Palm Sander vs. Orbital Sander: What Tool to Use?

Finding the right sanding tool can be a pain in the neck. The first and foremost problem is deciding which type of power sander to purchase. Do you need a belt sander? Will an orbital sander work? How about random orbital sanders? What about palm sanders?

In this article, we’re going to talk about two power sanders – palm and orbital sanders – that are both handheld but serve different functions. We’ll discuss in what areas of sanding each of these tools excel, as well as some of their downsides. In the end, we’ll help you decide which of the two would be the more appropriate tool to have for general-purpose sanding.

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What is a Palm Sander?

The real defining factor of a palm sander is its compact size. This tool is meant to be operated using a single hand instead of two like a handheld belt sander. Its small size makes it easy to control when doing the final sanding.

The shape of a palm sander’s sanding pad varies from model to model, but the most common shape would be triangular, similar to an iron. The size helps maneuver around odd shapes.

What can a Palm Sander do?

The small size of a palm sander makes it extremely easy to glide across the surfaces of large boards. Its compactness paired with the triangular sanding pad makes it a great tool to use when sanding curves and edges.

A palm sander is designed to be used for final sanding. This is because palm sanders come with weaker motors than other types of power sanders. The most compatible grits of sandpaper that attach to this tool’s sanding pad would be anything between 160- and 220-grit, so you don’t remove too much material per second.

Downsides of a Palm Sander

Since this tool is weaker than other types of power sanders, this isn’t the tool to use for treating rough lumber. If you need to flatten or straighten lumber, you’re going to have a difficult time doing that with this tool.

If you plan on using coarse-grit sandpaper – anything less than 160 – then this tool will most likely scratch the surface than sand it. This is because the smaller motor doesn’t give enough movement to let coarser grits remove more material.

This is a one-trick pony that is only to be used for adding final sanding touches to your project. This tool doesn’t provide enough sanding power to shape or get rid of blemishes on your stock.

Another thing we need to mention is that this tool requires you to purchase the right-sized sanding paper sheets. This means spending a bit more money by periodically purchasing the correct size of sandpaper pads.

What is an Orbital Sander?

Something that you should know from the get-go is that an orbital sander and a random orbiting sander are two completely different tools. Both of them are handheld and can be used in a single hand, like a palm sander, but there are two ways in which they differ.

First, a regular orbital sander has a square or rectangular sanding pad, whereas a random orbital sander comes with a round sanding pad. The second difference is the sanding direction. An orbital sander’s sanding pad moves in a back-and-forth motion. A random orbital sander, on the other hand, moves in two directions – it rotates, and it orbits. For the rest of the article, we’re going to talk about regular orbital sanders.

An orbital sander is a tool that you would use to smoothen out any scratches after sanding your stock on a belt sander (another type of power sander!). It comes with a smaller motor than most types of power sanders you won’t be able to treat rough timber with this tool.

One of the greatest benefits of an orbital sander is that you don’t need to purchase special-sized sanding pads. Instead, you can purchase any sanding paper of any grit and cut it down to size. You can save a ton of money by purchasing sandpaper in bulk.

What can an Orbital Sander do?

This tool serves to smooth out any scratch marks left by a belt sander. Its weaker motor (compared to a drum sander) allows it to be used for finish sanding on your workpieces.

One area where this tool excels is being able to sand in corners. This is because of the square-shaped sanding pad; it can fit into corners without leaving any part of the workpiece un-sanded.

Downsides of an Orbital Sander

There are several downsides when using an orbital sander that you need to consider. First of all, this isn’t an aggressive tool so removing tons of material isn’t possible with an orbital sander. At most, it’ll create a smooth surface on pieces that have already been passed on a belt, drum, or disc sander.

The next drawback is that it can still leave scratch marks, regardless of sandpaper grit size. This tool moves the sand belt in one direction, so it has a greater chance of scratching the same spot continuously, both leaving deep gashes and removing slightly more material than you initially planned.

Another thing you need to consider is the size and shape of the orbital sander’s sanding pan. It has a square/rectangular shape that won’t work well on curves. This tool is meant to be used on large, flat surfaces. If you’re sanding curved edges, you could ruin the curve you worked so hard to make.

Palm Sander vs. Orbital Sander – Which to Get

So looking at each of these tools’ ups and down, assuming you already have an aggressive sanding tool like a drum sander, you would be better off with a palm sander. A palm sander can be a great finish sander. It won’t be able to fit in tight corners like an orbital sander, but it can sand the surface of large objects as well as curved edges.

If you don’t have a drum sander, then an orbital sander would be the better choice to get. This tool can use both coarse and fine sandpaper grit sizes. This allows it to both rough and finishes sanding which is something that a palm sander is incapable of doing. This is the more versatile of the two options so you can do more with this tool in your arsenal.

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