Types of Sanders (Overview & Uses)

| Last Updated: January 24, 2021

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Finding the correct sander can be a difficult, time-consuming task as there are so many different kinds out there. 

Thankfully, we've done all the hard work for you. We've compiled some of the most common sanders out there and provided a brief overview of each. 

Types of Sanders 

Sanders is a standard tool in many workmen's arsenal; there are so many varieties that sometimes it's hard to decide what sander is best to use. Below we've provided a summary of the most common types of sanders along with their various uses. 

Drywall Sanders

A drywall sander is a standard sander used among DIYers and construction workers in a drywall installation task. However, it isn't just used for drywall. 

What is a Drywall Sander?

A drywall sander is used during the drywall installation to create a flat finish by sanding and smoothing out the plaster that's used during the task. 

Drywall sanders tend to have an extendable pole that can reach hard to reach places, making this sander a popular option for many tradespeople. 

Drywall Sander Uses

There are a few uses of a drywall sander: 

  • It can be used to sand down wooden floors
  • You can use it to sand down a wall to prep for painting
  • You can use it for smoothing down plaster during drywall installation

DA Sanders (Dual Action Sanders)

Dual-action sanders are often described as a hybrid of belt and disk sanders. However, it shouldn't be considered a suitable substitute for each. 

These types are common among DIYers and often used in body shops and mechanic garages. 

What is a DA Sander?

As we mentioned previously, a dual-action sander is similar to combining both a belt and disk sander. 

DA sanders can sometimes be slightly different from each other, depending on the brand. The sander can either operate in a linear but also rotary motion and orbital with a linear motion. 

DA Sander Uses

The design of the dual-action sander is an essential factor in how it's best used: 

  • Belt-shaped dual action sanders are good to use on woodworking tasks
  • Disk-shaped dual action sanders are often used in body-shop repairs as they can be used to smooth out paint or shape putty

Finishing Sanders

Finishing sanders have a rectangular design that ¼ or ½ sandpaper can be attached. They're mainly used for polishing, shaping, and smoothing down wooden surfaces.  

What is a Finishing Sander?

Finishing sanders are flexible in the sense that they're not just used on wooden projects. If you have silicon carbide paper, also known as wet and dry paper, it can be used on plastic and metal. 

Finishing Sander Uses

Finishing sanders are used in various projects like furniture making, DIY, or general construction tasks; they're useful for a few reasons: 

  • Rough spots are easily smoothed down, which is excellent for fixing knots in the wood 
  • They create a finely polished surface with less chance of scratching, great for woodworking

Belt Sander

Belt sanders are often used at the beginning of projects for removing material such as wood and non-ferrous metals like aluminum. 

What is a Belt Sander?

A belt sander is primarily used to shape wood as it easily removes large amounts of material. 

Most DIY woodworkers or professional carpenters use these sanders as they're powerful and effective in removing large amounts of material. However, they are also great for metal work -- specifically knife making

Belt Sander Uses

Belt sanders are used for a few reasons: 

  • They're used to smooth non-ferrous metals such as aluminum 
  • They're used to remove large amounts of wood at the beginning or end of a project to shape it
  • Due to their size, they can cover a larger area and reduce time on tasks like sanding floors by a significant amount 

Palm Sanders

The palm sander was given its name, for it's easy to use design as it can be operated with a single hand. They're mainly used on finishing work at the end of projects. 

What is a Palm Sander?    

The palm sander has a square or rectangular bottom that moves in small orbital motions, which smooths materials in a more gentle action. 

They're often used by DIYers and carpenters and are often confused with random-orbit sanders.

Palm Sander Uses

Professional carpenters or hobbyist woodworkers commonly use these sanders:

  • They can also be used for removing paint from furniture
  • They're used in tasks that require finely detailed wood shaping

Drum Sanders

Drum sanders are mainly used in professional settings by carpenters. They're usually installed in a specific area of a workshop due to the weight and size.  

What is a Drum Sander?

Drum sanders are large sanders used by professional carpenters to sand down hardwood floors. They can either be fixed or portable with wheels. 

However, it takes time to attain skill and precision when using this device, with each pass taking off a layer. Therefore you need to know what you're doing. 

Drum Sander Uses

There are a variety of uses of a drum sander:

  • You can use the drum sander to smooth hardwood flooring
  • If you're looking to sand down edges of the wood, it can be used for this also

Spindle Sanders

Spindle sanders are usually used on tasks like smoothing rounded wood, such as furniture legs. Carpenters have used these types of sanders for many years as they're useful tools.

What is a Spindle Sander?

Spindle sanders were commonly used as simple attachments on a drill press.

However, problems such as friction would soon create burn marks on the wood from using the same part of the sander.

Nowadays, carpenters use an oscillating spindle; this moves the spindle up and down, reducing friction. 

