How Does a Random Orbital Sander Work

When it comes to woodworking, not many tools can save you as much discomfort, soreness, and time as a random orbital sander. A random orbital sander effectively removes old finishes, smooths out uneven surfaces, and prepares projects for new finishes.

How Does a Random Orbital Sander Work to sand boards

As an enhancement over conventional orbital sanders, random orbital sanders incorporate a unique mechanism that sets them apart.

This begs the question; how does a random orbital sander work?

We’ve prepared a complete rundown of the information and facts you need to know about a random orbital sander.

What is a Random Orbital Sander?

A random orbital sander is a portable automated sanding tool typically used to smoothen wood, plastic, or metal surfaces without leaving noticeable sanding marks.

The power sander utilizes a sanding pad that moves in two simple ways: spinning and random orbit movements. The two motions combine to prevent the sanding disc from creating unpleasant patterns in the material.

If you need to prepare new molding, remove paint from furniture, or clean up between finish applications, a random-orbit sander may beat the pants off your old vibrating sander.

Additionally, you can use it to sand and clean metal and composite materials, including solid-surface counters.

How Does a Random Orbital Sander Work

This power tool combines two types of motion: orbital and rotational. Let’s break it down to understand how it functions.

The key component of a random orbital sander is its sanding pad, which is attached to the tool’s base. This pad spins in a circular motion while simultaneously moving in an orbital pattern.

The elliptic base wiggles roughly 1/8 inch off center and rotates at around 10,000 rpm (we can agree that’s quick and aggressive).

This speedy randomness of a random orbital sander helps you smooth joints and edges efficiently.

Subsequently, no single rough particle follows the same path twice, whether you sand with the grain or against it. 

The advantage of this is that it leaves behind considerably fewer scratches, swirls, and general sanding marks from the sandpaper.

The Functioning of the Random Orbital Sander: A Step-by-Step Guide

While this tool may seem easy to use, it takes a few tries to learn how to use and control it. Let’s walk you through the process.

But before you begin your project, ensure you have all the necessary tools lined up and ready to go. This preparation will save you time and frustration along the way.

  • Dust mask
  • Hearing and eye protection
  • Dustpan or vacuum with adapter
  • Extension cord
  • Random orbital sander
  • Sandpaper discs in assorted grits


Step 1: Put the Sandpaper in Place

Using a Random Orbit Sander

Ensure your random orbital sander is powered off and unplugged for safety, then attach sandpaper to the sander’s pad.

Choose the appropriate sandpaper disc for your sanding needs, considering the desired grit size and type of material you are working with.

Align the holes on the sandpaper disc with the holes on the sanding pad. Many sandpaper discs come with pre-punched holes for efficient dust collection.

Step 2: Attach the Dust Collection System

If your sander comes with a dust collection bag, attach it and ensure it is clean and debris-free.

However, if you prefer enhanced dust collection, consider using an adapter to connect your vacuum cleaner to your sander. This option provides stronger suction and better containment of dust particles.

Step 3: Sand your Surface

Hold the random orbital sander evenly on the surface of the material you are working on. Turn on the power to power the sander, and move it across the material.

Avoid exerting excessive pressure on the sander. Instead, allow the rotation and vibration of the tool to do the work.

Step 4: Replace your Sandpaper

It’s time to change the paper when your sandpaper is worn out or if you’re ready to progress to a higher grit.

Aim to progress through at least three grits, but the number may vary depending on the project and desired level of smoothness.

And you’ll appreciate the smooth, swirl-free results.

The Importance of the Backing Pad in Random Orbital Sanders

A backing pad is a clip that secures sanding discs and other accessories onto random orbital sanders. Positioned beneath the sanding discs, it enhances performance and achieves an even finish. Other benefits include:

  • Even distribution of pressure
  • Enhanced disc flexibility
  • Improved control
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Decreased wear

When the pad of your random orbital sander becomes worn, the performance of the grinding discs suffers – and it’s high time you get it replaced.

How Do Different Types of Abrasive Materials Affect the Sanding Process?

Different types of abrasive materials used in sanding discs can have varying effects on the sanding process. Here are a few commonly used abrasive materials and their impacts:

Aluminum Oxide

While there are several abrasive materials, aluminum oxide is arguably the most popular for sanding discs.

It is versatile and suitable for anti-slip surfaces, refractory raw materials, and industrial applications.

Typically brown or red, this grain type is appropriate for most woodworking and ordinary metalworking applications. Its availability in an extensive range of grits is a key factor in its popularity.


Plastic abrasives are dry thermoset cleaning media composed of crushed urea, acrylic, or polyester.

It offers versatility for various applications because it comes in multiple hardness levels and particle sizes. Experts highly regard plastic abrasives for mold cleaning and blasting plastic parts.

Silicon Carbide

Silicon carbide is the most rigid and sharpest abrasive blasting material, making it the optimal choice for demanding surface finishing applications.

With its exceptional hardness, it excels in challenging tasks requiring high abrasion.

The applications of silicon carbide are diverse and include bonded abrasive tools, lapping, polishing, wood polishing, glass etching, and heavy-duty blast-cutting tasks.

Its versatility makes it a preferred option in industries that require robust and efficient surface treatment.

Key Benefits of Using a Random Orbital Sander

Man using a Random orbital sander

The beauty of employing a random orbital sander lies in its numerous advantages and positive impact on your sanding projects. Let’s take a look at some benefits:

  • Easy to use
  • Efficient material removal
  • Smooth finish.
  • Enhanced dust collection.
  • Some appliances have varying speeds.
  • Ergonomic grips and lightweight construction reduce hand fatigue.
  • Versatile tool–can handle various sanding tasks.

Tips for Effective and Safe Use of Random Orbital Sanders

Whenever using power tools, it is crucial to prioritize safety measures to prevent mishaps and accidents.

The use of a random orbital sander is no different, and you should take into account the following safety precautions:

  • Wear protective gear, i.e., protective masks, gloves, and safety goggles.
  • Disconnect power when changing sandpaper.
  • Remove jewelry to avoid them getting caught in the tool’s moving parts.
  • Dress in comfortable, well-fitting clothing, and avoid loose or dangling parts.

Maintenance and Care of Random Orbital Sanders

Proper maintenance and care of your random orbital sander will extend its lifespan and ensure optimal performance. So, how do you go about it?

  • Regular cleaning.
  • Periodic lubrication.
  • Handle your sander with care to avoid dropping or mishandling.
  • Store your sander in a clean and dry place.

Common Problems and Troubleshooting Tips for Random Orbital Sanders

Random orbital sanders, like any other tool, may encounter certain problems during use. Here are some issues and how to troubleshoot

Sanding Pad Not Spinning or Inconsistent Rotation

  • Check the power supply.
  • Turn on the power switch.
  • Inspect the sanding pad.
  • Clean the sander.

Excessive Vibration or Unusual Noises

  • Check for loose parts.
  • Examine the sanding pad.
  • Clean the sander.

Poor Sanding Performance

  • Check the sandpaper grit.
  • Replace the sandpaper.
  • Adjust the speed setting.
  • Apply even pressure.

Electrical or Mechanical Failure

If the sander exhibits signs of electrical or mechanical issues, such as burning smells or sparking, immediately disconnect it from the power source.

It’s essential to contact the manufacturer or a qualified professional for repair or replacement.

How Does a Random Orbital Sander Work: In Conclusion

Random orbital sanders are versatile and essential tools in woodworking and DIY projects. So, if you’re interested in going all-in on the woodwork, you probably won’t find a better sander.