite
Price $$$

13. Drum Sander

Product Image of the JET JWDS-1632 Drum Sander with Stand (723520K)

A drum sander is a powerful tool that uses a sheet of abrasive material fed between drums to drive the sanding motion. It resembles a lawnmower and is only used to sand flooring to a high finish.

The strips of sandpaper are replaceable but make sure you remove any sharp or protruding objects from the floor, or you risk breaking the sandpaper. You can also get drum sanders as freestanding models with the sandpaper wrapped around a spinning drum.

The drum makes it easier to shape the material and create smooth contours.

PROS:
  • Rapid material removal.
  • Ideal for floor sanding.
  • Super-smooth finish.
CONS:
  • Specialty tool.
  • Limited uses.

Additional Specs

Specialty Large projects, Rough surfaces, Flooring
Power Electric
Control Moderate
Maneuverability Hand control, Stationary
Used for Wood, Flooring
Price $$$

14. Edging Sander

Product Image of the Clarke American Sanders - American B2 Edger

An edging sander allows the user to get close to the edges of your project. The sanding surface sufficiently protrudes that you can sand right up to the trim or wall without obvious gaps.

Floor edging sanders provide a smooth, score-free finish on hardwood, softwood, parquet, and even composite surfaces. If you want the quickest way to a blemish-free wooden floor, an edging sander is the perfect tool.

PROS:
  • Sand to the edge.
  • Ideal for flooring and decking.
  • Score-free finish.
CONS:
  • Specialty tool.
  • Better suited to flooring and decking.

Additional Specs

Specialty Neat edges, Flooring, Detail
Power Electric
Control Easy to moderate
Maneuverability Hand control
Used for Wood, Metal
Price $$$

Let’s Hear It for Sanders

Whatever the project, if you are working in wood or metal, for the best results, you need a smooth finish. That’s where the sander comes into its own.

They are available in all shapes and sizes, perform a myriad of tasks, and help you achieve a professional finish.

Headshot of mark

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.
Carpenter works with belt sander for woodworking

Best Belt Sanders of 2021

Sanding wood

How To Sand Wood (Sanding Tips)

Woman sanding wooden chair with a palm sander

5 Best Palm Sanders (2021 Reviews) 

Man sanding hardwood floor with an orbital sander

How To Use an Orbital Sander To Sand Your Hardwood Floor

Sanding wooden stool with a detail sander

7 Best Detail Sanders (2021 Reviews)

Stripping a dresser door

How To Strip Furniture

Leave a Comment