Of all the tasks involved in a project, probably the one that is almost universally hated is sanding. It’s noisy, messy, takes a long time and can make your hands hurt. It doesn’t have to be that bad if you how to do it correctly. The first mistake is that people are using poor quality sanders. Just because if vibrates does not mean it is working in a manner that is fit for woodworking. A lot of inexpensive sanders work well for sanding tasks when you are painting around the house. Let’s take a look at the sanders I have in my shop and why.
First on my list of sanders is a 5” Random Orbit Sander (ROS) with a hook and loop sanding pad. This sander is very versatile and user friendly. Most come with either a dust collection bag or cup but I normally hook mine up to my shop vacuum for dust collection. I highly suggest the hook and loop pad, this allows you to easily replace your sand paper and you don’t have to worry about not being able to get it off the pad. Be sure to buy the proper hole pattern of paper for your sander. I actually have 3 of these sanders in my shop. I will load different grits of sandpaper on each one.
I also have a 6” ROS. I use this sander on large panels almost exclusively. Not that its any better than the 5” models, it’s just bigger so it takes a little less time.
The hand held sander that I have is a belt sander. This can be tricky to use when you are first beginning. Some people find them difficult to set the tracking on the belt. It only takes a bit of patience and practice to get this right. Once you have the belt tracking well (not throwing the belt off the sander or shedding it on the inside frame.) it’s time to get sanding. There are a few key things to keep in mind; realize that the belt is moving in one direction; a firm grip is required; and you must keep the sander moving. I have been using a belt sander for 30 years so I tend to forget that it can be intimidating for new woodworkers. Don’t be afraid of this tool, it can save you a lot of time. Take your time and practice until you’re comfortable.
I have one stationary sander in my shop. It’s the Rigid Oscillating Belt/Spindle sander. I love this machine. Its great in both roles and for what it does, it’s a great value for the money. It uses a similar size belt as a portable belt sander. It’s a great tool for cleaning up curved cuts from a bandsaw. You will need to be careful, this tool can grab a piece right out of your hands.
Now for a few things on safety. No matter how you sand, either by hand or with a machine, you will create a lot of dust. Unless you are properly prepared, you can endanger your long term health. Fine dust particles can hang in the air for a long time and will get into your lungs. The key to good dust collection is to capture it as close to where it is created as possible. Most modern sanders come with some form of dust collection. I have found that the best way for me is to use a good quality shop vacuum and attach the hose directly to the sander. You will need to use a dust collection bag inside the vac. Some even come with HEPA filters which add another layer of protection.
If you are hand sanding, use a high quality dust mask and make sure it fits well. If you have gaps around your nose, the dust will work its way inside the mask. Also take breaks to vacuum up the dust as you go, this will help keep the problem under as much control as possible.
Last item on dust, some exotic woods can cause allergic reactions in some people. Even if you have used a particular species of wood before, it can still happen. I have developed a reaction to Padauk. It now really irritates my eyes, making them red, itchy and generally irritated.