If you ever want to legitimately claim that you’ve worked your fingers to the bone, then you can use this line after spending half an hour with a wedge of sandpaper, folded into corners to apply a little force and leverage to an awkward spot.
Palm sanders can be a godsend for flat expanses or generous curves, such as main door panels, floors, or the frame of a stripped-back couch. But what about door inlays, acutely angled corners, or the curves on a sculpture? To tackle nooks and crannies, you need a sander with a more refined point of contact.
This is where your detail sander comes in handy. Spare your fingers (and your poor joints) by applying pressure directly to those awkward areas. These golden tools of mercy don’t have to empty your wallet out, either. Read on for the details of the best five available at the moment, along with their advantages and disadvantages. We’ve also provided a quick buyer’s guide to consolidate all the things you might want to take into account in one place before you hit ‘buy’.
In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.
Top 5 Best Detail Sanders
OUR TOP PICK
The Meterk Random Orbital Sander is a powerful 125-watt tool running at 13,500rpm. It can attack paint from the top surface down, polish areas ruthlessly, and shave sharp or ragged plastic from corners.
At 1.3kg, it's a little heavier than the average tool of this kind, but it can be manoeuvered at multiple angles for that soft, rounded edge, and it still feels light in the hand. Comfort is a big feature of this sander. The rubber grip is ergonomic, lessening the effects of enduring vibrations, and the dustproof switch can be locked into the on position so that you can't accidentally terminate your sanding at a critically delicate moment.
Safety's an obviously central concern within the design, too. There’s an emission hole to prevent overheating: inbuilt ventilation, if you like. The sander also has a high-performance dust collection system. There are little vents at the base of the sander which draw the dust through the overlaid paper and into the collection box, which buckles shut. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to wear a mask, but it does improve the convenience while you’re working and expands the lifetime of your tool.
It's a convenient tool to use with a generous addition of 8 pieces of 80grits sandpaper and a further 8 sheets of 180grit. They attach like a dream, too.
Excellent value for money
Smooth results achieved efficiently
A safety-conscious design
Continuous removal of dust
Multiple reports of the vacuum port not fitting the dimensions of a standard vacuum cleaner
This is the most expensive of the options listed, but also one of the best-selling sanders and most highly rated.
It’s a neat little tool with a 55watt motor generating 11,000 rpm. The rotating base enables you to get the most out of every inch of every piece of sandpaper attached, and the velcro system enables you to whip them on and off in a trice.
It’s a solid performer as a sander. Although it is specifically for small projects, and should be used in bursts of activity rather than extended periods, it is incredibly convenient to use. The sheets have separable, tear-shaped tips that can be turned upside down when you’ve worn down the business end. The shape itself makes this tool your best friend if you’re ever obliged to sand the panel profiling on a door, or the quatrefoils or claw and ball feet of an ornate chair. The sander can also be used for polishing. There is also a finger attachment (locking into the spot where the tip usually goes) to help you tackle sideways sanding, like on the spindles of a seat.
This sander is supplied with an adaptor which attaches to your vacuum cleaner to remove dust as you work.
The stand-out feature of this product is the generosity and array of accessories provided. They include: one polishing pad; a rust removal pad; 2 80g sanding sheets; 3 120g sanding sheets; 1 180g sanding sheet; 1 finger attachment (and four fitted sheets); the vacuum adaptor, and a storage bag.
Stellar value for money
Helpful accessories included
Light and easy to move
Less sandpaper waste
Versatile in use
Intended for short bursts of activity, not day-long use
The Worx is a little heavier than some of the other sanders we've looked at (2.2lb) but it is truly diminutive and easy to grasp firmly around that soft-grip handle. Its exceptionally compact silhouette (22cm long by 12 wide) makes it ideal for smoothing tight spaces, a facility supported by an attachable sanding finger which you can affix to the base, at the tip.
It has solid power behind its design with an engine that can induce 11,000 oscillations per minute, providing a smooth finish with a decent degree of efficiency. It can handle small and medium jobs without alarming signs of overheat.
Rather than feature a vacuum connection point, the WORX WX648 features a dust box and micro filter. The dust box is not huge, by any stretch of the imagination, not huge and you will need to empty it regularly. That said, it sustains an adequately clear space for you while your DIY is underway.
This sander works particularly well at removing stubborn paint without you having to apply any significant pressure at all to the offending surface, which is better for your hands and shoulders. Our one caveat would be the anecdotal evidence that the sander tends to cut off power when it’s approaching overheat. While this is a valid safety response, it can also be rather irritating. Plan your tea breaks around the recovery times and it will have less of an impact on your productivity.
The sander comes with: 9 pieces of Velcro sanding paper; 6 pieces of medium grit sanding paper; 1 finger pad and 6 paper sheets, and the dust collection box.
Petite and easy to manoeuvre
Easy change of paper
Comfortable to hold for extended periods
Abrupt response to over-heat
Paper wears down very fast (replacement sheets are available, however)
The PSM 100 A is another lightweight yet vigorous detail sander. This one is powered by a generous 100 watts, which generate a 1.4 orbital rate. It’s fast, removing stubborn surface stains and paint with ease. Rust, even.
In terms of cleanliness, the sander is fitted with Bosch’s own dust extraction system, which draws waste directly into the microfilter box. There is also a dust extraction connection for all-purpose vacuum cleaners.
A key feature sets the Bosch apart—its segmented base. Like many sanders, it’s shaped much like an iron so that the finer point can move along narrow ledges and up into tight corners. However, the front section is moveable, controlled by directional pressure from your hand, while the rear section remains rigid. It’s a good way of stroking a surface clean and spreading the pressure load across the whole of the sandpaper, making each sheet last longer.
