The Different Types of Sanders and How to Use Them

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When you have a wood project which needs a smooth surface, the perfect way to get that seamless, smooth finish is to use a sander. While there are a variety of different types of sanders available on the market, knowing which one to use for your application can make a difference in the result of your finished wood piece.

We’ll help you understand how to use a sander, and we’ll also explain the many applications you can use each type of sander for to get the best results for your woodworking project.

How to Use a Sander

Understanding how to use a sander really comes down to first setting up your tool for operation. The first step in this process is to attach the sandpaper. You can do this by unlocking the side clips. These clips hold your sandpaper in place and make sure it securely remains in place when you sand. This prevents shifting and sagging during sanding.

To attach sandpaper, you need to cut your sandpaper sheet into fours. Use one square for your sander by attaching it to the bottom of the sander and locking the clips in place. Some sanders use an adhesive that sticks to the pad of the sander in a disc form. Many users of sanders prefer to use the loops to hold the sandpaper versus an adhesive sandpaper disc as they stay firmly in place better when sanding.

man using a sander on a piece of wood how to use a sander

You also need to be familiar with where your power button on your sander is located. This will allow you to start and stop the sander as necessary. Once your sandpaper is attached, and you have good control of the power button on your sander, you are ready to begin sanding.

​Also, make sure ​you have on a good dust mask and some wood working gloves before you start working with a sander, as this will protect you from the flying particles that could be ​hazardous to your health. Making your own dust collector for using this tool might also come in handy.

When you sand, it is best to use a circular motion as you work. This works well with orbital sanders as the pad of the sander vibrates in a circle. This helps to eliminate swirling on the wood surface you are working on. It will give you a nice even tone or finish to your sanded wood piece.

You will need to use some force to keep the sander moving and in position, but you don’t have to press so hard that you gouge the wood. Use a light grip to hold the sander in place and move it around your wood piece. This will provide you the best results when you sand.

When you have completed your sanding project, you’ll want to inspect it for any areas that are uneven or need additional sanding. Once you are satisfied with how smooth and seamless your surface is from sanding, you can move on to the next step in your wood project. This might include adding a finishing coat or a paint color.

Sander Applications

Choosing the right grit of sandpaper is often a challenge for many users. You may know that you start with a heavy grit and work your way down to a finer grit for a smooth finish. But, did you know that certain grit sandpaper is geared toward specific applications? The type of sandpaper you select often dictates what type of application it will work best in.

You will want to use a fine grit sandpaper that is usually between 180 and 320 grits to give you the smoothest finish on your wood surface. Medium grit sandpaper that is rated from 100 to 150 grit is a good choice for surface leveling or smoothing of a surface when using a sander. You can also sand door edges that stick when opening and closing or to distress furniture and get it ready for painting. It is also ideal for rounding the edges on your wood piece.

Close up of a blue makita sander

Rougher grit sandpaper that is typically between 60 and 80 grit can allow you to strip paint with your sander or even remove dirt and rust marks. This is also a good sandpaper to start with on your wood project to get it to that smooth surface you are looking for. If you’re sanding rough wood like pallets, start with 60 grit sandpaper.

Different Types of Sanders and How to Use Them

How to Use an Orbital Sander

When it comes to selecting the right sander for your wood job, there a couple different models to choose from. This includes the orbital sander. This lightweight sander can be operated and controlled with one hand. It is a quieter power sander that is easy to use without causing any damage to your wood surface because of inexperience.

Orbital sanders don’t have a huge amount of power to them, but they can create surfaces that are extremely smooth. You only need to use a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper with these sanders as there are spring loaded clamps to hold the sandpaper in place. Orbital sanders have a flat and square pad where the sandpaper affixes to. The pad works by vibrating in circles, so you can sand in any direction you want.

You can use an orbital sander quite freely as it will not gouge the surface of your DIY wood ​project. It provides a good finish with a little effort on your part. Once you have secured the sandpaper to the orbital sander, you simply need to power the device and move it liberally on your wood piece’s surface. You should work in a circular motion and be sure to cover the entire piece of wood for a smooth, even finish.

Because an orbital sander is a gentle power sander, you don’t have to worry about creating any damage to your wood piece. It is a great tool for sanding a surface to be ultra-smooth.

You can also use an orbital sander to round sharp edges on a wood piece or to sand down wood putty that has hardened. It also works well to sand down dry paint or varnish to give you that polished finished or even a distressed appearance for projects such as faux brick without being overly aggressive in its operation.

