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What is a DA Sander / Dual Action Sander vs Orbital Sander?

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Sanders are tools used to help you finish jobs, and without them, you would be left merely disappointed with the finish of surfaces. There are many types of sanders that do different kinds of sanding. This page will primarily focus on DA (dual-action) sanders and orbital sanders!

Table of Contents

What is an Orbital Sander?

Orbital sanders are vital tools for sanding projects. They generally are very easy to use which makes them very popular for various sanding projects. The ability to use any sanding paper and sand corners with ease are very attractive, but one drawback is they’re not the most powerful tools, and so, they will struggle to remove much material.

Orbital sanders or polishers are some of the most commonly used in-store and at home. But their lack of strength and capabilities lead them to not being so popular in professional environments. Instead, people will opt for a random orbital sander as they’re better, good for learning, fairly easy to handle, and relatively cheap.

In steps, the more powerful random orbital sander, which is the best for removing materials quickly without leaving any sanding marks. Random orbital sanders have a disk-shaped sanding pad that spins as well as rotates in a tiny circular path. Pretty much like the motion of the earth, though its path is not uniform and will give you random oscillation.

Here’s an example of a random orbital air sander readily available on Amazon!

What is a Dual-Action Sander?

This is where the comparison gets interesting. Dual-Action sanders are actually a type of orbital sander, where the dual actions of the circular rotation of the head and the orbital or oval movement of the head are combined. Dual-action sanders are commonly referred DA sanders, DA orbital sanders, or combination sanders.

You’re probably already familiar with a belt sander or a disc sander, and the advantages and disadvantages they provide. To get the advantages of both into one, the hybrid dual-action sanders were designed.

Belt sanders run a belt of sandpaper at high speeds to remove a lot of material quickly and are primarily used on flat surfaces. Belt sanders are “brute force” tools that overdo the job and will remove too much or even leave scratches on wood.

Disk sanders spin a disk of sandpaper in a high-speed circle, which allows them to dig in and sand uneven objects by using an edge of the disk. Most disk sanders can also make a random orbital motion, adding an eccentric wobble to the motion to help the sand from digging into the surface so much.

Dual-action sanders, therefore, attempt to combine the best aspects of both of these sanders. The sandpaper pad of the DA sander moves straight forward and backward, mimicking the belt sander’s linear-like action. It also moves in a slightly rotary motion, sometimes even with a random orbital motion rather than purely rotary.

DA sanders do not always look the same, unlike disk and belt sanders. Sometimes they may be circular and spin like a disk sander or they can be rectangular and merely move in a rotary motion without turning the paper.

Dual-action sanders are designed to produce fine finishes on different materials such as metal, fiberglass, wood, and more!

Dual-Action vs Random Orbital Sanders: What’s the Differences? & Which One Do I Choose?

First, let’s discuss the similarities between a random orbital sander vs dual action sander! Both can be powered by electricity or air, both can be used for sanding and polishing projects, both are dissimilar from belt sanders as they both have orbital motion.

Though random orbital vs dual action sanders is quite similar, they also have a number of differences that we can describe to help set them apart. These differences include:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Handle size
  • Operability
  • Overal finish
  • Sanding path
  • Uses

Let’s take a look at each in more detail!


The aggressiveness of sanders is a great indication of how much material the sander can remove in a fixed time. The level, or the amount, of aggressiveness, will vary depending on the different requirements of jobs. When comparing da sander vs random orbital sander, a dual-action sander is typically more aggressive than a random orbital sander.

In order to cover large areas and for the sanding capabilities of multiple layers, the dual-action sander will be your only option. Random orbital sanders will be the optimum choice when it comes to other light-finishing jobs and to cover corners more effectively.

Handle Size

In general, DA sanders are readily available with palm-sized handles, while the RO sanders are available with larger handles. This is of course in general, the opposite may be true with various makes and models. Varying handle sizes will affect your operability.


Sanding operability is a crucial factor to consider when it comes to sanding. The quality of the sanding is going to depend on not only your level of skill but your tool handling capabilities. Palm-sized tools will be a good option for better control with some jobs. However, it may be necessary to use a large handle if you’re eager to complete some fine finishing.

Overall Finish

The overall sanding finish varies between a da vs orbital sander. The dual-action sander features a weight just above the sanding pad that can be locked or unlocked. When in locked mode, the dual-action sander will remove more material much quicker.

Orbital sanders do not have this feature, and so, it will be clear to see the difference in finish and performance between the two sanders.

Sanding Path

The sanding path is a clear difference between a dual-action sander and a random orbital sander. Random orbital sanders do not cross the same path, and hence why it gets their name. They typically follow random motions in a path similar to earth’s orbital movement.

Dual-action sanders have a more defined path, where they follow a pattern and pass over the same route over and over again.


Both random orbital sanders and dual-action sanders have more aggressive and less aggressive features. They are, however, used for different projects due to their difference in motion.

Random orbital sanders are best suited to projects like sanding wood stock or big jobs like sanding wooden floors. On the other hand, dual-action sanders are better suited to being used in auto body repair jobs as they can be controlled more precisely and don’t leave any scratch marks.

Both typically have speed controls that will enable you to get your desired finish. But, dual-action sanders are mostly recommended for their precise handly, capabilities, versatilities, and scratch-free sanding offerings.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the difference between a DA and a orbital sander?

Well, a DA sander is technically a type of orbital sander as it adopts the orbital motion from disk sanders and combines it with the linear motion of a belt sander. The main differences between a DA and an orbital sander are the handle sizes, operability, sanding path, aggressiveness, overall finish, and their use cases.

What does DA mean in sanding?

DA stands for a dual-action sander. They’re labeled dual-action sanders because they attempt to combine the best aspects of belt and disc sanders. The sandpaper pad of the DA sander moves straight forward and backward, mimicking the belt sander’s linear-like motion. And, it also moves in a slightly rotary motion, sometimes even with a random orbital motion rather than purely rotary, mimicking the motion of the disc sander.

Which is better orbital sander or random orbital sander?

If both of these tools were to be fitted with the same grit paper, the random orbital sander is more likely to remove more material than the orbital sander. An orbital sander moves only in a circular motion while a random orbital sander also moves back and forth. As a result of the two separate motions, random orbital sanders leave less of a swirl pattern when used on wood.

Is Da the same as random orbit?

Essentially yes, a dual-action sander is a type of orbital sander. But they are not completely the same as they have different uses, sanding paths, handle size, aggressiveness, and therefore, a different resulting finish on the surface of the material.

If you’re wondering how to plumb an air compressor setup, visit our guide!

If you have any questions regarding Dual-action sanders vs orbital sanders, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

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