Random orbital sanders have a dual action specifically designed to smooth surfaces quickly and efficiently. They rotate around a central drive, and at the same time also oscillate in smaller circles. This motion mash-up maximizes provides a drastic improvement over manual or even other electric methods. On the one hand they can quickly remove existing coatings like old, worn paint. They are equally good at preparing a smooth, scratch-free surface for the application of varnish or other finishes.
There are random orbital sanders for everyone from the occasional DIY user, to the home auto enthusiast, to the fine furniture maker. Having plenty of choice certainly has its advantages, but it does make choosing the right model challenging. Here, we’ll discuss the key features in detail and focus on the best random orbital sanders for a variety of different craftspeople and enthusiasts.
The Best Random Orbital Sanders: Reviews & Recommendations
Best electric random orbital sander: Bosch ROS20VSC Palm Sander
Why It Made The Cut: The Bosch palm sander has a ton of range. It is capable of both rapid material removal, and fine finishing. It’s competitively priced too.
- Power: 2.5 amp, corded
- Size: 5”
- Speed: Variable, from 7,500 to 12,000 OPM
- Variable speed
- Excellent dust filtration
- Vacuum adapter included
- Occasional issues with sanding pad grip
- Awkwardly placed speed control switch
Bosch have a particularly good reputation in what is often called the ‘prosumer’ market — high-quality tools aimed at the enthusiastic DIY user, but which also have the reliability and durability demanded by professionals. The Bosch palm sander falls into this category.
The 2.5 amp motor isn’t hugely powerful, but it is plenty for general-purpose stripping and sanding tasks. Variable speed gives it the flexibility to work efficiently with different grits of sandpaper and on delicate surfaces. The fine filter dust canister can handle particles down to 1/2 micron diameter, or can be swapped for a vacuum extractor via the 1-1/4” or 1-1/2” adapters included.
The Bosch palm sander has rubberized upper and front surfaces for confident grip. While one hand is usually sufficient, it can accommodate two for extra oomph. It weighs just 3.5 pounds, and comes with 8 feet of power cord giving plenty of usable reach. A few customers have complained that the Velcro-type hook and loop pad can lose grip. It is a frequent challenge with random orbital sanders, often down to a build-up of dust in the fibers. They can usually be brushed or vacuumed to restore adhesion.
Best budget random orbital sander: beyond by BLACK+DECKER Random Orbit Sander
Why It Made The Cut: Sometimes simple solutions are the best. The budget-priced Black+Decker sander is a basic but perfectly adequate tool for a host of different DIY tasks.
- Power: 2.4 amp, corded
- Size: 5”
- Speed: Fixed, 12,000 OPM
- Very low cost
- Light weight
- Includes 60, 120 and 180 grit sandpaper sheets
- No vacuum connection
- Fixed speed
For those people who want to strip old furniture before repainting, sand lumber, or perhaps ease a sticking door, the Black+Decker could be the ideal tool. It may not be especially powerful, but it will get the job done. It is also priced at a level where just about everyone can afford it.
The 2.4 amp motor is adequate for the purpose. The fixed speed doesn’t give it a great deal of versatility but is fast enough for ripping through old paint or varnish and good for sanding store-bought softwoods. The dust collector can fill quickly, but the interlocking connector design makes it very difficult to attach any kind of extractor instead. However, the Black+Decker user will seldom be producing high volumes of waste so it’s not the problem it would be on a professional sander.
Weight is under 3 pounds, and rubberized areas make it easy to use at different angles. Cord length is 8 feet. It comes with three sanding disks of different grits, which won’t last very long but will get the new user started, and acclimate them to how each type cuts if this is their first sander.
Best random orbital sander for woodworking: Makita BO5041K 5″ Random Orbit Sander
Why It Made The Cut: The Makita has the power to provide aggressive sanding of softwood, and the control necessary for smooth finishes on hardwood.
