|Review by Eric M. Saperstein||posted 09-12-2009 05:44 AM||7573 views||1 time favorited||18 comments|
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!
- 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
- 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:
-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com