Sanding with a Drill Attachment Vs Sanding with a Sander

Unless you’re into carpentry or woodworking, sanding is one of those jobs that you’ll do once in a blue moon. You might need to sand some floorboard if you’re getting rid of the carpets, or perhaps you’ll need to sand your banisters before you paint them.

This being the case, many people don’t actually own a sander. So, when a sanding job comes up, they’re faced with a tricky choice: ‘Should I buy a sander for that one off job, or is there another way to do it?’

Luckily, you can repurpose tools that you already have in the house. An electric drill, for instance, can be used to sand a variety of surfaces provided you have the right attachments.

In this article, we’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of using a drill as a sanding tool compared with using an actual sander.

Once you’ve read the article, you’ll be able to decide which tool is best for you and your job.

Electric Drills

Most people tend to have an electric drill at home. It’s a basic tool with lots of applications around the house which is why even amateur DIYers tend to have one.

While drills are typically used to make holes or screw things in, they can also be transformed into sanders.

To use a drill as a sander, you’ll need to purchase sanding attachments. These are super cheap to pick up online or in your local hardware store.

In essence, they consist of either a flat plate attached to a drill bit or a rounded barrel attached to a drill bit.

You put the drill bit into your electric drill, attach sandpaper to the plate or barrel and away you go.  

The flat plates are known as disk sanders while the barrels are called sanding drums. Each has specific applications.

Disk Sanders

Disk sanding attachments turn your drill into something resembling an orbital sander or a disk sander.

When using the sander like an orbital sander, you can sand down flat surfaces or edges. This is great for cleaning up or roughing up tables, cabinets, desks, or small areas of flooring. It can also be used to sand down timber and remove burrs from cut wood or metal.

If you were hoping to use your drill to sand your whole floors, think again. It is possible, technically, but it will take you days. You’ll also end up going through tons of sandpaper, and you’ll still end up with orbital marks.

The drill attachments just aren’t really big enough or powerful enough to be useful for large projects. They are, however, great, cheap alternatives for smaller projects.

To use your drill like an orbital sander, hold the drill as you wood if you were screwing something in at 90 degrees to the surface.

When you push the trigger, the sandpaper will spin. You will need to control and apply pressure evenly throughout the sanding.

Try to avoid putting a lot of pressure on your drill bit, this can damage the attachment or the drill motor. Most people tend to press too hard when they’re trying to remove lots of material. You’re better off choosing a coarser grit paper than pressing harder with your drill.

One thing to be aware of is that you will get orbital marks on your material. This is because the drill moves in a set orbital pattern. To remove these, you’ll have to use a fine grit paper with a finishing sander or your hands.

You can also turn your hand drill into a mounted disk sander using the flat plate attachments. This does, however, require a few other tools as you need to build a jig to hold your drill.

There are lots of videos and tutorials on the internet that show you exactly how to build the jig. However, the basic premise is that the drill is secured and mounted to a platform. A bolt is often used as a switch to push the drill trigger.

With the drill secured and the plate sanding attachment held in place, you can use this kind of sander to round and shape your wood or other materials.

Drum Sanders

The drum sanding attachments are typically used to sand curved and awkward areas. For example, you might use a drum sanding attachment to sand the spindles on your staircase.

They are also used to smooth out holes and tubes and any sort of concave areas that flat sanders would struggle to fit into.

The great thing about using a handheld drill as a drum sander is that you can get into all the small and awkward places. The only thing that limits you is the size of your drum. We advise buying a multipack attachment set that has a variety of sizes for different jobs.

One thing to be aware of is the fact that there is another sander called a drum sander. This is typically a large machine with a big drum. It is often used for sanding large areas of flooring or planks of wood.

The drum attachments for your drill are more like a Dremel than these large drum sanders in that they are small and ideal for delicate work.

Just like the sanding plates, you can make your own drum sanding jig. These jigs tend to turn your electric drill into a drill press. This means that you can use the drum sanding attachments to smooth out holes and tunnels.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Using a drill instead of a dedicated sander can be hugely beneficial in the right situation. However, you need to recognize that it is not the be-all-and-end-all solution.