Spindle Sander Uses

You can get spindle sander attachments that can be connected to a drill press, portable hand-held spindles, or even larger spindles that can be installed in your workshop. 

There's only one common use for a spindle sander, and that's to help smooth circular edges. 

Orbital Sanders

Orbital sanders are often confused with random orbital sanders due to their name, but they both have different uses. 

What is an Orbital Sander?

An orbital sander has a square or rectangular shape at the bottom where the sandpaper is attached. Orbital sanders work by rotating in small circular motions to sand down small, flat corners. 

Orbital Sander Uses

There are a few use differences between an orbital sander and your random orbital sander, for example: 

  • They're smaller and can get into tighter corners 
  • Can be used for standard sanding or prepping for a paint job
  • They're made for detail jobs as they don't remove a lot of wood at one time

Random Orbital Sanders

The only similarity between a random orbital sander and an orbital sander is the same and size. The defining difference being that random orbital sanders have circular sanding pads. 

What is a Random Orbital Sander?

The circular pad on the random orbital sander makes a world of difference. The way it works is that the circular pad makes tiny circle movements, but it also spins. These sanders require disc-shaped sandpaper. 

Random Orbital Sander Uses?

There are a few ways in which you could use a random orbital sander: 

  • They're a lot more aggressive in removing material so that larger tasks could benefit from this sander
  • If you're worried about lines or marking, this sander won't leave very many behind due to its dual motion

Disc Sanders

Disc sanders tend to be large sanders installed in a professional setting, such as a carpenters workshop. 

What is a Disc Sander? 

The disc sander uses a large circular piece of replaceable sandpaper; this sandpaper is attached to a disk-shaped wheel. This sander can work with most materials, including wood, plastic, and metals.  

Disc Sander Uses

Considering the industrial design of the disc sander, it can be used for a few things: 

  • Adjustable disc sanders can be used to smooth materials at different angles
  • It can be used to file down a considerable amount of material within a short time 

Comparison Overview 

In this section, we'll compare all of the most common types of sanders. 

Orbital Sander vs. Sheet Sander

Orbital and sheet sanders are relatively similar in terms of what they provide and how they operate. Both types use a circular motion to smooth down surfaces, and both have a rectangular or square-like sanding pad. 

The main difference between these two products is the size difference. Sheet sanders tend to be smaller than orbital sanders. 

Orbital Sander vs Palm Sander 

Orbital sanders and palm sanders are also similar because they both provide the same circular sanding motion.

However, orbital sanders are mainly used for stripping down staircases or paint. Whereas palm sanders are more of a fine detail finishing tool, they're most useful for smoothing small uneven surfaces. 

Orbital Sander vs Random Orbital Sander 

Orbital sanders are smaller and are more used when working in tight spaces. Orbital sanders have a square/rectangular sander pad that moves in small circular motions. 

However, random orbital sanders have a circular pad that requires special sanding paper to attach to it. 

This disc-shaped sander makes small circular movements while also rotating. Random orbital sanders are used to remove larger amounts of material in comparison to their orbital counterpart. 

DA Sander vs Orbital

Dual-action and orbital are similar, although the dual-action provides more features than a standard orbital sander. Dual-action sanders have two modes; the first mode will lock the disc to rotate circularly. The second mode is the random orbital mode, which spins the disc and rotates simultaneously. 

Orbital vs Finishing Sander

Finishing sanders are a type of sander which orbital sanders come under. Finishing sanders are precise and detail orientated. 

There various sanders such as belt, orbital, and detail sanders that all fit under this classification. These sander types are all made for the same task of shaping materials in a precise way. 

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander 

Belt and orbital sanders both come under the finishing sander category. However, belt sanders are far larger than their counterparts. 

Most belt sanders come with two handles and the ability to change speeds; they'll also allow you to cover a wider area as the belt is larger than an orbital sander. 

The belt sander is made to cover a larger surface area to get bigger tasks done faster. In contrast, the orbital sander is smaller for finishing smaller tasks. 

Belt Sander vs Disc Sander 

A belt sander can be carried around and provided a smooth finish on wood, plastic, and metal pieces. However, a disc sander is usually a large sander installed in a workshop. 

Therefore it can't be moved and has a large circular disk adjusted to sand at various angles. The main difference here being one is stationary, and the other is portable. 

Wide Belt Sander vs Drum Sander 

Drum sanders can either be portable or fixed into a workshop. If you're primarily working with flooring, the portable drum sander can be run right over the top. However, if it's just long wood pieces, it can be fed through the fixed drum sander. 

Wide belt sanders are also large industrial sanders that most carpenters operate; these sanders are a lot more effective in giving you an even and smooth finish; they also cover more surface area than a drum sander. Wide belt sanders are also commonly used by furniture manufacturers. 


The takeaway piece here is that there are so many different individual sanders on offer; you'll be assured to find one that suits your sanding needs, whether that be fine detailed, precise finishing, or removing a large amount of material at the start of a project.