Can You Use an Orbital Sander as a Buffer?

Here’s a situation most of us face; you want to eliminate minor scuffs and scratches from your wood for an attractive and shiny luster. Although you know a buffer is a perfect tool for the job, you only have an orbital sander at hand. So, can you use an orbital sander to buff your wood surface without damaging it?

You can use an orbital sander as a buffer. However, you must know that using an orbital sander as a buffer can burn through the paint on your surfaces since it spins faster than an orbital polisher. Therefore, you must be careful and use a lower speed when buffing with an orbital sander.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss how to use an orbital sander to buff wood. I’ll also cover safety considerations when using an orbital sander as a buffer. Let’s get started!

How Do You Use an Orbital Sander To Buff Wood?

We all like our wood surfaces to have a smooth, shiny, attractive luster. However, these surfaces can become dull over time due to scratches, scuffs, and other marks. Wood buffing helps remove these marks and restore the shine on your wood surface.

A buffer (orbital polisher) is the right tool for the job due to the following reasons:

  • Two-way action: A buffer works in a two-way pattern to remove oxidation from surfaces without burning the paint.
  • It provides the correct spin rate: A buffer typically spins at about 175-350 revolutions per minute (RPM). This setting is perfect for polishing and waxing your car or wood without burning the paint.
  • It has suitable pads: A buffer comes with different attachments for different purposes, such as compounding, polishing epoxy resin, and waxing.

Since an orbital sander is not designed for buffing but sanding, you must be careful and follow the correct procedure if you must use it.

The following steps explain how to use an orbital sander to buff wood. You’ll need the following tools and equipment:

  • An orbital sander
  • 2,000 grit wet/dry sandpaper
  • Spraying bottle
  • Water
  • velcro buffing pads
  • Polish

Sand the Wood

The buffing process starts by removing existing damage from the wood. Wood damages come in different sizes and shapes, such as scratches, scuffs, and indentations. You must remove all these before buffing the wood.

Although you can buff the wood without removing these damages, the result won’t be as shiny and luster as you may want. Buffing uses fine pads that can’t clear wood damage.

Here’s the sanding procedure to remove these damages:

  1. Adjust the orbital sander to a low-speed setting.
  2. Attach the 2,000-grit wet/dry sandpaper to the orbital sander.
  3. Start sanding the damaged areas of the wood in a back-and-forth motion.
  4. Keep sanding until you have removed all the damage.

Wet the Wood Surface

After you’ve sanded and removed all the existing damage from the wood surface, it’s time to wet it before you start buffing.

Wetting the wood helps in two ways:

  • It prevents further damage. When the wood is dry, there’s a higher risk of damaging it during the buffing process.
  • It makes the buffing process easier. Due to reduced friction, a wet surface is more straightforward to buff than a dry one.

Use a spraying bottle to wet the entire wood surface. Make sure you don’t oversaturate it; otherwise, the water will start pooling.

Sand the surface once more after wetting it and wipe away everything.

Apply the Polish

You need to apply the polish before proceeding to the buffing process. The polish helps in the following ways:

  • It fills up scratches. The scratches on the wood surface can still be visible even after sanding and wetting. Applying a thin layer of polish helps fill these scratches and makes the buffing process easier.
  • It provides extra shine. The wood will have a natural glow once you’ve buffed it. However, you can achieve an extra shine by applying a layer of polish.

Use a clean cloth to apply a thin layer of polish on the wood surface. Make sure you don’t oversaturate the wood with the polish.

Let the polish dry for about 15 minutes before proceeding to the next step.

Attach the Pad to the Orbital Sander

Now it’s time to attach the velcro buffing pad to the orbital sander. You can use different pads to buff your surfaces—such as foam, wool, or microfiber.

I recommend using a foam pad because it’s soft and won’t damage the wood surface.

It is best to attach the buffing pad to a backing plate before fixing it onto the orbital sander. Here’s the procedure:

  1. Fix the backing plate to the velcro buffing pad.
  2. Align the velcro on the orbital sander with that on the buffing pad.
  3. Press and hold the pad onto the sander to fix it in place.

