The Best Detail Sanders
When it comes down to the final stages of intricate projects, there’s no better sander to have on your side than the best detail sander you can find. These lightweight tools allow for fine sanding with their uniquely shaped pads and can get in virtually anywhere once you’ve put the time into learning how to use one.
That said, let’s hop right in, and we’ll help you find out which sander is right for you and your DIY projects.
PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX
Powerful, cordless, and smooth running this was undoubtedly the best of the detail sanders we tested. The drawbacks are minimal, and we feel that the relatively minor cost compared to most tools will be quickly repaid in sheer convenience.
In This Article:
- 1 Top Pick
- 2 The 5 Top-Rated Detail Sanders
- 3 Who Needs a Detail Sander?
- 4 How We Selected Our Detail Sanders
- 5 How We Tested
- 6 Top 5 Detail Sanders
- 7 Getting the Most Out of Your Detail Sander
- 8 Dusting Solutions for Indoor Tasks
- 9 Detail Sander FAQ
- 10 Get Smooth, Get Fine, Get a Detail Sander!
The 5 Top-Rated Detail Sanders
|Best Overall||PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX|
|Best for Intricate Details||Ryobi P401 One+ 18-Volt Corner Cat|
|Best Corded Model||BLACK+DECKER BDEMS600 Mouse Detail Sander|
|Best for Home DIY Tasks||Skil 7302-02 Octo Detail Sander|
|Cheap and Low Vibration||TACKLIFE Classic Mouse Detail Sander|
Who Needs a Detail Sander?
Random orbital sanders are probably the most versatile of the various sanders that are readily available. Many people will find themselves needing something for more detailed work at times, however, which means that they’re going to need either a detail sander or a finishing sander.
The difference between the two is primarily in the shape of the pads. Detail sanders have a triangular pad that allows for handling corners and small spaces with ease. They’re also great for surfaces which may have indentations that you want to be sanded down to match the overall surface of the workpiece.
They’re not a great choice for removing stock material or trying to restore old, battered wood where you’ll actually need to smooth out the surface layer. You’re bound for disappointment if you believe that either of those is on the menu.
The best use for these is when it comes to smaller pieces or surfaces that only need a light touch. For the average person they’ll be a rarely used tool, but quite welcome if they’re required for the task laid out ahead.
How We Selected Our Detail Sanders
Before selecting the products which were going to be sent through testing, we decided to ask some finish carpenters and hobbyists for recommended brands and models. In doing so, we were able to figure out roughly what we needed to ensure that the majority of the sanders we tested were of high-quality.
We took into account both the general consensus and then selected nine sanders to test out based on the following qualities.
Size and Handle
Detail sanders, more than any other sander, need to have an ergonomic, low-profile grip which will let you use them to their full potential. The grip needs to stay put despite the vibrations while being small enough to allow you to get into tight corners with the triangular abrasive portion of the sander.
Smaller detail sanders can’t cover quite as much surface in the same amount of time, but the increase in control for the user makes an enormous difference in actually getting the most out of the sander.
Weight also plays a critical factor in actual use. While none of those we tested were overly heavy, we found that you’ll often be using them in awkward positions or, say, on top of a ladder which means an extra pound or two makes a big difference in actual use.
Like all sanders, detail sanders are rated in amperage or voltage depending on whether they’re a plug-in model or a cordless. The higher, the better, but even the best aren’t going to be able to strip down tons of material in a reasonable amount of time and your skill with the sander, and it’s handling will be much more important for its capabilities in the long run.
Like all tools, and especially those which vibrate, the overall quality with which the tool was put together makes a huge difference in the long run. Even for those who aren’t planning on heavy use, it can be a big concern.
Fortunately, even a great detail sander isn’t the kind of thing which you’ll need to take a loan out for. All of those we tested were fine for weekend warriors in our opinion, but only a few would make a good choice for heavy daily use.
Dust collection is always a concern with sanding, especially if your project is indoors. Ports vary from tool to tool in this regard, with some being great and others being terrible. It’s a pretty hit or miss affair overall, dependent on the engineers who made that particular model.
A detail sander doesn’t produce as much dust as most other sanders pretty much by default, but they’re often used indoors. If you’re doing cosmetic carpentry, for instance, it’s unlikely you’ll want to have to deal with a ton of dust once the job is finished.
Corded vs. Cordless
In our opinion, detail sanders are best when they’re cordless. Unlike a belt sander, we found that detail sanders rarely need to be on for long enough for the battery life to be of major concern.
There’s also the fact that you’ll often need them up high or in odd locations which makes dealing with a cord that much more troublesome. In this case, cordless is almost always going to be the better choice except for one factor: cordless models carry their batteries so they’ll almost always be heavier than corded models of detail sander.
