Different Types of Sanders & when to use each model

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  April 11, 2022
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Adding finishing touches to your project brings out the real beauty in it, we all want our projects to be as flawless as possible, no matter what it costs or how long it takes and a sander will give you this satisfaction. If you’re a woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, a sander is one of the power tools you definitely need to own.

A sander is a power tool with a rough surface, usually made out of sand paper or other abrasives used for smoothening a wooden, plastic or metal surface. Most sanders are portable and could be handheld or attached to a workbench for firmer and stronger grip, whatever gets the job done.


There are different types of sanders, each with their unique features and effectiveness. Below are the various types of sanders, briefly described to help you pick the most suitable sander for your project. Enjoy!

Different types of sanders

Belt Sanders

A belt sander (great ones here!) is a perfect sander for woodworkers. Although it is commonly used to shape and finish woodworks, it can also perform the same function on other materials. Its mechanism basically involves an endless loop of sandpaper wrapped around two cylindrical drums in which one of this drums is motorized (the rear drum) and the other isn’t (the front), it moves freely.

Belt sanders are very powerful and most times considered aggressive, making them the perfect sanders for scribing, leveling very rough surfaces, shaping and could also be used to sharpen your axe, shovels, knives and other tools that need sharpening.

The belt sander comes in two forms; handheld and stationary. The sandpaper attached to this sander can wear out and can be easily replaced using its tension-relief lever to do so.

Disc Sanders

The disc sander, as its name implies is a sander which smoothens wooden and plastic materials with circular shaped sandpaper attached to its wheel, which is powered by compressed air or an electric motor.

 It is preferably used in its handheld form to smoothen and finish woodworks with large surface areas. The disc sander rotates in an anticlockwise direction and could be used to remove a little amount of waste materials.

Just like every other sander, its abrasive material experiences wear and tear which makes it replaceable. Disc sanders are made available for a variety of grit sizes. It is preferable to use a coarse grit because using a finer grit wouldn’t last for long as it will burn out easily due to the speed of this sander.

Detail Sander

For a more complex project, a detail sander is highly recommended. This sander looks a lot like a pressing iron and is mostly handheld because it is used to smoothen corners, sharp curves and tight spaces.

Its triangular shape and high oscillation speed make it a perfect design for shaping and smoothening tight corners. It can also smoothen odd shapes properly with ease.

The detail sander is an ideal sander for working on smaller projects that have complex designs and using other sanders for this project can take out the material quickly leading to a deformity. So if you need a more detailed project to bring out its intended design, the detail sander is your best bet.

Orbital Sander

The Orbital sander (our reviews here) is one of the easiest sanders to use, it could be operated using just one hand although it has a handle for extra support. These sanders move their heads in a circular path and that is why they are called orbital sanders.

It doesn’t require special sandpaper, so you can use whatever sandpaper you find. This sander is pretty much amazing because it smoothens your wood surface without leaving marks no matter the grain direction of your wood.

Orbital sanders are lightweight sanders and they are completely unsuitable for removing hard or heavy materials, these qualities make it difficult to deform the surface of your projects. 

These sanders are powered by an electric motor and they move at high speed with sandpaper attached to its square-shaped metal pad.

Random Orbital Sander

This is a variant of the orbital sander with an added feature that makes it better for finishes and smoothening your project. Its sanding blade moves in a random orbit and does not form a different pattern.

Its random orbital movement makes it difficult to give your project annoying scratches and you don’t need to sand in a pattern that matches the pattern of the wood grain. The random orbital sander has a round metal pad unlike the regular orbital sander which makes it difficult to smoothen corners.

The random orbital sander’s simultaneous and distinct motion makes it a combination of both an orbital and a belt sander although it doesn’t have the power and speed of a belt sander.

These sanders are perfect for sanding woods that are to going to be fastened at right angles for a more accurate and effective 90degree feel.

Drum Sander

Drum sanders are known to be heavy sanders with high capacity and replaceable abrasive sheets. They are used to smoothen large areas quickly and neatly. These sanders require extra care to avoid causing noticeable marks on your wood.

