5" Random Orbital Sanders - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Tool Comparison: With so many models out there, how do you select the right random orbital sander for the work you do? Ted Brown tests out 15 models and gives you the low-down.


5" Random Orbital Sanders

Lead & Detail Photos by Rob Brown; Product Photos by Manufacturers
I used to avoid sanding machines for furniture, saying that the purist gets a better finish by hand-planing, scraping, and using just a little hand-sanding. My view has changed, based on applications and the variety and quality of random orbital sanders on the market today.

I now make electric guitars, and find that the orbital sander has become a wonderful, essential tool. This article will look at some of the products on the market today, and provide the reader with some advice based on my experience, to guide them toward a purchase that will suit their needs, and their pockets.

In all, I tested 15 sanders and was pleasantly surprised that all of them will do the job, some better than others, and some with features that make the task more enjoyable.

Here are a number of different things that I find important when looking for a tool that I want to use for an extended period of time:
  • Vibration – is it transferred to your hands?
  • Grip comfort – rubberized, shape, one or two handles?
  • Switches and speed adjustments – ease of use?
  • Cord length – a bugaboo of mine – put on a decent length of cord so I don’t have run around the shop looking for an extension.
  • Sound level – a loud unit can ruin your day.
  • Soft start – if you start with the sander in contact with the work, this may save you from carving swirls.
  • Dust Extraction – a key issue in the small shop – ease of use?
  • Fixed or variable speed
  • Dual mode – on some of the premium units, there is a second mode for rapid material removal.
  • Lock-on button – great when sanding for extended periods.
  • Brake – reduces the time it takes to spin down when you shut the sander off.
  • Motor current – a larger rating speaks to how robust the motor is.
  • Warranty – we expect years of performance, so I expect years of warranty.
  • Carrying case and accessories
  • Orbit speed range
From the list above, you can see that there are a lot of things to consider when making that purchase. Of all the features in the list, I cannot find a good case for reducing the orbital speed in my work, so having this feature is nice, but not a showstopper for me. I had a couple of units that tended to skate across the work, which made controlling the sander difficult and, ultimately, adversely affected the finish. Things I enjoy as a consumer are a nice case along with a decent warranty extending beyond one year. Those units I enjoyed more have pricing accompanying their descriptions. I only looked at pricing after the review.

