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6/6/2007

Tool Test: Benchtop Oscillating Spindle Sanders


Tool Test: Benchtop Oscillating Spindle Sanders
By Dave Munkittrick
8/1/2000

An oscillating spindle sander may not be the first tool you buy for your shop, but if you do a lot of curved work the time you’ll save sanding is well worth the investment. Unlike a drum sander on a drill press, the oscillating spindle sander is designed for sideways pressure. Also, the drum moves up and down as well as around. The oscillation of the drum gives you a smoother edge, more aggressive cutting, longer life for the sleeves and less chance of burning the wood. The benchtop models are easy to store when not in use. Oscillating spindle sanders are fun to use, too. The wood seems to melt away as you sand precisely to a line. The feeling of control you get with these machines is impressive.

Some tool tests reveal noticeable differences in tool performance and quality. Not so with these sanders. All the machines we tested performed well; producing a smooth, even surface without scorching. But, there were differences in other areas, and each machine had at least one outstanding feature that may form the basis for your buying decision. Here are the features we considered most important:

DRUM CHANGES
A drum that’s easy to change makes for more enjoyable and productive work (see photo below). For best results you should always use the largest possible drum for each curve. It’s much easier to follow a shallow curve with a large drum. For pieces with different-sized curves, this requires changing drums frequently.

The Clayton had the best system for quick and easy drum changes. We preferred the simplicity of the fixed spindle system found on all but two of the machines. However, the replaceable spindle system on the Jet and the Bridgewood (even with its spline, clips, and three wrenches) had an advantage; namely the smallest diameter (1/4-in.) sleeve available.

Tip: Occasionally we found the rubber drums would stick onto the metal spindles. A little baby powder sprinkled into the inside of the drum eliminates this problem.

DUST COLLECTION
Power sanding is a dusty business. The health and housekeeping issues surrounding wood dust make effective dust collection an important feature. If nothing else, it’s annoying to be blowing sawdust off your piece in order to see the line you’re cutting to. We tested all the machines using a standard shop vacuum with a 2-1/2-in. hose. The Clayton, Craftsman, Delta and Ryobi were the best at dust collection.

AGGRESSIVENESS OF CUT
This is more or less a function of motor power. The Bridgewood, Clayton and Jet were the clear winners in this category. The exception was the 3.5-amp induction motor on the Delta B.O.S.S. that seemed far more powerful than the 3.5-amp universal motor on the Ryobi and the Craftsman.

STORAGE
With all the drums and parts that go with spindle sanders, self-storage is a welcome convenience and is offered on all the machines except the Bridgewood and the Jet.

Clayton
Strengths: The Clayton was our Editors’ Choice. This thing’s built like a truck. In fact it uses truck bearings on its spindle shaft. At 78 lbs., the Clayton provides a very stable work platform. There’s no cast iron used in its construction so most of its heft is due to its heavy-duty components. The Clayton has excellent dust-collection and changing drums is a breeze. Clayton also offers the best range of accessory drum sizes.

Weaknesses: It’s too heavy to be truly portable.

Outstanding Feature: Built for heavy-duty, continuous use, the Clayton offers the power and durability of large industrial machines. Heavy-duty V-belts, machined-steel pulleys, large ball bearings and a high quality, 7.6-amp American-made motor. A cam-and-follower assembly creates the oscillation and is sealed in its own oil bath housing for maximum durability.

We found the three spindle, three wrench, screwdriver, clip and spline system used by the Bridgewood and Jet a bit cumbersome. The other machines all have a fixed spindle onto which the drums are fastened with a single bolt or nut.

BRIDGEWOOD/JET
Strengths: The Bridgewood and the Jet are very similar in design and construction. These are the machines to buy if you need extra-small spindle size or a tilting table. They both feature a powerful 7.5-amp motor that can cut aggressively without bogging down.

Weaknesses: Dust collection seemed to be an afterthought in these sanders. The dust port is too far from the drum to be effective. The 18-1/2-in. table height requires an unusually low bench for comfortable operation. Despite all the parts and tools required for drum and spindle changes there is no built-in storage for accessories.

Outstanding Feature: The only machines that offer a 1/4-in. spindle for small-diameter work, the Bridgewood and the Jet also feature tables that tilt from 0 to 45 degrees allowing for beveled contours.

DELTA
Strengths: The Delta is our choice for Best Buy. It offers the best combination of performance, features and price ($208). Dust collection on the Delta was unbeatable. Its 3.5-amp motor is surprisingly powerful and drum changes are quick and easy. Its large, round, cast iron top provides good support and is heavy enough for stability but light enough for portability. Complete onboard storage for accessories comes with the optional accessory drum kit ($50).

Weaknesses: The dust collection fitting is too small for a standard 2-1//2-in. shop vacuum. Universal adapters cost about $10.

Outstanding Features: An internal fan boosts the dust collection capability of the Delta B.O.S.S. ahead of all the others. Hook up a shop vacuum for unsurpassed dust collection.

RIDGID
Strengths: The Ridgid comes with an oscillating belt sander attachment that makes this machine the most versatile of all the sanders. It’s light and easy to move and includes onboard storage for all its accessories. Drums are fastened to the spindle with rubber-knobbed bolts eliminating the need for a wrench. Be careful not to overtighten the knobs or you’ll be reaching for the pliers to get them off!

Weaknesses: The tilting table is designed for the belt sander attachment not the spindle sander. Drums tighten down onto a snap ring on the spindle rather than a welded plate. The dust collection was a little weak.

Outstanding Features: Designed for wrench-free drum changes, the Ridgid uses rubber knobs in place of hex nuts.

RYOBI/CRAFTSMAN
Strengths: If you want a machine to pull out of storage for occasional use and you don’t expect to be sanding a lot of 8/4 stock, then the Craftsman and the Ryobi are hard to beat. They are the lightest and least expensive of all the machines and their dust collection systems are very effective.

Weaknesses: The universal motor is noisy and bogs down in a heavy cut.

Outstanding Feature: The oscillating belt sander attachment expands the Ridgid’s capabilities to include convex curves and straight edges.

At 26 lbs. the Ryobi and the Craftsman offer exceptional portability at a most affordable price. Perforated table inserts help both machines achieve excellent dust collection.

OTHER SANDERS TO CONSIDER: Porter-Cable and Grizzly are bringing new oscillating spindle sanders on the market this fall and winter. See Product Reviews, pages 96 and 98 for more details. Plus, several companies (including Grizzly and Bridgewood) offer floor-model spindle sanders for $500 and up.

Reprinted with permission from American Woodworker magazine, ©2000 Home Service Publications, Inc., an affiliate of The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Suite 700, 2915 Commers Drive, Eagan, MN 55121. All rights reserved.