What is an Orbital Sander? Orbital vs Random Orbital Sander [2023]

It doesn’t matter what the job is, if you’re working with wood, you will eventually have to sand something. If you want a truly finished piece, there’s no way around it.

Unfortunately, sanding isn’t a fun job. That said, with the right tool, you can get the job done faster and with better results. Orbital sanders and random orbital sanders are common tools in most workshops. While they sound very similar, they’re actually two very different tools. Let’s take a closer look.

How Does an Orbital Sander Work?

The most notable thing about an orbital sander is its square shape. These handheld tools are easy to maneuver and perfect for getting into tight corners and against flat edges. They work by vibrating in small circles and you can move them in any direction.

One of the best things about orbital sanders is that they don’t use special sandpaper. That means you can use the what you already have and choose any grit that you want. The most common size orbital sander is called a quarter sheet sander because it uses a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper. Larger half sheet options are also available. The sandpaper easily attaches to the pad with spring loaded clips so it’s really easy to change out when you need to.

What Is Orbital Sander Used for?

One thing to keep in mind about an orbital sander is that it’s not powerful enough to remove a lot of material. That can be both a good and bad thing. It’s hard to make the mistake of taking off too much with an orbital sander. That said, it’s not the right tool to use if you need something that’s aggressive.

While orbital sanders will leave behind a few visible sanding marks, they’re much less obvious than they would be if you did the same job by hand.

Orbital sanders are a little smaller and more compact than random orbital sanders so they’re the better choice if you have to get into tight spaces. And, because they aren’t very aggressive, they’re a great choice for prepping before painting or staining.

Due to their square shape, they’re great for stairs and floors. You can easily get right up to the baseboards and into tight edges and corners when you’re prepping for varnish, stain, or paint.

Here are the pros and cons of an orbital sander.


  • Can’t take off to much material
  • Leave behind fewer marks than sanding by hand
  • Good for tight spaces
  • Able to get into corners and along baseboards


  • Can’t be used for difficult jobs because they don’t take off a lot of material
  • Leave behind more marks than a random orbital sander

How Does a Random Orbital Sander Work?

Random orbital sanders are very different from orbital sanders. Although they’re both similar in size, handheld, and easy to maneuver, random orbital sanders have round sanding pads, not square. This might seem like a little thing but it really does make a world of difference.

The round sanding pad enables it to move much differently than an orbital sander. They have two different movements. First, the disc orbits in tiny circles, just like an orbital sander. But it also turns at the same time. If you’re having trouble visualizing this motion, this might help. As the Earth orbits around the sun, it also spins. There are two movements, just like a random orbital sander.

One thing to keep in mind is these sanders don’t use regular sandpaper. You have to use special sandpaper discs that attach to the sanding surface with either adhesive or a simple hook and loop system.

What Is a Random Orbital Sander Used for?

One of the biggest perks of a random orbital sander is that it doesn’t leave any lines or sanding patterns behind. Because of its dual motion, it never goes in the same place twice. You also don’t have to worry about the direction of the wood grain when you’re working.

A lot of random orbital sanders have variable speed settings which means that this tool can do just about anything. Keep it slow for fine work, crank it up when you need to tackle a heavier job.

On the downside, because of their shape, they can’t get into corners. It can also be a little tricky to get them to move along edges as easily as an orbital sander does.

Random orbital sanders can really be used for almost any job but they’re a good pick when a lot of material needs removed. If you’re refinishing a floor or large piece of furniture, this sander can get through a lot of layers. At the same time, it’s also a really good choice for finishing work because, as we mentioned, it doesn’t leave any lines behind.


  • Doesn’t leave behind any sanding marks
  • Don’t have to worry about the direction of the wood grain
  • Most come with variable speeds
  • Can remove a lot of material


  • Round sanding disc requires special sandpaper
  • Can’t get into corners or along edges easily

If you’d like to learn more about random orbital sanders, head on over to our best orbital sander reviews for an in-depth look at some of the best products on the market.

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