The 6 Uses of an Orbital Sander (A Complete Guide)

Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray

Even if you’re a beginner or a professional in the woodworking game, we can all agree that an orbital sander is a must-have for any woodworker. It is a fantastic hand-held power tool that vibrates and orbits in circular motions. This power tool is ideal for creating an ultra-smooth surface. What can you use an orbital sander for? 

An orbital sander can sand plastic, metal, and wood. Using this popular hand-held power tool, woodworkers can sand down drywall and wood filler. It is ideal for polishing surfaces, removing imperfections from wood, and several other applications such as painting jobs. 

To ensure that you get optimal use out of the orbital sander, I have outlined how to use an orbital sander and added a few advantages and disadvantages of this power tool. Read on to gather additional advice on the uses of an orbital sander. 

orbital sander uses

The 6 Uses Of An Orbital Sander

The orbital sander is versatile, and you can use it on numerous types of materials. It is a powerful tool that vibrates in circular and irregular motions to create a smooth surface.

Orbital sanders leave fewer marks on materials, leaving your final product looking and feeling high-quality. This is the ideal hand-held power tool for undertaking large projects that need a touch-up or sanding down.

Let’s take a closer look at the orbital sander uses before moving on to additional pieces of advice related to this fantastic power tool.

1. Using An Orbital Sander On Wood 

An orbital sander can effectively sand wood, but it cannot be any type of orbital sander. A random orbital sander is the best since it does not leave circular marks on the wood surface. Move the sander along the wood grain to not ruin it. 

2. Using An Orbital Sander On Plastic 

Sanding is essential when having a glossy plastic project to work on. Use a random orbital sander to gently sand with the surface. I recommend 180-220 grit when sanding plastic surfaces. 

Once you sand the plastic, new coatings can easily adhere to the surface; therefore, gentle scuffing is all you need to do to improve adhesion. 

3. Using An Orbital Sander On Metal

An orbital sander can effectively sand metal by attaching an 80 grit disc to the random orbital sander. Ensure that you use the proper speed setting. You do not want to damage or scratch the metal! Reduce the speed before starting with your project. 

4. Polishing Surfaces

Polishing Car with Orbital Sander

An orbital sander can be used to polish surfaces such as your car. The orbital sander with a foam pad attached will be less aggressive on the surface, and try using one with various settings so that you can control the speed. 

5. Sanding Down Drywall Or Wood Filler 

The orbital sander is the most appropriate power tool for sanding dry wood joint compound and wood filler. Use it carefully to avoid damaging the surface. Use 180-220 grit, making sure to continue moving the sander while sanding. 

6. Removing Paint

This tool can also get rid of paint jobs from materials. It is practical and the perfect tool to remove paint from flat or curvilinear surfaces. The orbital sander ensures a smooth surface that new paint will definitely adhere to. 

Do not use a sander for sanding away lead paint. Since sanders produce dust, releasing lead dust into the air can be toxic. 

How To Choose An Orbital Sander

random orbital sander

Pay attention to the following key feature when choosing the appropriate orbital sander: 

  • Cordless or corded orbital sander
  • Single or variable speed orbital sander
  • An orbital sander with velcro or adhesive backing

Note that an orbital sander is different from a palm sander, so make sure you purchase a “random orbital sander”. 

How To Correctly Use An Orbital Sander 

using random orbital sander

Patience is key. If you are used to woodwork or other projects, you should know that moving slow and careful is crucial. This applies to using an orbital sander or other types of sanders as well. Ensure that you follow the next steps attentively.

Step 1: Choose The Sandpaper For The Orbital Sander

Before purchasing an orbital sander, you need to choose which size best fits your needs. You probably know that they come in 5” and 6” diameter sizes if you already own an orbital sander. 

If you have a 6” sander, you should look for 6” sanding discs. The same goes for 5” sanders. So, the sanding discs and their backing must fit with the orbital sander you have. 

