Two of the most universal tools out there are angle grinders and sanders. They may look pretty similar at first, but there’s a surprising amount of differences between them.

Confusing an angle grinder with a sander wouldn’t end well for whatever is being worked on.

This article will go through the differences between each tool, what each tool can be used for, and which one you’re going to need. Let’s get started.

What is an Angle Grinder?

An angle grinder is a power tool that use a rotating cutting disc to cut or grind through material.

Angle grinders are powerful enough to cut through metal.

They’re one of the most common and useful tools out there, because they can be used for so many different jobs, and also because they’re pretty simple to use.

An absolute beginner could pick up an angle grinder, and with a few minutes instruction, start working without any problems. 

Grinders are generally inexpensive, though more powerful models will obviously cost more. One of the biggest advantages of a grinder is that, with the correct attachments, they can cut through almost anything.

The cutting discs are simple to change, normally pretty cheap, and different types are specifically designed for different materials.

On top of metal, you can also buy discs suited for:

  • Stripping paint or rust
  • Cutting concrete or stone
  • Shaping or cutting wood

What is a Sander?

Whereas an angle grinder is a single type of tool, sanders cover a wide variety of different tool types.

Sanders come in a wide variety of types.

There’s a huge amount of different types of sander out there, which are all designed to do different things. But whether it’s a hand held belt sander or orbital sander, or a larger table mounted drum or disc sander, they all have one thing in common.

The purpose of a sander is to move a piece of sandpaper to let you rapidly smooth or finish a surface. Sanders can be used in woodworking, car repair, stripping paint, finishing projects, sharpening objects and more.

Differences Between Sanders & Angle Grinders

There’s such a wide variety of sander types. So when we compare angle grinders and sanders, we’ll be comparing the smaller portable models like palm and orbital sanders.

The Working Tool

The single biggest difference between an angle grinder and a sander is what’s being driven by the motor, and how that affects what the tool can be used for.

Angle grinders drive a rotating disc that does all the work. The edge of the disc spins at high RPM, and when it’s brought into contact with a surface, the cutting edge grinds through it. Hence the name.

As already mentioned, angle grinders can be fitted with many different disc types that are all designed for specific things. This gives you a lot of options, as you can change the disc depending on the project.

Sanders instead use sandpaper, generally held in place on a belt or pad, which is then driven by the motor at high speed.

You can generally change the size and grit of the sandpaper on a sander, letting you use it for different jobs, but overall a sander is a much more limited tool compared to an angle grinder. 

Winner: Angle grinders

Versatility

When it comes to versatility, one tool comes out on top.

A sander can generally be used for one thing. Sanding. Whether that’s sanding down wood or stripping paint and finish. Some sanders can also be used to polish or buff metal and wood, but this is heavily dependent on the attachments that are available, and whether it can run at the right speed. 

But any angle grinder can be used for a wide range of jobs. Cutting metal, wood and plastic. Stripping metal, polishing. With the right attachment, you can even use a grinder to sand! You might still need a specific type of sander for certain jobs, but an angle grinder is by far the most versatile tool in a workshop, and one that most people quickly come to rely on. 

Winner: Angle grinders

Precision

Larger tools like belt sanders and large disc sanders are an imprecise tool that’s designed to sand big areas quickly. Smaller, hand held sanders are a lot more precise, with some models designed specifically for finishing delicate woodworking projects.

Compared to a sander, a grinder is a lot less precise. Angle grinders tend to have a lot of power; they’re a blunt force tool designed to cut through metal, not edge an antique chair.

Winner: Sanders

Safety

No power tool is ever going to be completely safe. The sheer power of the motors used to drive these tools means that there is always a level of risk involved.

Directly compared, angle grinders are much more dangerous than sanders. If something goes wrong with a handheld sander, it could kick back and take off several layers of skin, or catch on something and launch it across the room. However, the chance of long lasting, serious injury is relatively minor if you’re smart and work safe. 

Sanders also produce a lot of sawdust, so a dust collection system makes the process and clean up a lot simpler, and you might also need to wear a mask or breathing gear.

On the other hand, with a grinder you could easily cause serious injury to yourself or others. A grinder’s cutting disc rotates at extreme speeds, and will easily cut through flesh and bone.

Discs can also catch, or shatter, especially if they’re being used to cut the wrong material, or running at an incorrect speed.

The grinding wheel could also catch something loose and launch it as a projectile, and the sparks kicked out are hot enough to ignite flammable material.

When using power tools of any kind, make sure that you’re following proper safety procedures. Always wear eye protection, gloves, tie back any loose clothing, and clear the area.

Winner: Sanders

Grinder vs Sander – Frequently Asked Questions

Can a grinder be used as a sander?

Most grinders can be switched to a handheld sander just by changing the disc. Sanding discs are cheap and readily available, and flap discs, that use small overlapping pieces of sandpaper arranged in a ring, make sanding a large area with a grinder pretty simple.

 However, you’re not going to get as smooth a finish with a grinder as you would with an orbital sander. If the finish is important to the job, we’d recommend a dedicated sanding tool.

Can a sander be used as a grinder?

No. A grinder is an entirely different type of tool, completing many tasks that a sander can’t.

Can you use a grinder on wood?

This question is complicated, the short answer is: sort of.

A standard grinder can normally be used to cut wood, as long as you can set it to the rotation speed. A lot of grinders have the option for dedicated attachments that can make this easier, but standard three tooth angle grinding discs, as well as multifunction discs, can both be used to cut, carve or shape wood of all types.

However, there are some serious downsides to this, including the risk of kickback, as well as friction from the blade potentially igniting the material. Unless you’ve got no other choice, we’d advise against trying some amateur woodcarving with your angle grinder. 

What kind of sander is best for furniture?

There’s not really a best sander for working with wood, but if you’re regularly working with or restoring furniture, the sander that you’ll get the most mileage out of is a palm or hand sander. Specifically, look for a detail sander that has a pointed edge, which is ideal for getting into difficult corners.

The smaller size and surface area of these types of sander gives you a lot more control and lets you get into the smaller areas that would be harder to reach with any other variety.

If you regularly work with cabinets, desks, tables or other surfaces that are large, flat planes, you might also want a belt sander, as they are the fastest way to strip and prepare big areas. Any imperfections and missed areas can be revisited later with another tool, or just touched up by hand.

What does the grit number of sandpaper mean?

Every piece of sandpaper has a grit value, which is a rating of how big the abrasives on the paper are.

Sandpaper grit is represented by a number, with low numbers being very rough with large grains on the paper, and high numbers being much smoother and better for finishing a project and ending up with an even finish.

You can almost always find the grit printed directly on the back of a piece of sandpaper.

Can you use a sander on metal?

Yes, you can. Sandpaper will take paint off of metal and smooth out imperfections, but bear in mind coarse sandpaper can leave scratches in metal that are hard to remove.

When sanding metal, it’s best to use fine grit sandpaper, generally above a 220 grit.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully now you understand the difference between both of the tools in this guide, and which one your particular needs are suited for. Remember:

You should use a sander if:

  • You’re looking for a smooth and even finish
  • You need to even out a large area
  • You’re working with wood that needs fine detail and control

You should use a grinder if:

  • You’re cutting metal, stone, or ceramic
  • You need to strip metal or wood quickly
  • You want a good, general purpose cutting tool

If this article’s helped you, please consider checking out some of our related guides below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!