Mr Sandman, bring me a sander, make my walls (and cupboards and furniture) the smoothest they’ve ever been
May 19, 2011 12:20 AM   Subscribe

What kind of sander should I get to sand a variety of household projects? This weekend, I’ll be sanding the untreated pine interior of some fixed cupboards and shelves, with lots of tight, awkward corners. I'll also be sanding back spakfilla on masonry walls where I’ve filled in nail holes. I’m sanding so I can paint. Later on (in a few months) I might sand down some wood furniture. I don’t think I’ll use the sander for any exterior work. What kind of sander should I get AskMe – and why?

Background: I was leaning toward a mouse-style sander (like this) because it’ll be a pain to get into all the nooks and crannies of the cupboard, but they don’t look very powerful, and it does look as though it would be annoying to sand larger projects with, such as the interior and exterior of a large cupboard. On the other hand, something like these looks like things would move along quicker – but it’d be hard to get into all the nooks and crannies. Maybe I’m wrong? I don’t know!

Other maybe useful info: I don’t have and a lot of wrist/arm strength.

Degree of difficulty: Can’t buy online. Have to walk into the hardware store tomorrow and buy one. I live in a remote region of Australia, but there’s a reasonable range of power tools available. It doesn’t have to be Black & Decker – that’s just where I looked online for examples of the types I’ve seen.

Caveat: There is no way on God’s green earth I’m sanding by hand, no matter how much better it looks. (Maybe the odd corner, but more than that – no.)
posted by t0astie to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before you go shopping for a sander, you should make sure the stuff you intend to work on actually needs sanding. Pine cabinet interiors, for example, do not need necessarily need to be sanded before painting. Nail holes in walls should be overfilled only slightly, so only a tiny bit of sanding should be necessary there. If by "sand down some wood furniture" you mean that you want to strip off on existing finish, then you should rethink that plan; chemical strippers work much better.

Assuming you still need a sander, how much of a wrist / arm strength problem do you have? Power sanders help you get more done in a shorter period of time, but they do not make the work effortless. They're not weightless and they vibrate; you have to lift them, move them around and steer them. If you have a medical condition that makes your hands very weak, a power sander may not help much.

It would help to know more about the nature of your physical limitations and the work you intend to do, because there will be tradeoffs to weigh -- tools will work faster or slower, consume more or less sandpaper, be heavier or lighter, more or less versatile, etc. Are you weak all the time, or do you start out strong and tire quickly? What is the biggest job you're facing? No one tool is good at everything.
posted by jon1270 at 3:13 AM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: The tight, awkward corner thing speaks to a detail sander. I have an old Dremel detail sander, but that's toward the lower end of the tool spectrum. It's for complex shapes, sharp and inaccessible places and is variable speed.

Sounds like it would be suitable for the small areas you anticipate, and it does have a large triangular pad for bigger areas. Pretty cheap.

I have a 4" belt/6" disk sander for modest shaping, a small vibratory sander for larger surfaces (like table tops), and the detail sander. The vibratory sander is good because you go through a lot of paper on large surfaces, and you can cut a standard sheet into 6 pieces for reload.

If I had to choose one, it would be the vibratory. Doesn't need to be orbital unless you are doing fine finish work...
posted by FauxScot at 3:17 AM on May 19, 2011

Seconding what jon1270 says - don't sand where you can use a chemical or some heat. Sand when you need to remove material - wood, filler etc.

I'd say something like one of those mouse-style sanders would be useful for awkward corners.

For sanding small patches of filler, the same sander should be ok. Pretty much any sander that has a flat base and isn't too powerful is fine for sanding back small areas of filler. But if you're doing the filling yourself, use only enough to very slightly over-fill the hole, then use your filling tool to remove every trace of filler from the area around the hole; I've noticed that people tend to leave filler all over the wall and then take care of it with the sander, which is just making unnecessary work really.

