(guest post by Joseph Truini)
If you’re an active do-it-yourselfer, woodworker or hobbyist, you probably have to sand wood on a regular basis. The often tedious and messy process becomes much easier and faster when you use an electric benchtop sander.
Unlike portable sanders, such as a belt sander or random orbit sander, benchtop sanders are stationary sanding machines that you can park on a workbench or set up on sawhorses. Generally speaking, benchtop sanders are much more powerful and have greater sanding capacity than portable sanders, but the real advantage is that you can use both hands to control the workpiece.
Here, I’ll take a detailed look at the three most popular benchtop models: belt-and-disk sander, oscillating spindle sander and drum sander. With these three sanders—and the correct abrasive—you can sand virtually any surface or edge you’re likely to encounter. Each type of sander comes in different sizes and configurations, and in a wide range of prices.
Caution: Most benchtop sanders have a dust port for attaching a wet/dry vacuum, which does a very good job at capturing a majority of the sanding dust. However, it’s still advisable to wear a dust mask, or better yet, a dual-cartridge respirator when sanding wood, especially if the board is painted or varnished.
1. Belt-and-Disk Sander
As its name implies, a belt-and-disk sander consists of a round sanding disk and a large, flat sanding belt.
This versatile two-in-one tool combines a large belt sander with a round disk sander into one compact, benchtop machine. The disk sander, which is typically between 6 and 10 inches in diameter, is ideal for sanding both square and curved ends onto boards. Plus, it’s equipped with a tilting worktable that accepts a miter gauge so you can use the disk to precisely sand square and angled workpieces.
The adjustable table on the disk sander tilts up to at least 45 degrees to permit precise sanding of miters, bevels, chamfers and other angles.
The belt sander, which is typically about 4×36 inches or 6×48 inches, has a large, flat platen that permits sanding long, wide boards. On most models, the belt is adjustable so you can set it horizontally, vertically or at an angle in between. If you’re only going to get one benchtop sander, make it a belt-and-disk sander, and buy the largest one you can afford.
On most belt-and-disk sanders, the sanding belt can be positioned vertically for easier end sanding.
2. Oscillating Spindle Sander
Caption: The sanding drum of an oscillating spindle sander spins in circles and moves up and down at the same time.
An oscillating spindle sander is the type of woodworking tool you could probably do without— that is, until you get one. Then you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it! Not only is it a super-effective sanding machine, but it’s also a blast to use.
An oscillating spindle sander is essentially a dual-motion drum sander built into a stationary table. But, unlike a standard drum sander, which just spins around, an oscillating spindle sander spins in circles and oscillates up and down simultaneously. The result is a near-perfect tool for precisely sanding curves, contours and other irregular shapes.
The sander comes with several interchangeable rubber drums (a.k.a. spindles) of various diameters, and an assortment of abrasive sleeves that slip onto the drums. Install the size drum that matches the radius or curve of the piece you’re sanding.
It’s worth mentioning that Ridgid makes a unique oscillating spindle sander that converts from spindle sanding to oscillating belt sanding, effectively doubling the versatility of the tool.
The Ridgid Model EB4424 is an oscillating spindle sander that converts to an oscillating belt sander.
3. Drum Sander
A benchtop drum sander is designed for smoothing wide, long boards and flat workpieces.
Drum sanders were once only found in professional shops, but new benchtop models have brought drum sanding to the home woodworker as well. A drum sander is designed for smoothing long boards, panels and doors. It’s essentially a giant, stationary belt sander.
To use the sander, start by turning the hand crank to adjust the opening in the machine to match the thickness of the workpiece. (The model shown above accommodates boards up to three inches thick and 20 inches wide.) Next, turn on the motor and feed the work into the sander. An auto-feed system moves the board across the abrasive belt at an even, consistent speed; usually about 12 feet per minute. Retrieve the board from the other side and, if desired, crank down the handle a little and feed the board through again for another sanding. Be sure to make only light passes; trying to remove too much wood in one pass will overload the motor and stall the sander.
Editor’s Note: Joseph Truini is a home-improvement expert who writes extensively about do-it-yourself home remodeling and repair, woodworking projects, and tools and techniques. He has authored six books and his work has appeared in several national magazines. To see a wide selection of the kinds of sanders described in this article, visit the Home Depot website.