Sanders can leave your hands buzzing for a long time after you put them down. This isn’t just irritating either; it seems to have long term effects.
That means vibration dampening is one of the key features which moves a detail sander from an amateur to a professional model. If you only have to clean up the occasional corner, it’s only a comfort concern. If you’re using your sander five days a week, then it’s something you need to keep your hands and wrists healthy in the long run.
Detail sanders aren’t defined by the action they move the sandpaper with. That’s in sharp contrast to the majority of sander types.
We found that both oscillation and orbital models were available.
Orbital models tend to be faster, moving the triangular pad in a circular fashion. They’re not quite as good at hitting fine details, however, and many people find that they’re hard to use on wood since the scratches and swirls are more apparent.
Oscillating models, on the other hand, move the paper back and forth in a quick motion, which makes it possible to move along the grain with wood.
While oscillating models may be “better” for most detail sanding, we also found that they’re remarkably hard to find these days. It’s definitely something to be aware of if you’re buying an older, used tool, however.
How We Tested
When it came time for testing, we were pretty excited. We’d rigged up a decent gauntlet of tests to put the sanders through in order to ensure that they were up to snuff for our recommendations.
In this case, we had five make the cut, and the other four were just barely below the mark. With the cutoff so close, a lot of our decisions were made based on single features as opposed to the tools being glaringly better.
We did the following with each sander:
- Flat Surface Testing-Using some #5 steel wool we royally screwed up the surface of a few pieces of 2’x3’ MDF. We then sanded them until they were smooth and compared the amount of time and effort expended.
- Corner Testing-Using the same MDF boards we then sloppily drywall mudded them together in the corners after attaching them with some simple exterior brackets. The detail sanders were then used to smooth the dried out mud and everyone’s experiences compared.
- Dust Collection-Depending on whether it was an internal or external vacuum we then took the sanders, threw on the roughest pads we could find and went to town hogging out portions of the MDF and compared the amount of dust which escaped afterwards.
- Durability Testing-The dust collection portion of our test ended up doubling as a durability test, which was a good thing overall for us. Since detail sanders lack the power of many sanders actually grinding out a portion of wood was time-intensive, and we quickly found that it was a good test for running the sanders much longer than they’d likely see in normal use.
- Battery Life-We turned on all of the cordless models while hanging them from hooks and measured how close to the manufacturer’s claims that the battery life was. Simple but effective, it also doubled as another durability test since we did it immediately after the dust collection portion of the test.
In the end, we found that orbiting, cordless detail sanders were probably our favorites. The main problem that we ended up having was that cordless models aren’t as readily available as they are with many tools.
We decided the following five were the best of the lot:
- The PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX was our favorite of the lot by a wide margin. It’s cordless, powerful, lightweight, and simple to use. All of that led us to one conclusion: it’s pretty all-around awesome.
- Despite its odd overall profile, the Ryobi P401 One+ 18-Volt Corner Cat was actually extremely useful for detail sanding in tight corners. The profile of the sander doesn’t reach over the sides of the sheet, so you can jam it in anywhere. Not everyone was fond of the unique handle, however.
- For corded models, our favorite was the BLACK+DECKER BDEMS600 Mouse Detail Sander which worked great in tight corners and came in at an excellent price as well.
- The Skil 7302-02 Octo Detail Sander was a bit more powerful than our favorite pick but had a bit too much vibration for really heavy use. It’s a great, cheap sander for the weekend warrior, however.
- Lastly, the relatively underpowered TACKLIFE Classic Mouse Detail Sander had very little vibration and was surprisingly well put together. If you have trouble with your wrists or hands, then this is a great model to go with.
This time around, we skipped doing a budget pick. The one planned as our “cheap” option was… it wasn’t good. Frankly, even a high-end detail sander is fairly inexpensive.
One thing to note: in many cases, detail sanders are sold without batteries. We’re not sure why, but finding a complete kit for the cordless models just wasn’t happening, and we also found it was hard to dig up any options from our usual favorite brands.
That being the case, if you opt for one of the cordless models(and we’d recommend it, especially for light-to-moderate use) make sure that you either already have a battery or order one to go along with your tool.
Top 5 Detail Sanders
PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX
At a Glance:
- Power: 20V
- OPM: 9,000-10,00
- Cordless?: Yes
- Vacuum System: Bag or Shop Vac
The most expensive, in this case, turned out to be the absolute best. Powered by Porter Cable’s 20V battery system, it’s a long-lasting, lightweight detail sander which combined the best of the rest as far as we’re concerned.
