Benchtop Sanders for the Home Workshop
Sanding wood may never be fun, but if you’re an active do-it-yourselfer, woodworker or hobbyist, sanding wood is unavoidable. Sooner or later you’ll have to sand a board flat and smooth and it'll be much easier and faster if you use an electric benchtop sander.
Unlike portable sanders, such as a belt sander or random-orbit sander, benchtop sanders are stationary sanding machines that you can park on a workbench or set up on sawhorses. Generally speaking, benchtop sanders are much more powerful and have greater sanding capacity than portable sanders, but the real advantage is that you can use both hands to control the workpiece.
Here, we’ll take a look at my three favorite benchtop models: belt-and-disk sander, oscillating spindle sander, and drum sander. With these three sanders—and the correct abrasive—you can sand virtually any surface or edge you’re likely to encounter. And each type of sander comes in different sizes and configurations, and in a wide range of prices.
Be aware that benchtop sanders typically have a dust port for attaching a wet/dry vacuum, which does a very good job at capturing most of the sanding dust. However, it’s still advisable to wear a dust mask, or better yet, a dual-cartridge respirator when sanding wood, especially if the board is painted or varnished.
1 Belt-and-Disk Sander
As its name implies, a belt-and-disk sander (shown above) consists of a round sanding disk and a large, flat sanding belt.
This versatile two-in-one tool combines a large belt sander with a round disk sander into one compact, benchtop machine. The disk sander, which is typically between 6 and 10 in. dia., is ideal for sanding both square and curved ends onto boards. Plus, it’s equipped with a tilting worktable that accepts a miter gauge so you can use the disk to precisely sand square and angled workpieces.
The belt sander, which is typically about 4 in. x 36 in. or 6 in. x 48 in., has a large, flat platen that permits sanding long, wide boards. And on most models, the belt is adjustable so you can set it horizontally, vertically, or at an angle in between. If you’re only going to get one benchtop sander, make it a belt-and-disk sander, and buy the largest one you can afford.
On most belt-and-disk sanders (shown above), the sanding
belt can be positioned vertically for easier end sanding.
2 Oscillating Spindle Sander
The sanding drum of an oscillating spindle sander (shown above)
spins in circles and moves up and down at the same time.
An oscillating spindle sander is the type of woodworking tool you could probably do without, that is, until you get one. Then, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. And not only is it a super-effective sanding machine, it’s also a blast to use.
An oscillating spindle sander is essentially a dual-motion drum sander built into a stationary table. But, unlike a standard drum sander, which just spins around, an oscillating spindle sander spins in circles and oscillates up and down simultaneously. The result is a near-perfect tool for precisely sanding curves, contours and other irregular shapes.
The sander comes with several interchangeable rubber drums (a.k.a.: spindles) of various diameters, and an assortment of abrasive sleeves that slip onto the drums. Install the size drum that matches the radius or curve of the piece you’re sanding.
And it’s worth mentioning that Ridgid makes a unique oscillating spindle sander (shown below) that converts from spindle sanding to oscillating belt sanding, effectively doubling the versatility of the tool.
3 Drum Sander
A benchtop drum sander (shown above) is designed for
smoothing wide, long boards, doors and other flat workpieces.
Drum sanders were once only found in professional shops, but new benchtop models have brought drum sanding to the home woodworker. A drum sander is designed for smoothing long boards, panels and doors. It’s essentially a giant, stationary belt sander.
To use the sander, start by turning the hand crank to adjust the opening in the machine to match the thickness of the workpiece. (The model shown above accommodates boards up to 3 in. thick and 20 in. wide.) Next, turn on the motor and feed the work into the sander. An auto-feed system moves the board across the abrasive belt at an even, consistent speed; usually about 12 ft. per minute. Retrieve the board from the other side and, if desired, crank down the handle a little and feed the board through again for another sanding. Be sure to make only light passes; trying to remove too much wood in one pass will overload the motor and stall the sander.