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The Different Types of Sanders and Their Uses

The Different Types of Sanders and Their Uses

Sanders are some of the most ubiquitous tools out there. From shaping wood to refinishing metal, a good sander eliminates the tedium and elbow grease needed to sand things by hand. But let's face it - there are so many different types of sanders out there, it can be hard to know which sander is used for what, as well as what sander is best for each person's needs. Never fear, dear reader - your friends at WEN are here to help clear things up. So without further ado, let's jump in. 


Broadly speaking, sanders can be categorized by whether they are handheld, benchtop, or floor-standing machines.

  • Handheld sanders are extremely popular, especially for homeowners and DIYers, for good reasons - they're portable, inexpensive, and very versatile, with enough power to handle most jobs.
  • Benchtop models may not have the portability of their handheld brethren, but they pack a powerful punch that handheld models can't match, and are popular for woodworkers and other hobbyists.
  • Floor-standing models are the heavyweights, able to power through tough jobs with ease, and are great for production environments.

Some of the sanders we'll go through in this article can fall under more than one category - for example, a belt sander could be a handheld or a benchtop model. Other times, multiple sanders are combined into one machine, like on a belt/disc sander.

Palm and random-orbit sanders

Perhaps the most common type of sander, and maybe the one that came to mind first, palm sanders and random-orbit sanders aren't necessarily two different things. A palm sander just means it's a handheld machine, usually held under your palm while you use it. Random-orbit refers to the action of the sanding pad; it simultaneously spins in a circle, while a mechanism inside the sander moves the pad around in very small, tight circles. The combination of these two movements means that same area of sandpaper rarely (if ever) passes over the same area of the workpiece, reducing the chances of swirl marks or burning on the workpiece.

Palm sanders come in a few different sub-types: 

  • 1/4-sheet sanders accept a one-quarter sheet of sandpaper. They're good all-around options, and their square bases make them great for getting into corners. 
  • 1/3-sheet sanders accept a one-third sheet of sandpaper. They're usually smaller and less powerful than their 1/4-sheet cousins, but often less expensive too.
  • Detailing sanders feature a pointed triangular nose that makes them great for getting into very tight spaces. WEN offers both corded and cordless detailing sander models. 
  • Rotary sanders, like their 1/4-sheet cousins, are versatile options for most general-purpose work. They feature a round base that makes for excellent maneuverability and a great finish on the workpiece, but may have more difficulty getting into tight spaces or corners than detailing sanders.

WEN 20405 20V Max cordless 5-inch random orbit sander

The WEN 20405 20V Max brushless 5" random orbit sander is a compact powerhouse in a cordless package.

Belt sanders

Versatile and powerful, belt sanders are found in handheld, benchtop, and floor-standing versions; benchtop and floor-standing models are often combined with disc sanders. They use a long, wide sanding belt to quickly remove lots of material, or flatten relatively large areas. They're great for freehand shaping as well.

WEN HB6319 handheld belt sander

The WEN HB6319 3" x 18" handheld belt sander is a versatile workhorse, great for stripping paint, touching up rough floors, and more.

File sanders

Essentially smaller belt sanders, file sanders take their names from the traditional hand file that they resemble, and are exclusively handheld machines. They use a long, thin sanding belt to precisely remove a certain amount of material, or to remove it from a very specific area. They're great for getting into tight spaces, and are very popular for auto body detailing as well. They often come in cordless or corded versions.

WEN 20437 20V Max Cordless Variable Speed Detailing File Sander with 2.0 Ah Lithium-Ion Battery and Charger

The WEN 20437 20V Max cordless variable-speed file sander is lightweight, maneuverable, and conveniently cordless.

Disc sanders

Disc sanders are generally benchtop machines, although floor-standing versions exist as well. They are often combined with belt sanders, and are great for smoothing out end grain in wood, or for light metal shaping. Use them for shaping straight- or miter-cut workpieces, or getting a nice exterior curve.

WEN 65812 12-Inch Benchtop Disc Sander with Miter Gauge and Dust Collection System

The WEN 65812 12" disc sander features a direct-drive induction motor for heavy-duty sanding applications.

Oscillating spindle sanders

Oscillating spindle sanders are extremely popular with woodworkers requiring a sanded finish on outside or inside curves, and are generally benchtop machines (though handheld versions are also available). They use a series of differently-sized drums to sand workpieces, and are great for making guitars, cutting boards, and other projects - especially ones with inside (concave) curves. While spinning, the drums move up and down (hence the name "oscillating") using a series of belts and pulleys. This helps prevent burning on the workpiece. Some models, such as the WEN 6524, also include an interchangeable sanding belt for larger workpieces.

WEN AT6535 3.5-Amp Oscillating Spindle Sander with Beveling Top

The WEN AT6535 oscillating spindle sander features a large, beveling cast-iron table for maximum stability and versatility.

Drywall sanders

Drywall sanders are used for (what else?) sanding joint compound when doing drywall work. They come in smaller handheld and larger pole-mounted configurations; handheld models are great for eye-level or lower jobs, whereas pole-mounted models excel at ceiling or high-wall work. These sanders should always be paired with a dust extractor or vacuum (preferably with a HEPA filter) due to the large amounts of dust created when sanding joint compound. Some models, such as the WEN DW5084, come with interchangeable heads to make getting into corners easier than ever. 

  Click to expand             WEN DW6395 Variable Speed 6.3-Amp Drywall Sander with Mid-Mounted Motor

The WEN DW6395 variable-speed drywall sander has a mid-mounted motor to improve the sander's balance and reduce operator fatigue.

Drum sanders

Drum sanders are usually floor-standing machines, though benchtop machines exist as well. They operate similarly to a thickness planer; instead of blades, however, they're equipped with a strip of sandpaper wrapped around a drum to sand a workpiece down to an exact thickness and get an excellent finish. They are best suited for advanced woodworkers and production shops who require high degrees of precision and accuracy with their finished workpieces.

WEN 65911 10.5-Amp 10-Inch Drum Sander with Rolling Stand and Variable Speed Conveyor

The WEN 65911 10-inch drum sander is great for woodworkers who demand serious precision and serious power.


Thanks for reading! We hope this has been a helpful introduction to the various types of sanders on the market, as well as how best to use them. If you have any questions about which WEN sander is right for you, or need more information, please give us a call at 1-847-429-9263 (M - F, 8 - 5 CST), or drop us a message here to talk to our friendly and knowledgeable technical support team. Now go make some sawdust!

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