Wooden stairs have a timeless, classic appeal, and what with the plentiful options of stains and finishes available, give us that room for customization that the avid home décor enthusiast craves. But pulling off and maintaining these stairs, typically made of hardwood for their long-wear and durability over repeated use, requires a little work. Whether you’re adding the finishing touches to what will be a never-before-used staircase in a new house or going about some refinishing to remove all signs of wear and tear, you’re going to need to sand wooden stairs eventually, and the right sander for this job has to be selected carefully. Because of the narrow, limited space of each step and tight, hard to reach angles, bigger belt sanders and options typically used for hardwood floors won’t do – orbital and random orbital sanders are better, the former for pulling off smooth finishes, though the latter is more equipped for leaving you with flawless, scratch- and swirl-free results as well as working off material on the roughest of wooden surfaces. We’ve scoured our options for the best sander for stairs – here are our top picks.
Because of the narrow, limited space of each step and tight, hard to reach angles, bigger belt sanders and options typically used for hardwood floors won’t do – orbital and random orbital sanders are better, the former for pulling off smooth finishes, though the latter is more equipped for leaving you with flawless, scratch- and swirl-free results as well as working off material on the roughest of wooden surfaces. We’ve scoured our options for the best sander for stairs – here are our top picks.
DEWALT DWE6421K Random Orbit Sander Kit
One of the most popular random orbit sanders around, this unit comes with all the right specs to earn its top spot on our list for perfectly sanding hardwood stairs. With a sanding pad of a 5-inch diameter, the unit is the right size for sanding narrow stair treads, with the low-vibration movement combining orbiting and spinning motions for thorough sanding action perfect for removing material and smoothing grain, without leaving behind unattractive scuff marks and swirls. Unlike orbital sanders better suited for light sanding in between coats, this random orbital sander is the tool for the job for prepping your stairs for fresh wood stain or for refinish – the rapid sanding motion can strip off polish and paint down to bare wood, and with the right grade of sandpaper grit, is ideal for everything from smoothing out rough wooden surfaces to giving your stained wooden stairs a final, smooth finish. A Velcro backing pad makes attaching the right abrasive paper an easy business.
Powered by a 3-amp motor with 12,000 orbits per minute (OPM), the sander is engineered with a dust-sealed switch to resist collecting dirt and improve the unit’s longevity, a dust bag hooked to the machine to capture the debris of removed material without creating a mess you’ll have to do double-time later to clean up.
KEN’S BUDGET PICK
Makita BO5041K 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander Kit
With variable speed control for a range of 4,000 to 12,000 OPM, you get better control with this random orbital sander, a very user-friendly unit with an ergonomic rubberized grip handle as well as a front handle to let you angle the pad into tight edges and corners, great for getting to the hard-to-reach areas of a staircase. Large finger triggers let you operate the sander with ease, powered by a 3-amp motor – the 5-inch sanding pad is just the right size for stair treads, the random orbital motion perfect for stripping down an older finish on the steps or leaving it with a flawless finish post-staining. An intuitive hook and loop system lets you set up an abrasive disc with the right grit of sandpaper for the job at hand, a dust bag included to capture the debris generated to keep your work environment clean.
DEWALT D26451 3-Amp 5-Inch Random-Orbit Sander
Designed for user-friendliness, the textured grip and housing elements of the unit make it comfortable to hold and operate for extended periods of time, the random orbiting action at 12,000 OPM making for thorough sanding action capable of smoothing down rough and grainy hardwood surfaces to leave stained stairs with a swirl-free, delightfully sleek surface. At a diameter of 5 inches, the sander pad uses a hook and loop system for accepting appropriately sized abrasive paper, and with the right grit and a controlled speed, you get guaranteed swirl-free finishes each time.
The durable unit enhances its longevity with a dust-resistant switch and 100% ball bearing construction for the right stability and performance, engineered with a dual-plane counterbalanced fan to improve the ease of use and make it less taxing to work with. At 3.4 pounds, this is a pretty lightweight and portable unit, especially when it comes to a demanding project like sanding down an entire set of stairs. Equipped with a cloth dust bag, the unit captures the material removed during the sanding process, without making a mess of your home.
Bosch ROS20VSK 120-Volt Variable Speed Random Orbit Sander Kit
Rather than a dust-bag, this unit features a detachable dust canister that lets you keep an eye on how full the component is, fitted with a microfilter system to catch debris as small as 0.5 microns, so you won’t have to worry about even the finest of dust particles and allergens escaping into the air as you work. At the ideal 5 inches, the hook and loop attachment system makes it an easy business to switch around 5-inch abrasive sandpaper of different grits depending on the job at hand, variable speeds available with a range between 7,500 to 12,000 OPM to let you choose a degree you’re comfortable using, allowing you to ‘soft-start’ without accidentally gouging out the wood of your stairs. Powered by a 2.5-amp motor, the random orbit sander does double-time to give you both fast and efficient prep work when it comes to removing stain down to bare wood and leaving swirl- and scratch-free finishes. The unit also comes with an in-built pad dampening braking system designed to reduce the likelihood of scuff marks left behind post-sanding.