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Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for best air sanders

When it comes to woodworking and renovation projects, one of the most important tools you can have is a sander. A sander gets rid of all the rough edges, nicks, and burrs on a variety of surfaces. It’s the finishing touch before you put on the lacquer or finish coat.

Air sanders are a popular choice for their powerful, lightweight design. But which air sander is right for you? If you’re a long-time professional, a random orbital sander has the versatility you need. If you’re a beginner or have little experience, a random orbital sander might be a bit difficult to control, and you’d be better off with a regular orbital sander or even a belt sander. As with any tool, you should choose a sander that best fits your needs and budget.

Whatever task you plan to use your air sander for, there are many reliable models to choose from.

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Sanding produces lots of fine dust and particulates. A face mask to keep the dust out of your nose and mouth is a good idea every time you use your sander.

Key considerations

Air vs. electric

Air sanders have several advantages over electric sanders, including more reliable power.

Air sanders
Air sanders are powered by a compressor, which is generally sold separately. Because they don’t need to house a heavy electric motor, air sanders are usually lighter in weight, which helps to reduce vibration transferred to your hand as you work. In addition, they are more powerful than most electric sanders, allowing you to get the job done more quickly. However, these models are usually more expensive than electric models, especially when you consider the added cost of an air compressor if you don’t have one already. 

Electric sanders
Electrically powered sanders function similarly to air sanders but will require a nearby power outlet or a battery to operate. Because of their heavy motors, these generally weigh more than their air-powered counterparts. In addition, they do not usually match the power of air sanders. 

Types of air sanders

Orbital sander
An orbital sander is the basic rotating sander, with a pad that spins around a central axis. While this is a good tool for beginners, it could leave unwanted patterns on the surface you are working with. Some orbital sanders have square or rectangular pads rather than circular.

Random orbital sander
A random orbital sander is a variation on an orbital sander. As the pad spins, it also moves in an elliptical pattern. This helps to prevent “swirl” marks on the surface being sanded. It is also more difficult to control, and hence is considered an advanced tool that is not well-suited for beginners.

Belt sander
A belt sander consists of a motor with a long arm. The air-powered motor spins a belt of sandpaper around the length of the arm. It is used for sanding surfaces that a random orbital sander or orbital sander would struggle to reach.


Size generally applies to the diameter of the pad or the length and width of the belt.

Orbital air sanders have pads in a range of sizes from 5 to 8 inches in diameter or width. Large pads will sand larger areas, but they may not fit into tight spaces. Larger pads also require more power to rotate them and overcome the force of friction resistance. The type of work you’re doing will dictate the size of the sander that you’ll need.

Belt sanders measured in the length of the sandpaper loop or belt and the width of the sandpaper. Lengths vary from around 12 to 18 inches, and widths vary from 1/2 to 3/4 inches.

Take a good look at all the work you’re planning on and buy accordingly.

Sanding surface

Another thing you need to consider is what type of surface you’re sanding: curved, flat, etc.

Flat or curved
Flat surfaces, whether wood or metal, will benefit from a large diameter pad, giving you the ability to sand a large area quickly. Curved surfaces are generally easier to sand with a smaller sander. This more a matter of taste than a hard-and-fast requirement.

Tight spaces
If you’re working in tight spaces, smaller is better. A belt sander might even be your best bet if you’re trying to sand pieces that are already in place and can’t be removed.

Air consumption

Air sanders require a certain amount of air, measured in cubic feet per minute, or cfm. Most models require between 4 and 8 cfm. If you already have an air compressor that you are hoping to use, be sure to purchase a model that it can power.



The material of the air sander will depend on the manufacturer. None will be made of only one material.

The main consideration is the metal parts of the motor and shaft. Stainless steel has greater strength, while aluminum saves on weight.

Regarding the grip and outer shell, manufacturers prefer a variety of composite materials and plastics.


Depending on the model of the air sander, you may have to use specific types of sandpaper or sanding discs.

Sandpaper coarseness is measured by its “grit” on a scale that generally runs from 60-grit to 240-grit. The coarser end is around 60-grit, while 240-grit is the finer end.

