What's the first thing you do when you see a beautiful piece of furniture? If you're touchy-feely like me, you slowly run your fingers across its surface. Woodworkers employ a number of tools to affect this tactile first impression, most notably handheld sanders.
Furniture makers have long cited sanding as an unwelcome activity. And with good reason: it's a messy, monotonous task that leaves your mind (and your elbows) numb. Fortunately, new technology has eliminated much of the tedium. Random orbital sanders have recently supplanted pad sanders, long the tool of choice. Instead of functioning in a steady back and forth motion, this clever tool utilizes offset bearings to vibrate in a random circular pattern. The resulting surface is visibly less scratchy and far easier to finish than anything a pad sander (or a sad panda) could produce. What's more, most random orbital sanders can be operated with a single hand, leaving you free to tweet the entire experience.
But sometimes the finesse of a random orbital is overkill. If you're looking to quickly strip the paint or finish off a vintage piece, for instance, a good old-fashioned belt sander is your best bet. These sanders were designed to simply remove material and remove it fast. Though quite unwieldy, with a bit of practice you'll be able to handle this tank of a tool. Sanding in the direction of the wood grain will improve your control as well as the quality of your surface. As you gradually advance from coarse to fine grit sandpaper, you should see any scratch marks begin to fade. With any luck, your enthusiasm for woodworking will not.
Recommended random orbital sanders
• Festool ETS 125 EQ 5'' Sander - $170 at ToolsPlus
• Bosch 3727DEVS 6'' Sander - $153.49 on Amazon
Recommended belt sanders
• Bosch 1274DVS Variable Speed Belt Sander - $169.95 at Tyler Tool
• Porter Cable 371K Compact Belt Sander - $109.99 on Amazon
Johnny is currently blogging his experience as a student and amateur woodworker. You can keep track of his projects on his blog, Woodlearner.