Orbital Sander vs Sheet Sander: Understanding The Difference?

orbital sander vs sheet sander

Sanding is among the most common tasks when handling wood projects. However, most people don’t understand the difference between orbital sanders and sheet sanders. Understand that you can only get a professional finish when you use the right type of sander for the job.

Today, we will take a comprehensive look at both the orbital sander and the sheet sander. Note that both of these sanding machines are quite common in the workshop. Getting to know the difference between the two will ensure you get a smooth and even finish during your next project.

orbital sander vs sheet sander

In this article, I will walk you through the application of each of the above sanders, their differences, and finally each of their pros and cons. Well, let's get started on this transformative journey to help you get the most from your power tools.

The Sheet Sander

Commonly known as the finish sander, the sheet sander is intended to help you get all the finishing touches right. It is a handy tool that was developed with the sole purpose of ensuring your woodworking project gets a smooth and fine finish.

sheet sander

However, some people also refer to the sheet sander as the quarter-sheet pad sander or palm sander. Note that this name is derived from the fact that the sheet sander uses a quarter of the 9 x 11 sandpaper sheet.

Mostly, these devices will come with a rectangular sanding pad. You need to move this sander back and forth in circular motions at high speeds to get a good quality finish. Note that the tool is, therefore, ideal for small surfaces and detailed work.

If you are working with edges and corners, you will find the sheet sander to be rather practical due to its rectangular shape. Understand that you will have to come across edges and corners when sanding any piece of wood. Having a palm sander in the workplace will ensure you tackle such areas with ease and in record time.

Notice that the finish sander only works in a back and forth motion. You will, therefore, find it quite impractical when you need to remove lots of material with one go. This sanding machine is designed to slowly smooth out the wood. You should, therefore, not use it for cutting through many layers within a short period. Understand that you will end up wasting a lot of energy and time without getting high-quality results.

What I love about the sheet sander is its affordable price. When compared to other sanding machines, sheet sanders are the most pocket-friendly model. The other good news is that it works with regular sandpaper which is also quite cheap.


  •  Both the sheet sander and the regular sandpapers are easily available in the market
  • This impressive tool is budget-friendly making it ideal for people on a budget
  • It works great on curves, corners, and edges
  • Sheet sanders feature a lightweight construction that keep you working for long hours
  • You can easily move and transport the sheet sander
  • It is the perfect machine for finishing touches on detailed projects


  •  The sheet sander is not designed for heavy-duty work and extremely large surfaces
  • It is not a versatile tool since it is only intended for detail work and finishing touches
  • It works with a steady motion that tends to leave a few marks

Orbital Sander

Most people confuse the orbital sander with the sheet sander because they resemble one another. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two machines.

orbital sander

For starters, the orbital sander is also known as a random orbital sander because of the way it operates and functions. Notice that the functioning of both the sheet sander and the orbital sander are what make the difference between the two.

Understand that the difference between the sheet sander and the random orbital sander is in the way the sanding pad moves.

With the orbital sander, the motor will move the sanding pad in circular motions but in a randomized manner. Note that this sander includes additional drives that ensure that the sanding pad performs an elliptical motion.

The randomized motion was designed to ensure that there are reduced swirl marks on the piece of wood. Note that one of the disadvantages of a sheet sander is the swirl marks created due to slow and steady movement.

However, note that the orbital sander is more expensive than the sheet sander. It is also worth mentioning that the random orbital sander is much more powerful than your palm sander. Understand that the orbital sander includes additional features to randomize the movement of the sanding pad.

The extra power that comes with the orbital sander makes it perfect for rough materials. You can also work on several layers without having to worry about damaging the machine or ruining the finish. This is something that the sheet sander cannot achieve.

The sanding pad of the orbital sander has a circular disk with holes that help in dust collection. Notice that all the dust is collected in the included dust bag to ensure you keep your working environment clean.

Professional carpenters get the option of connecting their random orbital sanders to a shop vacuum. Doing this ensures that all the dust is collected efficiently when working on large projects. You will also not have to spend a lot of time cleaning up after a project.

The orbital sanders produce a lot of vibration due to the randomized movement. If you are new to woodworking, it would help if you practice before embarking on a project. Note that you will get fatigued after a while when working with this machine. It is, therefore, important to allocate rest breaks when working on large projects.

Many orbital sander models come with an anti-vibration feature to keep you working for long periods. You will notice a significant drop in vibration when working with such tools. Additionally, it would help if you purchased an anti-vibration glove. These gloves come at an affordable price and are readily available at your local store.


  • The orbital sanders include a strong motor that gives you extra power to remove more material
  •  It is a versatile tool that can be used for different tasks due to its high-power output
  • The dust collection feature ensure you work in a clean environment at all times
  • This tool doesn’t leave any marks due to the randomized circular movements
  •  It provides a smooth and even finish when working on different types of projects
  •  Orbital sanders come with variable speed control
  • The anti-vibration feature comes in handy when working on large projects


  • This tool is unable to reach corners due to the circular movements and a round sanding disc
  • The orbital sander is costly to buy and maintain when compared to other types of sanders
  • It is not ideal for working between layers
  • It is quite aggressive which means you need to exercise a lot of caution to avoid damaging the project


You should be able to have a clear picture of both the functioning and working of the sheet sander and the orbital sander. Understand that there is a huge difference between the two, especially because they aren’t intended for similar jobs. 

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