Belt Sander Vs Orbital Sander: The 4 Main Differences

Which is the best and most effective sander to buy? There are many options out there, and newbies may be confused about which sander to go with.

Fortunately, our belt sander vs. orbital sander gives detailed information enabling you to make the most suitable choice. We will look at both, how they work, their advantages and disadvantages, and the most distinct features between them. We will also try to make a decision on the best piece of machinery among the two sanders.

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: Significant Differences 

The common differences between all belt sanders and orbital sanders are:

  • A belt sander is more effective for large materials, while the orbital sander is ideal for small spaces and pieces of furniture.
  • A belt sander works effectively on flat surfaces, while an orbital sander can work with various angles.
  • Belt sanders have a continuous loop sand belt circulating between two rotating drums, while an orbital sander has a rectangular head that rotates to get rid of the undesired material.
  • The main purpose of belt sanders is removing or minimizing a large number of materials from a workpiece at a high rate. In contrast, an orbital sander aims to achieve a smooth surface finish, especially at edges.

Which One Should You Buy? Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander

A piece of wood will mainly require aggressiveness during shaping and sanding from a belt sander. The remaining gashes are eliminated by an orbital sander which deals with corners and various edges.

However, the best tool is the belt sander. And if you are wondering why;

Despite leaving some markings on your project, it can cover large areas within a short period. Moreover, it eliminates a lot of material using coarse paper, and you can mount more delicate sandpaper for a more refined finish. Overall, a belt sander is more powerful and time-efficient.

What is a Belt Sander?

It’s a tool whose primary purpose is to remove large materials from a workpiece. It consists of an electric motor turning two drums fitted with a sandpaper loop. Belt sanders are generally robust and capable of working with large surfaces. They are suitable for the beginning stage of shaping and finishing wood.

Characteristics of Belt Sanders

Stationary Belt Sander

It is mounted to a workbench, and the material requiring shaping or finishing is held against the sandbelt as it turns. It is best suited for smaller wood pieces and is also an ideal tool sharpener as it works with both metal and wood.

Handheld Belt Sander

As the name suggests, handheld belt sanders are portable and are usually merged with a disc sander. The operator uses two hands, with one on the trigger and the other holding the forward handle. Belt sanders are robust; therefore, you need to hold on tight.

Speed

A belt sander’s speed is measured in feet per minute (ft/min). The higher it is, the faster your sander will run. However, you can always go for an option with variable speed and switch up and down your speed depending on the task at hand.

Power

Belt sanders have grown in popularity due to their power and reliability. The power is measured in amps, and they mainly have a motor ranging 8-11 amps. The more powerful a machine is, the more challenging it is to work with and the faster it completes tasks.

Sandpaper

Belt sanders use a loop of sandpaper, commonly 3 inches in size, with the wide standing belt sander option being the most versatile. The most reliable belts are made from zirconia or aluminum oxide and last longer than traditional sandpaper. However, they are more costly.

Dust Collection

Belt sanders generate a lot of dust and come with one of two options to deal with this issue. Some have a vacuum system that sucks up the dust during work or a dust collection bag that collects the dust into one place.

Advantages of Belt Sanders

  • Wide Range of Use

They can be used to undertake time-consuming tasks such as removing burrs and smoothening corners. Orbital sanders can also be used for finishing touches to flooring, woodworking, and metal. Belt sanders are ideal for paint and stain removal from woods and the renovation of old furniture.

  • Easy to Use

Belt sanders are generally easy to operate. When working with them, you only need to move the belt sander over the target area while applying balanced strokes.

  • Different Options

Belt sanders provide you with two options: stationary or handheld. Benchtop or stationary sanders are set up on workbenches and used to dust portable materials that can be brought close to them. On the other hand, handheld sanders are used on immobile surfaces and floors.

Disadvantages of Belt Sanders

Belt sanders are generally aggressive and likely to cause damage to frail workpieces. And that’s just one side of the story;

You may use the finest sheet of sandpaper, but you are guaranteed some unsightly sanding marks on your work. That is why belt sanders are popularly used to smoothen rough lumber before undergoing further sanding.

As if that’s not enough a disadvantage:

Belt sanders are too loud to work with; manufacturers and experienced woodworkers recommend using ear protection, especially if you intend to use the machine for long hours.

What is an Orbital Sander?

An orbital sander is a tool that uses sanding discs spinning in small circles to deal with the corners and edges of massive pieces of furniture. Orbital sanders are square-shaped and generally work quickly, making them suitable for significant projects. Their only downside is that they tend to leave swirl marks and therefore are recommended for wood and furniture that will require painting later.

Characteristics of Orbital Sanders

Speed

Most orbital sanders typically work at approximately 10,000 orbits per minute. If you are working with large surfaces, a faster speed is more significant, but it is important to note that the higher the rate, the less control you have over the tool. However, you can always find a model offering variable speed.

Power

An orbital sander’s power is measured in amps, and the higher the number, the faster your machine can run. Orbital sanders mainly have low power and aren’t meant for heavy jobs where you need to strip away a lot of wood.

Handles

Orbital sanders offer the following types of handles:

  • Pistol-grip handles – are mainly used by experienced orbital sanders. They provide good control and allow the operator to use one hand.
  • Jug-grip handles – are most ideal when you have to reach out under a piece of furniture.
  • Palm-grip handles – they are the most popular and mainly come with a comfortable grip.

Sandpaper

A larger sanding paper on your orbital sander means you can work on a more extensive surface area. The most popular size of an orbital sander is referred to as a quarter-sheet sander due to the size of a quarter sheet of sandpaper.

The sandpaper is attached to the orbital sander using Velcro or a peel-and-stick system. Sandpaper is pretty affordable, and you can purchase a significant piece when buying your orbital sander.

Dust Collection

Any kind of sander is expected to generate a lot of dust. So how do you manage this? Most orbital sanders have an in-built dust collection system. An excellent orbital sander has filters and sealed switches to prevent dust interfering with the tool’s mechanism.

Corded or Cordless Orbital Sander?

If you are having difficulty choosing between the two, remember the obvious advantage that a cordless model can reach farther and tighter spaces that a corded one cannot. However, cordless orbital sanders are also likely to be less powerful and require a change of batteries after a certain period.

Advantages of Orbital Sanders

  • Shape

One of the most recognizable benefits of an orbital sander is that it is in a square or rectangular sheet, making it easy to fit and flush against edges. It makes the sanding of underside areas such as that of a cabinet or assembled table easy.

  • Sandpapers

Orbital sanders are not dependent on big sheets of sandpapers. Fortunately, operators can buy rectangular or square sheets of sandpaper with various coarseness levels and stick them to the sander during operation. You can also buy a large volume of sandpapers and manually cut them into the required width and length.

  • Smooth Surfaces

An orbital sander is ideal for sanding projects that have gone through aggressive belt sanders. They operate in back and forth motion that helps minimize the risk of deep markets while eliminating splinters and making the surface as smooth as possible.

Disadvantages of Orbital sanders

Orbital sanders are mainly meant for smoothening and not for removing a lot of material per second. Therefore, you will need to spend a lot of time on a single section for maximum effectiveness.

Safety Measures When Using Sanders

The following are some vital safety procedures you should always consider before using either a belt or orbital sander:

  • Put on a hearing aid suitable for the level of frequency of the noise your ears encounter
  • Wear protective footwear if necessary
  • Wear a dust mask to protect your respiratory system
  • Keep your hands away from the abrasive system
  • Always inspect your abrasive belts before powering on your tool
  • Wear safety glasses or a safety shield to prevent dust from getting into your eyes
  • Always use sanders with the Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system turned on
James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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