Believe us when we tell you that choosing the right sander for your projects is a confusing task. Not only are there numerous types of sanders, but for each type, there are hundreds of different models from several manufacturers. So yeah, confusing is probably just an understatement.
That is, unless, you know what you’re looking for. You see, sanders come in different shapes and sizes, and they each serve different purposes. One of the more misunderstood sanders is the disc sander.
What is a Disc Sander?
A disc sander is a tool with a large sanding wheel. The wheel is perpendicular to the work surface and spins at high speed. This tool is used by holding a piece of wood or plastic against the spinning disc to remove material. It is a lot more delicate than belt sanders, so if you need to give your pieces a final sanding before applying varnish, paint, or an oil finish, then a disc sander is the tool for you.
What a Disc Sander Can’t do
There are a few drawbacks to a disc sander. First of all, the size of the wheel needs to be enormous to remove material evenly to produce a flat surface. For instance, a 20-inch wheel would hardly be enough to flatten an 8- or 9-inch board.
Another thing to consider is that the wheel is used to sand rather than shape. Even though a coarse-grit wheel can remove more material per second, it’s not a tool that’s designed to process rough lumber.
Types of Disc Sanders
A disc sander can fall into one of two categories – floor-mounted or benchtop.
Floor-mounted disc sanders are the larger of the two types. They come with huge wheels for sanding large boards. They typically come with 1- to 1-1/2-HP motors for quicker removal of material. However, these models take up a tremendous amount of floor space – up to several square feet – so if you can hardly maneuver your way through your woodshop, you should consider getting a benchtop model instead.
A benchtop disc sander is tiny in comparison to a floor model. They generally come with ½-HP motors for lighter-duty sanding jobs on smaller pieces. As you can already assume, this tool is mounted onto a table or bench to give it stability and height. They come with smaller wheels for sanding smaller pieces. You have to pay extra attention to the guard that separates the left and right sides of the wheel since the direction of the spin will produce differently textured surfaces.
For the rest of this article, we’ll focus on benchtop models since they’re the more reasonable option to choose for both beginners and pros.
Benchtop Disc Sander Buying Guide
Since there are numerous benchtop disc sander models out there, it’s important to be able to identify what makes a quality disc sander. In this section, we’ll go over the most important specs and features to look out for before adding one of these tools to your woodshop.
This compact sander won’t come with a beefy 1-1/2-HP motor, but considering the size of the wheel (more on this later), it won’t need it. However, power is important, especially if you plan on removing material from plastic objects. A good HP rating to be on the lookout for is ½ HP.
The size of the disc determines how large a workpiece the tool can sand evenly. A larger disc means being able to handle larger boards, but they will also require a larger motor. Most models will come with sanding discs of around 6 inches or so which, for the typical DIY-er or beginner woodworker, will be sufficient.
The faster the disc spins, the more material it can remove per second. The best option would be to find a model that with variable speed which allows you to crank it when you want to give your piece an aggressive sanding. The speed range or speed cap is up to you to decide, but we typically favor models that can reach speeds of at least 3,000 RPM.
Belt Sander Combo
Just because a benchtop disc sander is small doesn’t mean it can’t be versatile. Many of the newer benchtop disc sander models come with a belt sander that’s positioned either parallel or perpendicular to the sanding wheel. We recommend getting one of these combo tools if possible. Make sure that the length of the distance between the disc sander’s drums accommodates sandpaper that is at least 36 inches long for better sanding quality.
Needless to say, sanding produces a heck of a lot of sawdust. You don’t want sawdust on the floor or hidden beneath your power tools since it can be a slipping hazard or even become kindling. Find a benchtop disc sander with a dust collector or port that’ll fit snugly with your shop vac’s suction hose (adapters are available and usually sold separately).
A benchtop disc sander has one quality that a floor model doesn’t – it’s lightweight. This means you can take the benchtop sander from place to place wherever it’s needed. The weight of a benchtop disc sander varies greatly from model to model; some can be as light as 10 pounds while others as heavy as 40. Keep in mind that more weight means more stability and being able to withstand vibrations more effectively.
Disc sanders are a type of power sander that’s made for final sanding jobs. It’s not something that removes a ton of material with every rotation of the wheel, so if you need to remove ingrained knots or shape your stock, then you need to find another type of sander.
A benchtop disc sander can be an especially handy sander to have in your home workshop, especially if it comes as a disc-belt sander combo. There are several things to keep an eye out for when picking up a benchtop disc sander, but the most important are the tool’s motor, disc size, and maximum speed.