Orbital vs Sheet Sanders

Welcome to our article about orbital vs sheet sanders! Before we get into the comparisons between these two sanders, let’s first discuss why it’s important to know the difference to begin with.

Orbital vs Sheet Sanders – Introduction

If you enjoy woodworking, whether as a professional or a hobbyist, one of the most common tasks you will need to do is sanding.

It is a tedious task for many, but with the right type of power tool, you can turn sanding into an enjoyable endeavor.

A sander is a power tool that is typically used for shaping wood, removing paint and varnish, or smoothing surfaces in between paint coats.

Using the right kind of sander enables you to achieve that perfectly smooth finish, giving you a blank canvas that is ready to take on the next step of your project.

There are many types of sanders available, but the 2 most common are the orbital sander and the sheet sander.

If you are planning on getting one, and are starting to get confused as to what would best fit your need, read on as we find out what these two types of sanders are so we can contrast and compare their strengths and weaknesses and guide you in your choice.

A Summary of the Difference Between Orbital and Sheet Sanders:

An orbital sander moves sandpaper in a circular motion and can be used for a wide range of applications. It is a high power sander that leaves a very smooth finish. A sheet sander moves sandpaper in a back and forth motion, is a more affordable option, and is best for light sanding jobs or finishing touches.

Here is a table summary of the most important specifications of an orbital and sheet sander, so you can quickly compare the two.

Orbital Sanders
Sheet Sanders
Also Known As
Random Orbital Sander
Palm Sander, Quarter Sheet Pad Sander
Sandpaper Shape
Sandpaper Motion
Back and Forth
More expensive
More affordable
Extremely smooth
Smooth with occasional scratches
Best For
Light to medium sanding jobs
Light sanding jobs only
Can Get Into Corners

Ok, now let’s get into the details, similarities and differences of an orbital sander and a sheet sander!

What is an Orbital Sander?

orbital sander
Example of an Orbital Sander

An orbital sander is a power tool composed of a ball bearing mechanism to which a round sanding pad is attached. Its motor moves the sanding pad in a random circular motion.

Holes are placed on the circular disk of the sanding pad as part of a dust collection mechanism so that the dust generated by the tool is collected in a dust bag.

Pros of Orbital Sanders

  • Produces an extremely smooth, fine finish
  • The random swirling pattern helps prevent the tool from leaving swirl marks or scratches on surfaces
  • Extremely versatile and can be used on a range of jobs from removing paint to auto works, depending on the grade of sandpaper used and how much pressure is applied.

Cons of Orbital Sanders

  • The round sanding disc and its circular movement stop this tool from reaching corners and surfaces at a 90-degree angle.
  • Since it is a powerful tool, it produces strong vibrations which can cause hand fatigue.
  • Its power also makes it a bit aggressive so you need to exercise care and control while using it, otherwise you can easily damage your project.
  • It’s a more expensive option

What is a Sheet Sander?

sheet sander
Example of a Sheet Sander

The sheet sander, also known as a palm sander or a quarter-sheet pad sander, is a power tool equipped with a spring-loaded clamp on a rectangular sanding pad to hold the sandpaper in place.

It operates in a back-and-forth motion, using a quarter of a standard 9 x 11 sheet of sandpaper.

Pros of Sheet Sanders

  • The back-and-forth motion is great for reaching corners and curves and getting into 90-degree angled edges.
  • The tool itself and the sandpaper it needs are extremely easy to find
  • Extremely easy to use
  • Highly Affordable

Cons of Sheet Sanders

  • Not suitable for removing large amounts of material in a short amount of time because of its low power output.
  • It has quite a limited scope of application. It is mostly used for light-duty finishing touches and very few areas that are not accessible to other types of sanders.
  • Its typical steady motion tends to leave swirl marks on surfaces, especially if you are doing work against the grain.

Similarities Between the Two Sanders

Orbital and sheet sanders share a few features that make them versatile and user-friendly.

Both feature handgrips that allow you to hold on to your sander in a safe and controllable manner.

This is crucial as they produce vibrations during use and a soft and secure grip prevents accidents or injuries.

Creating dust when sanding is unavoidable, but most models of orbital and sheet sanders feature a dust collection system.

It reduces the amount of dust that is blown about and prevents sand build-up between the sandpaper and the surface you are working on, improving efficiency and preventing overheating. Some are even designed to be compatible with your typical woodworking vacuums.

Most orbital and sheet sanders also feature variable speed controls that allow you to start slow for meticulous preparatory work and gain speed and power as you progress.

Some models have throttle-like controls while some have selection switches, but the purpose is still the same. They allow you to increase or decrease the speed as you sand, giving you total control over the sander and your work.

Differences Between the Two Sanders

The orbital sander is perfect for preparing a surface prior to and after painting. The tiny circular vibrations also make it a suitable tool for ultra-smooth sanding.

It is highly versatile and can be used on wood, plastic, and even for certain types of metalworking.

The sheet sander is best used for removing residues such as paint or polish, finishing touches in the final preparation before applying paint, finish, lacquer, or stains, and sanding between coats of finish.

It’s not very versatile and only suited to small sanding jobs. It’s also the best option for getting into corners or small areas that a orbital sander wouldn’t be able to reach.

Orbital vs Sheet Sanders – Which One Should You Choose?

If you are still undecided whether to choose one type of sander over the other, here are a few pointers:

For beginners, amateurs, or those who prefer furniture refinishing and small remodeling tasks, an orbital sander is the one we’d recommend.

It may be a bit more expensive, but the extra dollars you spend are worth it for it’s versatility, as it can be suitable for fine sanding jobs up to heavy duty ones, depending on the grade of sandpaper you use and the amount of pressure you apply.

We would only really recommend opting for a sheet sander if you only work on fine, light-duty woodworking projects.

This sander simply doesn’t have the power to tackle more than a light sanding job, and you’ll probably only chew through your sandpaper if you try. However, it is great for getting into hard to reach nooks and crannies that other sanders can’t access.

However, overall, if you are a serious woodworking enthusiast or a professional, and you want a fully-equipped workshop, it is more prudent to acquire both types.

There are instances where you might need both of them, or one over the other, to be able to do your job as best as possible. Even though this requires an extra expense, the investment is worth it over the years of woodworking to come.

To view the top range of Orbital Sanders CLICK HERE
To view the top range of Sheet Sanders CLICK HERE


We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about orbital vs sheet sanders and found it helpful in deciding which kind of sander is right for you! Here are some related articles you may also enjoy reading:

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