The sandpaper secures to the orbital either by a Velcro or adhesive backing. When deciding on the type of sandpaper you want to use, keep in mind the proper sandpaper that will fit your woodwork project too. 

Sanding Discs

Guide on choosing the sandpaper depending on the project you need it for: 

  • For metal projects, use 400 or higher sanding grit. 
  • If you want to remove stains or saw marks, starting with the lowest grit is safest. When you are satisfied, and enough wood has been removed, work up to the next grit size and continue the process. You can go higher than 180-grit (recommended).
  • A finer grit is most appropriate for prepping projects such as painting jobs (180-220 grit). 
  • You need to use 180 grit to smooth wood and sand down wood filler and drywall joint compound. A 180 grit is a common sanding grit since it is the safest. It is not too coarse or smooth, so it will decently do the job. 

Projects that require heavy sanding, like removing grooves or material with tough finishing, will be completed quicker if you use 40 or 60 grits, but course grits can leave marks or further damage the wood; therefore, 180-220 grits are recommended.

However, these fine grits might take too much time to achieve the result you envisioned. 

Step 2: Prep The Materials For Sanding 

Now is the time to prep the materials you will use in the project. The best is to secure the plastic, wood, metal, etc., material to a work surface. Use clamps to keep it in place. 

If you have not invested in a ventilation system, it is wise to do so. Attach it to the orbital sander so it can collect the sawdust as you work.

Step 3: Secure The Sandpaper On The Orbital Sander

When you are prepared to start your project, attach the sanding discs to the orbital sander. Ensure that the holes of the sanding pad are in line with the holes of the sandpaper; otherwise, the sandpaper will not last long. 

Step 4: Sand With The Orbital Sander 

Before sanding, throw on your protective gear. A pair of gloves, protective glasses, and a face mask will do. 

Afterward, turn on the sander and wait until it reaches full speed or select the appropriate speed (variable sander). Place the orbital sander gently and carefully on the material and start moving it along the wood grain or if you are working with a different material, move it back and forth.

Do not press too hard or hold the sander in one place for too long; otherwise, it will damage or dent the material. Glide the sander evenly and gently across the material. Applying too much pressure can bend or rip the sanding pad of the sander. 

Stain removal or other large removals can take longer to sand down than an easy touch-up.

Here is what you need to do when you need to do large removals: 

  • Start with the lowest grit and sand it on the material until the stains and marks completely disappear. 
  • Make a pencil mark on the material and sand with the next grit size until the pencil mark is removed. 
  • Repeat the process until you reach 180 or 240 grit. 

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using An Orbital Sander 

Orbital Sander Cons And Pros

Although we consider orbital sanders the most useful, it is worth assessing their advantages and disadvantages. 

Advantages Of Using An Orbital Sander

  • Excellent sawdust collection.
  • It offers a smooth finish.
  • Larger motors.
  • Variable or single speeds..
  • Easily removes marks and grooves.
  • Easy to operate than other hand-held power tools.

Disadvantages Of Using An Orbital Sander

  • The sanding pad can ruin and affect sanding quality, causing damage to the material.
  • It is more expensive to purchase.
  • The sanding discs can be difficult to find.
  • Applying too much force can damage your material.
  • Not easy working in corners because of the circular pads.

Whatever you purchase, it will have its pros and cons. Overall, the orbital sander is top of the range and gives quality results. I would advise you to save and invest in this powerful hand-held tool! 


Orbital sanders, specifically random orbital sanders, are proven effective in sanding wood, metal, and plastic. You can sand down drywall joint compound and wood filler too. It is the most suitable sander for this job. Polishing surfaces is another useful advantage of the orbital sander.

Easily remove paint from flat or curvilinear surfaces. Ensure that the sander and its sanding discs are appropriate for the type of project you want to do. Pay attention to the grits too. Some materials can handle coarse grits, but most prefer finer and smoother grits. 

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.

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