Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for best spindle sanders

Hand sanding soon gets pretty laborious, and a couple of hours doing it will make your arms ache! The solution, of course, is powered tools, and there are numerous different sanding machines available. Although spindle sanders aren’t the most widely used, they are nevertheless well worth considering, particularly for more creative furniture makers and artistic craftspeople.

Although spindle sanders are capable of sanding flat surfaces, their big advantage comes when dealing with circles, curves, and irregular shapes. No other machine comes close to their speed and versatility, whether you’re finishing small components for toys or large decorative moldings. This ability to work with various shapes makes them a particularly popular companion for bandsaws.

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We think of a spindle sander as a tool for creating a nice, smooth finish. However, with a coarse sanding sleeve, it can offer surprisingly fast stock removal, and with a bit of practice, it can do it very accurately, too.

Key considerations

Almost all current versions of these tools are called oscillating spindle sanders, meaning that as well as rotating rapidly, the sanding drum moves up and down. This constantly changes the area of the sandpaper sleeve on the work, thus continuously offering a fresh cutting surface. It’s more efficient, it virtually eliminates the chances of scorching, and the sandpaper sleeve lasts longer. The main areas where these machines differ are in power, table size, and flexibility.


Power is a major consideration. Most spindle sanders quote oscillations per minute (opm), which are generally around 60, and speed of rotation, which can be anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 rotations per minute (rpm). That gives you useful numbers for comparison, but if you haven’t got enough power, the machine won’t generate enough torque. In that case, the drum will either stall under load or the motor will struggle. If it’s put under greater strain than it’s designed for, it will shorten the tool’s working life.

With small diameter drums, and modest workpiece sizes, it’s seldom a problem, but the larger the drum diameter and the thicker the work, the greater the power demand. Output should start at 1/4 horsepower (hp) on small benchtop spindle sanders, rising to 1/2 horsepower on professional-standard models, and 1 horsepower or more on big, floor-standing machines.


Size: This is important for supporting the workpiece. The spindle sander’s action, both rotating and up and down, means it’s impractical to hold the job against the drum freehand. You need to be able to apply a little downward pressure, as well as guide the work horizontally. If there isn’t enough surface available and the work rocks up and down, the finish will be ruined. It could even be dangerous. As a general rule, the larger the job you’re working on, the bigger the table you need. You’ll probably pay a bit more, and there are probably space considerations, but you’ll never regret getting the biggest table you can afford.

Material: While we’re on the subject of tables, a quick note about material. The tables on some cheap spindle sanders are aluminum. That’s not a problem if they’re well reinforced (they usually have supporting ribs underneath), but cast iron is always better. It’s stronger and more durable, and the added weight helps damp vibration.


This comes in several forms:

Diameter: Drums of different diameters provide a variety of sanding radii, so you can work easily on both tight or shallow curves. Four is usually the minimum. We’ve seen up to ten on floor-standing machines

Height: The taller the sanding drum is, the thicker the piece you can work on. To assess the maximum, you need to factor in the rise and fall of the oscillations, not just the height of the drum.

Angle: Being able to adjust the table for angle makes a big difference, not only in allowing you to sand bevels but also to create all kinds of compound shapes.

Although a spindle sander is a quite substantial unit, it’s still a good idea to bolt down a benchtop model where practical. That way there’s no chance of sudden movement ruining your work.


Portable spindle sanders

So far we’ve looked at benchtop or floor-standing models, but there are also handheld oscillating spindle sanders for use when it’s not practical to take the job to the table and for working in confined spaces.

These usually have a 5-amp motor, and while they produce considerably less torque than other models, it’s sufficient for the drums used, which are unlikely to exceed a maximum of 1 1/2 inches.

These tools are invariably corded, so you might want to check the cord length, though it’s likely you’ll need an extension cord. Some are supplied with clamps so you can fix them to a bench inverted and use them in the same way as other spindle sanders. However, the underside of the machine offers a very restricted table area, so their usefulness like this is a bit limited.

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Spindle sander sleeves will eventually need replacing. There are very cheap sets available, but you need to be careful. Low-quality sleeves wear out rapidly and result in a poor finish and even scorching of the workpiece. Spending a few extra bucks will avoid these problems.

Spindle sander prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest spindle sanders are portable handheld versions, many of which are around $55 to $70 (though some top $100). Benchtop models start at about $140.

Mid-range: From $150 and up, mostly what you’re paying extra for is increased power and a larger table. At $300 and above, you’re looking at benchtop tools of a standard good enough for demanding pro shops. These can go as high as $600.

Expensive: Floor-standing spindle sanders command the highest prices and are quite a jump from even the best benchtop models. You’re unlikely to find one for less than $1,000, and $1,500 isn’t unusual.

Check the dust port size. They aren’t all the same and may not fit your existing shop vac or extractor. Don’t worry, though, because there are lots of low-cost adapters available.


Using a pillar drill as a spindle sander

Although many oscillating spindle sanders are very affordable, if you’re on a very tight budget and already own a pillar drill, it does offer a cheap alternative. It’s even possible to use a power drill, though we don’t recommend it. Controlling them freehand can be quite difficult.

What you need is a sanding drum (or sanding drum set) designed for these machines. They look a lot like the drums used on spindle sanders, but they have a shank that fits in a standard drill chuck. In effect, making an upside-down spindle sander.

There are two types. The first, like a spindle sander, uses premade sleeves. As an example, the Big Horn Rubber Sanding Drum Set is a low-cost kit of four different-size drums in a handy case. It is very popular and an excellent value. The other option is a sleeveless model like the 3 x 6-inch Peachtree Woodworking Sanding Drum. Although it’s more expensive, the big advantage here is that you can cut your own sandpaper, so you need never run out of a particular grit. You might also save money in the long run.

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Simple shop-made jigs can make lots of jobs easier and extend the versatility of your tool. You can find dozens of ideas and free plans online.


Q. Are there any safety precautions I need to take with a spindle sander?

A. While it’s basically a very safe machine, you do need to be a bit careful.

  • Keep fingers away from the sand drum. A drum spinning at over 1,500 revolutions per minute will quickly remove skin from your fingers!
  • Don’t wear gloves or loose clothing. Items like neckties could get caught as the drum spins.
  • Feed the workpiece from the left, against the rotation. Keep it in contact with the table at all times. Introducing it from the right can result in it being snatched and thrown across the shop.
  • Wear a dust mask. The main health hazard is the dust created, which can cause respiratory problems. Wear a lightweight dust mask, and always connect a dust collector or other extraction mechanism.
  • Wear ear protection. Some spindle sanders are very loud, so earplugs are a good idea.

Q. Do spindle sanders need much maintenance?

A. Very little. General cleanliness is the main thing. Your dust extraction method should clear most of the debris, but you should give the machine a quick brush down after each use, and make sure sawdust isn’t collecting in any particular area. If the table gets dirty, you can clean it with a little spirit or rubbing alcohol. Eventually, the motor brushes may need replacing, but that shouldn’t be for at least a couple of years.

Q. Is an oscillating belt and spindle sander a good idea?

A. They do offer more versatility than a spindle sander on its own, though belt size (and thus capacity) is quite limited, which might explain why they aren’t more popular. If you’ve got a lot of small items to sand, one could be a viable choice, but for general-purpose sanding, a belt and disk sander is perhaps a better combination.


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