Tool Chest: Random Orbital Sander

Let’s talk about the random orbital sander and why any good DIYer needs one in their tool chest.

What would my tool chest be without this powerful little tool? You know how many random orbital sanders I have? No, of course you don’t. But the weird thing is neither do I. Somewhere between 3 and 6. Some are different sizes, some are doubles, some of them are somewhat broken. Whatever, don’t judge me.

The point is that this tool is cheap enough, and I use them frequently enough that I somehow accumulated more of them than I can count from memory. In my books that makes it a very important tool that everyone needs in their DIY tool chest.

Random Orbital Sander (1 of 6)

So what do you use a random orbital sander for? Well for sanding of course! But sanding is a pretty broad term though, so I’m going to break it down into a few specific use cases.

First you have material removal. You can use random orbital sanders to strip paint and other materials off of surfaces. It’s great for refinishing furniture, repainting a door or some other similar project where you are stripping off an old coat of something before applying a new coat of something else. A good random orbital sander will strip off even the thickest old cruddy paint.

Second you can use it for finishing a surface. Say you have a piece of wood you want transform into a desk, but it’s rough to the touch. Well a few minutes with a random orbital sander and it will be smooth as a babies bottom.  I did this recently in my mahogany bookcase project where I sanded all of the mahogany before assembling the bookcase.

Mahogany Bookcase (13 of 43)

Third you can actually use them for leveling two different surfaces or flushing things up. Again I did this in my bookcase project. I had many points where two different pieces of wood would meet. I did my best to line them up, but there will always be small imperfections between two different pieces of wood. Using the random orbital sander I was able to sand away the high points and remove those imperfections.

Mahogany Bookcase (18 of 43)

How can one tool be so versatile? Well the secret lies in it’s base. Most random orbital sanders have a velcro pad on their base that allows for interchangeable sanding pads. Different sand paper pads have different “grit” ratings. For stripping paint and removing material you’ll want to use a low grit sand paper like a 40 or 80. For finishing surfaces you’ll want to use higher grit sand papers like 220 or 400. The higher the grit, the finer and less aggressive the sand paper is. Finding the right grit for the job is a bit of an art and comes with experience.

Random Orbital Sander (6 of 6)

Random orbital sanders are also incredibly user friendly, which makes them great for first times and DIYers. The random orbital part of the name refers to how the pad moves. These pads don’t just rotate, they follow a “random” path which helps to prevent things like swirl marks, or removing too much material inadvertently. Most random orbital sanders will also have variable speed controls, when you’re first using a new one, start low and work you way up.

Random Orbital Sander (3 of 6)

Another feature of a good random orbital sander is a dust catch. The sanders will force exhaust air and dust into this filtered bags that will collect the majority of dust created by the tool. Don’t get me wrong though, using a random orbital sander is still a dusty affair. Even the best sanders that you can hook up to a dust extractor still make some dust. Make sure you empty the dust catch frequently, otherwise it can backup into the sander and put extra stress on your tool.

Random Orbital Sander (5 of 6)

I’m not sure there’s a DIY build that I’ve posted that hasn’t been touched by a random orbital sander at some point. They are incredibly useful, so much so that I think anyone working with wood needs one in their tool chest. If you’re looking for a good mid range random orbital sander I can recommend the Dewalt DWE6423K. I have 2 of the predecessors to this sander and they have served me well for many years.

Thanks for checking out this installation of tool chest. Hit me up in the comments if you’ve still got any questions!

  1. Hey there Zac. What kind of vacuum do you hook up to yours? Thank you kindly


    1. Zachary Matchett-Smith December 29, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Hey Peter, I’ve been using the Festool 36E AC lately and really enjoy it!


Leave a Reply