Start Buffing the Wood Surface

Once you’ve attached the pad to the orbital sander, it’s time to start buffing the wood surface. Here is the procedure:

  1. Set the orbital sander to a medium-high speed.
  2. Place it on the wood surface and power it on.
  3. Start moving it in a circular motion as you overlap.
  4. Apply light pressure as you move the orbital sander across the surface.
  5. Keep buffing until you’re happy with the results.

Once satisfied, switch to a finishing buffing pad and run over the wood surface. This process polishes up everything for a luster appearance.

Wipe Away the Dust and Polish Residue

After buffing, you’ll see some dust mixed with the polish. It is best to wipe this residue with a clean rag to give the wood a final shine. Use a clean and dry rag to remove the dust and polish residue. Alternatively, you can use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to remove the residue.

Finally, it’s best to inspect the wood keenly before calling it a day. Look for any spots you may have missed and buff them accordingly. Once you’re satisfied with the results, you can go ahead and apply a topcoat to protect the wood surface.

And that’s it! You’ve successfully used an orbital sander to buff your wood surface and give it a new lease of life. 

The video below demonstrates how to use an orbital sander to buff wood:

Safety Considerations When Using an Orbital Sander

Safety is a crucial concern when using any woodworking tool. According to Queensland Government, an orbital sander exposes you to the following:

  • Excessive noise
  • Burns due to friction
  • Excessive dust
  • Moving, rotating, and abrasive parts
  • Eye injuries
  • Electricity

The best way to keep safe from these risks is by putting on the right gear to protect your body parts. It’s best to do the following to stay safe:

  • Put on goggles to protect your eyes from dust.
  • Wear a sanding mask to avoid breathing in the dust.
  • Wear gloves to avoid getting cuts on your hands.
  • Wear ear protection to safeguard your hearing.
  • Ensure the area is well-ventilated to reduce the risk of inhaling too much dust.
  • Keep children and pets away from the work area to avoid accidents.
  • Inspect your orbital sander before use to ensure it’s in good condition. The sanding discs and holes must align with those on the buffing pad.

Safety Considerations for Your Wood

As I mentioned, manufacturers do not design orbital sanders to buff wood. Therefore, you must be careful when using it to keep your wood safe. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Avoid prolonged use at any spot. An orbital sander rotates faster than a buffer. Therefore, it can quickly burn through the paint on the wood. A suitable way to prevent this is moving the sander in small, circular motions without prolonging it at one spot.
  • Use a lower speed setting. A lower speed setting reduces friction, helping to avoid burning through the paint.
  • Use a backing plate. A backing plate helps to distribute the heat evenly and prevents burns.
  • Use light pressure. Applying too much pressure when using an orbital sander can damage the wood surface due to the abrasive parts. It’s best to use light pressure to allow the tool to work without damaging the wood.
  • Be careful with corners and edges. These areas of wood are the most vulnerable to damage. Therefore, you should be extra cautious when sanding them. I  recommend that you move the sander extra slowly at the edges.
  • Use a suitable buffing pad. A soft buffing pad is ideal for use with an orbital sander. It helps to avoid damaging the wood surface due to the sander’s high spinning rate.
  • Maintain a constant pace. Uneven buffing is common when using an orbital sander. To avoid this, you should maintain a continuous rate when moving the sander across the wood surface. Working in small sections is an easy way to keep a consistent pace.

Benefits of Using a Buffer Over an Orbital Sander

Manufacturers explicitly design a buffer (orbital polisher) to polish wood and other surfaces like cars. Therefore, it’s a more suitable tool than an orbital sander for buffing your wood.

Here are some benefits of using a buffer over an orbital sander:

  • It’s less likely to damage the wood surface due to its lower speed and softer pads.
  • It’s easier to control than an orbital sander.
  • Its ergonomic design makes it more comfortable to use for extended periods.


An orbital sander is a versatile tool that you may use for various woodworking tasks, including buffing. However, since it’s not ideally suited for buffing, you must be extra careful when using it.

You should also be aware of the risks of using any woodworking tool. The best way to stay safe is by using the right gear and following safety precautions.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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