How to Use a Random Orbital Sander

​Defining a random orbital sander is the type of pad the head of the sander has. It uses a round pad instead of the orbital sander’s traditional square pad. This helps the sander orbit in small circles as you sand. The sander literally vibrates in tiny circles on your DIY wood ​project. This allows the sander to be used in a variety of applications that other sander models are unable to compete in because it eliminates that swirl pattern that is common with sanders like the orbital sander.

You’ll find that using an orbital sander will allow you to sand in a continuous motion without worrying about decreasing or degrading your total surface area if used properly. A random orbital sander is a bit harder to operate than other sanders. With a little bit of experience, it can be a very versatile sander you can use in a variety of wood applications.

To use a random orbital sander, you need only a one-handed grip on the palm grip handle. The pad on a random orbital sander is typically 5 to 6 inches in diameter. This is a good size for most projects you would need to complete as a woodworker.

The sandpaper you use on an orbital sander is sometimes a peel-and-stick adhesive disc that attaches right to the pad of the sander. Other models may use Velcro to keep the sandpaper in place. Depending on what type of sandpaper your sander uses, you need to attach it as necessary to begin the sanding process.

orbital sander on a piece of wood

You will find the first time you use a random orbital sander, you will have a little difficulty managing control over it. Keep it secured firmly in your hand and allow it do the sanding. There is no need for you to apply a great deal of pressure to the pad. Keep it on your ​wood surface and make a circular motion as you sand. This will increase the advantage of the orbiting pad and create a smooth finish as you sand.

Random Orbital Sander Applications

​Random orbital sanders are ideally suited to finishing work. They can sand virtually any surface when affixed with the right sandpaper grit. You would want to use a random orbital sander when you are working on fine trim work or another finishing type piece. It ensures you have a surface that is smooth to the touch and professional looking to the eye.

How to Use a Palm Sander

​Using a palm sander can provide an easy and effective way to sand a variety of wood projects. You can use a palm sander for light finishing work as well as harder-to-finish wood surfaces. This sander works in a circular motion that avoids any noticeable variations as you work.

Palm sanders offer you the ability to use both fine and rough grit sandpaper. It is attached to the sander using a series of loops that keep it in place. You can also use adhesive sandpaper that is attached with a peel-and-stick facing.

Most palm sanders come with a dust collection bag that keeps the air, as well as your work surface, free of sawdust. These bags are essential when you are doing a lot of sanding work. Operating a palm sander is relatively simple as you are able to hold the rubberized grip of the tool with one hand while you work.

Many contractors and hobbyists enjoy using palm sanders because of the comfort grip they provide. This can allow you to use the sander for long durations without feeling exhausted by its hand movements. It is important to note that palm sanders should be moved in a circular motion as you work, much like cutting a circle with a saw. The pad of a palm sander has a rectangular pad that vibrates in a circular motion as you work.

To use a palm sander, you need to guide it smoothly along the wood surface you are working on in a circular motion. This will allow you to get a smooth and finished surface without any damage. Bear in mind that the grit of the sandpaper you use will dictate how much of the wood is sanded as you work. Fine grit sandpaper will produce a smoother finish without deep sanding of the wood piece you are working on. Heavier grit sandpaper will sand deeper to get you a smooth finish and remove the blemishes that appear in the wood.

Because a palm sander vibrates the rectangular pad with some severity, it can be more challenging to operate this type of sander versus another model. You will need to assert control when using a palm sander as it can be unwieldy at times. You will need to use some force to maintain control when using a palm sander, but the results will be worth your effort as you work.

palm sander used for woodworking how to use a sander

Palm Sander Applications

​Palm sanders are ideal for distressing or lightly sanding wood that has been painted or wood that’s been varnished. You would use the palm sander in between coats to produce an appearance on your wood project that is rustic or shabby chic.

When working with a palm sander, you will want to use sandpaper that is between 160 and 220 grit for the best results. With a heavier grit sandpaper, you can use your palm sander to remove paint or varnish from a wood surface.

Palm sanders are an ideal sander for detail work or finish sanding as they provide plenty of vibration when sanding. They can easily get your wood surface to the exact level or smoothness you are looking for.


​Understanding how to use a sander can give you the option of using a power tool to do your finishing work. It is less labor intensive and is more convenient as well. Choosing the right sander for your application is dependent on the level of smoothness and the effort you need to put into the sanding of your wood piece. Any of these sanders would make a solid choice for use in your home woodworking shop to give you the finish you are looking for from a sander.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.