DeWALT D26453 $99.99
• 3 Amp motor, 7,000–12,000 OPM
• Bayonet bag mount for dust collection is easy to dump.
• Smooth and quiet with a comfortable oval, rubberized grip.
• Comes with an 8-foot cord.
• 3-yr. warranty
Nice Grip – Grasping the DeWALT sander is comfortable, making for more enjoyable long sanding sessions.
RIDGID R2601 $89.99
• 3 Amp motor, 7,000–12,000 OPM
• Bayonet mount on dust bag is easy to remove
• Easy to access RPM adjustment
• Smooth and quiet with comfortable pebbled oval grip
• 8-foot cord
• Slide switch is somewhat awkward
• Lifetime warranty!
Changing Speeds – The orbiting speed adjustment of the Ridgid sander is right at your fingertips, and is quite easy to adjust.
• 2.4 Amp motor, 7,000–12,000 OPM
• Comfortable rubber grip
• Zipper on dust bag is simple to use
• Switch somewhat awkward
• 8-foot cord
• 5-yr. warranty
Simple to Empty – The zipper on this Hitachi sander makes emptying dust very easy and clean.
TMT TT11050 $39.99
• 2.2 Amp motor, fixed 12,000 OPM
• Dust bag is easy to remove
• Awkward forward mounted rocker switch
• 6-foot cord
• Elastic used to retain dust bag makes emptying this sander messy
• 2-yr. warranty
Easy to Remove – Removing the dust bag from this Trademaster sander is simple and fast.
SKIL 7492 $44.95
• 2.8 Amp motor, fixed 12,500 OPM
• Nice rubber grip and easy-to-use rocker switch
• Bayonet mount on dustbin with micro-filter
• 6-foot cord
• Sander tended to skate on the surface periodically, causing gouging
• 1-yr. warranty
On/Off With Ease – Skil’s rocker switch is easy to access and manipulate.
MASTERCRAFT 054-1240-4 $44.99
• 2 Amp motor, fixed 12,000 OPM
• 6-foot cord
• Elastic on dust collection makes dumping process messy
• Sander tended to skate, causing gouging of the surface
• Cover on rocker switch to keep dust out
• 3-yr. warranty
Dust Free – Mastercraft’s sander has a soft plastic cover to help keep out dust.
PORTER CABLE 382 $69.99
• 1.9 Amp motor, fixed 12,000 OPM
• Comfortable round grip
• Bayonet mount on dustbin makes dumping easy
• 8-foot cord
• 3-yr. warranty
Stays in Place – The positive lock/unlock on this Porter Cable sander’s dustbin is a great addition.
BOSCH ROS20VS $129.99
• 2.5 Amp motor, 7,500–12,000 OPM
• Comfortable rubber grip
• Easy to use on/off switch
• Awkward hard-case dustbin is messy to dump
• 8-foot cord
• 1-yr. warranty
At Your Fingertips – Bosch’s on/off switch feels positive on your fingertip.
MAKITA B05031 $119.99
• 3 Amp motor, 4,000–12,000 OPM
• Comfortable rubber grip
• Minimum vibration transferred to hands
• Quick release dustbin
• 6-foot cord
• 1-yr. warranty
Easy and Clean – The quick-release dustbin on this Makita sander is easy to use, and keeps the area clean.
KING S1A-AJ2-125 $30
• 1.3 Amp motor is smallest in the review
• Easy-to-remove dust pouch
• Hard grip transfers vibration into your hands
• 6-foot cord
• Elastic retainer on dustbin makes it messy to dump
• 2-yr. warranty
Simple Removal – King’s dust pouch is easy to remove, so you can take the dust right to the trash.
MILWAUKEE 6021-21 $94.99
• 3 Amp motor, 7,000–12,000 OPM
• Bayonet mount dust bag easy to dump
• Very smooth and quiet
• Soft start feature
• Comfortable rubber grip – this unit just felt good in my hands.
• 5-yr. warranty
Very Comfortable – The comfortable grip on the Milwaukee sander is great for long stretches of use.
MAKITA B05041 $139.00
• 3 Amp motor, 4,000–12,000 OPM
• Comfortable trigger grip with lock-on feature
• Bayonet mount dustbin for easy dumping
• Top-mounted speed control easy to access with your thumb
• One- or two-hand operation
• Compact and powerful
• 6-foot cord
• 1-yr. warranty
Light or Heavy-Duty – The ability to switch between one- and two-handed operation with this Makita sander is a big plus.
FESTOOL ETS 125 EQ $209.00
• 200-Watt motor, 5,000–14,000 OPM (extended range)
• Sturdy build quality with robust switch
• Vacuum cleaner dust collection for virtually dustless operation!
• Handy Bayonet mount on long 13-foot power cord
• Smooth operation, constant speed under load
• Soft start feature
• 3-yr. warranty
No Dust – Festool’s sander can be used with their famous dust extractor, making this unit virtually dust-free.
FESTOOL RO 125 FEQ $514.00
• 500-Watt motor, 3,000–6,000 OPM
• Heavy-duty construction, powerful unit
• Over-temperature switch
• Electronic speed control with smooth soft start feature
• Controls maintain constant speed under load
• Rotex action – this is the second mode that combines rotary and eccentric action for fast material removal; a fantastic, useful shaping tool
• Care should be taken to keep this tool running flat as it can skate if tilted.
• Excellent tool storage system
• 3-yr. warranty
Many Settings – What makes this Festool sander so versatile, and useful around the shop, is that it can be set for aggressive or regular material removal.
BOSCH ROS65VC $299.99
• 3.3 Amp motor, 5,500–12,000 OPM
• Great 13-foot long cord
• Auxiliary front handle for two-hand operation
• Trigger lock
• Large hard plastic filtered dustbin easy to dump
• Large handles and substantial motor allow you to bear down
• 1-yr. warranty
Large Handles – Bosch’s larger sander has two handles, allowing the user to use it aggressively or regularly.

