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    Power Sanders 101: ROS, Belt, Spindle

    No one loves sanding, but there is no avoiding it for smoothing wood, and occasionally shaping it too. That’s why power sanders are popular: They speed up the process, leaving you more time for the fun stuff.

    The first sander you should buy is the one you’ll use most: a random-orbit palm sander, probably a 5-in. (diameter) model. The random-orbit action won’t leave behind those circular scratch marks that older sanders used to make, and the 5-in. size works for both wide surfaces and narrow ones. You’ll do the bulk of your smoothing with this little unit, and it should last for many years. See the surface-prep article for why you should sand all your surfaces before applying a finish, and for a few more tips on how to use this sander effectively.

    A 5-in., random-orbit sander will handle most tasks. Work your way up methodically through the various sandpaper grits, ending at 220, and you’ll have a surface ready to receive a beautiful finish. Whenever possible, hook your sander up to a shop-vacuum—that will make it almost dust free.

    Another nice sander to have is a belt sander, either the handheld kind or the benchtop type that is mounted in a fixed position and has a small table to support the work. Both of these tools are great for shaping curved edges.

    For inside (concave) curves, some woodworkers buy a spindle sander. These are also benchtop tools with small tables. Get the oscillating type, which moves up and down and leaves a more even scratch pattern on the work. Spindle sanders come with different-size sanding drums (or “spindles”) to match different curves. You want the drum diameter to be just under the diameter of the curve for smoothest results.