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What is a Bench Sander?

By Brenda Scott
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sanders are tools that rub abrasives against a material to remove burrs, paint, finishing products, or simply portions of the material itself. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from a simple hand-held sanding block to a large, industrial-sized power machine. A bench sander is a stationary sander mounted on a table or stand. To use a bench sander, a person holds the material against the moving sandpaper.

The type of bench sander to use is determined by the size and material of the item to be sanded. A belt sander works quickly on larger pieces of material, so it is often used at the beginning of a refinishing project. It is very effective in removing thick coats of paint or varnish. By using progressively finer sandpaper, the belt sander can be achieve a smooth surface.

Belt sanders use a rotating loop of sandpaper which moves in only one direction. Some are small enough to mount on a home work bench, while other units are large enough to sand whole sheets of plywood. Belt sanders are appropriate for both wood and metal products.

Disc sanders have a rotating wheel that spins circular pieces of sandpaper. They are generally used for wood, though they can also be used on aluminum or plastic. These can be powered electrically or pneumatically, with compressed air. While belt and disc sanders can be purchased as separate machines, many belt bench sanders come equipped with both the belt and disc.

An oscillating bench sander has a spindle mounted in the table. Sandpaper is attached to the spindle which spins while moving up and down against the material. This is an ideal tool to use in woodworking and furniture shops. The oscillating sander can smooth curved edges, straighten lines, and finish the outside edges of furniture. The motion of the disc dissipates friction heat and helps preventing scorch marks on the wood.

Drum sanders utilize a large spinning drum covered with a loop of sandpaper. The most common example is a floor sander. While most drum sanders are not stationary, they are also available as a bench sander. These are used in manufacturing shops, primarily for metal products.

There are a variety of sandpaper choices to use with the bench sander. They are classified by the type of backing, kind of abrasive material used, and the grit. Backings can be cloth, Mylar® and paper and come with different weights. Abrasives are chosen to fit the material that is being sanded and the type of finish that is required. Grit refers to the size of the abrasive particles.

A bench sander can create a great deal of dust, and often comes equipped with a dust-trapping devise, such as a bag. Most of these devices do not capture all of the particles, so it is important to wear a mask and eye protection when using the tool. It is also a good safety precaution to not wear loose clothing or jewelry when operating a bench sander.

A sander should be cleaned after every use to keep the dust from infiltrating the motor. It is also important to keep hands away from the moving belt, disc, drum or spindle. Sandpaper should be monitored frequently and changed as needed to ensure an optimum finish.

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