The Best Random Orbital Sanders in 2020
If there’s one sander that you need to make sure is in your kit, it’s a random orbital sander. Ranking in power somewhere between the heavy-duty belt sander and the smaller finishing sander, they’re a versatile tool that can do most sanding tasks around the home and in the workshop.
The question, then, is how to find the best random orbital sander around. Fortunately for you, we tested out nine models of random orbital sanders to bring you the five best currently on the market. Check out our favorite then read on to see what qualities we used to make our final picks.
Undoubtedly our favorite, the DWE6423K is an excellent option for both home and professional use. It features an ergonomic grip, variable speeds, and the quality that you’d expect coming from a high-end tool company like DeWalt.
In This Article:
- 1 Top Pick
- 2 The 5 Top-Rated Random Orbital Sanders
- 3 What is a Random Orbital Sander?
- 4 How We Selected Our Random Orbital Sanders
- 5 How We Tested
- 6 The Top 5 Random Orbital Sanders
- 7 A Word About Grits
- 8 Working Through Grits
- 9 Dust and Sander Safety
- 10 Orbital Sander FAQ
- 11 Smoothing Things Out
The 5 Top-Rated Random Orbital Sanders
|Best Random Orbital Sanders||DEWALT DWE6423K|
|Our Upgrade Pick||Bosch ROS65VC-6|
|Most Aggressive Random Orbital Sander||Bosch 1250DEVS|
|Best Cordless Random Orbital Sander||DEWALT DCW210B|
|Budget Pick||BLACK+DECKER BDERO100|
What is a Random Orbital Sander?
Random orbital sanders are electric or air-powered tools that use a disc which both vibrates and moves in circles. This leaves a smooth finish with few of the “swirl” marks that characterize most sanders.
You shouldn’t confuse one of these with a standard orbital sander. Orbital sanders can be told apart easily since they have a square pad that simply moves in circles as opposed to the vibrating, semi-random pattern created with one of these. Since their inception, most “orbital sanders” are actually sold as “finishing sanders” to help differentiate them.
The key to the effectiveness of RO sanders is that they’re moderately aggressive.
They can be used for material removal like a belt sander… but aren’t as fast about it.
That makes them a worthwhile tool for just about anyone. RO sanders aren’t limited by material, as long as you have the right paper you’ll be able to take care of metal, wood, plastic, or whatever other material you may come across that needs to be handled.
The random orbital sander is the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to powered, abrasive tools.
They’re probably not the absolute best at anything in particular, but if you’re not working with niche projects and just want to have a solid tool around then an RO sander is absolutely the way to go.
How We Selected Our Random Orbital Sanders
As usual, we contacted professionals first to see what brands and models they recommended. In this case, we talked to employees who did fiberglass finishing, someone who owned a cabinet shop, two automotive painters, and a couple of hobbyists who refinish antiques.
Once we had the brands and models we collaborated with online reviews and checked on hobbyist forums to see what normal people were saying about these sanders. In the end, we decided that nine sanders made our cut and promptly ordered them to see if they lived up to their reputation.
During selection and testing, we found the following to be the essential qualities relevant to a great random orbital sander.
The grip greatly affected the end-use of the sander. We found that it was, indeed, one of the key factors in how much our reviewers liked each one.
A non-slip grip which fits your hands should be at the top of the list when you’re looking for the sander. You need to maintain tight control over a random orbital sander for finishing work, after all. Without that control, you’re not going to have a good time.
Variable speed was up there on our list of “awesome stuff” for an RO sander.
Random orbitals are already rather versatile tools, but if you’re stuck in one speed or it just has high/low powered modes it’s not quite as versatile as we’d like.
Instead, the smoother the variable speed the easier it is to tune things in perfect for your material and grit sizing. This allows you to work with anything you have the paper for, as opposed to some of the cheaper sanders we didn’t bother testing that would be completely unsuitable for metal or plastic for instance.
Quick Change Pads
Pads burn out.
Then you need to replace them.
Being able to change out the paper quickly was something that we found absolutely essential. Whether it’s switching to a finer grit to do the final finish on a workpiece or just needing to replenish with a new patch of paper after burning out the first one on something large… it makes using the random orbital quite a bit less stressful.
A lot of the time we don’t really test our dust ports. Saws and the like often have them but we rarely bother to give them the full run down since it’s a lot of work.
On a sander, however, your dust ports and the bag are essential elements. Not only is the sheer amount of dust produced irritating to the lungs, it’ll also cover the workpiece and interfere with the sanding process over time.