In terms of all-round sanding versatility, I really like the cheap rubber disc thing I bought for a couple of pounds a few years ago. Here's an example of the sort of thing I mean, although I'm sure a lot of hardware stores sell them. You fit it into a drill, attach a circular sanding sheet, and away you go. It takes a few minutes to get the right technique (hold the drill firmly so that the disc is at a slight angle to the surface, brush disc gently over surface), but it's a handy tool for removing surface imperfections and general smoothing of corners and edges. Not appropriate for ever job, and you obviously need a drill, but for the price it's a very useful thing.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:31 AM on May 19, 2011

I recently got one of these Ryobi finish sanders when I refinished some bathroom cabinets. It worked great and to me had a good tradeoff of ability to get into tight spots and also quickly cover large flat surfaces. I have an air compressor and so would blast the dust off the sandpaper to get some extra mileage out of it, but changing sanding pads was quick and easy enough that that was not essential. They also have a cordless version I think (although for this particular tool the lighter corded version was easier to use in my opinion). Third party sanding pads were easy for me to find and apparently fit both the Ryobi and the Black and Decker you linked, so there is some similarity there.

Although I am not a professional woodworker, I do have a friend who calls me Sandman for some reason, so I feel uniquely qualified to answer this.
posted by TedW at 6:03 AM on May 19, 2011

If you're trying to get into tight corners, I recommend a card scraper. (They also do a number on planer scallop on oak - far quicker than a random orbit sander.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:45 AM on May 19, 2011

I'm with jon1270 on this one. I don't know why you would need to sand the pine furniture if it's unfinished. And, it's going to be harder to lift the sander up to the nail hold and hold it there than to just, you know, pick up a piece of paper and move it back and forth a few times. (I mean, how badly are these nail holes filled? Do you really need to take off inches of extra spackle?)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:56 AM on May 19, 2011

I agree it doesn't sound like you really need a power sander for these particular tasks but if you're thinking ahead and want a multipurpose sander/cutter/howthehellamIsupposedtodoTHIS? tool, I recommend the Fein detail sander, also known as the MultiMaster and a bunch of other marketing hooey names. It's a little hard to grok in the Amazon pic so check out this review with a better photo, where you can see the characteristic triangular head.

They're expensive and your local hardware store may not carry them (although I've seen them in medium-size hardware stores here) but damn are they versatile. The sanding pad can be replaced by a scraper, a cutting disk, grinding disks, a tiny saw, and a bunch of other stuff. Hubby laughed at my "girly sander" when I first bought it (tools are a long-running joke with us) but now it's our ace in the hole for almost any job that seems tricky. He snapped up another one on Craigslist just so we could have two set up with different heads (and so he could have his own - tool envy, y'know).

Concerning ergonomics, it's pretty "girl-friendly". I also don't have much arm strength but I can hold the sander comfortably for several minutes at a time. It vibrates at high frequency but doesn't shake. Because the head is small it's not good for sanding large flat areas but it's great for getting into small corners. Actually, we use the cutting disk and saw much more than the sanding head. Lastly, the tool itself is very rugged but the cutting disks and saws are a bit delicate - they're thin to minimize the kerf - and are best used with a light hand. As soon as Hubby busts out the "girly saw", I take over.

Anyway, if you can find one, buy it, then get the various attachments as you need them.
posted by Quietgal at 9:14 AM on May 19, 2011

I have a sander pretty much identical to the one linked by TedW and it is pretty versatile. No matter what you buy, you need to accept some compromises unless you are prepared to buy multiple tools, which doesn't sound viable in your case. Something similar in the mid-range size should be easy enough to handle with enough capacity to do slightly larger jobs, although they'll take longer than a larger, more specialty tool. If you are planning to re-finish furniture that already has a finish applied, use a chemical stripper first to remove the bulk of the finish, then apply the sander rather than trying to remove all the material with the sander - you will waste a lot of sandpaper and likely end up with an inferior finish.
posted by dg at 4:41 PM on May 19, 2011

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