The whole thing is lightweight, especially considering the battery is attached. It’s also variable speed, which we found to be a nice touch and makes it the primary one of these sanders that we’d recommend for use on metals since the lower end of the OPM is a good bit slower than most of the other sanders we tested.
The detachable internal vacuum system for the bag works quite well, and it was a dream when we actually attached a shop vac. Unfortunately, we found that kind of messes with the cordless ability of the sander since you’ll end up tied down by however long your shop vac’s tubing is.
We also weren’t able to find a package deal that came with the batteries, so make sure you pick up one of the brand’s 20V MAX batteries if you do go this route.
Best for Intricate Details
Ryobi P401 One+ 18-Volt Corner Cat
At a Glance:
- Power: 18V
- OPM: 11,000
- Cordless?: Yes
- Vacuum System: Shop Vac
We’ll forgive you for being a bit critical of the P401. We almost overlooked it simply because the design seemed so unwieldy but in the hand? There’s a world of difference between the awkward look and the fantastic feel and agility of this detail sander.
It’s compatible with all Ryobi 18V batteries as well, including the older yellow ones. That said… you may have to order a battery since it doesn’t come with the kit. Altogether the unique design actually ensures that you’re able to hit corners very easily since the handle doesn’t extend over the frame.
We weren’t thrilled with the complete lack of a bag, however, but the dust collection works extremely well with a shop vac attached. Again, like the Porter Cable, it kind of defeats the point of a battery-powered model but in the garage or workshop, it’s quite welcome.
In all honesty, once you get over the weird shape, you’ll find this is one of the best around. They can be a bit hard to find depending on the time of year, but when we picked ours up, there were a ton of vendors selling them.
Best Corded Model
BLACK+DECKER BDEMS600 Mouse Detail Sander
At a Glance:
- Power: 1.2A
- OPM: 14,000
- Cordless?: No
- Vacuum System: Onboard Dust Bag
BLACK+DECKER sometimes has quality control issues, as we found out when we looked into this sander originally, but we certainly weren’t displeased with the one that ended up in our testing. It’s a powerful little detail sander, and while it has some flaws, they weren’t enough to disqualify it.
The onboard dust bag makes it good for indoor work, although it’s not perfect and you should still expect to handle some clean-up afterwards. For those who are used to really high-end tools, the overall “plastic” feel of the whole thing might not be for the better either.
When it comes down to the actual sanding process? It’s awesome. We found the handle to be great, and it was easily able to handle corners. The one concern we had and didn’t test was that the 14,000 orbits per minute might make it unsuitable for surfaces other than wood.
Still, it outperformed its feel by quite a bit and held up well during our durability testing. That alone would have led us to recommend it.
Best for Home DIY Tasks
Skil 7302-02 Octo Detail Sander
At a Glance:
- Power: 1.2A
- OPM: 12,000
- Cordless?: No
- Vacuum System: Onboard canister
This would have been our favorite detail sander with a cord, but it came short simply in usability for the average person. While we loved the additional attachments, they’re also pretty niche usage and more complicated to change out than we’d like.
On the other hand, those same attachments are why it’s on our list. They simply allow for finer detail sanding in weird spots, like between chair slats, than any of the others. We only tested a few of the eight of them, and we’re pleased to report that the standard detail sander functions great and the attachments work.
Most of the complaints that we heard about this sander were just down to the fact that it’s not super user-friendly. Others were from people who’d clearly done something wrong… because the sander really is kind of a pain to use.
Still, for versatility around the home, it can’t be beaten. That’s doubly true if you’re only using it for light duty. We still wouldn’t recommend it as a daily beater detail sander, but for the niche applications, it’s made for… it’s perfect. The price really can’t be beaten either.
Cheap and Low Vibration
TACKLIFE Classic Mouse Detail Sander
At a Glance:
- Power: 1.1A
- OPM: 12,000
- Cordless?: No
- Vacuum System: Onboard Bag or Shop Vac
While the low power and relatively mediocre build-quality are nothing to write home about we actually found that they worked in favor of reducing vibrations.
Oddly enough, we quickly realized that it was a knock-off of the BLACK+DECKER Mouse which we recommended above. It’s a bit cheaper, however, and actually seemed to vibrate less for whatever reason.
The lower power makes it fairly non-aggressive, although it still pushes out an average 12,000 OPM. It lacks pressure controls, so you’ll have to be careful to avoid bogging it down when you’re sanding as well.
Still, for those who just need something lightweight, extra cheap, and easy to use this one is a win. Just be aware that for a few bucks more you can get the real deal.
Getting the Most Out of Your Detail Sander
Like any tool meant for fine work, it’ll take some time to learn how to use your detail sander to the best of your abilities.
