Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: Which is Better for Your Needs?

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Most woodworking projects require sanding wood, so it’s not surprising why orbital and belt sanders are highly sought-after. However, more than getting a smooth surface, did you know that these tools offer different features that may not suit your project? 

In this Orbital Sander vs. Belt Sander review, our resident woodworkers will compare these power tools to see which one makes the sanding process easier. 

Belt Sander Overview

Design-wise, belt sanders are bigger than other models. Because of this, you shouldn’t be surprised if it delivers more power than other sander types. 

belt sander

Typically, you’ll find two variations of power belt sanders in the market: the stationary and handheld model. Nevertheless, both belt sander variations move in a looping motion that smoothens the material’s top wood grain. 

Most belt sanders are also great at removing material in large strips, so we highly recommend this powerful tool for tough and larger surfaces. It’s also the reason why they’re called finishing sanders. 

How a Belt Sander Works

The sanding belt operates with an electric motor engine that powers two drums to move. These drum components run in a loop motion, allowing the sanding pad to smoothen the rough surfaces of the material in question. Here’s how the two variations of belt sanders differ.

Stationary Belt Sander

True to their name, these wood sanders are best used on a workbench while in a stationary position. You must keep this belt sander variation on a stable base if you don’t want it to move around inaccurately. 

Large and flat surfaces may require buying bigger stationary belt sanders with a stand, but benchtop models are sufficient for regular tasks. 

installing belt on a sander

However, we still recommend working on smaller stocks because inexperienced woodworkers may have difficulties holding wider wood boards in a steady position. 

You must get the wood ready and push it against the rotating sanding belt to get the desired sanding result. Unlike in other tools where the sander moves, the operator must navigate how the material will feed into the sanding machine.

Handheld Belt Sander

Although a handheld belt sander works the same way as the stationary model, it’s the power tool you’d want to use around large surfaces. Instead of moving the material into the belt sand, you can just put the board down and move the sander over it. 

It’s also lighter than a stationary belt sander, giving users more portability and control during the sanding operations. 

The Key Features of Belt Sanders

Speed

When you look at the belt sander labels, you’ll notice that its speed is measured by feet per minute. If you’re keen on fast-paced work in your woodworking shop, getting belt sanders with higher speed specifications is the solution.

belt

The operator’s skill level is often the biggest hurdle when using high-speed belt sanders. Like other powered machines in the industry, it’s crucial to consider cutting speed to avoid safety hazards [1].

If you want a perfect finish on flat surfaces, our tool experts still recommend models with variable speed options. Through this feature, you can adjust the belt sander speed according to the needs of your project and desired results. 

Sandpaper

During our team’s search, we noticed that the belt sander sandpaper is often 3 inches wide. However, you can also find sanding pads that are thinner than 3 inches suitable for mini belt sanders. 

Dust

When getting rid of dust in the workshop, most belt sander options feature two solutions; a vacuum system port or a dust collection bag. For the prior mentioned, you’ll have to connect an actual vacuum cleaner to suck the dust away. 

black belt sander

Meanwhile, some models have a passive dust collection system. This function will suck sawdust inside the dust bag automatically and keep the workshop clean while the belt sander does its job.

(If you want to purchase a separate cleaning tool for your workshop, check this list of small shop dust collections, with a buying guide.) 

Varieties

As mentioned earlier, you can choose between handheld and stationary models. However, it’s important to note that belt sander tools don’t have wide varieties as other sanders because they’re mostly focused on power. 

Power

Belt sanders suits heavy-duty sanding works because they carry massive power amperage. These wood sanders range from 8 to 11 amp power specifications.  

Recommended Use

Using a belt sander is the ideal way to sand hardwood flooring. And because it’s a powerful and aggressive tool, it’s also more suitable for large furniture prices than smaller ones.  

The Advantages of a Belt Sander

Quick Removal of Rough Wood Over a Wide Area

Given its size and design, you can rely on a belt sander to remove paint or smoothen rough surfaces on a wide area.

operating a belt sander

User-Friendly

This sander type isn’t complicated to use at all. You won’t encounter extra adjustments or complex assembly when using this tool because all you need to do is load the sandpaper, turn on the machine, and get the job done. 

Durability

As these sanders offer more power, it’s no secret that they’re well-built for rough sanding conditions.

The Disadvantages of a Belt Sander

Not the Best for Fine Sanding

The belt sander’s power comes with the disadvantage of not being suitable for fine sanding work. It’s likely to leave marks on the material during the process, so we don’t recommend them on wood pieces with intricate details. 

Too Loud

Besides sanding marks, this sander can be loud during usage. If you don’t want to experience hearing damage, we urge you to use ear protection. 

Orbital Sander Overview

Instead of a belt, an orbital sander carries discs and sheets. It’s a handheld tool that moves in a circular pattern to produce smoother surfaces. Because of this, an orbital sander is likely to leave swirl marks on your material. 

orbital sander

Compared to other alternatives, these machines are handy and portable. However, orbital sanders are not the easiest tool to handle. 

How an Orbital Sander Works

Before we discuss how orbital sanders work, you must know that these tools come in two variations. First, you have the random orbital sanders that spin the sand pads in an inconsistent pattern. 

