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DIY sanders come in various shapes and sizes, and if you have a variety of jobs to do around the home, particularly if you're embarking on a renovation project, it's a very good idea to keep two or more of the types listed below in your workshop, as no one sort of sander can handle every type of task efficiently.

Detail sanders are small handheld machines made for sanding around odd shapes and carvings, etc in woodwork. They are often also called contour sanders, and are what you need for mouldings like you find on windows and doorframes, or for renovating furniture. You'll find a multitude of these on offer, powered by both mains and battery electricity, but always go for a model from a recognized manufacturer with a variety of attachment either included in the box or available to buy on demand, as different makes will seldom accept each other's accessories.

Pad, or palm, sanders use 1/4 or 1/3-sheets of sandpaper, which are either attached by Velcro or come in special sheets that are pre-glued, which you then just peel off the backing paper from to attach them to the machine. Palm sanders vibrate in a circular motion and are handy for most general DIY tasks, like smoothing off a tabletop, for instance. Look for models that have a dust collection bag or a port where you can attach your vacuum cleaner if you want to make clean-up easier and avoid breathing in wood dust. This type of sander also tends to be the cheapest to use over the long run, as you can use standard sandpaper sheets and just cut them to the lengths you need, rather than buying pads specially made for your machine.

Random orbit sanders feature an offset bearing that gives a random pattern to the sanding pad's motion, so the sander can move in any direction without scarring the work surface. The best ones have variable speed control so you can vary the tool's motion according to the material; you're working with. Random orbit sanders need special sanding sheets, which are often specific to a certain manufacturer, as they have holes through which sanding dust is removed during operation, and these won't work if they are not precisely aligned to the holes in your sander.

Belt sanders take a continuous loop of sandpaper that spins across two wheels. This type is best for removing layers of old paint, or tackling the toughest sanding jobs in a very short time. They're not much use for fine sanding, however, as they can take off a lot of material at once, even with the variable speed controls that they nearly all offer, and replacement sanding belts can be expensive.

Disc sanders are bench-mounted tools with a circular pad that takes specially-made sanding sheets, and are more for the advanced woodworker than someone that just wants to tidy up a few rough edges in the home. The best ones have tilting tables with sliding mitre gauges, to give you total control and precision over your sanding. Disc sanders finish end grains and angled edges quickly and efficiently, and so are ideal for furniture-making projects, but can be comparatively expensive and are not at all portable, thus rendering them useless for repair of woodwork in situ.

Author R. Germain
date added Fri 14 08 2009

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