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Orbit or Belt Sander Which One?

Which is best and can anybody recommend a good value one

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Tim Lawrence23/02/2008 10:28:00
2 forum posts


Does anybody know which is better? A random Orbit sander or a belt sander? Or should I say which is best and for what purpose. Trouble is I have around £150 to spend on one of these and cant afford both. It would be used to finish doors and windows mainly but also the occassional pieces of furniture.

Two possible models are Metabo SXE450 (bit over my budget but heard its good) or Ryobi EBS-1310V

Many thanks

Mike Garnham23/02/2008 11:31:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos


these tools do quite different jobs.

The belt sander can remove pretty reasonable quantities of material, and produce a fine finish going with the can't get into corners, and can make a mess if sanding where 2 different grains meet. It is an absolute must if you ever join boards edge to edge.

The orbital sort of vibrates, and is great for getting into corners and where grains meet (eg at a mitre joint on a frame)....however, it cannot flatten out joins between boards, sand end grain or be used for shaping. It removes very little material.

I could live without my orbital, but would find workshop life virtually impossible without my belt sander.

As always, get the best you can afford, and definately get a 4" rather than a 3" machine. My Makita is wonderful, and lighter than my old 3" machine, and that would be my recommendation. Personally, I reckon get a top-notch belt sander from a proper tool merchant and a £10 or £15 cheapie orbital from B&Q or the like. I think my orbital came free with something I bought 20 years ago, and it has a really easy life. The belt sander works really hard for me.


Big Al23/02/2008 13:05:00
1604 forum posts
73 photos
Hi Tim My favorite sander is a random orbit sander, the one that I have at the moment is a dewalt 125mm palm random orbit sander which is available from screwfix for £99.99 click here for more details With this sander you can unclip the dust bag and attach a vacuum cleaner, and the weight of the sander is sufficient for downward pressure. I have had belt sanders but find them too aggressive for my needs (finish sanding). Al
derek willis23/02/2008 13:21:00
2314 forum posts
1 articles


         As you've already read the choice is yours, it all depends on the use you want it for, belt for  a lot

           of timber removal but not good for a finish, the random for a good finish, unfortunately you do need bothboth as we all know well.


Tim Lawrence23/02/2008 13:45:00
2 forum posts

Thanks guys really helpful stuff it seems like although I may need both, the belt sander is the one to go for first? I have a handheld little tiny sheet sander at the moment which maybe I could use for fine finnishing until I get the money for an orbital?

Definately a belt sander first though?

Thanks again, my first post answered v quickly cheers

derek willis24/02/2008 11:34:00
2314 forum posts
1 articles


One last comment, whichever sander you use, you will have to finish by hand, because that is the only way to get it right. Good luck with it all!!


Keith Smith24/02/2008 12:56:00
83 forum posts
5 articles

Tim from the use you plan to put it to I'd go for the Metabo ROS, with a coarse disc it will remove a surprising amount of material and with a fine disc it will produce a finish that requires no more finishing. A belt sander is so aggressive that it is the easiest tool with which to ruin a good days work. They (belt sanders) are handy at times but limited for general joinery and cabinet making in my view.

I have a Bosch 125mm ROS and it is my most used sander by far.

Matthew Platt26/02/2008 23:41:00
347 forum posts
9 photos

Hi Tim,

The random orbit sander certainly does have a place in the furniture makers workshop, particularly for removing old stubborn finishes, dealing with very tricky heavily-figured timber, prepping surfaces that will later be painted and of course for preparing endgrain.

If you are thinking of using a random orbit sander as part of your arsenal for preparing surfaces for the finishing process, you should be aware that although the timber may feel smooth, they do still leave a distinctive pattern of tiny circles that will be evident in the finished surface, so as Derek said, to get a surface that you can lay a finish onto you will still need to go over it with finer grades by hand.

I believe that by a comfortable margin Bosch make the best random orbit sanders available at any price, in terms of leaving the most even and 'consistently random' (if that makes sense) scratch pattern. This is the most important factor as it will leave you with the minimum amount of work to do afterwards.

If the grain is going to be visible, you might wish to consider a handplane and scrapers. With a little bit of practice a good plane can dimension timber accurately to within a fraction of a millimetre and leave a surface finish so good, that you would actually cause damage to it if you went near it with sandpaper.

Timber is made up of long, thin, tubular cells not unlike tiny clear plastic drinking straws. A handplane or cabinet scraper will cut through these tubes cleanly, allowing light to penetrate the surface and refract through and reflect off the surfaces of the tubes. A hard, very clear finish like gloss varnish or shellac can exaggerate this natural lustre and figuring, literally make the wood sparkle. Now take your cleanly sliced clear tubes and rub a wire brush over the surface, chipping and breaking them up; next rub fine dust and debris into the surface, add a few chunks of grit and 'voila!' You have the effects of sanding on long grain surfaces.