None of the models we tested were completely ineffective here, but some definitely performed better than others.
Overall Build Quality
We always insist that certain tools be extremely well-built.
However, as you’ll see from our budget pick, it’s not quite as necessary with these sanders. Anything worth testing is certain to hold together under normal operation and even the cheap-feeling models worked remarkably well.
However, a better built RO sander from a well-reputed brand is still going to outperform a budget pick. Unless you’re only planning on occasional use we recommend going with the best RO sander you can afford.
How We Tested
Wood. Metal. Plastic.
These are the big three materials that you’ll find RO sanders being used on. We felt that all of them should be tested well and that we should run some other tests at the end.
Our initial testing consisted of two stages.
Stock Removal Stage
In this case, we used an 80 grit paper to remove surface material from the scrap workpieces that we brought in.
We tested them on wood, plastic, and metal by removing a measured amount from the top surface of the workpiece. We then gauged how well and how quickly each of the sanders went through the material and tried to gauge the scratches left behind by the rough grit to see how consistent the sander was.
One of the big advantages of RO sanders is that they don’t leave the characteristic swirls you see with most sanders, but that doesn’t mean that roughing material didn’t leave some marks.
Stepping things up a bit, we decided to finish each of the workpieces that had been tested. We used 220 grit for wood, 400 grit for the plastic, and 800 grit discs for metal. None of it was high polishing, of course, but it gave us a good idea of how fine of a finish the sander could make.
Afterwards, we ran two more tests to ensure that we knew exactly what was going on.
Dust Collection Test
While we had been running the bags and dust collectors the whole time, we decided that we should go for broke.
Running 120 grit discs we vigorously attacked some scrap pine boards with the intention of creating as much dust as possible. This gave us an accurate assessment of just how much dust an individual sander could collect.
We reasoned that most people use their sanders on wood. We gave our reviewers each a few pads in varying grits and a weathered chunk of 2×4 that measured 36”. We then asked them to smooth the entire piece.
Once finished we assessed the quality of the board’s finish. Since we’d run the pieces from rough to finer grits we were able to get an accurate look at just how well these sanders would function in the real world.
While all of the RO sanders we tested out were good, we decided that only five could really be considered “top sanders.”
They broke down as follows:
- The DEWALT DWE6423K was undoubtedly our favorite. Available for a moderate price it was high-performing, had completely variable speeds, and met all of our expectations when it came to finishing and cutting.
- The high priced Bosch ROS65VC-6 was a slight upgrade in most areas over the DeWalt but unless you’re a professional the increase in quality may not be enough for the increase in price.
- When we found out that some of these sanders are built like angle grinders… well, we picked up the Bosch 1250DEVS. It’s expensive but has an aggressive mode that makes it the best-of-the-best for taking down material while retaining its core functionality.
- For those looking for a cordless option, the DEWALT DCW210B was our favorite, especially considering the underwhelming performance of many battery-operated RO sanders.
- Lastly, our budget pick was the BLACK+DECKER BDERO100 which had mediocre build-quality but is more than fit for light to medium duty.
Overall we had a pretty good day and a lot of smooth pieces that we’re sure to be destroying with some tool in the near future. All of these are respectable options for home use, however, and your specific usage pattern is going to be what lets you figure out which one is the best for your garage.
The Top 5 Random Orbital Sanders
There’s a lot to be said for keeping around an RO sander. They’re a fantastic way to get things going when it comes to power sanding. So, without further ado, here are our reviews of the top 5 that made it through our testing process.
Best Overall Random Orbital Sander
At a Glance:
- Pad Size: 5”
- Power: 3A
- Variable Speed?: Yes
Smooth, powerful, and lightweight the DWE6423K is one of the best random orbital sanders around… period. The variable speed is also a nice touch, allowing you to fine-tune your grit to the surface that you’re sanding.
One thing we noticed immediately: the anti-vibration features actually work remarkably well. Anyone who’s run a power sander for an extended period of time knows the weird buzzy feeling that stays with your hands for a good bit afterwards, most of our reviewers noticed that it was much lighter than the others on our list.
The whole design is a bit shorter in stature than most of the RO sanders that we tested out. While particularly large-handed individuals may not like this development we found it worked great for both pressing harder to cut material and allowed for more control when doing fine sanding.
It performed well in both stages of sanding. That said, we weren’t fond of the proprietary adapter for the dust port, feeling that it was kind of a cheap marketing gimmick. The power switch is also in a strange place.
