The best sanders

  • Sanders help you create smooth, evenly finished surfaces without the drudgery of working with a piece of handheld sandpaper.
  • Not all sanding jobs call for the same sanders, though. We found the best sanders across multiple tool categories to help you tackle any and all sanding with maximum efficiency.
  • Whether you need a belt sander, a file sander, a manual sander, a detail sander, or a wall sander, we have a pick for you.

One of the best pieces of furniture my wife and I ever bought was a massive table several years ago at an "Everything Must Go" sale when Borders went out of business. There, in the middle of the nearly empty store sat a huge wooden table strewn with random DVDs and books. When we asked the manager if the table itself was for sale, he took a look at it and said sure, naming $200 as the price.

The table was covered in scratches, graffiti, and had gum stuck all over it, but it was also a rock-solid behemoth of a piece of furniture — we have fit 14 people around it for dinner. We loaded it into a friend's truck, drove it home, and I set to work. After an entire afternoon spent working on the table with my trusty sander, all scratches, gouges, pen and pencil, and of course all gum had been removed, as had the honey-colored lacquer covering the wood. Next, I applied two coats of a dark ebony stain and then waited 48 hours for the stain to dry.

In all honesty, the finished table would probably sell for a good $2,000 or more at a place like Pottery Barn. So I'd say the low investment and the hours of elbow grease were well worth it.

Without a sander, I can't even imagine how long the process would have taken. Frankly, I probably wouldn't have even considered the restoration possible. With a good sander, however, you can breathe new life into everything from cabinets to cribs, desks to dressers, fences, flooring, and so much more.

But not all sanders were created for the same projects, and in fact, using the wrong sander for a given application can prove more deleterious than beneficial. Read on for the best sanders for a range of different jobs.

Here are the best sanders:

  • Best belt: Makita 9403 4 inches by 24 inches Belt Sander
  • Best file: Milwaukee Bandfile with Paddle Switch
  • Best detail: Black+Decker Mouse 1.2 Amp Detail Sander
  • Best manual: Aouker HS85180 Hand Sander
  • Best drywall: PORTER-CABLE 7800 Drywall Sander

Updated 8/13/20. We updated prices and links and added a selection of relevant buying guides. We also removed the DeWalt DWE6423K Variable Speed Random Orbit Sander due to availability issues, but will add it back in if comes back in stock.

The best belt

With its 4-by-24-inch sanding surface, the Makita Belt Sander makes short work of big jobs.

Got a floor, deck, or other extra-large area in need of some serious sanding? Then you'll need a serious piece of equipment, and the 11-amp Makita 4 inch by 24 inch Belt Sander is just that.

With a belt speed of 1,640 feet per minute and its large surface area, this powerful sander makes short work of large projects, helping you refinish floors or large pieces of furniture or prep wood for later cutting and use.

Just keep in mind that with this potent, 13-pound tool comes plenty of potential to mess up a piece of wood, so use care and avoid scratches and gouges. Despite all that power, you'll be pleased to find the sander relatively quiet, operating at less than 85 decibels. Thanks to the dual grips and smooth operation of the motor and bearings, it's relatively comfortable to use, too.

While the price tag of the Makita Belt Sander surely isn't small, the hours you save thanks to its efficient performance help compensate for the cost.

Pros: Large surface area, quiet operation, built to last for years

Cons: Rather pricey, clogs with dust during use

 

The best file

The Milwaukee Bandfile with Paddle Switch is tough enough for use on all sorts of materials, including wood, fiberglass, and even iron.

File sanders are superlative tools for sanding in hard-to-reach areas or for making precise adjustments to furniture, a built-in shelf or cabinet, or to smoothing down a piece of pipe, rebar, or other construction material.

The 5.5-amp Milwaukee Bandfile with Paddle Switch has a long, narrow head that can reach into tight spaces and that can be used to grind down small patches of material. Whereas a belt sander might be perfect for sanding off a large surface like a floor, this sander is ideal for touching up wooden molding or staircase balusters.

