Why you should Use a Random Orbital Sander on Hardwood Floors

Nothing is more attractive than having gleaming hardwood floors. Unfortunately, to achieve this you have to refurbish the floors once in a while. While refurnishing is easier said than done, this don’t have to be the case. With a random orbital sander, a refurnishing work that may take a long time can be done in a few hours for the whole house. That said,

Why you need a random orbital Sander to Refinish Your Floors

You may stumble across various articles and “tips” from “hardwood gurus” who will claim you can refinish your floors without a sander. This may seem tempting, as the tool will require an initial investment, and depending on its size and weight, it may not be easy to operate. However, using a sanding tool is the only way you can be sure to have a smooth finish.

Sanding your floors by hand will not only be more tedious but also could lead to bumpy, uneven floors, with scratches and dull patches. The machine, on the other hand, will achieve the exact same results across the entire surface of the room, as long as you use it effectively.

The Smart Choice: Random Orbital Sanders 

While other solutions are available, using an orbital sander may be the best option for a DIY refinishing job. According to renowned home improvement professionals such as Bob Vila, random orbital sanders will complete the job more effectively than any other tool on the market.

Random orbital sanders are generally much gentler than drum sanders. This means that using a random orbital sander on your hardwood may prevent scratches and other damages while requiring little of your effort.

By doing your refinishing work yourself using an orbital sander, you can expect to:

  • Save yourself about $3 per square foot of hardwood floor
  • Complete the task according to your own timeline
  • Apply meticulous effort to tricky areas such as corners
  • Save the energy operating faster sanders requires 

How Random Orbital Sanders Work 

Before you dive into the sanding process, you may want to consider the difference between orbital sanders and random orbital sanders. Random orbital sanders are generally more effective than traditional orbital sanders because they move the sanding paper in an elliptical and simultaneous side-to-side motion. Standard orbital sanders, however, will only move the sanding paper in a circular motion. If you are new to sanding tasks, in particular, you may struggle with the orbital sander, as you will need to be particularly careful, applying the same amount of pressure and time to each square meter of the room’s surface. Random orbital sanders, on the other hand, are more intuitive to use. This generally provides much better results with half the expertise and effort.

You should also note that a standard orbital sander is likely to leave swirling marks across the floor, which are going to appear like scratches with time. Random orbital sanders generally do not.

 How to Refinish Hardwood Floors with an Orbital Sander

Before you can put your sander to use, you will need to prepare the room for refinishing. The sanding process is likely to create a lot of dust. So naturally, you will have to remove all the furniture from the place, but you will also have to cover windows and remaining fixtures.

You will also have to protect yourself with ear-muffs and dust masks. If you react poorly to dust (allergies/asthma), you will want to make sure your equipment is set snugly and that you take frequent breaks during your work. Not only do you want to avoid breathing in the dust, but you will also want the thickest muffs available because otherwise, the ruckus of the sander is likely to give you a migraine within the first half-hour.

You may also have to get some eye protection for when you have to “seal” your floors or apply polyethene to the surface. These chemicals will emit toxic fumes. Therefore proper room ventilation installations will be an asset. Otherwise, you will need to order some respiratory filters.

Organizing Your Time 

Planning out your time is essential to ensuring you can complete the entire task within the time frame you have set. You can expect to tackle (assuming you are working alone) about 28 square feet of floor every hour. Therefore, a mid-sized living space (600 square foot) is likely to take you a few days of work. You will want not to strain yourself too much on the first day, as this is likely to impact the rest of your work negatively. To avoid sloppy sanding or uneven days – which will drag your project longer – you will have to listen to your body and take frequent breaks. Generally, it is advised to set out about 2-3 hours of work a day. However, this number may vary based on your fitness and level of daily physical activity.

Beginning the Sanding 

Professionals generally advise DIYers to sand in between boards or panels by hand. This will make for a more evenly colored finish.

You will not want to sand too deeply into the surface. To ensure you only remove the necessary old finish and the scratches on the surface of the wood, you will have to select the most productive grain. It is advised, at first, to use a larger grain, and to adjust it as you go on.

You may want to use 60-grit abrasive sandpaper, to begin with, and adjust the paper to the necessary grains as you go on (80, 100 and 120). Generally, it’s easiest to start from the center of a room and work your way outwards. However, your choice of where you begin and end, while crucial, will depend mostly on the shape of the room.


Random Orbital Sanders are generally the ideal option for refinishing hardwood floors. Not only do they make the finishing results more pleasant, but they also are more comfortable to use than standard orbital sanders and, in some cases, drum sanders. For more information on the sanding process, you may want to complete further research or seek out the guidance of a professional.

What Kind Of Sander Do I Need For Hardwood Floors 

If you are looking to refinish your floors, you are likely to be wondering which sander is best suited to your needs.

Your available choices are usually the following:

  • Drum Sanders
  • Orbital Sanders
  •  Random Orbital Sanders

Random orbital sanders are usually the best option for refinishing hardwood floors because they are more gentle. While drum sanders will finish the job quicker – because they use a more aggressive sanding motion – they are also more likely to leave scratches on your floor. They will also require sanding by hand around corners.


Orbital sanders operate in a circular motion. Therefore, you are likely to have to deal with swirling marks on the surface, even after careful sanding.


A random orbital sander, on the other hand, is the perfect mix of efficiency and gentleness. These tools move the sandpaper in an elliptical pattern and side to side simultaneously. This method does not leave nearly as many swirling marks as standard orbital sanders will.


However, using a random orbital sander is likely to require more time and perhaps a little more effort. Therefore, choosing this machine is only the best option if you are willing to schedule more time to complete the project.

Can I use an orbital sander on polyurethane? 

Orbital sanders, particularly hand-held models, are great to use on polyurethane. You may want to use the machine throughout the process, to facilitate the process. However, their use will still take up more of your time than say, pole sanders. 

Using an orbital sander, you can ensure to strip the hardwood surfaces of their old coat of polyurethane without damaging the wood. You will want to use sandpaper of 180 grit to buff every layer since polyurethane does not require drastic sanding in between coats. You may use a greater grit, of say 220, for example, for the surface layers. 

You should note that a random orbital sander machine is likely to complete the work faster than a hand tool. Unlike standard orbital sanders, this tool is also less likely to leave swirling marks on your floor, which will be practically immortalized by additional coats of polyurethane. This process will require more pressure than using a pole sander. However, it is likely to lead to smoother, more even results. For the glossiest finish, you may want to use a hand-held orbital sander in between coats, and a random orbital sander machine on the top layer. The portable orbital sander will allow you to follow the contours of the room, while the mechanical random orbital sander will allow you to “roughen” the surface more comfortably, to allow the polyurethane to soak it up effectively. 



I am a woodwork enthusiast who is in the Financial Industry. I come from a woodworking family and started handling woodwork tools from a young age. For me, it's not a hobby. its a way of life.

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