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The Ultimate Orbital Polisher – Gem Industries Takes on Wood!

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Review by Eric M. Saperstein posted 09-12-2009 05:44 AM 5846 views 1 time favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Ultimate Orbital Polisher – Gem Industries Takes on Wood! The Ultimate Orbital Polisher – Gem Industries Takes on Wood! The Ultimate Orbital Polisher – Gem Industries Takes on Wood! Click the pictures to enlarge them

This is Artisans’ first blog tool review! We’re planning to provide a series of articles discussing the various equipment, chemicals, tools, and other resources and services we employ to complete our projects. It seemed like a good idea to start with this particular tool as we have been trying it out for well close to a year now and we’re quite pleased with the results. Keep checking back as we’ll intertwine these product reviews within our array of postings as often as we can.

OK let’s dive right into the business at hand, the average random orbital sander cuts fast, generates dust, and ultimately leaves us with a frustrating mess of annoying “swirl-ees” all over the surface of our project. The slightest abnormality in the disc, fail to resist temptation to tilt slightly to cut faster, a bit to harsh on the grit, or just random dumb luck; whatever the excuse may be the net outcome results in a great deal of cursing when the first coat of stain is applied and the realization that your project must be entirely resanded sets in.

We’re traditional woodworkers, we still use scrapers and hand planes to finish off many of our project surfaces. That said we are not insane fundamentalists bound to only these old time methods, we’re in this to make a profit. Making money means optimizing your time and still putting out a high quality product. We will utilize any trick, tool, method, process, material, chemical, or other resource to improve our performance and quality; that is just a logical business mentality!

Last year we discovered a tool, often we refer to such things as “new toys” but that really doesn’t fit in this case … as this is a serious piece of equipment. We picked ourselves up a Gem Industries Orbital Polisher – a 16lb perfectly balanced 11? random orbital sander. Yes – we said 16 (sixteen) pounds, this is no lightweight class machine, it’s a professional grade piece of equipment that will cut your sanding time at least in half and do so without imparting the dreaded “swirl-ees.”

Some of you may be pondering over this machine wondering where you have seen it before, others already recognized it as a staple in the auto body industry. This machine is designed to polish finishes on vehicles, and in the hands of a master can produce that amazing hot rod quality paint job we all druel over at some point in our lives. These orbital polishers can handle creating a mirror finish on a clear coat, so it would make sense to believe they could provide the same service in just about any material.

The Gem sander is a pure pleasure to operate, it actually floats over of the surface of a table, no fight, no resistance, it just hovers along doing its job. You’ll also find there is no annoying itch or tingling left in your hands when you turn the machine off! Keep it moving, and keep the dust collection hose from catching and all the real work is done by the machine. The dust shroud is a mandatory option for woodworking, and connection to a powerful shop vac or dust system is an absolute, this sucker will choke you with a constant output of wood particles that will quickly overpopulate the oxygen in the room if not properly removed, not to mention the excess dust reduces the efficiency of the machine if left under the disc.

So far we have employed this machine on our solid quarter sawn white oak New Wave Gothic tables, eliminating the need to plain the surfaces using a CNC machine. The net result is a cost savings compared outsourcing this step, plus the process of random orbital is actually a step ahead compared to running one of these massive tops through a wide belt sander, if you can find one that will handle it, will impart cross grain marks. The total time required to prepare the tabletop surface for finishing is cut down to less than an hour.

Keep one thing here in mind – our desired surface is NOT a perfect surface. The net result of properly using this sander will be a perfectly flat, level, ready for a glass finish surface. We only scrape the top after sanding given our requirements for an antique apperance, for modern furniture this step can be skipped. Our desire, as we are reproducing antiques, is the appearance of an old time aged, hand planed surface that has seen a bit a bit of abuse and a few changes in season. We’ve developed our tricks with the sander and we stop short of a perfect surface so we can produce an antique “fake.” It’s very easy to go a little too perfect with this machine for our purposes.

The actual time and final abrasive required to prepare a tabletop will of course vary by material choice and desired finish. Our test case with the table shown, we went to 80 microns (180 grit) without any additional scraping or surface preparation and applied a Mohawk Vandyke Brown Ultra-Penetrating Stain to the quarter sawn white oak and didn’t find any swirl marks on the table surface. Grits for this machine are measured in microns, and we being American “Hicks” … are still a bit confused by this concept. Up is down, down is up – higher numbers are courser discs, or something like that. Take a quick glance at Gem’s conversion chart to resolve any confusion with ordering the right level of abrasive.

Moving away from wood – as mentioned earlier this machine started out in the automotive industry. Nothing stops you from attaching the auto buffing and polishing pads and if you have the proper experience. You can also opt to use this machine for solid surface, metal, & stone polishing, compounding, and sanding. Versatility is important, although you may not need this ability right away it certainly doesn’t hurt to know you can begin to offer new services in the future.

The bottom line is – Gem’s Orbital Polisher / Sander is a machine well worth its cost in weight and in ROI!

