Waaaay back when I was a student moving into my first place I had a need for a sturdy set of shelves on which to place my textbooks, files and assorted paraphernalia. Having already blown most of my meager budget on such frivolous items as a bed and desk, I decided to build a set myself. I had no tools to accomplish this goal, so the size of the shelves was determined by the pre-cut sizes of chipboard available at the hardware shop and I chose to nail them together, rather than buy a drill, bits and screws and complicated stuff like that. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, from friends, to co-workers, to the crusty old guy at the hardware shop, told me that they would fall apart. Ha! Guess what, they are still standing a decade later, possibly held together mainly by optimism and a blend of enamel and acrylic paint, but standing none the less, and still holding heavy books to boot!
Despite this early success, my next attempt (a bedside table this time) was a horrible failure and quickly relegated to the dump. Somewhere around this time I decided maybe a drill would be useful after all (it is!) and picked up one of those Ryobi box sets where you get a drill plus two other tools for slightly more than the price of the drill alone. Mine came with a jig-saw and this bad boy:
I was quite excited to use it, the joys of hand sanding furniture having already paled, and foolishly decided to strip a small painted table that I had. The stripping (as anyone who has ever attempted such a thing will tell you) was a complete nightmare (I used Nitromors chemical stripper), but, at length I had an almost clean table ready to be beautifully finished and stained. I optimistically plunked this thing down and went for it, and was instantly sad. While it is quite powerful, and good for large areas, I find that the rectangular plate leaves lines on wood, almost as though the edge of the plate makes better contact than the central portion. On a soft wood like pine this means deep gouges and a not great finish. More hand sanding for me!
It was only after moving in here, and refinishing some furniture that we had hung onto through the various moves, that I felt the need to try the whole power sander route again. Since I was somewhat wary, after my previous experience, I didn’t want to spend much money, and got one of these little Black & Decker mouse sanders, introducing mouse 1.0:
After using it to finish off the flowerpot my first assessment was, “if this thing ever breaks I’m going straight out any buying a new one!” I used it for everything, doors, door-frames, windows etc… It’s small, lightweight, easy to use with one hand and easy to maneuver in tight or awkward spaces. It also comes with a detail attachment that makes it easy to get into really tight spots. I loved it so much that, ultimately, I loved it to death. I noticed that it became much noisier to use, my hand would start to ache after only a few minutes of use, and the base plate seemed wobbly. I had a quick google and found that this is a common issue, the plastic clips holding the base plate on melt and the whole thing comes loose. However, I did exactly as I said I would, and bought another one, especially since I felt that I had abused the first one. To avoid abusing mouse 2.0 I also got this guy:
Now we’re talking. I finally have a sander that makes smooth work of a tabletop. It’s a dream to use, has variable speeds and of all the sanders I own this is the only one where the little dust box container thing seems to actually work, and, well… contain dust. I love this thing, and pretty much use it for everything except details and edges. While it works fine on edges (like the side piece of a table top for example) the paper tends to catch and then fly off, after which it cannot be re-attached (I’m assuming the Velcro shears or shreds or something?).
Despite using the Bosch sander for all the heavy lifting mouse 2.0 didn’t fare nearly as well as mouse 1.0. It too, died a loose plate death shortly after I got it (and after only very light use). By this stage I had realised that the cheapies are actually false economy and went looking for a better mouse. I had seen a Bosch multi-sander at Builder’s but passed on it as it was about R1000 and had an odd plate that looked like it would only work with the Bosch brand sandpaper. When I went looking for it again I was surprised to find that Builder’s doesn’t seem to carry them anymore, but that was a good thing, because it meant I went to Mica instead and they had a whole range of mouse sanders. Enter mouse 3.0:
It’s small, lightweight and designed for one handed use like the B&D, and is almost half the price of the much larger Bosch multi-sander (which is also triangular shaped). As an added bonus it has the same size and shape base plate as the B&D, and can take generic sandpaper pads. I usually buy the Blacksmith brand ones for all my sanders, although I have seen a few others. They make sandpaper pads to fit most of the sanders you would find around, just check on the front of the package which sander it is for, as there are a couple of different hole patterns and if you get the wrong one the dust removal won’t work. Also, with the circular pads make sure the ones you are getting are 125mm for a sander, as they also come in 115mm for use with an angle grinder, and look identical on the packaging.
To sum up, if you are just starting out and want a little tool to help with sanding then I really recommend getting a little mouse. The B&D is a great price but isn’t hardy, you’re probably better off buying a better one if you can (the Mega Mica at Eastgate has a good selection). The Bosch orbital is awesome, and definitely the tool to have if you want to sand any large surfaces, I don’t really use the Ryobi orbital much anymore because I find the Bosch so much better and easier to use.