Buying a Buffer is not like buying a sander. While they look similar, a buffer is as you know, a completely different animal.
So, what’s the difference between a DA and an Orbital Sander? There is no difference, a DA sander (dual-action), is an orbital sander. The dual actions are combined, they are (1) the circular rotation of the head, and (2), the orbital or oval movement of the head.
This post is pretty long, so if you just want to know what my recommendation is, here’s the short version: While I like to buy top-quality tools which obviously can be expensive, I do realize for occasional users, that doesn’t make economic sense.
So that in mind, my recommendation for a good quality Orbital sander/buffer at a reasonable price is the TCP dual action buffer with pads and gloves.
Why I Chose The Presa Turbine Buffer
The TCP sander/buffer is a safe pair of hands, thanks to the random orbital characteristic of the buffing head. It prevents burning paint or rubber trim, by keeping the head moving, even if you forget to.
So what makes a buffer a sander? Just change the padded head for some Velcro-backed sandpaper.
The TCP is a perfect beginner buffer and some professional detailers stick with it, the results are great, it just takes a little longer than a fully professional rotary buffer. So it’s safe and easy to use, like a doctor, your first priority is to do no damage.
I like the TCP, it’s a good option for most, while it’s not too expensive, it isn’t throw away rubbish either. It may not be as flashy as some of the more expensive models, but it does look much better than the entry models.
If you’re considering buying some of the cheaper models, know that they likely won’t last. The TCP comes with all you need to get the job done, the 600-watt motor is plenty powerful.
I like the extra long power cable (19ft), hate dragging around an extension cord, just gets caught everywhere.
I find the top handle gives more control (adjustable), the side handle can get in the way so I don’t use it, this model gives you the option of both. The buffer weighs about 4.5lbs which isn’t heavy, and actually lighter than some of the more expensive models, one of them in the $400 territory.
It’s simple to use, a toggle wheel adjusts speed, the oscillations per minute (OPM) range is about 2000 to 6500 (OPM) with an 8 mm stroke length. (Orbital movement)
The pads are hook and loop (Velcro) attached which is standard, the head isn’t quite the 6 inches advertised, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. Remember some of the more expensive models won’t come with a backing plate or buffing pads, so check it out before committing.
Performance – What’s It Like To Use?
My model is slightly older, I have had it for about 2 years and I use it at least twice a week. It’s the same orbital head and motor the handle just looks a little different. The machine itself feels strong, but I’m generally careful with my tools so I’ve never dropped it or driven across it, yet.
It’s not perfect, although the motor is strong and never bogs down, it can be a little noisy, I wear ear protectors. And I’d really like the top handle to be a tool-less adjustment because sometimes it’s in the way when you’re buffing under door mirrors.
The random orbital head movement was designed for the novice. As you know it prevents buffer burn, which happens when the operator stays in one location for too long.
I have never done it with my orbital, but I confess I have burnt the edge of a Jaguar hood with a rotary professional polisher, ouch!
The pads included with the Presa look pretty good, but you can upgrade to 3M, they aren’t hugely expensive and they’re a universal fit.
What About High End Buffers?
Spending more money doesn’t necessarily equal a proportionally better buffing finish. Mostly the extra bucks buy you a brand name, a torque-controlled motor, stronger longer life motor, soft start function, and generally, they’re lighter.
If my business was buffing cars, then absolutely yes I would buy Makita PO5000C 5″ Dual Action Random Orbit Polisher, it’s the Cadillac of buffers, you can check it out on Amazon.com.
Features To Look For In A Buffer
A good user-friendly buffer will have most if not all of these features :
- Dual action orbital head
- Strong motor
- Adjustable speed
- Quick release pads
- Long cord
- Quiet operation
A premium quality buffer will include some of the following features:
- Brush-less motor
- Random and forced orbital control
- Electronic motor control
- Silky smooth soft start up
- Tool-less handle adjustment
- Ergonomic controls
- Super quiet motor
- Auto detailing orbital buffer
Maintenance And Getting The Best From Your Buffer
There isn’t much maintenance on a buffing machine, the TCP buffer comes with pads and a wool head. it’s ready to roll right out of the box. You can check it out here on Amazon.com, the price is actually surprisingly inexpensive.
Motor brushes are about all that needs to be maintained on these motors. Even with regular use, a single set should last two plus years. Replacing the brushes is simple too, the brushes are accessed by removing the two plastic caps positioned on either side of the motor. It’s simply a plug-and-play job.
I like to blow out the electric motor from time to time, lint can collect there which can cause the motor to overheat. I don’t like to park my buffer on the ground, wind can blow dust and grit onto the buffing heads, which isn’t going to be good for a buffer, buffer pad, or paintwork.
When buffing place the power cord over your shoulder, otherwise the cord can mark the paintwork. Wash your buffing pads with warm soapy water to remove old dead oxidized paint, they’ll last longer and perform better.
What’s The Difference Between An Orbital And A Rotery Buffer
Here we’ll look at the main differences, advantages, and disadvantages between the main types of buffers. The Orbital buffer is also known as the dual-action or flex buffer has a head that rotates but also orbits (moves in an oval). The purpose of this twin action is to keep the head moving, and that’s important. A buffer that isn’t moving around the paint surface will burn right through it.
When using the orbiting buffer, you’ll experience the orbiting as vibration. Orbiting buffers are available in a random or fixed orbit.
Random orbit means the orbiting weight in the head will orbit in a random fashion. This causes the buffer head to move about more, which makes it less controllable, but much less likely to burn the paint.
The fixed or forced orbiting head is just that, this is for the more experienced detailer and allows for greater control of the buffing head. That’s why the orbital buffer is perfect for the beginner.
The Rotary buffer is a buffer for the professionals. The head rotates only, and as a result, it’s easy to burn the paint if you lose focus. The great advantage to the Rotary buffer is speed and control. Because the rotating pad isn’t vibrating, it spends more time on the paint surface.
More time on the paint surface equals more control and greater efficiency. Buffers are available in corded electric, battery, or compressed air. Corded is the more common choice. The power cord has always been the issue, as lithium batteries become more efficient and powerful they’ll become more popular.
Air operated suffers the same issue as corded, dragging around the dirty air hose, which will mark the paintwork given the opportunity.
What does DA on a sander stand for? DA stands for dual action. The head of the sander rotates and orbits in an oval shape, this combination of movement offers the best sanding and buffing results.
What do you use a random orbital sander for? A random orbital sander is used to sand or buff auto panels, boat hulls, fine furniture or any flat surface where a smooth, fine finish is paramount.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.