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All About Sanders - A Quickstart Guide
What is a Sander?
Indispensable to any home and easy to use a sander is a simple power tool, commonly used in woodworking and in some cases metal, to clean, smooth and polish a selected surface. It can bring old furniture back to life and make them look brand new, I even say better than ever. Sanders are available in a multitude of sizes, power and shapes that adapt to any situation but one thing they all share is that all of them, as the name implies, use sand paper. The sand paper used by the machines also comes in various shapes and sizes in order to fit the different sander types and they also vary in how abrasive they are, their grit – it can be finer (higher) or rougher (lower) and their usage depends on the particular job you’re trying to accomplish.
How to Choose a Sander
Choosing a sander can be tricky due to the massive amount of different types, brands and power of these machines. I’m here to make this tedious and long process as quick and easy as possible, not only to ensure you make the right choice but that you also get the best deal possible. There are a few things to consider before buying a sander. First of all, what do you need it for? Is it a big surface like a wooden floor, medium like a table or small such as a chair or little wooden pieces? Remember to also consider the shape of the objects as well as some sanders are better for curves and round shapes. Power is also very important as some sanders might cave when faced against harder tasks while more potent ones will be able to take them on. Then, the frequency of use. Will sanding be an occasional event for you, to use when you need to make an old object brand new for example or will you use the sander very often, such as professionally or for a woodworking hobby? Finally, the available space. Are you short on space and need a compact, easy to store solution or do you have your very own shop or garage that can hold a big and powerful machine like a benchtop sander? These are the 3 essential questions you should ask yourself before buying a sander, it will make sure you know exactly what you need to satisfy your needs.
Sander Types and Sizes
As I’ve mentioned above, there are a lot of sander types to choose from. They all serve their own purpose, although some can be used for more general work and other for more specific tasks. The most popular types of sanders are:
- ● Belt sanders
- ● Disc sanders
- ● Sheet sanders
- ● Orbital sanders
- ● Spindle sanders
- ● Drum sanders
- ● Palm sanders
- ● Detail sanders
- ● Belt and disc sanders
Popular Power Sander Brands & My Opinion
- ● Jet
- ● Bosch
- ● Makita
- ● Festool
- ● DeWalt
- ● Dynabrade
- ● Powermatic
- ● Porter Cable
- ● Black & Decker
- ● Shop Fox
- ● Powertec
- ● Woodtek
- ● Grizzly
- ● Delta
- ● Wen
Sand Paper Grit
When it comes to picking the right sand paper grit, it all comes down to the wanted results. Lower grits are usually used for the initial sanding process of an object and then an increasingly higher grit is used to get smoother and much more polished results. If you want to remove material quickly like an old coat of paint for example you need a low, coarser grit sand paper such as 20 or 50. For general purposes such as sanding a chair before applying a coat of varnish, 80 to 100 grit is great. For polishing needs, to get things smooth and shiny, you can use from 320 grit sandpaper all the way up to 1000+.
How to Use a Sander
While using a sander is pretty straightforward, there are a few key points and nuances that you should get to know and apply for the best results and maximum safety. First of all, always use the required safety equipment – a pair of safety glasses and a dust mask, I’ll go more in depth about this below but it’s always a good idea to protect your eyes and lungs whenever you get to work. I usually sand for quite a lot of time so I also use protective ear muffs or noise cancelling ear buds to avoid the terrible headaches that come with hours of loud noise.
Now that you’re ready, in most cases you need to attach your sandpaper piece to your sander. Different machines have different ways to attach and lock the sandpaper in place. Sheet sanders usually have some sort of clasp where you simply bend the sandpaper below it and then lock it in place. Orbital sanding machines are even easier to ready up since they use Velcro to hold on to the paper. Some machines are different like a belt sander for example, often times they have a lever that you pull in order to relieve the tension pressing the belt down to be able to install a new one. Each machine is different so although they often share the same mechanisms I recommend that you read their leaflet before using them.
When you start up your sander and get to work it is very hard to resist not pressing the machine hard against the surfaces. I know this feeling, and I know it’s just great to see the surface getting nice and clean so quickly but you have to resist doing this. By pressing the sander with too much force you’ll actually start leaving scratches and dents on the surface, some are noticeable right away and others only when you apply varnish but they are both easy to avoid. Just remember – slow and steady wins the race.
A universal sanding rule is to always sand with the grain (when working on wood). Sanding against the grain will rip out the wood fibers and leave a nasty end result while sanding with the grain ensures a clean and smooth finish.
Finally, remember to keep the surface clean! This is simple but so many people forget it, I’ve seen my co-workers take much longer and getting bad results due to not regularly cleaning their objects. Sanders work by abrasion, which needs full contact for it to work properly. By not cleaning often, you’ll leave dust and bits of wood or metal behind that, even if you don’t notice, will get in between your sander and the surface. Keep it clean for the best outcome.
Before any work with a sander I heavily recommend that you equip a pair of safety glasses and a dust mask to prevent any problems with flying debris and breathing in dust. You might not think this is required but trust me, I’ve been there and I guarantee that it’s not a pleasant experience! Imagine for example that you’re sanding a surface covered in led paint, without protection you would put yourself in real danger by breathing in the dust, this also applies to any kind of paint. Equipment that you have around the house will do the job just fine but if you don’t have any, I recommend these glasses and this mask – very cheap and sturdy. For the noise cancelling aspect, that I see as essential, I use these.
Performing regular maintenance on your sander is essential. It will not only guarantee that your machine keeps running in top condition but it also ensures that it keeps doing so for as many years as possible. The first step is to regularly check the sand paper your machine uses, be it a belt, a disk or a drum it will need to be replaced from time to time due to usage. As soon as it shows signs of wear and tear you should remove it and install a new one to ensure you get the best results on your work. Your sander should also be cleaned from time to time with either a vacuum or an air compressor to make sure that no bits of wood or dust are clogging up the insides of the machine. This applies even to the sanders that have a collector bag for waste. Lastly, to ensure your safety, check for any cracks or broken parts on your sanding machine. This can happen with extreme wear or an accidental drop, if you detect any severe cracks or broken parts please get a replacement or, if you can, use the guarantee to get a new one.
Sander Parts & Accessories
For each sander there are various parts and accessories that you can purchase to either upgrade the machine, add a new feature (thinner or larger sanding drums for example) or to replace a worn out part, like sanding pads (the part that holds the paper) instead of buying a whole new machine. The thing you’ll be buying and using the most is of course, the sanding paper. You can get these in sheets of your desired shape and of different grits as I’ve talked above. Similar to the machines themselves, sand paper is available from a multitude of different brands. Throughout the years I’ve grown fond of a few for their performance and outstanding durability, which is a common problem among quite a few brands of sand paper. I’ve listed them to help you choose the very best, be sure to check them out here.
A Final Word on Sanding
Sanding and woodworking is and always has been a passion of mine as it was my father’s as well. Working together with him since a little kid and seeing him turn old and seemingly useless furniture into what seemed like brand new things always put a smile on my face. I want to share my expertise on this subject and I truly wish you not only learn more about this fine craft but that you also enjoy doing so. I put this website together to be able to help you as best as I can and as such I am also available to answer any questions you have, simply leave a comment down below and I promise I’ll give my all to answer it. Thank you for reading and make sure to check out the other articles!