How to Get Great Results from Your Random-Orbit Sander

Random-orbit sander 101
This post is sponsored by Home Depot

Everyone likes a smooth, sanded surface on a project, but no one (and I mean absolutely no one) like the tedious process of getting it done. Motorized sanding machines speed up the process greatly, but many of them can be hard to control, or wind up leave swirl marks in the finished surface.

Not so with the random-orbit sander. As the name suggests, its pad follows an entirely random pattern, so you can control the amount of wood removed, and leave your surface free of spirals.

They’re great for all kinds of DIY projects, and the only handheld sander I’d recommend for your toolbox.         

Dewalt orbit sander 101

I’m using this Dewalt XR 20v max 5″ random-orbit sander that the nice folks at Home Depot sent me to check out. It uses the same battery platform as my cordless drill, and its awesome to not have to deal with a cord getting in the way. I can move around more quickly and with ease, without feeling tethered by a cord. Plus, it has a feature that stops it immediately when it’s turned off, so you don’t have to wait for it to stop spinning before you can set it down again. This is an amazing feature!

Here are some do’s and don’t when using a random-orbit sander tool…

#1 - Random orbital sander dos and don'ts

1. Connect a vacuum whenever possible. The sander performs much better, and the sandpaper will last longer, if you’re able to suck up the dust as soon as it’s created. That’s why there are the little holes in the discs. They do a great job, so hook up your shop vac when you can for best results.

#2 - Random orbital sander dos and don'ts

2. Slow down. These machines are designed to cut the wood fibers smoothly, but they need a little time to get there. Don’t run the tool all over the wood in a random pattern. Instead, you want to be deliberate with your path, allowing the tool to do the work. You want to move only an inch a second. The process is more “mowing the lawn” than “washing the windows”.

#3 - Random orbital sander dos and don'ts

3. Work your way up the grits. The coarse paper will flatten the surface (or remove paint and finishes, depending on your project). The job of the higher grits is to remove the marks left by the coarse paper. You only want to go as rough as necessary to get the job done; otherwise you’ll spend all day trying to get things smooth. I tend to use 100-150-220 grit sanding discs (I buy them in bulk), but a 120-180-220 system works great too.

#4 - Random orbital sander dos and don'ts

4. Don’t press down. The weight of your hand and the machine is more than enough to get the job done. You only need to control the movement of the machine with a light touch. Pressing down actually makes the machine less efficient and wears out your sandpaper sooner.

#5 - Random orbit sander dos and don'ts5. Never tilt the sander. It may be tempting to put the sander on edge to remove a high spot or a mark, but resist! This will inevitably put a a divot into the wood, and even if you can’t see it, you’ll definitely feel it. Just be patient, and you’ll get the surface you’re after.

#6 - Random orbital sander dos and don'ts

6. The sander must start and stop off the wood. To get the best finish, make sure the machine begins and ends its cycle separate from the wood grain. Just remember: you want things to be at full speed when in contact with the wood. 

#7 - Random orbit sander dos and don'ts

7. Don’t let the sander dangle over the edge more than 25%. Generally, you’ll get the best results from keeping the pad on the wood. A random-orbit sander works best when its motor can register the flat surface to create that swirl-free pattern. Allowing it to breach the edge can not only round over crisp corners, but create a less-than-desirable finished surface.

With a little knowledge, and an extremely affordable tool, you can save lots of time prepping your project for finish. A random-orbit sander is the right way to get there. It will do the work; your job is, simply: not to mess it up.  The Dewalt 20v Max can help you get there.

Happy sanding!


This post is sponsored by The Home Depot. All opinions are mine alone.

I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in the ProSpective2018 Campaign. As a part of the Program, I am receiving compensation in the form of products and services, for the purpose of promoting The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.