Most random-orbit sanders are configured for two standard grips and have padding for both. Moving from top-handle grip to body grip gives a low, secure feeling preferred by many users. Switching grips and changing hands helps combat the fatigue developed during long periods of sanding.
On-board dust-collection containers consisting of a cloth bag like the Hitachi's (center) are found on the DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ridgid. Clockwise from center: Porter-Cable has a porous, rigid plastic canister, Bosch a pleated paper filter in a plastic container, Craftsman a cyclonic separator, and Festool has a disposable paper bag supported by a plastic tray. The wide-open mouths and twist-off feature of the DeWalt, Milwaukee, Porter-Cable, and Ridgid containers make them the easiest to remove and shake out. The other designs require more effort to empty.
Body Shapes and Comfort
The squat body style of the top-performing Porter-Cable (far right) took some getting used to. Its low center of gravity keeps it stable on the work – as with a pneumatic sander – but we did miss the versatility of the different grip positions possible with other sanders in the test.
The elongated handle shapes of the Bosch, Festool (left), and Hitachi sanders – our comfort favorites – make them easy to grasp. Among the remaining teardrop-shaped handle sanders, the Makita (right) has a very comfortable feel because its thinner body diameter gives fingers more room to wrap around the top or the body.
The key to comfortably lifting the sanders off the work with less finger fatigue is to wrap your two rear fingers under the back of the handle, which is possible with all of the models except the Porter-Cable.
Vacuum Dust Collection
Except for the Hitachi, all of the sanders can be connected to a vacuum's hose and have exhaust port connections or an adapter to fit multiple vac hose ends. We tried the tools with 36mm and 1-1/4- and 2-1/4-inch hoses and found that the bulk and stiffness of the largest hose made it a nuisance to maneuver.
The smallest, most flexible dust hose is your best bet for using with a sander to maintain mobility and balance of the tool. And when sanding with a vac, the suction power should be kept very low to keep from sucking the sanding pad down to the work surface and interfering with its random-orbit action. So if you have a vac without a variable-power setting, you should find a way to attenuate the airflow by somehow venting the hose connection.
We performed a vacuum dust-collection test by repeating the same trials we used in our dust-container test (three minutes on hard maple with a new 100-grit disk). We weighed the amount of sawdust caught in a portable 5-gallon cyclonic dust separator located between the tool and the vac (Dust Deputy, 800-732-4065, www.oneida-air.com). This test basically mirrored the results of the container test but with more dust collected from each tool. The 1 to 2 tablespoons of dust collected in three minutes was nothing to sneeze at.