How to Choose Between Drum and Orbital Sanding

Sanding and finishing the floor to perfection is possible when you are using the right tools. There are different types of sanding tools that are used for diverse finishes. A professional can advise you best regarding the right tools for your requirement.  But when you understand the distinct functions of the various sanding tools, you will have a better control over the project. Drum sanding and orbital sanding are the two basic options you will find.

This comprehensive guide discusses the advantages, disadvantages, and uses of these two sanding methods to help you to make an informed choice for your home’s flooring.

Drum Vs. Orbital Sander Which is Better for Home Flooring?

  • Purpose and method

If you have a thick layer of finish that has to be removed first and then re-level the floor, the drum sander is the best choice. A layer of sanding paper on the square drum slides on the floor as the drum spins. It touches the floor lightly but cuts through the wood and finish with a grinding movement. There are several types of drum sanders like:

  • Clamp bar- The clamp bar is tightly screwed into the drum and holds the sanding paper in place. This is the commonest choice you have.
  • Expandable- There is a sanding belt that slides over the drum and centrifugal force holds the sanding paper in place. However, this model is much more expensive compared to the clamp bar style.
  • Cam-lock- Cam-lock is also called the slotted drum and is an old technology that is prevalent today. A wrench is used to attach the paper to the drum.

When light sanding and dirt removal is the priority, orbital sanders are suitable for the work. This equipment is designed such that the sanding pad oscillates back and forth on the floor in an orbital motion and slowly buffs the surface imperfections. There are different sizes of sanding pads available for this model. The 12 by 18 inches pad are most common.

  • Time and labour

Drum sanders can work fast because of their aggressive cutting technique. When you have a large room and flooring covered under thick layer of finish, the drum sander can save time. The drum spins at a speed of 1800 rpm in one direction to perform the task. The speed, grit of the sandpaper, and the speed of the user together influence the time you need with this equipment. However, it is rather heavy and requires diligent work.

The orbital sander requires less physical exertion as it is lighter and gentler. But since the movement is slower, it takes a lot of time to remove heavy stains and finishes off the floor. The equipment relies on the weight of the machine to apply pressure while sanding and as a large area of the sanding pad comes in contact with the floor, the overall force applied is less.

  • Pros and cons

Both drum sanders and orbital sanders have several advantages and disadvantages associated with them. These factors and your requirements together can help you to determine which is the better choice for you.

Drum sanders- Advantages:

  • It can easily remove layers of stains and finishing products easily and re-level the floor significantly.
  • Drum sanders operate at a high-speed and much quicker to work with compared to orbital sanders.
  • The drum sander is much more efficient and has a high-performance level.


  • It may leave behind depressions if not carefully used because of its high abrasive power.
  • Sanding against wood grain with this equipment will leave sanding scratches.
  • It cannot be used in narrow spaces like hallways or entryways.
  • Drum sanders are expensive.

Orbital sander- Advantages:

  • It is very easy to use and does not damage the floor.
  • It glides very easily on the floor and hence no physical exertion is necessary for this equipment.
  • Compared to the drum sander, it is more affordable.
  • Orbital sander can maneuver in narrow areas easily.
  • Sanding the corner is much easier because it has a rectangular pad.


  • A lot of time is consumed due to its slow operation.
  • More dust is generated when you are using the drum sander.
  • Light sanding is possible with an orbital sander and hence tough coat of finish cannot be removed with it.
  • If not used properly, circular scratch marks are left on the floor.

When you have deep scratches and dents on the floor which have to be removed, the drum sander is the best choice. For light sanding when you do not have any major and visible problem area, the orbital sander is a good choice.

  • Floor condition and your requirements

There are certain important factors that you must consider as well before using any of this sanding equipment. These factors will help you to determine your floor’s condition and what will be the best solution for it.

  • Floor thickness- If your floor has been sanded 5 to 6 times in the past, there is the chance it cannot withstand the vigour of future drum sanding. Also note, the floorboards at the edge may be thicker as edge sanding is not done as aggressively. Hence, checking the edge floorboards can be misleading.
  • Engineered or hardwood- If you have engineered hardwood, the top layer veneer is thin enough and how far it can be sanded should be considered.
  • Gauges and major scratch- Unless the floor has major gauges and scratches, using an orbital sander is a better choice.
  • Professional recommendation- Consult the professional about the refinishing method they recommend after they have checked the condition of your floor to choose the best sanding equipment and method for it.

The finishing of your floor influences the overall aesthetics of the house. Choosing the right method of sanding is necessary to ensure your floor does not get damaged in the process and the imperfections are thoroughly rectified. Understanding the difference between drum sander and orbital sander regarding will help you plan the flooring project better.

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