RANDOM ORBIT SANDER
Model: Ridgid R2610 6" Random Orbit Sander
Where Purchased: Home Depot
Price Paid: $130
Why Purchased: I've found that a belt sander and fine woodworking don't mix. A belt sander is just too aggressive. One slip can create gouges and low spots in your project in a matter of seconds. In addition, dust collection on a belt sander is a joke, making it a very messy tool to use (not to mention the health risks associated with breathing sawdust).
A random orbit sander (ROS) isn't as aggressive as a belt sander, but it's aggressive enough to remove large amounts of material fairly quickly. The key is control. A random orbit sander won't gouge your work like a belt sander can. Because of the random orbit spin of the pad, you don't need to move the sander in the direction of the wood grain. You can even move the sander perpendicular to the grain without leaving scratches in the lumber. In fact, if I've glued up boards and they aren't perfectly level with each other, this is exactly what I do to level the boards—I sand across the seam until the boards are level.
By using increasingly finer grit sandpaper on a ROS, you end up with a finish-ready surface. You'll never get that kind of a smooth surface from a belt sander.
Additionally, the holes in the ROS pad and sandpaper allow for effective dust collection.
Impressions: This sander is awesome. The big 6" pad allows you to sand big panels quickly. I start with 60 grit sandpaper to level the uneven spots, then change to 150 and 220 grit paper. The result is a silky smooth finish. In fact, the smoothness of the project after using this sander is so good that it has almost replaced my palm sander (except for projects or surfaces that are too small or narrow for this tool).
I love the hook-and-loop pad. This allows you to quickly change sandpaper without ruining the paper during removal (just like Velcro™).
Dust collection is excellent when connected to a shop vac. No mess, and no clogged lungs!
TIP: I find that the shop vac's hose tends to rub and catch on the edge of the project if you hold the sander in the usual way (with the handles). To fix this problem, I hold the sander as shown in the picture above—with one hand on top of the motor housing (like with a palm sander), and with the other hand holding the shop vac's hose and the sander's power cord.