In this section we are going to summarize the advantages and disadvantages of using a drill to sand.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Drill attachments are cheap and easy to pick up.Not suitable for large jobs.
Plate and drum attachments have a variety of applications.No dust collection.
Can be used for small to medium projects.Disk sanding attachment does leave orbital marks.
Drum attachments can help in award or hard to reach spaces.Doesn’t remove as much material as belt sanders.
Both kinds of attachments can be used to remove burrs and smooth out surfaces. 
You can create a jig for your workshop to make the drill more functional. 

Dedicated Sanding Tools

If you don’t want to use a drill, there are lots of dedicated sanding tools available that can get the job done.

One of the biggest issues you face when buying or renting a sander is knowing which sander to choose! There are lots of different kinds of sanders from small palm sanders to huge floor drum sanders.

Each type of sander performs a slightly different job, though there is some crossover. Orbital sanders, for example, are pretty versatile and used in a range of different ways.

Belt Sanders

These can be found in most workshops and trade vans. They are one of the heavy lifters of the sanding world. Belt sanders can remove a lot of material very quickly.

The belt sander uses a looped sheet of sandpaper over two drums. The drums spin which moves the sandpaper in a quick and continuous motion.

These sanders are ideal for levelling surfaces, boards, and furniture. They are also available as mounted workshop tools. These are ideal for smaller projects.

Disk Sanders

These come in portable and table mounted versions. The portable version is pretty uncommon because most people tend to use the drill attachments.

Table mounted sanders are typically used to shape material or sand edges. They can remove a lot of material quickly and are one of the more versatile tools in your workshop.

Orbital Sanders

There are two kinds of orbital sanders. The standard orbital sander uses a rectangular or square sanding pad. This is moved in small circular orbits. In other words, it moves in small circular motions.

Typically, orbital sanders are used to finish off large surfaces. They don’t remove as much material as belt sanders which is why they are used for finishing rather than the main bulk of the job.

The issue with orbital Sanders is that they tend to leave orbital marks. These are scuff marks from the predictable orbital pattern.

Random Orbital Sanders

These have round sanding pads instead of rectangular or square sanding pads. The pods move in circular orbits, but they also spin. This creates a random sanding pattern which removes the orbital swirls that you get with standard orbital sanders.

Random orbital sander discs usually have Velcro on the back to attach to the sander. They may, however, also use adhesive.

Random orbital sanders are used to finish work without the orbital marks. They tend to be more powerful than orbital sanders and palm sanders which is why they are preferred for larger pieces.

If you’re only buying one sander, then you’re better off buying a random orbital sander. It is by far the most versatile kind of sander on the market.

The only major drawback to random orbital Sander is the fact that it tends to be more expensive, and you have to buy special sandpaper. With standard orbital sanders you can use normal sandpaper sheets.

Palm Sander

These are often called finish sanders because they used to finish off work. They specialize in creating an ultra-smooth finish. Palm sanders tend to have square pads that oscillate in incredibly small circles.

Palm sanders are not designed to remove lots of material quickly. They are gentle tools and as such can be used to smooth things like paint and varnish as well as raw wood.

The great thing about palm Sanders is that they are quite small and therefore quite cheap. They are also easy to use a maneuver because of their small size and the reduced power.

Drum Sander

These are the real heavyweight sanders. They come in benchtop and flooring varieties.

Benchtop drum sanders have a large drum that rotates at high speed. You place a board on the conveyor and pass it through the machine. As the board moves through the machine it meets the drum. The drum is covered in highly abrasive sandpaper and shaves which sands the wood.

In a sense, drum sanders are like power planers, however power planers remove material much quicker. They are much more powerful machines. A drum Sander will take a lot longer to remove material however it gives a much nicer finish.

Flooring drum sanders are massive machines that usually require two people to move. Typically, people rent flooring drum sanders because they are large and expensive.

You use a drum sander in a similar way to a lawn mower in that you push it over the floor, and it removes a lot of material very quickly.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sanders

Each sanding tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. Below are general pros and cons relating to sanders in comparison to drills.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
More powerful so they get the job done quicker.Can be expensive to purchase.
Specialized for the job in hand.No ‘one-size-fits-all’ sander.
Can be found in portable and tabletop versions.Sometimes require specialized sandpaper.
Usually have some form of dust collection system. 
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About Tony

Tony Moran is a writer, blogger and DIY enthusiast living in rural Norfolk, England, UK, with his wife and a lively border collie. Subscribe to this blog for updates and receive more awesome home improvement tips.

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