Orbital sanders are great for small home improvement projects, including drywall. They can help cut your drywall finishing time in half compared to hand sanding. 

They also come with their risks. If you press too hard or sand unevenly, you can completely ruin your drywall job.

Before deciding whether or not you should use an orbital sander on drywall, here’s what you need to know.

Pros and Cons of Using an Orbital Sander on Drywall

Orbital sanders are good choices for small drywall projects. They come with many cons that make them less than ideal for large drywall projects.

The biggest problem is that since an orbital sander uses circular motion, swirls in the sanded drywall mud can be left behind. 

If this happens, you’ll need to lightly hand sand over the swirls with a fine-grit piece of sandpaper to remove the marks.

And even after using the orbital drywall sander, you’ll still need to follow up by hand sanding with 220 grit sandpaper for a professional finish.

Here’s a look at the complete list of pros of cons using an orbital sander on your drywall project:

Pros:

  • Since an orbital sander is a power tool, you can sand drywall joints much quicker versus hand sanding
  • Orbital sanders are inexpensive tools great for many home improvement projects

Cons:

  • Since orbital sanders use a circular motion, they can leave swirl marks in the joint compound 
  • You may have to hand sand with fine-grit sandpaper to finish the job
  • If you use too much pressure, the orbital sander will remove the joint compound and potentially damage the drywall underneath
  • Orbital sanders are hand sanders, not ideal for hard to reach places

How Do You Sand Drywall with an Orbital Sander?

If you want to use an orbital sander for your drywall project, here’s what to do:

Step 1 – Allow the Joint Compound to Dry

Before you start sanding, the joint compound needs to dry thoroughly. (By this point, you’ve ideally placed several thin coats of drywall mud on the joints.)

After your final coat of drywall mud has set up, usually at least 24 hours after applying it, it’s time to sand.

Step 2 – Sand with Light, Even Pressure

Now, it’s time to use your orbital drywall sander. Place a fresh piece of medium-grit sandpaper on your sander and turn it on. 

Start at the top of the joint and use light and even pressure to sand. Keep the sander moving in a circular motion.

Never stay in one spot too long. Doing this will result in divots in the drywall mud or will cause you to take out a large section that you’ll have to repair. 

Step 3 – Finish with Fine Grit Sandpaper

After you’ve used your orbital sander to remove ridges and bumps and get an even finish, you’ll need to follow it up with 220 grit sandpaper. 

This will help you get a super smooth finish that’s ready for painting. It will also remove any swirl marks the orbital sander left behind.

To do this, use sandpaper, a sanding screen, or a sanding block and lightly go over your joints by hand.

Orbital Sander Grit for Drywall

When hand sanding drywall, you typically start with a super coarse paper as low as 120 grit. This knocks out any ridges and smooths everything down to an even surface. 

You’d then move to a medium grit paper and finally finish with a fine-grit sandpaper. With an orbital sander, you’ll do things a little differently.

You’ll want to start with medium-grit sandpaper. This is because the orbital sander is much more powerful than hand sanding, so you don’t have to start as low.

After sanding with the orbital sander, you can finish the joints by hand sanding with 220 grit sandpaper. 

This will get rid of any swirl marks and leave your drywall smooth enough for paint and primer.

Orbital Sander vs. Hand Sanding

If you’re debating on whether to use your orbital sander versus hand sanding your drywall job, there are pros and cons to each. 

With hand sanding, you’ll have far more control over the finish. You also won’t risk accidentally pressing too hard or staying in one spot so long that you cause significant damage.

Hand sanding with a sanding block or sandpaper is the best choice if you’ve never used an orbital sander and are worried about damaging your drywall. 

After all, the last thing you want is to redo all of your joint compound because you accidentally took too much off.

On the flip side, if you have lots of experience with your orbital sander, it can cut your drywall finishing time in half. 

Since the sander has more power than hand sanding, it can knock down ridges and smooth the mud more easily. Just remember to use very light and even pressure. 

If you want to avoid leaving swirl marks, try a random orbital sander. Random orbital sanders use circular sandpaper and move in a random motion that doesn’t leave swirls behind. 

They are just as effective at finishing drywall as regular orbital sanders are.

After finishing, it’s still ideal to hand-sand with 220 grit sandpaper for a smooth, professional-looking job.

If you are sanding a large drywall job, consider getting a pole sander so you can easily reach high areas.

Conclusion

You can use orbital hand sanders for small DIY drywall jobs. 

They do come with risks. If you press too hard or keep the sander in one spot for too long, you’ll cause divots, swirls, or even irreparably damage the drywall. 

This is why if you don’t have much experience with an orbital sander, you’re better off hand sanding.

If you feel comfortable with your orbital drywall sander, you can use it to save a lot of time on your drywall job. 

To do so, use medium grit sandpaper and apply light even pressure. Follow up by hand sanding with 220 grit paper for a smooth finish.