Benchtop Oscillating Spindle Sanders
If you've tried to sand a curve with a handheld sander, or attempted the task with a dust-clogged sanding drum in your drill press, you know why oscillating spindle sanders have become popular. These machines quickly smooth cutlines, and the spindle's up-and-down motion blends abrasive scratches, reduces heat buildup, and extends the life of the sanding sleeve.
Even though you can buy stationary machines with larger motors, tables, and sanding drums, a benchtop model handles most of the same workload. So we set out to find the best among the benchtop group, testing 14 spindle sanders, including three machines that combine spindle- and belt-sanding functions into one unit. The good news: You can't go wrong with any of the machines we tested, although some perform a little better than others.
Five key aspects of a good spindle sander
■ Power. No issues here. Despite their small stature and fractional-horsepower motors (only the Jet JBOS-5 has a motor rated at 1 hp), all the test machines powered through aggressive sanding without bogging down. We were able to slow only the three combo machines by pushing them hard in belt-sander mode—which increases the surface area in contact with the abrasive. (In the chart, our power grades for these three machines are based on their spindle-sander performance.)
■ Layout line visibility. Good visibility results from a combination of optimum table height, effective dust collection, and the ability to easily see the layout line regardless of how aggressively you sand. Most of the sanders fared well here.
You want a table height at a level that's comfortable for you to work at. For example, the tables on stationary spindle sanders measure about 39–40" above the floor. With the benchtop units we tested, their table height will depend on what stand or workbench you place them on. See the chart for the heights of each model's table.
■ A user-friendly table. Table size matters less than the spindle location within the table. We prefer an off-center spindle that provides space to not only rest workpieces flat, but also room to slide long pieces side-to-side when sanding an edge. Most machines provide 6" or more table surface between the largest drum and table edge, which we found to be plenty. However, the three models with shield-shaped tables place that larger table surface behind the spindle, below, blocking the layout line from easy view (assuming you position the machine with the power switch in front).
the metal drive shaft that spins the sanding drum.
Drum: the rubber cylinder that fits onto the spindle.
Sleeve: the molded abrasive tube that fits onto the drum.
Although we don't do a lot of angled spindle sanding, the tables on eight models tilt up to 45°. On the Grizzly T26417, Jet, Laguna, Rikon 50-300, and Triton TSPS370, the entire table tilts, pivoting at the spindle; the spindle/belt combo sanders' split tables tilt only in the front, forward of the spindle/belt. We prefer the full-tilt tables.
Quick-change combo sanders pull effective double duty
Three machines in our test quickly convert from a spindle to an oscillating 4×24" belt sander and excel at such tasks as sanding tapered legs, shaping convex curves, and shaping and smoothing small parts. They don't provide the sanding surface area or power of a benchtop or stationary belt/disc sander, but we find the functionality valuable enough to consider buying one of these rather than a dedicated spindle sander. All come with one 80-grit belt, but replacement belts of finer grits are readily available for jobs where you need more finesse.
■ A variety of drums. For the smoothest curves, you'll want to sand with a drum as close as possible in diameter to the curves you're sanding, so it makes sense to get a sander with a lot of drums. All but one test model come with five or six drums; the Grizzly T26417 comes with 3⁄4 ", 1", and 2" drums. (The chart lists each machine's drum sizes.) We like the range of drums (1⁄4 –3" in six diameters) of the Laguna best.
To change drum sizes, most of the sanders have a single spindle onto which you slide the various drums, secured with a tool-free nut. But a few (Grizzly T26417, Jet, Laguna, and Rikon) have separate spindles for each drum, and you simply screw each spindle into the drive shaft and tighten with wrenches, included on all.
Typically, these machines come with 80- or 100-grit abrasive sleeves, which work well for shaping, but may not leave the smoothest surfaces. The Grizzly G0538, however, comes with three aggressive 80-grit sleeves and three smooth-sanding 150-grit sleeves. You can order replacement sleeves for all models from the manufacturer or any abrasive retailer.
■ Effective dust collection. Because these machines create a lot of dust, it's imperative to capture it before you can breathe it. Two factors come into play here: First, the dust ports lack standardization. Three units (Grizzly G0538 and T26417 and Ridgid EB4424) have a 21⁄2 " port that fits a common shop-vacuum hose. The others have either a 11⁄2 " or 2" port for which you must buy a different hose, an adapter, or a roll of duct tape to cobble together a solution.
Second, the machine needs optimal airflow from the drum to the port. Insert rings close up the throat around the drums to maximize workpiece support, but if the gap is too tight, airflow will be restricted. That's why we like insert rings with holes or slots in them, below, to provide the best of both worlds. Five machines excelled at dust collection when paired with a shop vacuum.
Pardon our candor, but here's a great sander
Because it scored top marks in all of our tests, has the mass to stay put during use, and comes with a 5-year warranty, the Rikon 50-300 earns our Top Tool award. We wish it came with a 3" drum, but you can buy that as an accessory for $40.
Our Top Value award goes to the dual-threat Ridgid EB4424 at $250. This unit boasts a large table, five sanding drums, and the added benefit of the oscillating belt sander.
Each machine considered for this review:
■ rests on a benchtop or mounts to a metal stand;
■ and comes with drums of at least three different diameters.
Download PDF of sander comparison chart.