At 19, I was moving into my first apartment and had very little to furnish it. Like many people at that age, I resorted to thrift stores and flea markets when searching for many of the items I needed. The pieces I found were interesting, cheap, and all they required in most cases were minor restoration. Furniture restoration might involve fixing broken parts, painting, or applying a new stain. One thing I did a lot of was sanding.
It wasn’t long before I bought a sander from Bob Smith Tools, which helped me significantly speed up my furniture restoration projects. Whether you are starting furniture restoration as a hobby or as a professional, you will need a random orbital sander. Below, you will find a guide on purchasing one and my top five choices.
Best Orbital Sanders for Furniture Restoration
I’ve used many orbital sanders while restoring a countless number of furniture pieces. After testing out the latest models available, I was able to compile this list of the top five orbital sanders, in my opinion:
#5 Chicago Pneumatic CP7200S Mini Random Orbital Sander
This electric sander is handy for furniture with a lot of tight spots and hard to reach places due to its small diameter (3 inches) and right-angled design. It cleverly blows dust away from the area you are working with and has variable speed. I did not feel any vibration using this tool, which was very good. However, the smaller size is not suitable for large areas as it would take twice the time to finish. If you focus on the restoration of smaller furniture pieces or pieces with many narrow wooden panels (such as a garden bench), this will be an excellent tool for the job.
#4 PORTER-CABLE 6″ Random Orbit Sander 7346SP
At first glance, I thought that the handle design would be awkward to control, but I found this to be the most comfortable I’ve tried. The handle moves to the left or right side (depending on your dominant hand), and it helps reduce the amount of pressure used when sanding. It does an excellent job at polishing in particular.
Although the abrasive disc’s diameter was a little bit large, I didn’t find it inhibiting in any way, as the handle enabled me to manoeuvre the machine better. On the contrary, I found the size helped me finish larger areas faster. Dust collection was mediocre compared to other models but did the job nonetheless. A significant drawback is the use of adhesive sandpaper pads, which are more difficult to change and less economical.
#3 BLACKBOX 5″ Variable Speed Random Orbital Sander BB-ROS1
With six different speeds, this power sander is ideal for all kinds of woodworking and furniture restoration. When testing it, I noticed little to no heat and minimal vibration. It has a microfilter dust collection system, which does what it says. Additionally, it is small and felt light in my hands. It does an excellent job at most speeds and for most uses, but I doubt it is as sturdy as other manufacturers’ models. On the other hand, it has many features for a comparatively lower price.
#2 Makita 5″ Random Orbital Sander BO5031/2
This lesser-known manufacturer was able to design and create a mighty machine. The sander orbits around a larger diameter, which significantly speeds up the sanding and leaves fewer swirl marks than other orbital sanders I’ve tried. However, the dust collection system was prone to often clogging, which could lead the motor to overheat. I found that the rubber grips absorbed much of the vibrations caused by the engine.
The Best Orbital Sander for Furniture Restoration
With the option to adjust the motor speed, this power sander will last you a long time. I found that it was capable of doing the fine sanding and polishing work exceptionally well. Also, I felt minimal vibrations when using the machine, probably due to the rubber design. Dust collection was sufficient, and I had no trouble hooking it up to a vacuum. This sander’s size is suitable for most purposes as it is not too bulky, so I could easily sand the inside of shelves, cabinets, and other parts without taking the furniture apart. It may come with a hefty price tag (it is a brand name after all), but in my opinion, it was well worth the investment.
What Is Furniture Restoration?
Many people assume furniture restoration is the same as fixing or repairing old furniture. However, to truly restore a piece of furniture, you must consider the original aesthetics and aim for a result similar to the original. Many who practice furniture restoration call it an art form.
Tools and Materials Used
There are several hand tools needed when restoring wooden furniture. The standard tools for any woodworking, such as hammers, scrapers, measuring instruments, and screwdrivers, are used. You might consider using some power tools to work faster, such as an electric drill and an electric sander. Materials will include paint, thinning agents, finishes like varnishes and stains, and glue. Of course, everything depends on the piece you are restoring.
Random Orbital Sanders – What are they?
These powerhouses are electric sanders that differ from the older “regular” orbital sander. They move in two ways, rotating and oscillating at the same time, creating a random swirling of the abrasive disc attached to them. Random orbital sanders can do heavy jobs such as stripping paint and other coarse sanding jobs. They can also do the job of an orbital sander, which is fine finishing or polishing. Because they leave less visible marks, they can give better results.
You will likely need to sand some parts of the wood manually, especially hard to reach areas. That’s normal for any woodworking. So, although the orbital sander will help speed things up and do most of the work, it will not be doing all the work for you. There are several types of random orbital sanders available, and if you are thinking of purchasing one, these are several things you should consider:
Size and Ergonomic Design
With furniture in general, there are usually many parts that need to be sanded, with various sizes. You will need a sander that is small enough to conveniently sand in awkward places and smaller areas (inside drawers and shelves) but large enough that it doesn’t take you ages to sand a larger surface area (such as wardrobe doors or tabletops).
Ergonomic design refers to the way a manufacturer designs the sander to be more comfortable to handle. Several different factors can affect this, such as weight, vibration absorption, and shape. Some tools require more pressure which can be tiring when used over a long period.
Dust Collection and Ventilation
The dust and debris that result from sanding constitute a significant health hazard. Additionally, your sander’s motor (and other power tools) could get clogged, which causes overheating and potential damage, besides being a fire hazard. Lastly, dust can significantly reduce your sander’s efficiency and give you less than optimal results. So, try to pick an orbital sander with the best dust collection. Connecting a vacuum to the dust collection system will help keep your work area relatively clean.
Motor Power and Speed
The beauty of using a random orbital sander is its ability to perform at high or low speeds. Lower speeds are more suitable for fine finishing and polishing. The higher speeds are ideal for coarse sanding, but keep in mind that the higher speed will likely result in more heat. Variable speed is an option that many random orbital sanders offer, but pay close attention to the range of speeds provided. A more comprehensive range of speeds will give you more freedom and options.
Tips On Using Orbital Sanders
When using random orbital sanders, whether for sanding or polishing, proper use will give you the best results. These are some tips to help you get the best out of your random orbital sander.
- Be as light as a feather with your power sander. Applying pressure will increase scratch marks, over sanding, and uneven surfaces. Also, try to keep a steady pressure to avoid the machine breaking and gouging the wood.
- Move the sander on the wooden surface slowly at a steady pace. The ideal speed is around one foot for every 10 seconds. Be patient and take your time with it.
- Always clear out the dust collection system to keep from clogging the motor and overheating it.
- Take all the usual safety precautions when you are sanding, such as wearing safety goggles, a dust mask, and hearing protection.
- When smoothing joints or edges, sand the entire perimeter to keep it level.
- Gradually change grit sizes from lower to higher so that you start with a coarser sanding and move up to a more refined finish or polish.