5" Random-orbit sanders
We love every aspect of crafting a beautiful piece of furniture. Check that: everything but sanding. A random-orbit sander, like the ones we tested for this article, doesn’t make sanding any less of a chore, but a good one shortens the drudgery while delivering a better finish than you could by hand. To help you find that good one, we tested 15 models with 5" hook-and-loop pads to see which worked the fastest, which netted the best finish, and which best combined both aspects—all while judging how well each one sucked up the dust it created.
To measure aggressiveness, we conducted the test above. The Craftsman 2109 and Bosch ROS65VC-5 worked fastest, each finishing in about nine minutes. By contrast, seven sanders needed more than 15 minutes to do the same job.
Gunning for a fine finish
An aggressive sander may be great for flattening and smoothing, but if it leaves a coarse surface, you’ll lose the time you saved refining the surface to ready it for finishing. To do its magic, a random-orbit sander abrades the wood surface by two circular movements: the higher-speed spinning (oscillations, measured in rpm), and the side-stepping cam-action arcs (orbits, from 3⁄32 " to 3⁄16 " among this group). With each successively finer abrasive you use, the sander removes marks left by the previous grit. Ideally, by the time you get to 180- or 220-grit abrasive, you should not see any swirl or scratch marks, even after applying stain.
To judge each sander’s quality of finish, we sanded away pencil marks from red-oak and pine sample boards using 120-, 150-, 180-, and 220-grit discs in succession. Then we applied an oil-based penetrating stain to reveal any scratches or swirl marks, as shown above.
The Craftsman, Festool ETS EC 125/3 EQ, and Mirka DEROS 550CV delivered the best results after sanding to 220, with the Makita BO5041K just slightly behind. However, the Festool was the only sander that produced scratch-free surfaces after sanding to only 180 grit. Most other models needed to sand longer with each grit to blend the scratches, or continue on to 220 grit to get similar results. See how each model performed in the complete downloadable chart.
Dodge all the dust
Sanders create dust; there’s no avoiding it. But that doesn’t mean you should put up with airborne dust because the sander can’t contain it. We evaluated each model using its onboard dust-collection container (see a post-test photo below) and hooked to a proven high-efficiency vacuum.
The two Bosch sanders and the Milwaukee 6021-21 fared best using their onboard dust containers, while scoring about the same when tethered to the vacuum. The DeWalt DWE6423K, Festool, Mirka, Porter-Cable 382, and Skil 7492-02 also scored high marks when using the vacuum. (The Festool and Mirka sanders do not include a dust-collection container.)
Connecting many of these sanders to a common 11⁄4 " or 11⁄2 " shop-vacuum hose turned into a frustrating venture because of dust ports varying in shapes and sizes (see the photos below). Our favorites are the ports on the Bosch and Festool sanders, which hooked up easily to 11⁄4 " hose. We wish the industry would standardize port sizes to make dust collection easier.
An array of dust port sizes and shapes that proved difficult to connect to a typical 11⁄4 " or 11⁄2 " shop-vacuum hose as shown below.
Go brushless—if you can spare the coin
The Craftsman 2109 and DeWalt DWE6423K share Top Value honors. The Craftsman ($60) proved the most aggressive of this field, yet delivered excellent finishes. But you’ll need to tether it to a vacuum for dust collection. The DeWalt delivers good finishes with better dust collection for just $20 more. But if you’re really on a tight budget, get the $45 Porter-Cable 382.
Festool ETS EC 125/3 EQ, $385
This sander saves time in many ways: It’s reasonably aggressive, delivers a final finish one grit quicker than the others, and its pad stops instantly when powered down. A brushless motor holds the key for this low-vibration sander. It’s light, handles like a dream, and has excellent dust collection when hooked to a vacuum, but requires special nine-hole discs.
