Orbital Sander vs Drum Sander — Which Floor Sander Should You Use?

orbital floor sander

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The starting point of any wood floor sanding task is selecting a fine finishing tool that can clear deep scratches and reach narrow spaces. For DIY newbies, deciding between orbital sanders and drum sanders can be a tough puzzle to solve. To save you from lost money and time, our team took the initiative to list the magnitude difference between these floor sanders. 

What is an Orbital Floor Sander?

If you’re thinking of doing some light sanding to make the wood flat and clear, then an orbital sander is most definitely the best option for the job. At first glance, even our resident DIYers knew that this tool would perform well with edge sanding as it generally comes with a rectangular surface. 

It has an oscillating plate with sandpaper attached to it. When you move the equipment with the disk spinning in an orbital motion, it’ll continue sanding the wood in a random scratch pattern. With this, you wouldn’t need to follow the direction of the little swirls or grains in the flooring. 

Clarke Orbital 3-Disc Floor Sander

What is a Drum Floor Sander?

You may not know it, but a drum sander is affectionately called a “big machine” by many wood sanding experts. Why? Because that’s what it looks like, a large machine with bulky construction meant to sand rough hardwood floors.

Drum sander has large spinning drums often operated in a standing position. Its massive weight and spin speed give drum sanders an edge when dealing with deep sanding scratches and stripping all the old finish on the floor. 

drum floor sander

This machine needs a huge amount of space and requires following the grain pattern on the floors. That’s why it’s complicated for beginners to use this sanding equipment. 

How Do They Differ?

Method of Sanding

Before pitting drum sander vs. orbital sander, our resident woodworkers would like to note that both drum and orbital sanders have different sanding processes to offer. Drum sanding uses a large spinning drum and paper to cut through hardwood floors. 

Meanwhile, orbital sanders mainly operate using a grinding method. Unlike drum sanding that opts for aggressive motions to get the whole floor sanded, orbital sanding uses a pad that moves in a circling motion.  

Speed and Labor

Orbital sanding tends to be gentler in motion than drum sanding, so it’s only natural that the latter gets the job done a lot faster. However, if you’re planning to sand bedroom floors with finer grits, our team suggests going for most random orbitals as they produce a less scratchy outcome. 

orbital floor sander

Although faster, the sanding process could lead to unintended scratches when sanding the grain or reaching corners, given how much firepower drum sanders have over orbital floor sanders. 

Ease of Use

There’s no denying that operating an orbital sander is a ton easier than handling a drum sander. Given that using a belt sander requires more user effort due to its weight, newbies may find a random orbital sander easier to control. 

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Which is the Best Floor Sander to Use?

Floor Type and Thickness

When deciding which between drum or orbital sander to use for wood, it’s crucial to determine what kind of floors you’re working on. As you know, there are different types of hardwood floorings [1]. Our resident DIYers suggest using a drum sander if the floor spaces are wide and thick. But for household sanding, which deals with narrow edges, orbital sanding works best. 

Floor Condition

If you plan to refinish old hardwood flooring, our resident woodworkers recommend choosing a drum sand machine over its alternative. It can sand the wood faster until it’s bare and easily remove paint and stains. But for a surface in good condition and minimal paint drips or stains, orbital sanders are cheaper options that can do the trick. 

FAQ

Is it hard to use a drum sander?

Yes, it’s hard to use a drum sander. If not used appropriately, drum sanders can chip the top layer of your flooring. In most cases, professionals favor these heavy-duty tools because they can handle any wood sanding job. However, its design isn’t meant to reach narrow edges due to its massive size. 

How long does it take to sand a floor with an orbital sander?

It will take two to four days per room to sand a floor with an orbital sander. This time calculation only applies if your floor is in good condition and has a flat surface. If you’re using a handheld sander orbital, you’ll need to double that estimation again. 

Conclusion

Admit it or not, comparing drum sander vs. orbital sander made you realize that both tools serve different purposes. After making your choice according to your finishing needs, we suggest considering whether you’ll buy brand new, rent a machine, or stick to practical ones sold on second-hand sites.  

Related products to check: 

Best orbital sandpaper

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 and women. 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