Thanks to the rugged construction of this Milwaukee Bandfile, its use isn't limited to wood, either. With a belt of the right grit installed, it can grind down the ragged end of a pipe, smooth out fiberglass, and sand and polish various other materials as well. Thanks to the single-handed operation of the paddle switch, the tool can be easily used in cramped areas, overhead, or while you steady the surface you're sanding with your other hand.

The price tag might put this file sander outside the budget of the casual DIY enthusiast, but its power and versatility make it a great choice for the commercial-grade shopper.

Pros: Narrow head for precise sanding, single-handed operation, works on myriad surfaces

Cons: Heavy, large price tag

The best detail

The Black+Decker Mouse 1.2 Amp Detail Sander has enough power and surface area for moderate side jobs, yet its narrow tip makes it perfect for precision work.

Ironically, the Black+Decker Mouse 1.2 Amp Detail Sander is a great tool both for the professional carpenter and for the most decidedly amateur user who seldom sands anything. Detail sanders are great for professionals because they make sanding corners or other harder to reach areas easy, helping finish off large projects like, say, refinishing a floor.

For the more casual user, the lightweight, ease of use, and low cost of this tool makes it equally appealing. Despite the Mouse's relatively small size, its 14,000 oscillations per minute will make most projects go quickly nonetheless.

An efficient dust collection system featuring micro-filtration makes use of the Black+Decker Mouse much cleaner than most sanders, so you can even work on a project inside. There will still be dust to clean, of course, just less of it than with, say, most orbital sanders.

The sander has a three-position grip — it can be held pistol grip style or with the hand atop the tool in two different positions — allowing for ideal pressure, control, and user comfort, while the angular tip allows for precise sanding even in tight quarters and when used on more delicate surfaces.

Pros: Ideal for precision sanding, three-position grip, excellent dust collection

Cons: Many units break with heavy use

The best manual

While there's a bit of elbow grease required with the Aouker Hand Sander, it affords a level of precise control no powered sander could ever offer.

If you have ever used a piece of sandpaper, you know it's thankless work. The stuff folds and wrinkles, your fingers get tired, and invariably the job never comes out as well as you had hoped. Ah, but when you affix that same piece of sandpaper to a good, sturdy tool like the Aouker Hand Sander, suddenly the paper stays flat and taut, you have more leverage and control, and the sanding is more efficient and effective.

Also, this hand sander costs less than 10 dollars, making it an excellent value.

If you have a single project to complete or you very rarely do sanding, the Aouker Hand Sander is a fine choice. On the other hand, if you sand often and need to do so deftly and with care, taking pains not to damage, say antique furniture, a hand sander is also a great choice. Your hand isn't going to produce tens of thousands of oscillations per minute and inadvertently gouge that irreplaceable Victorian Era chair.

Some people have called the sander too small, though, saying the handle was just too little for comfortable use.

Pros: Great price point, easy to replace sandpaper, secure clips

Cons: Grip may be too small

The best drywall

When paired with a good shop vacuum, the PORTER-CABLE Drywall Sander not only makes short work of sanding drywall, it also makes relatively mess-free work.

There's just about no better way to make a mess than by sanding drywall. This is all the more true when the drywall is also covered in a rich dose of spackle. The superfine dust sanding these materials create gets absolutely everywhere, coating floors, furniture, your clothes and hair, and posing a risk to your eyes and lungs to boot.

But if you want a room to look great, you have to sand before you paint. So sand with the PORTER-CABLE Drywall Sander and make use of its built-in dust collection hose.

When the hose is connected to a good shop vac, there will be a pleasantly small amount of drywall dust that escapes from the unit's large sanding head, an articulating head that can operate at speeds between 1,400 and 2,000 revolutions per minute. The sander's speed and power, coupled with the long reach offered by a handle well-balanced thanks to a motor placed at the opposite end of the handle from the head, allows for swift and comfortable use.

While the price tag is steep, if you're a professional painter, this is a commercial-grade tool, and if you're a DIYer, the money you save by not hiring a pro will cover the investment.

Pros: Lightweight and well balanced, built-in dust collection hose, easy to swap out sandpaper

Cons: Very expensive, requires use of separate shop vacuum

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