Whether you are in metalworking or construction, grinders and sanders are some of the most commonly used power tools. As their names suggest, they allow you to scrape layers of materials off. They can be used for other tasks like cutting too, though.
While in some ways the two types of tools are similar, they are different in many others. As such, I wrote this article which will explain the most important differences between grinders and sanders and, in turn, help you with choosing the right tool for your job.
What Is a Grinder?
Grinders come in a number of different types with the two most notable ones being angle grinders and die grinders. That said, in general, when someone says “grinder” referring to a tool, it is an angle grinder that is being talked about.
An angle grinder is a power tool that has a slot for a rotating disc at its end. The disc is positioned parallel to the angle grinder’s handle. While there are different types of angle grinder discs, the most common type is a metal cutting and grinding disc that does exactly what its name suggests. That said, with there also being discs made for use with wood and for polishing, an angle grinder is a very versatile tool.
Angle grinders come in both corded and cordless versions. The tool itself serves as the main handle to which an additional side handle can be attached.
What Is a Sander?
As the name suggests, a sander is a power tool used for sanding various materials, primarily wood and sometimes metal. This makes sanders useful for tasks such as making wooden surfaces smoother or removing paint from a variety of surfaces.
Like with grinders, there are a few different types of sanders. The two most common ones include palm sanders and random orbit sanders, both of which are handheld tools. That said, there are also bench sanders that are fixed to a workbench. While each of the different types of sanders does the same general job, the situations in which each is the best tool to use differ.
For example, while you would use a palm sander to sand down a wooden board, you would use a bench sander to smoothen the surface of something relatively small that you can hold in your hands and put up against the bench sander.
Key Differences Between Grinders and Sanders
While there are some tasks that can be done with both grinders and sanders, overall, they are far from being similar tools. Below are the main differences between the two.
Grinders Use Discs, Sanders Use Sandpaper
The main difference between grinders and sanders – and the difference that essentially all of the other differences stem from – is that while the former uses discs, the latter uses sandpaper in a variety of forms. For example, palm sanders use square cuts of sandpaper while bench sanders use long pieces of sandpaper wrapped around drums.
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of angle grinder discs, each suitable for a different job. While some are designed to be used with metal, others can be used with wood or even concrete. Not only do they differ by the type of material they can be used with but also by their function – there are cutting discs, grinding discs, and polishing discs among others.
With sandpaper for sanders, the variety is a bit more limited since all sandpaper is made for sanding. That said, there are still sandpapers of different grit (roughness) suitable for different jobs.
Grinders Are Most Commonly Used with Metals, Sanders with Wood
By now, you probably know that with the right type of attachment, both grinders and sanders can be used on a variety of materials. That said, there are materials that each of them is used with more often than with others.
Grinders are most commonly used as metalworking tools. Whether you need to cut off a broken bolt, cut rebar, or cut or polish any other piece of metal, an angle grinder is often the perfect tool for that. Using an angle grinder for woodworking – other than cutting off screws for example – is much rarer. That said, there are sanding and other discs that allow one to do so.
Sanders, on the other hand, are most commonly used as woodworking tools. Some of the common uses include sanding boards before painting and making rough wooden surfaces smooth. Still, with the right sandpaper, sanders can also be used on metal or for jobs such as removing old paint.
Grinders Are Generally More Versatile Than Sanders
Both grinders and sanders can be used with a variety of materials. That said, sanders really only do one job well – sanding.
Grinders, on the other hand, are much more versatile. With the right disc, they can not only grind layers off materials but also cut them outright. Additionally, they can also be used for polishing and even sanding to an extent.
As such, overall, grinders are much more versatile tools than sanders. They, of course, cannot get sanding jobs done as smoothly as sanders, though.
Sanders Are More Precise Tools Than Grinders
Different sanders offer different levels of precision. Similarly, different sandpaper grits result in different levels of smoothness. That said, in general, sanders operate at slower speeds than angle grinders and remove less of the workpiece at a time than angle grinders. This allows for much more control and results in greater precision.
The flip side of that is that if you need to remove a lot of material, for example, it would take you a very long time with a sander. With an angle grinder, the job would be much quicker although the result would be rougher. As such, you might first want to use an angle grinder or other such tool to get the desired rough shape and then smoothen the finish with a sander.
Sanders Are Safer Than Grinders
Grinders are generally equipped with rigid discs which end up rotating at very high speeds ranging anywhere from 2,000 to over 10,000 revolutions per minute. Because of that, when used to cut metals, many sparks fly out of the material being cut. The tool itself is fairly dangerous too and without appropriate use and precautions can result in serious injury.
Sanders, on the other hand, are equipped with sandpaper which either moves relatively slowly (in the case of random orbital sander for example) or vibrates (in the case of palm sander). They also cannot be used for cutting. As such, sanders are much safer tools to operate than grinders. That said, they do generate a lot of dust.
All in all, while sanders are safer than grinders, it is important to take appropriate precautions regardless of which of the two tools you decide to use.
Grinder vs. Sander: Which One Should You Use?
Because grinders and sanders are very different tools, neither of them is better or worse than the other in itself. That said, there are very few situations in which both a grinder and a sander would be the most appropriate tool to use. Instead, it will be one or the other.
Some of the tasks that a grinder with the right disc is well-suited for include:
- Cutting metal bars, pipes, etc.
- Cutting off broken bolts
- Polishing various surfaces
Some of the tasks that a sander is well-suited for include:
- Removing old paint from wooden surfaces
- Smoothening wooden boards
- Rounding edges of wooden boards
One of the tasks that both a grinder and a sander can be used for is removing old paint from metal surfaces. In that case, the better tool for the job would be the one you have available – that is, assuming the job is fairly small.
For larger jobs, you would want to use an angle grinder if you wanted to get the job done fairly quickly even at the expense of finish quality, and a sander if you wanted the cleanest possible result. You could also use both tools in tandem – first grinding the paint off and then finishing the project off with a sander.
Both angle grinders and power sanders are very useful tools to have in your workshop. However, they both serve fairly different purposes. While angle grinders are mostly suited for “rougher” work, sanders are designed for more precise work. While the former is mostly used when working with metal, the latter is best suited for working with wood.
Because of that, eventually, you will want to have both an angle grinder and at least one sander in your kit. If you are looking to get only one of them, though, then you will need to consider the type of work you will mostly be doing. When deciding, you should also keep in mind that while sanding can be done manually as well, a lot of the work people do with angle grinders would be fairly difficult to do without a power tool