Ah, yes. The ubiquitous five inch orbital sander. Lots of folks own them, and almost all the sanders have cords. Sensing that handy people everywhere might want the same freedom from cords they’ve come to expect on most other power tools, Makita recently released their LXOB01 five inch, eight hole, cordless sander. I was recently working on an upstairs window restoration and found myself without a convenient power outlet and working overhead, two ideal conditions to give this new cordless sander a whirl.
Makita was kind enough to send their DC18RA Fast Charger and two Lithium Ion batteries our way, along with the 18v Cordless Sander itself. Even at first glance, it’s clear you’re not looking at your grandpa’s orbital sander. OK, so your grandpa’s orbital sander was called “his hand” and maybe one of these annoying rubber sanding blocks, but you get the drift . . . this sander looks different. Most notably, there’s a conspicuous 18v Lithium Ion battery attached to its side. ALthough you might expect an 18v battery on a tool this small to render the tool unwieldy, we found it’s actually very comfortable to work with. Like many sanders in this category, the LXOB01 has a smoothly contoured rounded top. A nice dimpled, rubbery surface makes gripping the sander a natural and secure proposition, and more ergonomic than you might think. I expected the battery to get in my way, but it really didn’t. And, with no cord to wrap around my forearm like a malnourished python, I could rotate the tool as needed for optimum grip. Here’s a quick video overview from Makita:
Makita has flown in the face of sander convention and opted for push-button operation rather than a more traditional power switch. Ergonomically situated at the front upper edge of the tool, two buttons control all the sanding action. A start/speed button fires it up and then cycles through the tools three speeds. In case you’re curious, according to Makita: High speed equals 11,000 orbits per minute, medium is 9,500 and low is 7000. I tried to verify these numbers but kept losing count after about four or five orbits. As a result, we’re taking Makita’s spec’s on this. The tool starts at the highest speed. Each button press from there moves it to medium, then low and then back to high again. The second button is the stop button, which is useful if you don’t want to sand indefinitely.
Speaking of sanding indefinitely, I was very impressed with battery life on this sander. I had a lot of sanding to do on a window frame, sill, etc. and kept waiting for the battery to run out. I was operating the Makita cordless sander mostly on medium and slow and it was like the Energizer bunny. In fact I was wearing out the sanding disks far faster than the battery. I wrapped up all the sanding at 30 minutes and the sander was still going. Given that recharging on the Makita’s Fast Charger is spec’d at under 30 minutes, you could more or less sand continuously assuming you have two batteries (Makita quotes up to 20 minutes sanding time on the highest setting). Obviously, cordless sanding isn’t for everyone though. If you’re in a shop and/or run your sander for hours on end, then stick to your corded sander. However, if you’re moving around a house or job site and have “random” sanding jobs to tackle, the Makita cordless sander can come in very handy and won’t leave you hunting for power outlets or doing the malnourished-python-power-cord-dance while sanding. Even in the shop it can be great for harder to reach pieces, where corded models are not quite as nimble.
A good chunk of the sanding I did with this sander was actually overhead. Not having a cord swinging around in your face was a welcome change for this kind of work. At about three and a half pounds, you’re still hoisting a tool overhead, but it’s light enough to be comfortable. Or, at least as comfortable as overhead sanding work can be as all the blood from your extremities rapidly leave your arms. I was surprised at how much more efficient the overhead sanding felt. Not having to untangle my arm from the power cord every minute left me free to sand relatively uninterrupted (aside from quick hand changes once all the blood drained out of the arm in use). The Makita 18v random orbit sander’s compact, cordless design really shined when transitioning from horizontal, to vertical, to inverted work surfaces.
One factor that may determine whether or not you’d want to task the Makita cordless sander with shop work specifically is dust collection. While it does have a dust collection port, it’s tiny diameter makes it really only suited to the dust collection bag it comes with. The Makita sander does a respectable job sucking dust through the eight hole sandpaper into the bag, but you’re still going to have quite a bit of dust escape. If dust collection is a high priority for you, then I’d recommend a corded sander with a port more suitable for a dust collector / vac. Of course once you hook up a sander to a dust collection system, there is not much point in going cordless since they haven’t quite invented a hose-less dust collector yet.
Overall, we found the Makita 18v Cordless Sander very comfortable to use. While the battery looks bulky, we found it didn’t feel bulky. Switching between gripping the top of the sander or grabbing the sander from the front worked well for just about any sanding angle we tried. If you’re working in a continuous production environment this likely is not a good fit. However, if you’re like most homeowners or contractors that have a sanding job to tend to here and there, the Makita 5″ Cordless Random Orbit Sander is a convenient, comfortable tool that gets the job done fast, effectively, and tangle-free. You can find the Makita LXOB01Z 18-Volt LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander, Tool Only, No Batteryfor under $90 on Amazon.