Builders and woodworkers take advantage of the abrasive action of sandpaper to smooth and shape wood, remove paint and polish surfaces. Power sanders save elbow grease by keeping the paper moving so you don't have to. Some move the paper linearly, some circularly and some in a random pattern. The type of sander you need depends on how much material you want to remove, and how smooth you want to leave the surface.
When you want to remove a lot of material quickly, choose a belt sander. This hand-held machine has two rotating drums for a premade sanding belt that fits tightly between them. When you turn it on, the abrasive surface moves linearly and can quickly wear away any material you place it on. Because of the amount of material it removes, a belt sander is best for rough sanding and shaping. It doesn't leave a polished surface, and can create grooves or irregularities if you don't use it carefully. Hold it firmly, or it can get away from you.
Like a belt sander, a disk sander is a tool for rough sanding. You usually attach the paper by tightening a nut in the center of the disk, and when you turn it on, the disk rotates at a high speed. The working edge is usually at the front of the disk, where the paper moves laterally. Because you can apply more pressure to a smaller area, a disk sander is an effective tool for sanding in hard-to-reach places. Floor refinishers use a heavy-duty version for removing finish from the edge of a floor.
The type of sander that you will find in most home tool chests is an orbital sander. The pad vibrates randomly, and doesn't wear away the surface as quickly as a belt or disk sander. Automotive refinishers use an air-powered version to sand metal to prepare it for painting. Most orbital sanders have a rectangular or square pad, but some are triangular so that you can sand more easily in corners. Orbital sanders can leave a surface looking smooth, and depending on the grit of sandpaper you use, you may not even notice sanding marks when you're done.
Industrial sanding, like lumber surfacing and floor sanding, calls for a heavy-duty machine that can remove a lot of material quickly. A drum sander is such a machine, having a single weighted barrel, or drum, fitted with a roll of abrasive paper. A conveyor belt feeds wood through a lumber-surfacing drum sander, while flooring drum sanders have wheels so that the drum does not remain on one area of the surface for very long. If it did, it would quickly wear through the wood. Floors that have been sanded with a drum sander often have small valleys where the drum was in contact with the floor for too long.
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