- Power: 3.0 amp, corded
- Size: 5”
- Speed: Variable, from 400 to 12,000 OPM
- Soft start reduces marking
- Multiple grip positions and auxiliary handle
- Sealed bearings for improved durability
- Non-standard dust port may require adapter for shop vacs
- Rare quality control issues
Woodworkers need high flexibility from their random orbital sander. They frequently deal with different-sized workpieces, and softwoods, hardwood, or veneers. It can be quite difficult to sand the latter without going straight through the thin surface, so good control is vital.
The Makita random orbital sander’s 3 amp motor provides enough power for heavy-duty sanding when required, but its variable speed (adjusted via a convenient thumbwheel) gives it the versatility to work on a wide variety of surfaces. Additionally, it has a soft start which makes it both very controllable and reduces the chances of gouging into delicate materials. At a fraction over 3 pounds it’s also comparatively light.
Often woodworkers need to sand large areas, and the adjustable front handle helps keep the sander running smoothly as it is swept back and forth. It can be tucked out of the way in tight corners. Rubberized grip areas also help handling, and a lock-on power button means the user can concentrate on the sanding action rather than keeping the trigger depressed.
Best professional random orbital sander: DEWALT 20V MAX Random Orbit Sander, 5-Inch, Cordless Kit
Why It Made The Cut: The DeWalt powerful cordless sander provides versatile sanding on job sites, particularly when no mains power is available. It is also built tough to withstand those inevitable knocks.
- Power: 20 volt, cordless
- Size: 5”
- Speed: Variable, from 8,000 to 12,000
- High performance brushless motor
- Comfortable and very controllable
- Includes charger and carry bag
- Included battery is modest at 2.0Ah
- Spare battery is an added-cost essential for professionals
DeWalt’s 20V Max random orbital sander is a fine example of the brand’s market-leading cordless power tools. While it requires a greater investment than corded tools, it offers professionals the combination of power, reliability, and mobility necessary to tackle any type of job, anywhere.
The DeWalt uses a brushless motor which makes the most efficient use of the battery power available. Variable speed makes it suitable for all materials, with the dial on the front of the machine where it’s easy to reach. The whole upper part of the sander has a rubberized molding, making for convenient grip at whatever angle feels comfortable for the task.
At 6 pounds the DeWalt is heavier than some, but many users like some weight behind the tool, particularly for fast, aggressive sanding. The supplied dust collecting bag is adequate for small jobs, or can be swapped out, and a hose fitted to powered extraction. The kit includes battery, charger, and bag, though an extra battery will be something of a necessity for professional use.
Best air random orbital sander: Ingersoll Rand 328B Heavy Duty Air Geared Orbital Sander
Why It Made The Cut: While primarily designed for sanding large areas of body filler, The Ingersoll Rand air sander is also suitable for large woodwork projects, and sanding poured acrylics used for worktops.
- Power: Pneumatic, 16 CFM under load
- Size: 8”
- Speed: Variable, maximum 825 rpm
- Impressive material removal
- Comparatively light for its size
- Long service life expectancy
- Above average air compressor required
- Adhesive rather than hook and loop pads
Air-powered random orbital sanders are typically found in professional auto body shops, where they are used for cleaning up large areas of filler before spraying. A larger pad means faster working, and helps maintain a flat surface, so 8” models like the Ingersoll Rand are common.
While the max speed setting is slower than most 5” tools, the extra diameter produces rapid material removal. Although mainly designed for sanding body filler, with the right abrasive it could be used for large expanses of wood, or poured acrylic countertops. Despite its size, the Ingersoll Rand air sander weighs just 2.5 pounds. Disks are adhesive, rather than the common hook and loop type as the latter can quickly loose grip in the heavy-duty production environments where this tool is most often found.
The drawback with such a large tool is that it relies on a substantial compressor to power it. The Ingersoll Rand requires 16 CFM. That’s considerably more air consumption than provided by DIY compressors. There is no dust collection or extraction, so respiratory protection is strongly recommended.
As a trained engineer, former woodshop owner, and keen home renovator I have used random orbital sanders for many different purposes. Using that broad experience I chose the following criteria when selecting what I believe to be the best random orbital sanders currently on the market.
