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Project Success Secrets: Select the Best Sander

Sanding may not be the most exciting part of building a project, but it's one of the most important. A good sanding job is the secret to smooth surfaces, a fine finish, or perfect paint. Thankfully, electric sanders make this task faster and easier. To ensure success, make sure you choose the right type of sander.

Finish Sander: A Simple, Smooth Operator
The finish sander is one of the oldest types of electric sanders. It uses regular sandpaper sheets that you simply cut into quarters and attach to the sander's pad. The pad vibrates back and forth, creating an action that sands faster than doing it by hand. Because you don't have to buy special sandpaper, and because a basic finish sander is usually inexpensive, it's one of the first sanders many people buy.

Finish sanders work great for—as the name implies—finish sanding, which means getting to final smoothness with fine and ultra-fine grits. You can use coarse-grit sandpaper with a finish sander, but the sander doesn't have enough power to remove a lot of material. That means a finish sander isn't the best choice for all-around use.

Belt Sander: The Heavyweight Champ
The belt sander lives at the opposite end of the spectrum from a finish sander. This type, too, has been around for years, and is the go-to tool for fast material removal. The sanding belts these tools use are most commonly available in very-coarse, coarse, and medium grits. That means they'll remove a lot of material in a hurry, and can transform a rough surface into a semi-smooth one fast.

If you need to smooth out a panel (as shown in the tip below), prep your deck for a new finish, or you regularly start your projects with rough-sawn boards, a belt sander works great. But if you're trying to get that final smooth, flat surface on a project, a belt sander is simply too aggressive and can be difficult to control.

Random Orbit Sander: The All-Around Title Contender
Thankfully, there is a sander that can have the finesse of a finish sander and aggressive power that approaches a belt sander: The random-orbit sander. A random-orbit sander uses round sanding discs that are available in just about any grit you'd want, from very coarse to ultra-fine. That makes a random-orbit the best choice for all-around use.

Random-orbit sanders spin the sanding disc rapidly, which provides great sanding power. They also move the sanding disc in tiny circles that prevent the sandpaper from creating circular swirls. Instead, the sanding scratches are in a more random pattern. This makes them less noticeable, and gives the sander its name. That means, with a random-orbit sander, you can take on most sanding tasks with just one tool.

Bonus Technique: Sand a Panel Flat in 4 Steps
When you put multiple boards together to make a wide panel, it's possible that all of the boards may not sit perfectly flush. Here's a technique that will help you sand the panel smooth quickly. A belt sander works best, but a random-orbit sander equipped with a coarse disc can do the job, too. Once the panel is flat, you can sand with finer grits to smooth it out.
Draw pencil lines across the panel to allow you to see high spots and low spots as you sand. Sand across the grain using an 80-grit belt (or 60-grit disc) to level the surface of the panel. Switch to a 100-grit belt (or 80-grit disc) and move the sander at an angle to the grain, alternating directions. Finish by sanding with the grain to remove cross-grain scratches using a 120-grit belt (or 100-grit disc).

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2014 August Home Publishing

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