These sanders look a lot like a lawnmower and are also operated the same way. Pushing these sanders across your floor from side to side at a steady pace will help you smoothen its surface beautifully. Using these sanders would require a lot of lifting the drum off of the floor and placing back down, causing it to leave lots of marks on the floor.

These sanders could also be used to remove paint and adhesives. It also has a vacuum where debris are gathered for easy disposal and to keep the workspace neat.

Palm Sander

The Palm sanders are the commonest sander for home use in the market. Like every other sander, its name sells it off. These sanders can be operated fully, using just one hand (one palm). Although the palm sander seems small, it can do a lot of finishing and smoothing.

These sanders often come with a detachable dust collector to get rid of debris and keep your workspace clean. They really come in handy when you want to smoothen a flat surface, curved surfaces and corners too.

Palm sanders are considerably the lightest and the smallest sanders as they fit perfectly into your palm. They have the weakest motor and can only be used for light jobs, pushing against these sanders could lead to complete damage.

Drywall Sander

Drywall sanders are perfect for smoothening out surfaces that are beyond arm’s length. It looks very much like a metal detector with its long handle and a disc metal plate. This sander is perfect for finishing the ceiling and wall works.

The drywall sander was specifically designed to smoothen drywalls and holes that have been filled up and for the removal of excess adhesives, making it a very essential tool in drywall installation. Drywall sanders come with a dust collector to keep the work area clean and clear up excess dust including the ones caused by the drywall installation.

Some drywall sanders have shorter handles for smoothening drywalls that are within reach. The main idea behind using the drywall sander is to sand areas that you’d normally need a ladder for.

Oscillating Spindle Sander

The oscillating spindle sander consists of a rotating cylindrical drum covered with sandpaper which is raised and lowered on a spindle, allowing your woodwork to have contact with the drum. Its vertical design makes it suitable for smoothening curved surfaces.

This sander doesn’t only cause its spindle to rotate but it causes it to go in an “up and down” motion along the spindle’s axis. It is designed for evening out the surface of curved and round-edged woodworks.

Oscillating spindle sanders come in two different models; the floor and the bench mounted model. The bench mounted model is perfect for craftsmen with little working space while the floor mounted model is for craftsmen with enough room to work on.

Sanding Block

The sanding block is a completely different sander compared to other sanders and it is without doubts, the oldest type of sander. It requires no form of electricity or power at all, it is just a block with a smooth side where the sand paper is properly attached.

Using a sanding block makes sanding safe, just like every other electrical powered sanders because it protects you from having a splinter in your hands like you normally would using your hands directly on the sandpaper.

Most sanding blocks are usually homemade and a variety of materials such as; rubber, cork, wood and plastic could be used to wrap the sandpaper around. With a variety of handles, sanding blocks are easy and more comfortable to use.

Stroke Sander

Stroke sanders provide solid control when sanding woodworks with a large surface area. A stroke sander is a huge sander with a sandpaper belt and a table that can be slid in and out. It also consists of a platen that makes it possible to apply pressure to your work surface by pushing the belt to the work surface.

These sanders are hand-operated and applying more force to areas that need extra sanding is possible.

A lot of heat is emitted when using this sander but its belt dissipates the heat making it almost impossible for your woodworks to get burnt or have burn marks.

Although the stroke sanders are very efficient, they are not commonly used like the belt sanders because of its size, so they are mainly used for industrial purposes.


As we can see, most of these sanders have names that literally matches with their various functions, making them easy to remember. Sanders are your best bet yet for having a perfectly finished project or perfectly evened out floors.

 Choosing the right sander for the right woodwork or project will save you a whole lot of troubles and costs. Knowing what sander to use will give you the finishing you crave and leaves you satisfied. For a DIY enthusiast or a woodworker, using more than one type of these sanders is likely to occur.

Now that you know what sanders to use and when to use them, all you have to do is go to a store and purchase one that best suits your project. Sanders is quite easy to operate, so you’ll not have a difficult time getting them to work.

Always remember to use safety devices while sanding to prevent any kind of accidents.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.