Our Upgrade Pick
At a Glance:
- Pad Size: 5” or 6”
- Power: 3.3A
- Variable Speed?: Yes
While an upgrade over our favorite in most areas, we feel that the Bosch ROS65VC is actually a little bit too expensive for amateurs. It’s quite a price jump and it is a better overall sander… it’s just the price that we take issue with.
The motor runs at 3.3A which is a bit higher than the average of 3A we found to be pretty standard across corded. While there are both 5” and 6” variations available we went with the larger one as the cost difference between the two is pretty small. They’re actually identical, it was just which pad came with the sander when ordered.
It’s impressive in action. It runs well, has smoothly variable speeds, and the handle is great overall with a foregrip allowing you to get extra pressure when it comes time to actually cut down on material.
We were a bit unimpressed with the dust collection, unfortunately. But apart from that, it was a fine tool overall, allowing for a great amount of utility. It wasn’t quite as maneuverable as the DeWalt but compared to most it still had some serious agility.
Most Aggressive Random Orbital Sander
At a Glance:
- Pad Size: 5”
- Power: 6.5A
- Variable Speed?: Yes
For those who are more concerned with stock removal, the 1250DEVS makes a great solution. Coming in with almost double the power of its little brother, this is a serious tool.
The handle on this one is arranged like an angle grinder instead of the usual palm grips of the majority of RO sanders. This allows you to really bear down on material. It’s a big plus, especially since the sander runs in two modes: an aggressive orbit for quick stock removal and a standard mode for handling detail sanding.
This one will definitely give your hands a good workout, however, and the cost is pretty high. For those who are working with rougher materials on a regular basis, however, the extra power is hard to pass up.
We feel that while it’s capable of fine sanding… operator skill is going to determine the end result. Even in the standard mode, it has enough power to make a mess of things if you’re not careful although it works fine for finish work if you’ve got a light touch.
Best Cordless Random Orbital Sander
At a Glance:
- Pad Size: 5”
- Power: 20V
- Variable Speed?: Yes
Quite similar to our top pick, the DCW210B is a cordless sander that runs off of DeWalt’s 20V batteries that seem to be able to power just about everything.
It has almost the same profile as our favorite, we’re just not sure that the jump in cost was enough to justify going without a cord. Sanding is usually a stationary task, after all, you’re probably not going to be running around the job site sanding random things.
That said, it’s field-expedient which is always a nice touch. It’s also got a bit less power behind it than our favorite, although it’s no slouch when you compare it to our budget pick. Instead, it seems to be the perfect cordless sander… we just weren’t sure who all needs one.
For touch-ups and finishing it’s fine, but expect to spend some time if you’re planning on cutting down stock material.
At a Glance:
- Pad Size: 5”
- Power: 2A
- Variable Speed?: No
Cheap, lightweight, and definitely not on par with the rest of the sanders that we tested, the low price point is the main draw of the BDERO100. It’s not going to keep up with a Bosch or DeWalt sander but it’s no slouch either.
With a 2A motor, it should feel a bit more underpowered than it does. The biggest flaw here is the fact that it only runs at a single speed, which makes it much harder if you’re planning on removing stock from materials like metal or plastic.
For around the home wood sanding, it’s a fine choice, however. It’s simple, lightweight, and probably vibrates a bit more than it should but we didn’t find it to be too bad. It is a bit louder than most of the models we tested, however.
It’s… well, it’s a budget sander. As long as you know what to expect going in you’re not going to be disappointed but if heavy-duty use is your game you’ll have to buy something with a little more power and control.
A Word About Grits
For those who aren’t used to using a power sander, grits can often leave one in confusion. We’ve put together a handy guide to various grits so you’ll know exactly what discs your sander is going to need before you make the purchase.
- 40-60 Grit-Heavy cutting is possible with these rougher grits, but care needs to be taken even with weaker sanders not to mar the surface too much.
- 80-120 Grit-These discs are primarily used for small imperfections in the material and are the usual go-to for restoration projects or pre-cut lumber which needs some smoothing out.
- 220-600 Grit-Usually used for the finishing on wood workpieces. 220 and 320 are also used for stock removal on metal workpieces.
- 800-1500 Grit-Pretty much useless on wood, these grits are often used for finishing metal. They’re also used to polish coatings and varnishes on wood as the harder material takes a better finish with 1200-1500 grit sandpaper.
