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Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: Which to Choose?

belt sander vs orbital sander featured

belt sander vs orbital sander featured

Though there are a variety of different sanders, belt, and orbital sanders are the two most popular. They are both great for working with furniture and wood floors, but you shouldn’t use them interchangeably. Since these tools are so similar, it can be difficult to know which one to choose.

Simply put, you should get a belt sander if you have large jobs, but you should get an orbital sander if you have small or rounded jobs.

To learn more about belt and orbital sanders, keep reading. This article fully explains the difference between these sander types and how to use each.

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Overview of Belt Sanders:

A belt sander is an incredibly powerful tool. It uses an electric motor that moves a pair of drums. These drums then move a loop of sandpaper so that the tool can sand the surface down. Because of the design of this sander, it is a bit bigger than other options, but it is highly powerful.

belt sander tool
Image Credit: Sean van Tonder, Shutterstock
  • Speed: The speed of a belt sander is measured in feet per minute, or how many feet the tool can sand in a minute. The higher the speed rating, the faster it moves and sands down the surfaces. Most belt sanders come with variable speed functionality to easily control the speed.
  • Power: Belt sanders are known for their incredible power, which is measured in amps. Most belt sanders have power ratings between 8 and 11 amps. If you expect to do a lot of work, you should get a belt sander with higher amperage.
  • Varieties: There aren’t many belt sander varieties since all are designed to be powerful. The main difference between individual belt sanders is speed and power. However, you have the choice between a stationary or handheld belt sander.
  • Ideal Use: Belt sanders are ideal for sanding large surfaces and rough surfaces. For example, belt sanders are great for hardwood flooring and large pieces of furniture like tables. In comparison, belt sanders are not ideal for small pieces since they are quite powerful.
Pros
  • Incredibly powerful
  • Works quickly
  • Great for large surfaces and metal
Cons
  • Not suitable for small surfaces
  • Easy to sand down too much material with

Related Read: 5 Best Belt Sanders – Reviews & Top Picks

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Overview of Orbital Sanders:

An orbital sander uses sanding discs and moves in small circles or orbits, after which the tool is named. These swirl designs make it easy to sand down large pieces in a short amount of time. Even though the sander moves in circles, the tool itself is shaped like a square so that you can get into corners and similar areas.  Because of the circular pattern these sanders use, they can leave swirly marks on whatever items you are sanding.

orbital sander
Image Credit: evgengerasimovich, Shutterstock

Speed

With orbital sanders, the speed is measured in how many orbits the tool can move in a minute. Most orbital sanders move at around 10,000 orbits per minute. The faster the tool can move, the faster you can get the job done. So, you always want to look for high speeds, especially if you are working on large surfaces.

Power

The power of orbital sanders is measured with amps. As you probably know, the more amps that are listed, the more powerful the sander is. Orbital sanders aren’t powerful enough to remove a lot of surface area at once. If you need to take off a lot of surface area, you might want to consider a completely different tool, such as the belt sander.

Varieties

Handle types largely determine orbital sander varieties. There are three main types of handles:

  • Pistol-Grip Handles: Offer maximum control because you use both hands; usually on professional sanders
  • Jug-Grip Handles: Ideal for using the sander underneath furniture
  • Palm Grip Handles: Most common because they are easy to hold, small, and comfortable

Orbital sanders also come in corded and cordless models. Corded models are more powerful, but they are limited by cord length. In comparison, cordless sanders can go anywhere, but they aren’t as powerful.

Ideal Use

Orbital sanders are best for getting into tough corners and working on rounded edges. They are also ideal when sanding a surface that will be treated later. You should not use an orbital sander if you do not treat the wood after sanding since it can leave swirls.

Pros
  • Great for corners and rounded areas
  • Gets the job done quickly
  • Several varieties to choose from
Cons
  • Can leave swirl marks
  • Not the most powerful

Related Read: 10 Best Random Orbital Sanders – Reviews & Top Picks

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What Are the Differences?

There are three main differences between belt and orbital sanders:

Power

Belt sanders are notably more powerful than orbital sanders. They are so powerful that it is easy to sand off too much material with a belt sander accidentally. Conversely, orbital sanders are not as powerful, but they are the perfect amount of power if you are worried about sanding away too much material.

belt sander
Image Credit: Serhii Yevdokymov, Shutterstock

Sanding Mechanism

The actual sanding mechanism on these sanders is different. With belt sanders, the sandpaper is moved in a loop so that it sands down the material quickly. Orbital sanders are different in that the sandpaper is laid flat on the surface and is moved in a circle. The sandpaper is often attached to the orbital sander with a peel and stick or Velcro system.

Sanding Grit

The sandpaper used on the sanders differs too. Orbital sanders are the easiest because you can use practically every type of sandpaper on the sander if you can connect the sandpaper to the device. Belt sanders need a specific type of sandpaper since they are moved in a loop. Belt sander sandpaper is more expensive as a result.

When To Use Which?

Even though belt and orbital sanders are similar, you shouldn’t use them interchangeably. Here are a few examples of when to use which:

Uses for Belt Sanders
  • Large surface jobs
  • Leveling rough surfaces
  • Creates even and smooth finishes
  • Jobs that won’t have additional treatment after sanding
Uses for Orbital Sanders
  • Small surface jobs
  • Corner jobs
  • Rounded surfaces
  • Jobs that will have additional treatment after sanding
orbital sander
Image Credit: Everyonephoto Studio, Shutterstock

Which Is Right for You?

The sander that is right for you depends entirely on your needs and projects.

If you perform large, flat surface jobs that require a lot of sand power, belt sanders are ideal. In comparison, orbital sanders are better for small, flat surface jobs or rounded surfaces. If you are worried that you don’t have a delicate enough hand for a belt sander, the orbital sander is the better choice.

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Conclusion

Ultimately, belt and orbital sanders are great tools on hand. Especially if you do a lot of house renovations and woodworking, these tools are essential. However, get a belt sander if you have big jobs or get an orbital sander if you have small jobs. Better yet, get both so that you can perform a wide range of jobs!

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