Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: What’s The Difference?

Welcome to my article about belt sanders vs orbital sanders!

A sander is a handy tool for construction and DIY projects. It smooths, polishes and cleans the surfaces of plastic, wood and metal items.

It can also roughen surfaces to prepare them for finishing.

When choosing a sander that’s best suited for your projects, your main choices will be between a belt sander and an orbital sander.

Below we’ll take a detailed look into both sanders to see how their features, uses, pros and cons shape up. But first, a quick comparison table of belt sanders vs orbital sanders so you can quickly compare the two.

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: Comparison Table

Belt Sander
Orbital Sander
Example Product
More powerful
Less powerful
Ideal Surface Area
Best For
Large robust jobs with large surface areas
Small jobs with corners, fine or delicate sanding
Typical Price
More expensive
More affordable
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What is a Belt Sander?

belt sander
Example of a Belt Sander

A belt sander is a sander that features an electric motor. The motor moves drums that rotate a piece of sandpaper around in a loop so it can sand down surfaces. It is a large, powerful tool.

Belt Sander Characteristics


The speed of the sander is measured by how many feet it can sand per minute. The higher the speed rating, the faster it will move.

Many belt sanders have variable speeds that can be controlled by the user.


A belt sander’s power is measured in amps. Most sanders have power ratings between 8 and 11 amps.

The higher the amps, the more powerful the sander will be.


You can choose between a stationary or handheld belt sander.

Handheld bench sanders are portable while benchtop sanders are larger and heavier. They are made to be mounted on workbenches to handle heavy duty jobs.

Other than that, variety will come into play in the power and speed you choose.


A belt sander’s power makes it ideal for large and rough surfaces. Examples include hardwood flooring and large pieces of furniture. It will be too powerful for smaller items.

Belt Sander Pros and Cons

A belt sander comes with its share of pros and cons. Here are some to consider.

  • Very powerful
  • Works quickly
  • Ideal for large surfaces and metal projects
  • Not suitable for small surfaces
  • Its power makes it easy to sand down too much material

What is an Orbital Sander?

orbital sander
Example of an Orbital Sander

An orbital sander features discs of sand paper that are attached to a motor which quickly moves around in small circular motions, or orbits, after which the tool is named.

The rotating movement makes it easy to sand down large pieces quickly.

While the sander’s movement is circular, the tool is square. This makes it easy to get into corners and other angled areas.

The circular pattern may leave swirly marks on the item you’re sanding.

Orbital Sander Characteristics


The speed of an orbital sander is measured in how many orbits the tool makes in a minute. Most sanders will move at about 10 thousand orbits a minute.

Generally, the faster the sander moves, the better, especially if you are sanding large surfaces.


Like a belt sander, an orbital sander’s power is measured in amps, and the more amps it has, the more powerful it will be.

In general, the orbital sander won’t be powerful enough to remove a lot of surface area at once. So, if you are working on a large surface area, a belt sander might be more suited to your needs.


Orbital sanders vary in the type of handle they feature. These include the following:

  • Pistol-Grip Handles: These handles allow you to use both hands for optimal control and precision. They are usually found on professional sanders and only really necessary when you’re doing work that requires high accuracy.
  • Jug Grip Handles: So called because they look like a handle found on a jug, these are ideal for sanding underneath furniture because they give you great control over the sander.
  • Palm Grip Handles: Orbital sanders with palm grip handles are the most commonly used because they are small and easy to hold.

You will also find orbital sanders in corded and cordless varieties.

Cordless models are ideal because you can take them anywhere. However, they are not as powerful as their corded counterparts.

Corded models are limited by their cord length, but they are the more powerful choice.


Orbital sanders are ideal for jobs that require you to get into small corners and work on rounded edges. They can also be used to sand surfaces that will be treated later.

It’s essential to treat wood after it’s been sanded with an orbital sander to reduce the appearance of swirls.

Orbital Sander Pros and Cons

An orbital sander comes with its share of pros and cons. Here are some to consider.

  • Works well in corners and on rounded areas
  • Works quickly
  • Offers several varieties to choose from
  • Can leave swirl marks
  • Not as powerful as a belt sander

Belt Sander vs. Orbital Sander

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between the belt and orbital sander.


Belt sanders have more power than orbital sanders. This makes them ideal for larger jobs.

However, when you use the belt variety, you need to make sure you don’t over-sand.

If you are worried about sanding away too much material, an orbital sander will be a better choice.

Sanding Mechanism

The sanders differ in how they work.

With belt sanders, the sandpaper moves in a loop inside the machine to sand down materials.

An orbital sander’s sandpaper is laid flat on the surface and moves in a circular motion. The sandpaper is usually attached to the sander with a peel and stick system or with Velcro.

Sanding Grit

The type of sandpaper used in each machine differs.

An orbital sander can use just about any type of sandpaper because it can be connected to the device.

A belt sander needs a specific type of sandpaper because it’s moved in a loop. This makes the belt sandpaper more expensive.


A belt sander is best on large jobs that have large, flat surfaces and require a lot of power.

An orbital sander is recommended for smaller jobs that involve corners and angles.

When Should I Use Which?

If you are faced with a job that requires sanding and you are not sure which sander to use, here are a few helpful tips.

A belt sander should be used:

  • On large surfaces
  • To level rough surfaces
  • To create a smooth and even finish
  • For jobs that won’t require additional treatment after sanding is completed

An orbital sander should be used:

  • On small surfaces
  • On jobs where corners are involved
  • On rounded surfaces
  • On jobs where additional treatment will be applied after sanding is completed

Which Sander is Better at Removing Paint?

Sanders can also be great at removing paint. If your job requires paint removal, the belt sander may be your best option. This is because it removes materials faster.

However, while the orbital sander will take more time to do its work, it will be better at getting into corners and tight spots. And if you switch out the sandpaper often enough, you will not get swirls.

In general, if you are removing paint from a large, flat piece of wood, a belt sander will be your best choice.

If they wood is smaller or has just a single layer of paint, go with an orbital sander.

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: Which Should I Choose?

When it comes to belt sanders vs orbital sanders, the sander that’s right for you will depend on the job you are using it for.

Generally, big jobs will require a belt sander while small jobs will require an orbital sander.

However, if you are new to sanding and are concerned that you may sand off too much material with a belt sander, an orbital sander will be a better choice.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful! Here are some similar articles you may also enjoy:

Orbital vs Sheet Sanders
Grinders vs Sanders