Five-inch random-orbit sanders have proven to be the versatile go-to tools for most common sanding jobs. Their efficient sanding action lets them hog off a lot of material when used with coarse abrasives while also being able to create a very smooth finish when used with fine abrasives. And variable-speed models can be dialed down to use with polishing pads and bonnets for even more versatile uses. For most tradesmen, it’s the only sander they need. Furniture builders and other full-time woodworkers may prefer 6-inch models for their wider pad surface, but the greater selection and availability and lower cost of tools and abrasives of 5-inch models has them leading in popularity by far.
I tested 10 variable-speed, palm-grip random-orbit sanders for Tools of the Trade in the Winter 2010 issue and the article has remained one of the most popular tool tests among online readers. When we decided to revisit the category with an update article, we found that none of the models from the pro brands had changed since then except for the winning tool (a Porter-Cable model) being discontinued so we decided to explore the other types of random-orbit sanders available with a 5-inch disk size. What we found were all two-handed models--a format more commonly found among 6-inch sanders.
The newest tools to enter the market were from Bosch and Makita and both feature rear handles and removable front handles. So these two along with an older Bosch rear-handle model, a right-angle unit from Porter-Cable, and a specialty dual-mode sander from Festool make up our mixed category of “variable-speed rear-handle and right-angle 5-inch random orbit sanders”. Among these five tools, there is a loose division of the Festool and Porter-Cable with slower rotation speeds and higher torque intended for more aggressive stock removal and the Makita and Bosch models with faster speeds optimized for a lighter touch and finer finishing.
Comparative testing data and a description of features can be found further down this page. An updated version of the 2010 story can be found by clicking here.
I tested each tool to determine which removed stock the fastest. The Festool sander has two modes and was tested in each. The amount of stock removed was determined by weighing boards on an electronic scale before and after sanding. The amount of weight lost is the amount of material removed.
All of the tools can be connected by hose to dust collecting vacuums. Both Bosch models and the Makita come with onboard containers for collecting dust. Onboard collection is not as efficient as using a vacuum but is better than using nothing. Collection efficiency was determined by weighing boards and canisters before and after sanding. If all of the weight lost by a board was gained by the canister, then the sander would be 100% efficient. No sander came close to that but the top performer (see chart above) did not do badly.
The benefit of rear-handle sanders (more accurately, dual-handle sanders) is illustrated in this photo of the Bosch ROS65VC-5 in hand. It’s easier to apply a balanced downward force on the tool with both hands rather than just one. It is also less fatiguing to the user during long sanding sessions and provides much greater steering control on uneven surfaces. For a detailed review of this model see Bosch ROS65VC-5.
In the event you need to sand into a corner up against a vertical surface, the front handles of all three dual-handle models detach easily (as pictured here with the Bosch 3725DEVS). For a detailed review of this model see Bosch 3725DEVS.
The Festool RO125FEQ Rotex model is a random-orbit sander with a secondary mode for more aggressive sanding that the other tools don’t have. For a detailed review of this model see Festool RO125 FEQ.
As the smallest and lightest tool in the group, the Makita BO5041 isn’t quite a full-size dual-handle sander like the Bosch models. Rather, it’s more of a hybrid that shares the body size and shape of a palm-grip sander, but with a rear handle added on. With the front handle unscrewed, this versatile tool offers all the maneuverable grips of a one-handed sander. And with the front handle on, it offers all the stability and control of dual-handle models. For a detailed review of this model see Makita BO5041.
A large, geared-down motor is typical of right-angle sanders such as on this Porter-Cable 97455. Lower speeds and high torque typically make a model like this better suited for faster and rougher sanding or for buffing and polishing uses. For a detailed review of this model see Porter-Cable 97455.
Thanks to Norton Abrasives for supplying their “3X” sanding disks used in the test [nortonabrasives.com]