Keep all of the following in mind when you’re using the sander, and you’ll be off to a good start. Your hands will figure out the rest of it as you go along.
- Always use minimal pressure with the detail sander. Just enough to keep the sander from skittering off due to the vibration, otherwise you risk marring the surface or bogging down the sander depending on the pressure control system or lack thereof.
- Slower speeds, preferably less than 10,000 OPM are recommended for refinishing metal or plastic surfaces. On plastic, you’ll also need to watch out for the sander heating up too much
- “Ride” the triangle into sharp corners, it takes a little bit of time to get used to, but a slight twist as you go in can help you out with even the tightest corners.
- Likewise, use the front of the triangle to lead into nooks and crannies for the best results. Remember only to apply minimal pressure.
- Check the dust bag and temperature of the sander periodically, especially for sanders with mediocre-to-good build quality. Overheating can kill a sander, and it’s the source of most negative reviews about a sander “only working once” in our experience.
- Be careful not to remove too much material if you choose to use a sander on delicate, intricate items like crown molding.
As long as you go with the above and remain aware of damage to the surface material and overall form, you’ll do just fine. Remember: less is always better when sanding, and doubly so when you’re using a detail sander.
Dusting Solutions for Indoor Tasks
Detail sanders really don’t need too much extra help outdoors. They’re minimally powerful for a reason, and sawdust or metal shavings are only really produced when you’re removing a lot of material.
That said, you’re still going to get dust all over the place even with a great shop vac and sander.
In the workshop or on the driveway, it may not be that big of a deal. When everything is contained indoors, however, it can make a mess in a hurry, and you’ll want to be able to get the room back up to par as soon as possible.
Drywall mud, a common occurrence for the average detail sander, is absolutely horrible in this regard.
Fine particles can make a mess of a vacuum in a hurry. We recommend trying the following anytime you extensively use a detail sander indoors:
- Sweep all of the dust to one corner of the room.
- Run a box fan in an exterior window for fifteen minutes. Sweep towards the fan and your pile vigorously. This will remove much of the ultra-fine dust in the air and vent it outdoors.
- Close the window and leave the fan off for fifteen minutes and then sweep again to get all of the finer dust that took more time to settle.
- Collect as much of the pile of dust as possible with a dustpan.
- Use a damp cloth to remove anything which is stuck to the floor.
If you’re in a carpeted room, you can follow mostly the same steps, but lay down some kind of tarp or other material before you get sanding. This can then be rolled up and moved outdoors for easier disposal.
Detail Sander FAQ
Anticipating questions and finding answers. This time around we think our reviewers had quite a few questions for us, so let’s dig right in. If we don’t answer your question, then drop us a line in the comments, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
When should I hand sand instead of using a detail sander?
It’s really up to you, but we would say that cut down pieces of wood used as blocks to hold sandpaper work much better for ultra-intricate applications. Even things like crown molding would probably benefit from hands-on treatment, just be aware that it takes a lot more effort.
Can I use a detail sander for stock removal?
You can. The question you should be asking is if you should. In this case, you’d be much better served with a belt sander or random orbital sander. The latter is much more versatile than detail sanders but aren’t as capable of dealing with sharp angles; the former is what you really need when it comes time to alter the form of your workpiece seriously.
Why should I use lighter pressure with a detail sander?
The minimum amount of pressure is used primarily for fine details when it comes to sanding. Ask anyone who’s hand-polished stone or metal: it’s a lot of work, and the temptation to really rub down is great. But it burns through paper faster and results in a less efficient use of your time as the paper clogs with dust instead of it being free to vibrate out from under the paper.
Can I wet sand with a detail sander?
Unless a particular tool is specifically designed to be used with water… we’d avoid it. During our research, we found that some people occasionally sprayed the work surface with water to get a smoother finish on things like fiberglass and metals, but we don’t recommend doing it without consulting the manufacturer of your sander.
What’s the difference between a palm sander and a detail sander?
The biggest difference you’ll run into is the shape of the pads. They’re similar in power, and even the grips are often time rather similar. In short, a palm sander is best for finishing large flat surfaces while a detail sander is the little, agile thing you need for handling corners, grooves, and other complex shapes.
Get Smooth, Get Fine, Get a Detail Sander!
A detail sander isn’t at the top of everyone’s list, but in the end, they’re a great addition for anyone who’s getting into some serious home DIY projects. Making sure you have the best detail sander around is just common sense if you’re planning on doing drywall work, molding, or anything else which may require a light touch and an agile tool.
If you’re here, then you’re probably in that boat already. Why not snatch up your favorite from our list today?