Endgrain is different altogether, as all of the tubular cells are end on and therefore not reflective (try throwing a golf ball into a pipe and getting it to bounce back to you!) With endgrain the only thing you can do is rough up the tubes so much that they become like the ends of the bristles of a brush, creating a 'surface' that is capable of reflecting light. The finer you go with your sanding the finer the filaments become and the more shiny the surface will be. With patience, it is perfectly possible to get a mirror finish on hardwood endgrain without applying any kind of finish to it.

Belt sanders are wonderful tools for rough DIY jobs where an aggressive touch is called for - like stripping floorboards with layers of old gloss paint on them. As an unrefined tool with no finesse, there is little to choose between the high end and the really cheap ones, so if you want to save a little this would be the place to trim the budget in my opinion. Get one with a good guarantee though, if it is covered for three years and only lasts two, you can just keep getting new ones.

They do have their uses in the workshop too, as long as you turn them upside down, bolt them to a bench, find a way to reduce their speed and kit them out with an ultrafine belt. As a small flat bed linisher they are indispensible for metalworking.



Mike Garnham27/02/2008 07:58:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos


the "wonderful tool for rough DIY where an aggressive touch is called for" did most of the shaping and finishing on these:






Most of the lettering on the letterbox was shaped with a belt sander. It can be an extremely precise, accurate tool, and it can put a finer finish on timber than an orbital in many circumstances.

In my workshop, a board isn't prepared for work until it has been sawed, planed, thicknessed and belt sanded. Furthermore, I wouldn't even attempt a table-top, dresser-top etc without a belt-sander. The only way to a decent finish when edge-joining boards is to sand across the grain, then with the grain, with a wide belt sander.

If you want to prepare end grain for finishing, you could take a specialised plane, a frame of some sort, clamp an off-cut to the back of it to prevent break-out, and if you are really skillful manage to get a nice finish and even keep everything square............or, you could offer it up to the belt sander, polish it to perfection and keep it absolutely perfectly square.

I am surprised by your summary.


Mike Garnham27/02/2008 11:22:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos

........."un-refined tool with no finesse...."        WHAT!!!!!!!!!

Possibly the most used tool in my workshop.........I hope you live somewhere near the Essex Suffolk border, Matthew. I would love you to visit my workshop and see what this brilliant bit of kit can do.


derek willis27/02/2008 15:05:00
2314 forum posts
1 articles


Your profession comes out in your projects, I am the worlds worst at imagining and therefore designing, except now and again. I would love to build more large peices but, have nowhere to put them, can' t afford to make and give away so keep to small stuff that I can sell at craft fairs etc. Years ago I would have commissions, but now as I am getting on in years, they don't seem to come so very frequently, timber being so very expensive, I rely on what I get given to me to recycle, and I pick up from old furniture, but nevertheless I have quite a lot of, mostly, oak and can manage to find plenty to keep me interested.

By the way, how do you load pics onto the forum, not gallery? Have you doe any work?


Keith Smith27/02/2008 17:38:00
83 forum posts
5 articles

Matthew if your ROS is leaving tiny circles then the random part of the mechanism must have stopped working, as the whole idea behind random orbit sanders is that unlike orbital sanders they don't leave such marks.


Al Frampton27/02/2008 19:41:00
11 forum posts
I don't actually own a hand-held belt sander, but I imagine saying that a belt sander in the hands of a skilled user is an "unrefined tool with no finesse", is just about as untrue as saying that a belt sander is a "must if you ever join boards edge to edge" to a moderately skilled hand plane user. For Mike's style of work, I'd be looking at getting pretty handy with a belt sander too. As it is, I wonder if one of those dual speed ROSs is the way to go? That is if I can't persuade Tim to the joys of planes and such...? Cheers, Alf P.S. I find ROSs can leave marks too, and mine functions as it should. It depends a lot on the wood though, and the level of finish required.
Keith Smith27/02/2008 20:41:00
83 forum posts
5 articles

Hi Alf,

I'm surprised that you too are getting marks with your ROS, I've owned quite a few and as long as the mechanism that controls the random part is working I have never had problems with swirl marks. It can be difficult to judge if the mechanism is working 100%; it seems to be affected all too easily by sanding resinous timber or sanding off a previous finish.


Al Frampton27/02/2008 21:01:00
11 forum posts
Hey up Keith, My ROS has had very light use (as you might expect ) and doesn't include heavy work of any sort, but certainly in a raking light I've seen marks I'd rather not see. Powered sanders of any sort have yet to rival hand sanding with the grain, in my limited experience. But as I say, there are so many factors involved, not least the maker's pickiness. On that score, I acknowledge I do sometimes go to extremes Cheers, Alf

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