- 2500-3000 Grit-Used almost exclusively to pre-polish metal when placed in a power sander.
- 3000 Grit+-These sandpapers are fairly useless for most DIY tasks. Their primary use is super high-polish on metals and for the pre-polish stages for lapidarists who use them on their own machinery.
So, if you’re working on wood then making sure you have a range of grits from 60-220 makes sense, for metal running 220-1000 or so also makes sense. The higher grits are mainly for extremely niche usage, primarily in jewelry and stone work although they’re sometimes used on harder steels to attain a mirror-like pre-polish.
Working Through GritsSome people get confused by working through grits. That’s perfectly fine, it just means you’ll need to learn. When you work through grits you use the roughest paper you have(that’s suitable for the material in question) and completely work the entire surface. This will invariably leave scratch marks, especially with 80 and lower grits. Change the disc on your sander to the next highest grit and work the surface of the piece until the previous grit’s scratches are removed. You can repeat this until you reach your final finish. More steps in between often means more time spent but a finer finish so it’s up to you exactly how you want to jump along. If you have multiple pieces we’d recommend working through the same grit on all of them as you continue. This helps ensure the finish of all of the various pieces will be roughly equal.
Dust and Sander Safety
Dust collection ports are awesome.
But they don’t give you 100% protection. You’re going to need to invest in at least a dust mask and safety glasses with side shields. Goggles are even better since they’re usually made to prevent fumes and dust from getting in your eyes.
Depending on the material being worked you may have anything from minor irritation to inhaling heavy metal particles that can seriously affect your health.
Running a vacuum on the dust collection port helps but it’s not the be-all, end-all of your safety measures. Remember to protect yourself, if you’re stuck in the hospital you’re not getting the job done after all.
We recommend the following:
Orbital Sander FAQ
Like always during our testing, we had some questions come up and some that we anticipated people asking. If we haven’t answered your question here then leave us a line in the comments and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
If I only get one power sander is a random orbital the best choice?
A: Absolutely. They’re not as good for cutting as a belt sander nor as good for finishing as a detail sander, but if you’re only going to have one around then you’ll find an RO sander is your best bet due to the sheer versatility of them.
How important is variable speed?
A: For the most part, RO sanders that are single speed run in the 10,000-12,000 RPM range. That’s great for wood but much too fast for plastic. It will work on harder metals, but a slower sander would give a much better finish without too much more effort.
What’s a hook-and-loop sanding pad backing?
A: Velcro. It’s just Velcro, but Velcro is a trademarked product. They’re called hook-and-loop because that’s… well, exactly what they are. One side of the velcro is covered in hooks, the other in loops. The plastic makes them easy to pull apart without needing to do anything special.
Is there really a difference between random orbital sanders and standard orbitals?
A: Yup. Orbitals move in a predictable fashion, moving only in a circle. Random orbitals have an extra plane of motion controlled by the motor which causes the “random” pattern that tends to not leave the distinctive swirls caused by other sanders.
Will a random orbital sander work for shaping?
A: We’d bet that any RO sander with a 3A or bigger motor will allow you to shape wood. It’s not going to work as quickly as a belt sander, however, and if that’s your primary purpose you’d be better served with a dedicated tool for the purpose.
How can a random orbital sander work wood when you’re supposed to go with the grain?
A: The reason that you work along the grain with hand sanders is pretty simple: it allows you to disguise scratches. Other than that the material will smooth out readily and the random pattern used by an RO sander won’t leave as many scratches or grooves as you’ll find with many other sanders.
Can I use an RO sander for drywall?
A: You can but we don’t recommend it. A dedicated drywall sander is the way to go, but lacking one you may wish to use a detail sander instead, the lower power and precise shaping of the sanding head will allow you to get the mud down without risking serious damage to the finish.
What grit should I sand coatings at?
A: In our experience varnishes and polyurethane coatings do well being treated with 220 grit in between coats and using a 1200 grit disc on the final coat. Your results may vary and if you’re questioning it then you should ask the manufacturer of the product you’re using.
Smoothing Things Out
If you’re tired of hand sanding then it’s time to make sure that you have the best random orbital sander around. These versatile tools make short work of a previously strenuous task and can be used for almost any sanding task to great effect.
You don’t deserve the cramped, dust-covered hands that come with sand blocks and running sheets of paper. Nor do you deserve to waste hours just to get something smooth in the end.
If that sounds familiar… well, maybe it’s time to just pick up an RO sander and quit having to worry about it!