Tools I use: My sanders

I live about ten minutes away from the beach.  My wife and two sons are off for summer vacation. The beach is one of their  favorite destinations to spend some time on a hot, lazy summer day. This means that both of our cars are filled with sand.  Sand on the floor of the cars.  Sand in the trunks.  Sand on the seats.  Sand in the living room.

It’s a constant effort to keep on top of the sand situation.  Sweeping. Vacuuming. Shaking rugs out.

But, hey, I keep my sanding contained to one part of the house!

I’d like to introduce you to the sanding team:

Starting in the back is one of the most frequently seen sanders in home shops – the Ridgid spindle/belt sander.  This is one sweet little unit, easily converting from a belt to a spindle sander.  It has plenty of muscle to sand all kinds of wood – maple, hickory, oaks… the works.  I’ve been able to get inside some tight curves and do some long tapers with it.  If you are looking for a small bench type sander, it’s hard to go wrong here.

My new (refurbished) Ridgid belt sander that I recently picked up.  This has the potential to be a very blunt instrument, stripping away wood and digging divots.  However, with a careful hand, this can carefully refine a curve or even out the top of an end grain cutting board.  I never thought I’d get much use out of it, but boy, was a I wrong.

My Porter Cable random orbit sander.  I’m torn when it comes to this sander. The rotating pad does give a very nice finish that typically just needs a little scraping to perfect, and it can work around corners.  The only problem I have with this model is the dust collection cup.  It is held with two plastic clips onto two lugs on the dust outlet port.  For the first six months, I would twist it on and hear a satisfying snap.  That meant that the cup would stay on regardless.  Unfortunately, since those first six months, the plastic clip hasn’t held on worth a darn.  I keep trying to bend things back into place, but it’s a lost cause, and I usually have to end up sanding with a fan on and my garage door open to vent the dust.

Finally, up front I have a sanding block I picked up at a local home improvement store.  Even thought I have the power sanders, I know that for many situations, nothing beats the versatility and control of hand sanding.

For me, I always wear a dust mask, eye protection and hearing protection.  Even though it’s just sanding, I’d much rather not inhale the dust, get it in my eyes or kill my hearing.

Yes, one day I would love to give up on power sanders and be able to finish all of my projects with planes and scrapers, but as long as wood has its peculiar workability properties, there are just some times when power is better.

10 thoughts on “Tools I use: My sanders”

  1. I’m with you. I far prefer planing and scraping. I find sanding solves two problems; one is the unpredictable nature of wood, the other is the expectation on the part of the customer. While I appreciate a finely planed and scraped surface most people expect the perfectly smooth look they have grown accustomed too since sandpaper began its rule.

  2. Tom,
    Nice sanders, my friend. I’ve got the same Ridgid belt/spindle sander and I love it too.

    As far as the PC random orbit unit goes, I have two older model PC 5″ RO sanders (from before Black & Decker bought them). I’ve had great success using them with a vacuum connected. In fact, I’ve had great success with all of my sanders (PC & Festool 5″ RO, Ridgid 6″ RO, Makita, PC & DeWalt Belt) connected to a vacuum. I find the Ridgid premium hose is actually better than the Festool hose at less than half the cost. With an assortment of fittings from Home Depot (and the odd hose clamp) I’ve been able to connect the Ridgid hose to all my tools. I’ve used it to connect my sander to a mini-cyclone, regular shop vac and fancy dust extractor, all with great results. In order to manage the power and vacuum hoses, I’ve constructed what I call my “Vacuum Boom Arm” ( and attached it to the wall behind my bench. The hose and cords run down behind the bench to the vacuum on the side.

    I’m actually finding that my combined sanding package (vacuum connected sanders, my boom, a dust mask and a good set of iPod connected, noise cancellation head phones) actually makes sanding one of the most relaxing activities in the shop. I’m losing my desire to learn to plane rather than sand (though I still like planing for joining and fitting).

    Happy sanding!

  3. That Rigid spindle sander is next up on my present list.
    And, I have the PC low profile ROS with the quicker stop time & it is really sweet.
    I have to use easy pressure when using the PC though because you can mess up the hook part of the hook and loop pretty easily.
    I actually like sanding. It’s kind of therapeutic.
    Thanks Tom.

  4. I have come very close to getting the Ridgid Spindle sander but was put off by reports of sanding sleeves being hard to find. I sent an email to Ridgid customer service – never got an answer.

  5. The only ones I can find at HD are the 10 piece assortment packs. Gets a little expensive if you don’t need them all.

  6. I’ve been using that Rigid hand-held belt sander for a couple of years now. It’s so far been perfectly reliable; the tracking and the variable speed still work great. And like you, I’ve found it to be a lot more useful than I thought I would.

    For a bench-top belt sander, I have a 1×42 hog that my brother and I built (mostly my bro; lol) that only runs one speed and works great for rough shaping. But I mostly use it for metal.

    Recently I had the choice between a scroll saw and one of those dual disc/belt bench-top thingamajigs. The former won, but I foresee the latter in the not-too-distant future.

    In the interim, I’ve been fixing the handle of the Rigid in a face vice, and using the “stay-on” button a lot, but I REALLY want work-tables (platens?) and an otherwise proper setup.

    I don’t have a random-orbit sander, but I have an old DeWalt palm sander (similar only in size; not function, of course) that I keep loaded with 100 or 150 to use for rough sanding, and often as a sort of alternative to a rasp or file. Like, if I cut a piece of thick birch ply (no matter how perfectly free of any tear-out), I’ll often kiss the edges with the DeWalt to lessen the likelihood of splinters while handling it. Me hates dee pricklies.

    I have a couple of different sanding blocks I’ve made for certain applications (usually constructed from two blocks; one with 2-3 nails driven up through it on each end, from the bottom, to hold the paper and the top), and I also have one of those (very useful) rubbery janks pictured above. Although I think mine came from the Mart de Wal.

    The only plane I have is a cheap Stanley #4, which I love to use, but don’t get to use very often, as most of my projects are fairly small. I guess I roughly thin short boards with it, more than anything else. Occasionally I’ll use it instead of breaking out the router, for a quick chamfer or something.

    An additional set of of tools I consider an important part of my shaping/smoothing kit is my chisels, my woodcarving tools (gouges and whatnot), and my bench knives (carving knives).

    In the spirit of what Tom said above, while some projects might demand grit-with-the-grain, incrementally, up to 2000 (lol), often I’m (personally) much more pleased with the finish left by good chiseling and knife-work. And when you get right down to it, what is a plane but a knife? What is sandpaper but a bagillion little knives?

    OK, false continuum fallacy perhaps. Because I do understand and appreciate the aesthetics of a cut finish, versus a sanded finish.

  7. Tom,

    I picked up a used Rigid Spindle/belt sander from a local pawn shop chain. They employ alot of kids and they don’t always no what they have…I paid 45 bucks and the thing is basically perfect. I am just missing a few of the spindles. I ordered them from Rigids awesome parts website for like 10 bucks! It is great! I have a craftsman orbital sander and over all it gives a good finish and has decent dust collection. They only problem is that it seems to have problems with the power switch every now and then. I think I will unload it and go for something new.

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