Specifications

  • Weight: 16 lbs.
  • Overall height: 10 in.
  • Amps: 2.3@110v, 1.2@220v
  • RPM: 1,700@110v
  • Motor: 110v/220v
  • Housing: heavy-duty aluminum

Features

  • Heavy-duty ball bearing capacitator motor
  • No gears to grind or strip out
  • No carbon brushes to burn out
  • No armature winding to burn out
  • Exclusive removable shaft system
  • Sands, polishes and finishes

The full review is also on our blog site:

http://www.artisansofthevalley.com/blog/index.php/2009/09/the-ultimate-orbital-polisher-gem-industries-takes-on-wood/

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com




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Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 1992 days



18 comments so far

View jussdandy's profile

jussdandy

157 posts in 1951 days


#1 posted 09-12-2009 02:37 PM

good review Eric, I have sold Jem’s for a few years. never even thought about it for wood. I sell it to the solid surface guys, only have the micron and scotchbrite pads in stock for it. but do have guys asking for a better orbital sander with out the swirls on the wood side. Thanks

-- Randy I have the right to remain silent, just not the ability ; )

View Don "Dances with Wood" Butler's profile

Don "Dances with Wood" Butler

1003 posts in 2139 days


#2 posted 09-12-2009 03:58 PM

What is the price of the machine?
I tried to find it, but I guess I don’t know where to look.
It looks spendy!

-- Will trade wife's yarn for tools.

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112806 posts in 2321 days


#3 posted 09-12-2009 04:53 PM

Interesting

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View Karson's profile

Karson

34911 posts in 3144 days


#4 posted 09-12-2009 05:06 PM

The price is shown as $500.00 on the Gem site.

That is with the dust shroud.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Don "Dances with Wood" Butler's profile

Don "Dances with Wood" Butler

1003 posts in 2139 days


#5 posted 09-12-2009 05:09 PM

Mmm mmmm.

Gulp.

-- Will trade wife's yarn for tools.

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 1992 days


#6 posted 09-12-2009 06:44 PM

Gem started into the “wood” line if I remember right about two years ago – mainly but adding a flexible pad and a dust shroud. The machine itself can drive anything that can velcro to the pad its just a heavy duty motor and an orbital gear base.

We found it through Woodworkers Supply – but you can buy directly from Gem as well. It comes from Gem with the dust shroud installed, from Woodworkers Supply it does not come installed.

Definitely not an underpowered machine – but very easy to control. It’s like running a hovercraft of sorts – just floats over the surface.

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com

View jussdandy's profile

jussdandy

157 posts in 1951 days


#7 posted 09-13-2009 01:53 AM

I will not be back to the shop till Monday, dont remember the price but its nowhere near 500.00 ive got it with and without the shield so Im sure a lot of other places does also. I will post the price Monday, barring me having a senior momment.

-- Randy I have the right to remain silent, just not the ability ; )

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 1992 days


#8 posted 09-13-2009 02:29 AM

We’re not setup with a large capacity compressor, really actually need to upgrade that one of these days / blue moons. We have an old geese can’t remember the name of it about 1940’ish …. QUINCY that’s it …. the only piece of equipment left from my grandfather’s auto parts business. Kind of sentimental … so we hang on it to it, I think it’s 4CFM and been putting that out for 70 some odd years now.

I believe list price is around $500 as some others have stated. I don’t see the reason to go with air personally. If you go with a dust system vs. a shop vac it’s quiet and easy to control. Air to me seems like it’s an extra step, we make electric into air pressure then air pressure into power. Why not just power the machine with electric?

In a spray booth given the explosive situation OK then I can see air vs. electric …

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com

View Innovator's profile

Innovator

3584 posts in 2157 days


#9 posted 09-13-2009 03:53 PM

Eric, great review

Thanks

-- Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can't, YOU ARE RIGHT!!!

View Jimi_C's profile

Jimi_C

507 posts in 1979 days


#10 posted 09-13-2009 05:47 PM

Wow, based on the review I expected this to be in the $1000-2000 range. If you’re running a large production shop, $500 is nothing compared to what you pay for some other tools!

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 1992 days


#11 posted 09-14-2009 03:13 AM

Yes – the overall tag compared to most pieces of equipment is far from anything extreme! The average basic piece of equipment even in a small shop is $2,000+ ...

A wide belt sander capable of doing tabletops that we produce would run $35,000 … alternate would be a stroke sander for around $5,000. Either would still leave cross grain sanding marks where this does not.

CNC planing took a few hours to complete and if you don’t have machine it will run you $50-$100/hr depending on the service rate you have when you outsource. CNC planing takes off a significant amount of material as well, and it leaves large round swirl marks and depressions that are a major pain to get out. We ended up having to belt sand by hand then scrape. Not to mention hauling a 250lb tabletop from point A to point B then back to point A.

One tabletop easily covers the cost of the machine all said and done from our perspective.

The Gem buffer as Barry mentioned does have quite a long standing reputation in the auto industry. It’s also gained a large following in solid surface. Wood is the next obvious frontier, I’m actually very surprised it didn’t move in this direction sooner.

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com

View Charles Maxwell's profile

Charles Maxwell

985 posts in 2551 days


#12 posted 09-14-2009 03:02 PM

Eric:
Fantastic post! I’m equally impressed with your wonderful table designs – just superb! Max

-- Max the "night janitor" at www.hardwoodclocks.com

View jussdandy's profile

jussdandy

157 posts in 1951 days


#13 posted 09-15-2009 12:43 AM

OK for fun I checked the price I can sell the Gem sanders for.
BWH $275.00 1 in stock no shroud
BWH-S with shroud $398.00 0 in stock but can easly get

-- Randy I have the right to remain silent, just not the ability ; )

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 1992 days


#14 posted 09-19-2009 08:41 AM

OK Great so $398.00 – even better … this is a no brainier guys if you do any kind of surface prep work in solid wood, solid surface, metal, stone – $398.00 is nothing for this tool. It’ll earn its keep in one or two jobs!

Thanks for the feedback on the review! More to follow as time allows – things are a bit out of the norm lately, time limited and creative ability a bit stifled as a result.

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 1992 days


#15 posted 09-23-2009 08:17 AM

So – I’m curious – who decided to go ahead with an order this week? I figure some of you by now already have to have one of these polishers in hand?

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com

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