This is a question that is asked by people that are too scared to use a floor sander! Let me cut to the chase, the answer is NO. Unfortunately you cannot sand floors with just an orbital sander.
And to clarify, by orbital sanders, I refer to all finishing sanders; Laegler Trio, Bona FlexiSand, Numatic Woodworker, Usand or any other sander that has a huge surface area and oscillates or rotates. (different from handheld ‘random orbital’ sanders)
Right there, I have just mentioned the unifying factor of these machines and also why it just doesn’t work to use these machines exclusively to sand your floors. What was it?
Why the heck not??!
Huge surface area. A couple of years ago my boss (before I set up on my own) sent me on a course with Laegler. In that course I learned how the Hummel was designed, in terms of the shape of the drum, the surface area, the Revolutions Per Minute, the weight applied to the drum and thus the pounds per square inch of pressure that the machine applies to the floor when it is in action.
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It was fascinating to see just how finely tuned these machines are. The Hummel was designed in the late 1960’s and to this day is still arguably the best sanding machine on the market.
The size of the surface area, the speed of the belt and the pressure applied to the floor, works perfectly to remove the top layer of wood from the floor as quickly and smoothly as possible. It could be described as being quite aggressive. There are other continuous belt sanding machines that are slightly less aggressive, but they are all designed to actually remove some wood.
Finishing sanders are not designed to do this. They are designed to do very fine sanding.
Orbital floor sanders just don’t cut the mustard
To put this into perspective, I and all professional floor sanders (that know what they are doing), would not use a finishing sander exclusively on a freshly laid unfinished floor (in case you don’t know, many wood floors are fitted without a finish on them, they then have to be sanded and finished). Just think about that for a second.
You have a floor that is brand new, laid flat and does not have any dents, damage or lacquer/varnish on it. Yet we don’t view it as fit to be sanded with just an orbital sander? It’s because if there is a board that is just slightly higher than the next one or the floor is just slightly uneven, the orbital sander won’t be able to rectify that.
If only it were so simple
Believe me, if I could throw away my other sanders, save myself a bunch of time and just use an orbital/finishing sander I would. It just doesn’t work like that.
I could post links to at least 5 blogs where people have sanded their floor themselves with these machines…. And it looks terrible. But they tell themselves they have done a good job (and ironically, these blog posts are called “how to refinish your wood floors” and such).
These machines do have a purpose, you can learn about that purpose right here.
Please don’t be suckered into hiring just one of these machines alone, it will take you longer, you won’t remove all the finish and dents and scratches. You might even end up calling in the professionals. I hope this has convinced you.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Thanks for reading 🙂