Finally, as is typical with Bosch products, it comes with a hard carrying case, which means it stores safely.
Durable and with good life-extending design
Effective dust extraction system
Light and easy to manoeuvre
Powerful and efficient
Compatible with most home vacuum systems
Viable for working for longer periods of time
The dust filter isn’t particularly easy to open or close
The tip of the base works well, but a finger extension would be welcome
Our final product has the most powerful engine at 130 watts and it generates fast and effective sanding power for small scale but fiddly tasks. For example, you can tackle a staircase a few steps at a time, cleaning the surfaces and risers rapidly, and then using the finessed point to dig into the corners and overhangs.
It’s a budget sander. While not complex in design, or featuring many bells or whistles, it’s comfortable and cheap to maintain. The replacement sanding sheets are inexpensive.
Inexpensive option of good quality
Small and easy to operate
Has a Medium sized motor for more stretching jobs
Durable and inexpensive to maintain
Powerful motor notwithstanding, some found this sander disproportionately loud.
As with the Meterk sander, the VonHaus product isn’t readily compatible with many standard household vacuum cleaners
Best Detail Sanders Buying Guide
So those were the leading detail sanders on the market, covering the budget options, multi-purpose palm sanders, and more sophisticated products for finesse and professional finish. Some recurring themes about the suitability of different tools for different tasks arose throughout our reviews, and we have collated those points here so that you can create your own wishlist for the best product for your current and future needs.
Do you know what you’re going to be using it for? It sounds a strange question, but some people decide on the extent of their task based on the tools that they have.
If enough of the job involves slender gaps, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to clean those out with anything other than a finger attachment. Not even a pointed tip will attack those closely enough without giving you arm ache.
However, if you’re working on expanses with awkward corners (such as the undersides of tables, or individual stairs and risers), then you have a wide choice of sander to choose from.
Nobody expects Nostradamus skills from a DIY enthusiast, but sometimes it’s possible to timetable a project and break it down into discrete stages. Are you going to be working with the sander at frequent intervals over the next year? If so, getting your hands on replacement sandpaper bases up front is a worthwhile investment.
It might be helpful if we provide a breakdown of the different grades of sandpaper, and the type of work for which they are typically used. Sandpaper grading indicates the number of abrasive particles per square inch, and the levels of abrasion are classified as follows:
- Super fine (360+) - we’re literally talking about polishing the face of a statue, here.
- Extra fine (280-320) - good for wet sanding
- Very fine (220-240) - satin finishes or prepping wood for an oil finish
- Fine (150-180) - good for smoothing off gloss from painted surfaces so that it can be recovered with minimal layers, or for protecting a wooden surface with a raised grain.
- Medium (80-120) - This is the staple grading for most woodworking, involving the removal of scratches or burns from a surface. Use 80-grit for hardwoods and 120 for softer woods.
- Coarse (40-60) - this is the stuff that grinds knots off timber and barnacles off the sides of boats. There will be a handful of times you will ever need to use sandpaper this rough.
Comfort Part 1: handling
There are several aspects to take into account, here. First of all, do you have pains in your hands or wrists from conditions such as arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome? We’re not going to suggest a lighter sander on principle, but you might want to consider one which runs on an average wattage motor (50-100) rather than something which is going to vibrate your dominant hand into the middle of next year. Make sure that there is a soft, rubberised grip or that the sander is ergonomically designed. This way, you keep the rewarding aspect of getting a few hours of decorative work done without subjecting yourself to undue pain.
Secondly, if you are asthmatic or you’re susceptible to pleural inflammations, then sometimes wearing a filtered mask isn’t sufficient.
It is worth focusing initially on sanders which have their own dust containment system with the option of an outlet to connect to the vacuum. As the vacuum port measurements have been seen to be a little idiosyncratic, this should be a back-up system rather than the primary method of dust control. Even those who have lungs stronger than Michael Phelps’ should be careful: sawdust is considered to be a significant carcinogenic agent.
Comfort Part 2: Prep
At the risk of teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, it’s a good idea to decide (as far as possible) where your work is going to take place, and set the area up. This is easy enough if you’re tidying up a birdhouse or sanding down an old chair. Just make sure you have safety goggles ready and a firm table available which is close to a socket. If you’re confined to a part of the room with your work, then keep the windows open, the lighting strong, and take frequent breaks. Other things which might be helpful are:
- Safety goggles
- Kneeling pads
- Dust sheets
- A hand vacuum
- And a covered/sealed bottle of water. That’s for you, by the way. Intense vibration causes involuntary sweat, which can dehydrate you before you’re even aware of being thirsty.
For finesse and finishing work, you want less throttle working behind those vibrations. Sometimes less is more. Most detail sanders only operate at one speed so you need to adapt your handling of the tool (with or without the finger extension for pointe work) to ensure that you’re controlling the power of the vibrations rather than the other way around.
On this note, you may have spotted that none of the products mentioned are cordless. This isn’t an oversight. Although a handsfree sander sounds idyllic in terms of convenience, just imagine a Makita-style super-durable rechargeable battery unit fixed to one of these devices. It’s an instant recipe for a sprained wrist. Just make sure that you have a socket extension available if the flex attached to the sander is under 2m.
Finally… Why haven’t we mentioned budget?
In cases where there is a greater variation in price between products, this is typically at the top of our list of considerations when you’re choosing which product will suit you the most. However, there is barely a £20 difference between the budget item and the most expensive on the list, and very little variation beyond this range of prices among the products we haven’t mentioned here.
To be as prepared as possible, you can either go for the budget item and stock up on sandpaper accessories for your immediate convenience, or you can go straight for the Black and Decker with its expansive goodie bag of accessories.
Either way, you can afford to have fun, whichever sander you choose.