What Is The Difference Between An Orbital And a Finishing Sander?

Palm Sanders

If you work with wood on a regular basis, either as a hobby or professionally, there is always a tool that you cannot miss: a sander.

However, choosing the type of sander that we are going to use for our work can become a problem, since there is no single type of sander that can be used for everything and depending on the work we normally do there will always be a model that adapts better to our needs than another.

Do we make small furniture or do we carry out large wooden floor installations? Do we need small sandpaper to carry it with us or do we prefer a fixed and heavy tool that gives us better finishes and speed?

Do we have a limited budget for our wood tools or do we plan to invest a large amount in our own carpentry business? All these and many other questions are the ones that we will have to solve before choosing our ideal type of sander.

Throughout this article, we will try to help you narrow down your search for sanding machines by introducing you to two of the most important models of the moment: the palm sander and the orbital sander.

Both models can be used to shape the wood, remove layers of varnish and paint and give a much smoother finish to our pieces, but depending on the type of work we do, our professional needs, and the time we want to spend on the carpentry, one model will be better than the other.

Do you want to know what is the best sander for cabinets?

Read on!

Differences Between Palm And Orbital Sander:

Do you want to know more about the main characteristics of these two types of wood sanding machines?

Both are loved by the woodworking industry, as they have proven to more than meet their objectives, however, each has some advantages and disadvantages that depending on the work to be done we must take into account.

We explain to you!

Orbital Sanders

Orbital Sander

Orbital sanders are those that work by spinning a polishing disc in small circles or orbits, hence the name.

This type of sanding machine usually has a square structure, which would allow us to work with it without problems the corners and edges of the wood, while also serves us to polish rounded and curved pieces without further complications.

The main advantage of this type of sander is that it allows us to work with large surface pieces since we can vary the polishing sheet we work with; the larger the sanding pad we put on, the more surface we can treat.

The size that is normally used for this sander is the one that takes up a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper, which has made this type of sander also known as a “Quarter Sheet Sander”, although it can be used for many other sizes.


One of the most important characteristics of the orbital sander is the possibility of increasing or decreasing its speed, allowing us to work at a much higher rate if we need to and polish large pieces in half the time than if we do it with a hand sander.

The speed of these sanding machines is adjustable, being able to sand up to 10,000 orbits per minute and with hardly any margin of error. So if we need a machine that provides quality and speed in equal parts, this type of sander is probably our best option.

Grip And Handling

As for the attachment and handling of this type of sander, most professional orbital sanders will come equipped with a very comfortable gun handle, which will allow us to direct the machine well while controlling the pressure we exert on the wood.

There are also those that have jug handles, but they are less common and would only be useful for sanding under a piece of wood by hand.


Can you use any kind of sandpaper with this type of sander? Of course, you can. This is a great advantage of the orbital sander since you will not have to look for a special paper to work with it, but any kind of paper will do and it will allow you to fix it to its structure with Velcro or with a peel and stick design.

What Can I Use This Type Of Sander For?

The ideal use of the orbital sander is to polish and round any large surface, such as a baseboard or staircase, that has many corners and curved areas that are difficult to access and that no other sander could reach with guaranteed success. However, we can also use it for other simpler jobs, such as removing varnish and paint from an old piece of furniture that we are going to restore.

Palm Sanders

Palm Sanders

Palm sanders are much smaller and more affordable than orbital sanders, working the wood through a simple back and forth motion rather than in high-speed circular orbits.

As its name indicates, this sander has a simple handle in which we must put the palm of our hand to make it work, which can be more uncomfortable and will make us work at a much slower pace but will allow us to have greater control of the areas we work on.

Size And Price

The palm sanders can be of various sizes, and you can even find miniature models that will allow us to work the small wood in a much more detailed and comfortable way. Although this type of sander is usually smaller and the work rhythm it offers is somewhat slower, we can also use it to sand large surfaces and obtain the same results.

However, the great advantage of this type of sander compared to the orbital sander and why most amateurs in the world of carpentry buy it is the price. An average quality palm sander can cost around $45, twice the price of an orbital sander. So if you don’t want to invest too much money in carpentry and you want to have optimal results, this sander is your best option.

Sanding Paper

As it happens with orbital sanders with palm sanders we can use any kind of sandpaper, with the only difference that we will have to introduce the paper in the machine manually as we go along, since the sandpaper does not usually last too long.

What Can You Use A Palm Sander For?

If your budget is limited and you are looking to polish smaller pieces of wood that require greater precision, a palm sander is undoubtedly your best option.

This type of sander has proven to be very versatile and allows the carpenter to polish corners and rounded areas satisfactorily, without the need to invest in a large professional sanding machine.

These are the main characteristics and differences you will find between an orbital sander and a finishing sander, both equally efficient in their function of polishing and smoothing the wood, but different in the details of their use and price. the final decision is only yours!

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