Performance: High performance isn’t always necessary. The important thing is the right amount of power for the job, and flexibility where necessary. In order to cover the full range of potential sanding tasks I included corded, cordless, and pneumatic models.
Handling: DIY users generally want something light and easy to manage. Those using a sander all day often need greater control for more precise working, and better balance to reduce fatigue.
Brand and value: Certain brands have established well-known reputations for reliability and durability. Each of the tools chosen comes from one of the market leaders. While cheap random orbital sanders from unknown manufacturers were avoided, the models chosen nevertheless offer competitive pricing and excellent value.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Random Orbital Sander
While all random orbital sanders operate in basically the same way, the specification can vary enormously. The following are key areas when making your choice.
There are corded, cordless, and air sanders (also called pneumatic sanders). Corded models are generally more affordable than their cordless counterparts, and there are no concerns about battery life. High-performance cordless models offer very competitive performance, but a spare battery is something of a necessity for extended work periods. That adds to the cost.
Air sanders need a compressor to power them. They have long been the professional’s choice, particularly in auto body shops. With no motor in the tool itself, they are usually light, powerful, and very durable. However, their lack of portability makes them impractical for many.
Corded tools are rated in amps, and vary from around 2.5 amps for a DIY tool to 4.5 amps for a top professional model. The main difference is that a lower powered model might bog down under heavy load, whereas the more powerful motor would keep cutting.
Cordless tools are rated by the voltage of the battery, usually 18V or 20V. These are effectively the same, as one refers to the startup voltage (which is slightly higher) while the other is the nominal (normal operating) voltage. When assessing batteries, particularly if buying a spare, it’s a good idea to maximize the Amp hour (Ah) rating because higher Ah equals longer run time. It’s also the case that brushless motors make more efficient use of battery power than brush motors.
The key figure with air sanders is the air consumption figure, in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM). It’s vital that the compressor can supply this volume of air or the sander will not function correctly.
Sanding speed is given in Orbits Per Minute (OPM). Lightweight DIY models tend to have a single fixed speed, whereas the best random orbital sanders have variable speed. Actual speed ranges vary. Somewhere between 7,500 and 12,000 OPM is common for general-purpose models, but woodworking and large diameter sanders are usually slower.
Size and control
Random orbital sanders are generally rated by disk diameter. These range from 2” to 12”, with 5” models being by far the most popular. It’s a practical size for many different tasks, small enough to be maneuverable, and large enough to cover substantial areas relatively quickly.
Weight isn’t usually an issue. None of these tools is particularly heavy and they are often resting on the workpiece while in use. How they are held does have an impact. Palm sanders are compact, and the gripping areas on the top are usually sufficient. Others may have auxiliary handles for two-handed use. These can either be at the front or the side.
The dust produced by a random orbital sander may cause respiratory difficulties, and in some cases can be toxic. While a face mask should always be worn, some kind of dust management should be fitted to the sander. Cartridge filters are effective but can fill quickly. The ability to attach a shop vac or extractor is a benefit in high production environments.
Q: How do I choose a random orbital sander?
Consider whether you need a tool for occasional or regular use, and thus the power requirement, and pad size. Also look at physical configuration (how you’re going to hold it), and the weight. The information provided above gives more detail on how to choose the best random orbital sander for your needs.
Q: Do I need a variable speed random orbital sander?
The main advantage of variable speed is that it enables you to slow the sander down when working with delicate materials like veneers, thus reducing the chances of sanding through. If the sander is only used for paint removal or softwood lumber, variable speed isn’t necessary.
Q: How much does a random orbital sander cost?
Lightweight corded DIY models start at around $35. A professional-grade cordless sander with battery and charger can top $300.
The Bosch palm sander is a superbly made, and very affordable tool that offers all the features most DIY enthusiasts will ever need. It also has sufficient performance for many professionals. The Black+Decker beyond random orbital sander is a low-cost option aimed at the occasional user. It competes head-on with no-name brands that so often prove unreliable. Now you’re ready to add one of these sanders to your tool kit!