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orbital sanders vs sheet sanders: Whats the difference?

If you are working as a carpenter, you know that one of the most common tasks you need to do is sanding.

If you have experience in woodworking tasks, then you probably know that using a sander can be a quite enjoyable experience. However, this is true only when you use the correct type of sander for the job you are doing.

Two of the most commonly used types of sander are the random orbital sander and the sheet sander.

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In this article, we will discuss which of these sanders is suited for what kind of job, what their differences are, and the pros and cons of each.

The Sheet Sander

The sheet sander is also known as the finish sander, and just like that name suggests, it is intended to be used for the finishing touches on the piece you are working on.

Additionally, the sheet sander is called palm sander or quarter sheet pad sander. This name is derived from the sandpaper used with this tool, which is a quarter of the 9×11 sheet.

Usually, sheet sanders have a rectangle sanding pad. The way this type of sander works is in a basic, back, and forth circular movement at high speeds, this makes the tool ideal for detail work and small surfaces. The sanding pad’s rectangle shapes, especially square ones, make the sheet sander an excellent choice for edges and corners.

Since the sheet sander works in a back and forth movement, it is not suitable for removing lots of material in one go. This tool is not designed to cut through layers in short amounts of time. Even if you try, you probably won’t make much progress, and you will end up wasting time and energy.

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One of the best things about owning and using a sheet sander is its initial cost and its recurring costs of usage. This tool is less expensive than most of the other sanders and, at the same time, is utilizing regular sandpaper, which is cheap.

So let’s go on and see one by one the pros and cons of the sheet sander.

Sheet Sander Pros

Sheet Sander Cons

Orbital Sander

The orbital sander is has a lot in common with the sheet sander. These two tools look almost the same, but there are some fundamental differences between them.

First of all, this tool is also known as a random orbital sander, and this has to do with the way this tool is functioning, which is the main difference between this tool and the sheet sander.

This difference is the way the sanding pad is moving.

The orbital sander’s motor moves the sanding pad in a circular motion that is randomized. This is achieved with an additional drive, which makes the sanding pad do an elliptical movement.

This randomized movement is achieved to minimize the swirl marks left on the surface by the sheet sander.

However, the additional requirements needed to build an orbital sander instead of a sheet sander make this tool more powerful and more expensive.

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This extra power can be utilized, allowing us to use the orbital sander on rougher types of material and through a couple of layers, something the sheet sander is not capable of doing.

The circular disk on the sanding pad has holes which are used as a part of the tools dust collection mechanism. At the end of the arrangement, the dust is usually collected on a dust bag. Alternatively, if you are a professional carpenter, you can connect the tool to your shop’s vacuum hose to ensure that all of the dust is collected and your workplace is clean.

Another thing you should take into account random orbital sanders is that they produce a lot of vibration. If you use this tool for large amounts of time, there is a chance you will suffer from numbness or hand fatigue.

Fear not though, this is a minor issue, and there are many ways you go around this. First of all, a lot of models include an anti-vibration mechanism, which reduces the number of vibrations reaching you by a lot. Additionally, you can use an anti-vibration glove, and lastly, you should always be doing frequent breaks just to be on the safe side.

Orbital Sander Pros

Orbital Sander Cons


By now, you should have a clear picture of both the sheet sander and the random orbital sander and the way they function, along with their basic features, pros, and cons.

We already mentioned that these two types of sanders are quite similar to each other but are not intended for precisely the same job, so there is no right choice.

If you are an amateur or an enthusiast who does projects for fun, we suggest you get a random orbital sander. Although this power tool is more expensive than the sheet sander, it is more versatile, and you should be able to experiment more with it and improve your skills.

Ideally, we would suggest you get both of those tools, but not everyone can afford it.

If you want to be considered a professional though, you should definitely own both of these since there are occasions you will need both of those if you’re going to do your job as well as possible.

Remember that there is no magic tool that can do everything, so If you want to be the best carpenter around, you need a fully equipped workshop ready to do any kind of business.

Finally, we should note that people with experience should use these tools, and ideally, there should be some supervision or training for people who have just started to learn using power tools.

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