My son is at the age now where he is setting up his first workshop and is ready to move on from always borrowing Dad's tools to owning his own. Recently, ShopNotes ran an article in their "Setting Up Shop" series devoted to buying your first sander--I wish I had written it, because I agree with everything they said!
When it comes to buying your first sander, my suggestion is to get a 5" random orbit sander. This tool provides a good balance of features to tackle all kinds of tasks. And once you get an idea of its capabilities and limitations, you can use that information to guide your decision for buying other sanders.
Because tool models are always changing, I usually hesitate to recommend a certain brand or model. Instead, I like to look for specific features. So here are the things I feel are important in a sander:
The Sanding Pad- The 5" diameter pad is small enough to use one-handed but large enough to keep surfaces level. Another thing I look for is a hook and loop pad. Switching (and reusing) sanding disks is just so much more convenient than pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) disks. Note: you can buy hook and loop replacement pads for most PSA sanders. Abrasive Resource carries these on our website:
5" Conversion Pads .
Dust Collection- Also high on my list of priorities is dust collection. Some tasks, like flattening a panel, can generate a lot of dust. Keeping it out of the air (and my lungs) is important. Although all sanders come with some kind of filter, I look for sanders that offer easy hook up to a dust collector or shop vacuum.
Comfort- Finally, I look for a sander that feels comfortable. Admittedly, this is the most subjective "feature". You'll need to get your hands on several models to find out which one is a good fit. Some sanders offer two hand positions: a top mounted handle or a center body grip.
Now all that's left is the sanding discs! Abrasive Resource converts discs in any size, grit, backing and vacuum hole pattern in both the self adhesive PSA style, as well as the hook and loop backed discs. Visit our random orbit sanding disc page and give us a call at 800-814-7358 if you have any questions! Sanding Discs from Abrasive Resource