If the type of sandpaper or sanding disc required by your sander is expensive, be sure to calculate this additional cost when comparing models.


Is the grip comfortable? The longer you plan on having a power tool in your hand, the more important ergonomics will become. If it’s not comfortable or it is too heavy, it won’t be long before your hands are hurting, stiff, and sore.

To get a good idea of how comfortable a sander is, read a handful of customer reviews. If you see too many customers complaining about a particular air sander being uncomfortable or hurting their hands, you should probably get something else.

Trigger lock

If your work (or hobby) requires you to hold the sander for long stretches at a time, a trigger lock may be a must-have feature. Many high-quality models have a trigger lock, but don’t assume all of them do. Read the description carefully.

Without a trigger lock, an air sander is best suited for shorter, infrequent jobs.

Variable speed

Variable-speed air sanders give you control of what kind of sanding you’re doing. You can use the slower speeds for delicate, precision work. Higher speeds can be used for smoothing large rough pieces. For finishing, you can vary the speed as needed. The top speed of most air sanders is around 10,000 to 12,000 rpm. The speed of less-powerful variable-speed sanders will have an equally wide range.

Single-speed sanders have their place, but variable speed sanders give you many more options.

Dust collection

Some air sanders don’t have a dust collection mechanism. These sanders are fine when working in any area where dust isn’t an issue. When dust is a concern, there are two main types of dust collection mechanisms on air sanders: vacuum-driven and self-generating vacuum.

These systems use an external vacuum, hooked to a nozzle attachment on the sander. The external vacuum supplies suction to pull the dust away from the work area and into the vacuum, where it is deposited in a dust collection bag.

Self-generating vacuum
These sanders use air from the inlet to generate a venturi vacuum that sucks dust away from the work area. From there, it is expelled through a collection port and into a dust collection bag.

The dust bags in either variety will have to be emptied on a regular basis. The bags themselves can become torn or ripped, so you should always keep at least one spare on hand.

Essential accessories

Air compressor: BOSTITCH Pancake Air Compressor
This 150 psi air compressor from Bostitch will take care of most air-driven power tools. You can use it for your air sander and other tools in your garage. It has a 6-gallon fuel tank, so it can be taken anywhere.

Extension cord: AmazonBasics 50-Foot Extension Cord
Never come up short because the included cord isn’t long enough. This heavy-duty orange extension cord from AmazonBasics is your standard, three-prong outdoor extension cord for power tools.

Air sander prices

For $22 to $30 are entry-level air sanders for home and hobby use. These generally won’t have trigger locks or dust collection ports. They also tend to have smaller pads and lower rpms.

Mid-range air sanders cost from $30 to $90 and are generally dependable, long-lasting machines. Trigger guards and dust collection ports are common in this price range.

High-end air sanders can cost from $90 up $400. As a general rule, these heavy-duty sanders are for professional or commercial use.


  • Eye protection is an absolute must when working with sanders, whether or not they have a dust collection mechanism. Sanders rotate at high speeds and can easily fling small particles into your eyes. You should always wear goggles when using sanders.
  • Coarse sandpaper is used for the beginning of a project. Fine sandpaper is for the finishing touches when you want a surface that’s as smooth as a baby’s behind.
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Gloves sound like a good idea when you’re sanding, but the reality is that you need to slide your hand over the surface you’re sanding to detect any imperfections that still need working on.


Q. Is it worthwhile to own multiple types of air sanders?
Absolutely. The round design of random orbital sanders makes it impossible to sand some nooks and tight areas, and sometimes the pattern of an orbital sander is distracting. Belt sanders work well for tight situations. Every sander has its use, and if you know you need to do a lot of sanding, you should consider picking up two different types.

Q. Can air sanders be used for both wood and metal?
Yes, but you will need a different type of sandpaper for each surface.

Q. Do I need to clamp the material I’m sanding?
The sander is rotating at thousands of rpms, so the material will tend to move with it. You may not be able to clamp everything you’re sanding, but you do need to hold it steady so it doesn’t move.

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