Friday, October 31, 2014

Finish the Job Right with a Finish Sander

Porter-Cable 380 1/4-Sheet Finish Sander

The old palm sander in my shop went tits-up a while back: the fiber backing pad for the sandpaper simply off one day, leaving it essentially useless. I was on the way to my local BigBox store anyway, so I jotted “new finish sander” at the bottom of my list. Meanwhile, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try re-gluing the pad. I gotta admit, the flexible adhesive (E-6000) I used definitely surprised me! By the time was completely dry, though, I'd already bought a replacement, a Porter-Cable 380 1/4-Sheet Finish Sander.

When I eventually got around to trying out the new sander a couple of projects later, I was quite pleased: the 380 is definitely a tight little piece of work. It’s ergonomically superior to sander it replaced (an old Black & Decker) and much quieter. It also has rudimentary dust-collection – not a match for a vacuum system, but better than letting dust fly.

Specifications and Description

The Porter-Cable 380 differs from most other palm sanders because it’s a square finishing sander as opposed to the more common round random-orbital units. The 380 has a 2-amp motor, capable of generating generates 13,500 orbits/minute with a 1/16-inch diameter. That compares almost straight up with the company’s random orbital sanders, which generate 14,000 OPM. This finish sander removes material less quickly than typical sanders. This design is intended to be a pure finish sander; just what you’ll need for the last one or two passes in finish sanding, where other sander might be a bit more aggressive. It’s reaches into corners where a round sander can’t go and is also better for rounding over corners and for edges.

The 380 is both small and lightweight. Its 2.3-pound weight is less than 2/3 that of Porter-Cable’s most random-orbital sander, the model 342. Precut or hand-cut quarter sheets of sandpaper (about 4” x 4”) attach with spring clamps. The sander ships with a plastic punch to poke holes through the sandpaper so the motor can vacuum up sawdust. There’s a small cloth dust bag that mounts by friction to a port at the rear of the body, under the power cord. There is not, however, a port for connecting a vacuum dust collection system. I generally cut or tear sandpaper into quarters and stack two or three on the pad, which strains the punch somewhat.

The palm area of the housing  is round, un-cushioned plastic with a dust-proof switch mounted at the front,  under the index finger,  and a little cross-hatch texture to improve the user’s grip. It isn’t coated with ergonomic material like some sanders, probably because it’s designed so you use it by simply guiding it around the workpiece instead of pushing on it.

In Use

My results with the 380 are satisfactory as long as I use it as a finishing sander instead of trying to remove a lot of waste material. It's quiet and does a fair job of sucking up the sawdust. If I need something more aggressive, I still have that glued-together B&D palm sander, but when I reach the point of sanding at finer grits, I reach for the Porter-Cable 380 and let it hum.


Plus: quiet, light-weight, bag for dust collection
Minus: no port to connect a vacuum system
What they’re saying: A Porter-Cable 380 Finish Sander is perfect for the last few passes of a sander before you apply the finish.

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