Mirka DEROS 550CV, $595
Like the Festool, this sander’s brushless motor makes it lighter and virtually vibration-free. Even though it does a great job of collecting dust using standard eight-hole discs, it gets even better when using a disc that takes advantage of the pad’s 28 holes. The dust port rotates to ward off vacuum-hose tangles, but because it’s tucked tightly beneath the handle, some hoses might not fit. Our only knock: The paddle switch can get wearisome to hold down during use.
Craftsman 2109, $60
Ranking among the leaders in aggressiveness and finish quality, we like a lot about this sander. It’s comfortable to hold and operate, but has one shortcoming: poor dust collection with the included canister, which improved significantly with a vacuum. Ignore the two features that add little value: an LED light and a green-yellow-red sensor light to indicate the amount of downforce applied in use.
DeWalt DWE6423K, $80
This model handles most tasks pretty well, and excels at a few. It’s reliable, comfortable to use, good at collecting dust, and capable of producing mostly scratch-free wood surfaces. Plus, it comes with a three-year warranty.
Black & Decker BDER600, $35
This single-speed sander outperformed three higher-priced models overall, and finished third-best for rate of material removal. But dust collection with its onboard container was not good, its paddle power switch and slide-style switch lock proved clumsy to operate, and it wandered and jerked more than most others.
Bosch ROS20VSK, $75
Dust collection is excellent with this sander, and it produced little vibration and few control issues. But it finished last in the aggressiveness testing, and its quality of finish—particularly in oak—lagged behind the other sanders.
Bosch ROS65VC-5, $215
Aggressive with great dust collection, it barely vibrates, thanks to a weight about double the lightest sanders. But its size, pistol-grip handle, and tendency to jerk and veer off course demand two-hand use. This sander left more scratches and swirls than we expected for a premium-priced tool.
Hitachi SV13YA, $80
This sander delivered above-average finishes and comes with a five-year warranty. But it vibrated the most, and we found it difficult to control. It collected little dust, and its oblong dust port (top of page) is nearly impossible to connect to a vacuum hose. The recessed sliding power switch is difficult to operate.
Makita BO5031K, $85
This above-average sander turns out a nice finish pretty quickly, shows no control issues, and has only minor vibration. But its included dust bag does only a fair job of dust collection, and its undersized port requires a hose clamp to attach most vacuum hoses.
Makita BO5041K, $100
A pistol-grip rear handle and a front knob give this sander a different look and feel than its sibling, but the core functions are nearly identical. It turned out slightly better surface finishes just a little quicker than the BO5031K—possibly due to the use of two hands.
Milwaukee 6021-21, $80
As were about to go to press with this issue, we learned this model has been discontinued and replaced with an updated model. But if you can still find this older model—maybe at a discounted price—you’ll get a sander that delivers slightly above-average results. Dust collection proved its greatest feat, scoring equally well with the included fabric filter bag and a vacuum. It’s comfortable to use, the pad stops quickly at shutoff, and it (still) comes with a five-year warranty.
Porter-Cable 382, $45
A solid performer despite its low price, this single-speed sander proved a nice surprise. When hooked to a shop vacuum, its dust collection was among the best in our test, and it fared pretty well when using its included bag. Although the finish results were a little below average, it made up for it in the other categories.
Ridgid R2601, $70
Average-quality finishes are what you can expect with this sander. But because it’s not very aggressive, be prepared to sand longer to get flawless surfaces. Dust collection with the included bag filter was poor, but improved greatly with a vacuum. A noticeable pull and vibration make using this tool a bit of a chore.
Ryobi RS290G, $40
You’ll get what you should expect from a $40 single-speed sander: a slow worker that delivers slightly below-average finish quality and dust collection, as well as vibration and control issues. Its slide-style power switch was stiff and needed more effort than we’d expect to operate it.
Skil 7492-02, $40
This single-speed sander produces an average sanded surface. Dust collection was above average with its canister filter and exceptional with a vacuum. It has the same downforce sensor as the Craftsman, but we found it of little use. It vibrates and pulls more than we like, and at shutdown its pad takes the longest time (71⁄2 seconds) to stop.