Which is Best? Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander

Sanding is one of the final steps in any woodworking project to create a smooth surface that’s ready for your desired finish. But, this can be a tedious process if you’re sanding by hand, and many people prefer to use mechanical sanding machines.

The two types of sanders that you’re likely to encounter are orbital or sheet (square) sanders. These are both effective sanders, but when you’re comparing an orbital sander vs sheet sander, which is the better option? These sanders work in a similar way, they apply sandpaper to the surface at high speeds to make it smooth.

That said, there are some important differences to consider before you make a purchasing decision.

What Is An Orbital Sander?

Orbital sander vs sheet sander

An orbital sander is similar to a sheet sander; they look alike and yet they are fundamentally different. This sander moves the sanding pad in a randomized circular motion, which can be better described as an elliptical pattern.

This is achieved with an additional drive, and the reason for this motion is that it reduces swirl marks. But, the extra motor and other components make this a more expensive sander than a sheet sander.

When you look at an orbital sander vs sheet sander comparison, it’s important to note that the additional power can be used to smooth rougher surfaces quickly. There are holes in the circular sanding pad to remove the dust from the surface as you work. It is possible to attach a dust bag, or you can connect a good orbital sander to a shop vacuum hose.

Orbital sanders do produce a lot of vibration, which will cause hand fatigue during long sanding sessions. Some of the latest models have anti-vibration mechanisms to deal with this issue, and frequent breaks are recommended.

More Reading: Learn How to Use an Orbital Sander- To get the Best Results

What Is A Sheet Sander?

When you make a sheet sander vs orbital sander comparison, the first thing that you need to know is that this tool is also known as a finish sander. As the name suggests, this sander is designed to make those final smoothing touches on the work piece.

Another common name for this powdered sander is a quarter sheet or palm sander. This is derived from the shape of the sandpaper that’s used with this tool.

There are sheet sanders that use a rectangular sanding pad, and they work with a usual back-and-forth motion. This sander is a good option for small sanding jobs and detail work, and the square sanders can get into edges and tight corners. A sheet sander is not designed to remove a lot of material in a couple of passes.

Trying to sand in this way is a frustrating experience, and it will waste a lot of time and energy. But, the cost is low, and the square variant uses regular sandpaper, which is inexpensive.

Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander: Pros and Cons

Orbital Sander●      Strong motor with randomized motion
●      Versatile
●      Eliminates swirl marks
●      Smoother finish
●      Variable speed controls
●      Corner difficulties
●      More costly initially and ongoing
●      Aggressive, so more care is needed
Sheet Sander●      Readily available with common sandpaper types
●      More budget friendly
●      Can be used for edges, curves, and corners
●      Lightweight
●      Low power output
●      Not as versatile
●      May leave marks 

Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander: Similarities  

Both sanders move abrasives, but a sheet sander uses standard sandpaper, and an orbital sander uses special sanding discs. The sanding discs are available in multiple grits, but they cost more.

An orbital sander is a more versatile sander than a sheet model, and it’s often the first sander for many people. That said, most woodworkers acquire both tools eventually because together, they offer a lot of sanding flexibility.

Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander: How Are They Different 

A sheet sander moves the sanding pad back and forth in a circular motion. Big sheet sanders work well on flat surfaces and even a half-sheet variant can remove material quickly. But, the elliptical motion and more powerful motor on an orbital sander offer more flexibility.

You may have heard orbital sanders referred to as “random,” and this is because they have an offset drive bearing. This is how the elliptical sanding pattern is created, and they reduce the swirls that are created by circular motions.

When Would You Use Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander?

sheet sander uses standard sandpaper

Orbital sanders are more versatile; they deliver a smooth finish, the swirls and scratches are minimal, and they can remove a lot of material quickly. There is significant vibration when an orbital sander is used, but newer models have anti-vibration systems.

If you own a less expensive or older model, you can wear an anti-vibration glove to take frequent breaks to reduce hand fatigue. But, orbital sanders are more expensive, and they use sanding discs that cost more than regular sandpaper.

Sheet sanders are inexpensive; they use standard sandpaper, and they are light and portable. The motor lacks the power of an orbital sander, and these sanders cannot remove large volumes of material quickly.

That said, the gentle sanding action is ideal for finishing delicate surfaces and hard-to-reach areas. But, if the surface is excessively rough, you could sand that surface all day with a sheet sander and make very little progress.

When you use a sheet sander, it’s important to sand in a uniform direction to prevent the formation of swirl marks on the wood.

Which Is Better; orbital sander vs sheet sander?

This is a hard question to answer. Making a direct sheet sander vs orbital comparison is virtually impossible. Both sanders are good tools to own, but they are specialized and designed for very different sanding tasks.

Beginners that are tackling DIY woodworking projects, small remodeling jobs, and furniture refinishing should get the orbital sander. The higher purchase price is well worth the versatility, and many casual woodworkers can get by with this sander alone.

That said, many woodworkers own a sheet sander, too, because it’s the ideal sander when you need a finer sanding tool. If you own an orbital and sheet sander, you can cover most standard sanding scenarios.

Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander– In Conclusion

As you can see, the orbital sander vs sheet sander comparison is not useful because these powered tools are very different. They each have their pros and cons to consider before you make a final purchasing decision. If you’re an amateur woodworker, you cannot go wrong with a random orbital sander. This is a great sander to boost your productivity, and you can practice your sanding skills.

If you’re more serious about your woodworking projects and you have the budget, both sanders are a good purchase. There are times when you need precision and gently smoothing over power and efficiency and vice versa. There is no magic tool that can solve every problem, and this is certainly true when it comes to sanding your next project.