How does a sander work?

Written by dale devries
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How does a sander work?
(Cris DeRaud)

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Types of Sanders

You can find a sander to tackle any job that comes your way. There are many types of sanders on the market and even more variations of each type, including the floor sander, as well as the drum, belt, orbital and disc sanders. These sanders can be very large push sanders or smaller hand-held sanders. There are small orbital or palm sanders that you use for woodworking or small jobs, too. There are propane sanders and electric sanders. For drywall installation, there are hand sanders, and for sanding above your reach, you can place these hand sanders on a pole. There are even sanders for metal. The job you are doing will determine the sander you will need.


Commercial-grade sandpaper is the sandpaper sold in hardware and home improvement stores. You ask for it by a number followed by the word "grit." The number tells you how many abrasive particles there are per square inch of the paper. The grit ranges from 40 to 600, with the lower number being the most abrasive or coarse and the higher numbers referred to as fine, very fine, extra fine and super fine. The coarse paper is used for heavy sanding or stripping. As the grit gets to 80 to 120, a medium grit it is used for smoothing and removing imperfections. As you get into the fine grades, they are mainly used for preparing wood for the finish it is going to receive or to remove scratches. Knowing what sandpaper to use is almost more important than knowing which sander to use because the use of the wrong sandpaper can damage or even ruin your project.

How the Sanders Work

With each kind of sander, there is a place to attach the sandpaper. Before electric sanders, craftsmen would put the paper around a piece of wood and use it by moving it up and down or around in circles by hand. The same principle is used with electric and battery-operated sanders today, only the machine does it for you. On a belt sander the sandpaper is wrapped around a belt and, in some cases, two belts. The belts go around two wheels powered by a motor. As the belt turns, it pulls the sandpaper across the piece of wood that you are sanding. These machines can be stand-up or hand-held and can do work from heavy duty to medium sanding but are not recommended for fine sanding. The finer sanding would be done by an orbital sander. These sanders--sometimes referred to as random orbit sanders--travel in a random circle-type motion. The random movement ensures that the same part of the sanding disk does not hit the same place twice, leaving no swirl marks on your wood. The orbital sander uses sanding disks instead of long or square paper. The hand sander is a rectangular piece of metal that you clip the sandpaper on. It may have one handle or two and is used for fine work such as drywall. They may come with--or you can buy separately--a pole that will help you to reach the top of the wall or the ceiling. There are orbital sanders that can do this type of fine work also.

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