And then, there’s also the sheet sanders. Unlike random orbital sanders, these tools include pads that only run in the same orbits. 

The good thing about using a random orbital sander is it doesn’t leave marks. Considering how it doesn’t stay in one orbiting pattern, you don’t need to be mindful of its movement during usage. 

The Key Features of Orbital Sanders

Speed

Regular and random orbital sander options have speed specifications measured through orbits per minute or OPM. It indicates the number of times a random orbital sander will rotate within a minute. 

Metabo HPT 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander

Typically, regular orbital sanders with at least 10000 OPM should suffice. It’s also a common speed range for these tools, but getting a model with variable output is highly preferable for more user control. 

Power

While orbital sanders offer enough power to handle typical sanding tasks like rounding edges, it’s not best used for tough materials. 

You can initially use belt sanders for the rough part and switch to orbital sanders when you need to sand intricate corners or areas. 

Handle Varieties

Palm Grip Handles

Some orbital sanders provide design handles that firmly fit your hand and are mostly equipped in smaller models.  

Jug-Grip Handles

An orbital sander with a grip design is also called a D-handle, mainly because you can hold the tool on the back part instead of the top. 

operating a blue orbital sander
Pistol-Grip Handles

If you fancy the convenience of one-hand operations, then orbital sanders with pistol grip handles should fulfill your needs. 

Accurate Work

Since they operate on repeated round angles, orbital sanders deliver more accurate results than alternatives. It’s also lighter and easier to wield, so it’s only natural that it’s easier to focus on precision when using it. 

Recommended Use

Smaller and more detailed orbital sanders are the best option we can recommend if you’re working on tight corners and rounding edges. 

The Advantages of an Orbital Sander

The Sanding Disc and Sandpaper

It’s no hassle attaching sandpaper on an orbital sander because it only requires using velcro or stick-and-peel, depending on the model you purchase.  And given that sandpapers aren’t costly or hard to find, no one can deny that it’s a very convenient tool. 

The Size and Shape

Most materials come in square or rectangular form, so it works well with the orbital sander’s tool shape. Its size also gives users more ease in reaching tight corners and edges. 

DeWalt orbital sander

The Smoothness

You can move an orbital sander back and forth, giving the material a smooth finish without the risk of sanding marks. 

The Disadvantages of an Orbital Sander

Time Consuming

An orbital sander doesn’t offer massive power. Because of this, its speed isn’t up to par with more powerful sanding alternatives. 

Restraints on Removing Materials

It’s not a tool meant for material removal or ripping, so there’s an obvious limit to how much an orbital sander can sand down. 

Twisting Marks

As mentioned, an orbital sander works in a circular motion that causes twisted marks on the material.  

What’s a Random Orbital Sander? How Does it Differ From an Orbital Sander?

Random orbital sanders also operate with circular movements. However, their orbits are more abrasive and less consistent. Here’s where you can best use these tools: 

testing an orbital sander

Belt and Orbital Sander In-Depth Comparison

Power

In this belt sander vs. orbital sander comparison, we’ve explained how the latter has a design more suitable for finishing touches and doesn’t require massive power like the former. 

Meanwhile, belt sanders are meant to be powerful to sand off more layers of the material. Overall, it depends on the sanding task you’re accomplishing. 

Sanding Functionality

The looping motion belt sanders move with can get the material sanded off quicker than using an alternative. It’s a more convenient option than orbital sanders that use sanding papers to move in circles. 

Sanding Grit

Although both tools can accommodate the available sandpapers in the market, an orbital sander can cater to almost every grit specification. You may not know, but belt sanders need a specific sandpaper size.  

Makita Sander

Speed

As these tools are measured in different speed metrics, it can be hard to compare them. However, considering their power range, it’s apparent that belt sanders have an edge in the speed category.

Precision

If it’s precision on small sanding details, you should use a more handy and lighter tool like orbital sanders.  

Uses

In this belt sander vs. orbital sander evaluation, we already itemized both tools’ differences. However, let us list their specific purposes to prove our point further.

Here’s the task you can use for orbital sanders:

  1. To sand smaller areas and tight angles.
  2. For rounding and shaping the edge.
  3. For intricate workpieces.
sanding an old cabinet

Meanwhile, we also recommend these tasks for belt sanders:

  1. Working on wooden hardwood floors.
  2. Wide and flat wooden boards.
  3. For highly rigid material surfaces.

Dust Collection

Although these tools differ in design and features, they have one thing in common: dust collection functions. Ultimately, it depends on the model you’re buying if it’ll have dust bags or vacuum ports. 

Choosing the Right Sander for Your Needs

To reiterate what our tool experts discussed, the sander you need depends on the project you’re working on. The more powerful belt sander is the best solution if you are engaged in large sanding tasks, including massive material removal. 

However, if you need to sand down small workpieces or details, you should use the handy option, orbital sanders. 

Conclusion

You don’t need to choose between the belt and orbital sanders, as these tools are crucial in any workshop engaged in frequent woodworking. 

Although investing in both machines can be expensive, our experts believe they’ll be handy in the long run. After all, woodworking does not end in a single project or process. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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