The interesting thing was that all of the units tested are capable of completing a reasonable sanding job. Features like soft start, more pliable pads, and braking systems add to the actual final finish.

I did not obtain the pricing until after all the work was complete, so I had some pleasant, and some predictable revelations.

I think we need to look at two applications when reviewing these sanders – those meant for light, one-handed work, and then those meant for heavy work.
Regular-duty sanders
My choice for best value is actually the one unit that can be used (just to confuse things) for either one-handed light use or two-handed heavier use. The Makita BO5041 is a compact, yet powerful random orbital sander that is well designed.

It comes with a removable second handle that can be quickly added or removed from the front of the sander for heavy two-handed sanding. You can also use this sander two-handed by placing one hand on the trigger grip at the rear, and the other on top of the comfortable sander body. It comes with a trigger lock, and brake, to slow the motor when it is shut off. I would like to have seen a longer cord, and a longer warranty as well. At $139 retail, I consider this unit “Best Value”.

An honorable mention must go to the Ridgid R2601 at $89.99 from Home Depot. This unit is comfortable, smooth, quiet, has a brake, and a quick disconnect bayonet mount on the dustbin to quickly dump the dust. It is variable-speed and carries a lifetime warranty.

A solid third place goes to the Milwaukee 6021-21. If you put it beside the Ridgid, you may find a lot of similarities. This is a smooth, comfortable, variable speed sander with a five-year warranty for $94.99.

The Festool ETS 125 EQ is a wonderful single-hand unit. It has a solid switch, comfortable ergos, and it stops quickly. It features speed control and soft start, along with variable speed and a lovely 13-foot cord. This is a very good value system for $209 at Lee Valley that offers you the ability to go “dustless” by purchasing a Festool shop vacuum.
Heavy-duty sanders
In the heavy-duty models, the hands-down winner is the Festool RO 125 FEQ. This is a 500-watt system with orbits between 3,000 and 6,000 OPM. It can be used for shaping using the Rotex mode, fine sanding using the eccentric mode, or polishing. The pads have a handy bayonet mount for quick changes.

Festool uses electronic control to maintain a constant speed under load. It also includes an over-temperature switch to guard your motor, and a smooth soft start to ensure a quality finish. This is a top-notch system made of quality materials, meant to last a lifetime. It comes with the best storage box of all the sanders tested. Our friends at Lee Valley have a winner here. It may take some soul searching before you buy, however, because all these features come at a retail price of $514.

To me, dust collection is key in a small shop – both to keep peace with my spouse, and to keep a healthy environment that is as dust-free as possible. Festool offers a shop vacuum system that removes what appears to be all of the dust, and then filters the air using an efficient Hepa filter. The RO 125 FEQ and the smaller ETS 125 EQ one-hand sander both use a Festool designed vacuum of your choice. You can buy the RO 125 FEQ from Lee Valley in a package with the CT26E vacuum system for $1126. I use a different model of Festool with a smaller disk size for my guitar detailing, and paid over $1000 for the system – and I don’t regret it one bit. When it comes to dust, you have to decide how much your health is worth.

On a final note, I think that Bosch deserves credit for their model ROS65VC heavy-duty orbital sander. This is a large 3.3 Amp machine with a 13-foot cord. It comes with a vibration elimination system, and a handy trigger lock for all day jobs. With the auxiliary forward handle mounted, you can really bear down on this unit; it is meant to take it.

There you have it; buy the one that fits your hand and your pocket book. While some units cost more, your health cannot be overlooked, and I have to say my spouse was happy with the zero-dust machine I bought.

What is your experience with 5" Random Orbital Sanders? Let us know via the Comments section below.

Ted Brown

Ted is an avid guitar-maker in Ottawa, Ontario. His electric guitars blend premium components with sensitive use of exotic woods, creating one-of-a-kind boutique instruments.