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Disk Sanders for Model-Builders

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( Sanders for Model Building

Disk sanders seem so simple that I feel I must be missing something ultimately profound about them... like there's some way to set them up and use them that is a secret only master wood-workers are privy to.

But since I don't get it I just stay happy knowing ignorance is bliss.  And maybe they really are as simple as they seem.

But there are some things you need to know about them.  I've purchased several disk sanders and one thing I've learned is that many manufacturers either don't care how long it takes to get your work done or think you don't care if your wood is burned.

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Disk Sander Features

There are a ton of disk sander models available and I'm really not an expert on them.  I have found that owning a good sander not only increases the speed of my work but also the consistency and accuracy.  They certainly aren't a necessity but because I do a lot of repetitive tasks I wouldn't want to give mine up.

  • Sanding Disk Diameter

    In theory you should be able to use the entire disk but I find disk sanders work best if the piece you sand is less than half the diameter.  The disk rises on one side and can lift your work from the table which can do bad things.

    Larger disks can sand larger pieces but the sanding disks get much more expensive.  Once the disk is over 9" in diameter you almost have no choice but to buy pre-cut sanding disks as standard sandpaper sheets are 9" x 11".  Smaller disks allow you to cut your own sanding disk and use spray glue to attach them.

  • Tilt Table

    I've seen only a few models of disk sanders that don't have tilt tables.  These are micro size sanders meant for people who build miniatures.  Frankly, I would buy a larger disk sander before I'd buy one without a tilt table.

  • Variable Speed

    Two of my three disk sanders are variable speed.  My 4" disk sander uses a sewing machine motor with foot-operated sewing machine speed control.  I like the sander but I don't like foot-operated speed controllers.  I'd rather have a rheostat on the table to adjust the disk RPM.

    My newest and largest disk sander has a built-in speed control.  I like it a lot.

  • Vacuum attachment

    Two of my three disk sanders have a built in 1-1/4" vacuum attachment.  These are very nice to have.  Otherwise billowing clouds of sawdust are thrown up in your face and float all over the shop.

  • Disk RPM

    My only disk sander without a speed control has such a high RPM that I've decided it's useless for wood work.  To prevent wood from burning I have to feed the wood so slowly that it takes a long time to actually get sanded.  In many cases - particularly with hardwood I have to put the piece aside and let it cool before I can continue sanding it some more.  It's definitely an impediment and a waste of time.

    Sanders that turn at a high RPM also burn up sandpaper so fast that in some cases one use ruins the paper.  And trust me, I don't just jam a piece against the sander regardless of the consequences.  High RPM sanders should be avoided.


Disk Sanders

My Disk Sander Collection

There are the disk sanders I currently own.  The Delta is worthless and strongly not recommended for model work.

Jarmac 4" Disk Sander

The Jarmac 4" Disk Sander was my first.  It uses a sewing machine motor and is not variable speed.  A foot-operated speed control is available for it which I suggest if you purchase this model.  Otherwise the disk RPM is way too high.

Note that Microlux makes an identical copy of this machine which now has a 5" disk.  I'm not sure if Jarmac still makes one but I'd guess it also has a larger disk.

It may be worth it to buy an additional aluminum platen so that you can change sandpaper grit without having to ruin the sandpaper that's on the disk.

I cut a 4-1/2" square of whatever grit paper I want to use and then spray glue both the paper and the platen.  When the glue is tacky I clamp the platen on the paper and give it several minutes to dry.  I then trim the excess paper around the platen using a sharp razor.

I really like this sander for working with sticks and other small items.  I've had it for years and it's never given me a bit of trouble.

Delta 8" Disk / 1" Belt sander

I wanted a larger disk sander and not knowing anything about what to look out for I bought this Delta model.  It's worthless for working with wood of any type.  It turns so fast that the wood has to be fed slowly and lightly and then it may burn anyway.

The only thing I use this tool for any more is sanding metal such as cleaning up the edges of dural landing gear I've cut from sheet or squaring the end of music wire.  Other than that it just takes up a lot of space and I'm sorry I bought it.

Microlux 10" Variable Speed Disk Sander

I've been eyeing this Microlux 10" Disk Sander in the Micro-Mark catalog for a long time.  It was very expensive but seemed to have every feature I learned that was important.  But I could never justify the expense.

I did some searching on the internet for SLOW 10" and 12" disk sanders and basically what I came up with were these cabinet-mounted monsters that I couldn't even begin to fit in my shop.

Then Micro-Mark had a sale which brought the price down to something less insane and I bit the bullet.  They advertise the sander has being variable speed from 280 to 480 RPM.  I was fully prepared to send the sander right back if it didn't have the torque to keep turning under load.

The sander is belt driven and has been wonderful in my limited use with it.  It doesn't burn wood, puts a nice edge on it and is faster than a higher RPM sander that burns wood and requires me to take the time to sand the burned edge off.  What I'm saying is I really like this sander.

The two things I don't like about it is it comes with the same crap miter gauge my Microlux table saw came with.  It's junk and is not nearly the quality of the rest of the machine.

Controls for the 10" Microlux Disk Sander are on the back of the machine.

The other thing I don't care for but isn't really a problem is that the on/off switch and speed control are behind the machine.


Microlux Tilting Arbor Table Saw
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Copyright 2007 Paul K. Johnson