March 18, 2010

Craftsman 5" Vibrafree Random Orbit Sander - Review

craftsman_antivibe.jpgWe've had an eye on the Craftsman Vibrafree Sander for a while. It's been out for a couple years and we've read a bunch of reviews of it and they all seem pretty positive. Way more positive than we would have guessed from our first skeptical glance at the tool. The whole thing just seems too good to be true: an orbital sander that doesn't vibrate? So we had some anticipation in the works when Craftsman offered to send one our way for testing.

If you don't know, the Vibrafree's special superpower comes from its sanding pad, or rather sanding pads. Craftsman has taken the standard design of a singular disc and replaced it with a circular inner disc and a separate outer ring. The two pads orbit in opposite directions and thus cancel one another out. It's a simple idea and a nice one, but no matter how much we read, we wanted to know for ourselves if it did indeed work, and if there were any big drawbacks to the system.

craftsman_antivibe_bottom.jpg craftsman_antivibe_back.jpg

One thing we noticed immediately is that the Craftsman is heavier than the standard orbital. We suppose that this is from having to stuff two orbiting mechanisms in the tool. It's also slightly bulkier than most, but even with both of these characteristics, the size and the weight, it's easy to manage with one hand. It also has a nice long cord (10'), which we're always in favor of.

Now on to the whole 'no-vibration' thing.

We started it up and got going. And, well, yeah, it actually works. There's still the general movement and occasional stutter of an orbital sander, but that constant micro-shimmy, the one that wears your arm out and gives you pins and needles after about five minutes, is entirely absent. It's a strange feeling, using an orbital without that ever present jiggle. It's sort of like the first time we sat in a Hybrid and realized it was on, even though there was no motor noise: it's great, but there's something about it that's slightly unsettling. Using the Vibrafree on a few small projects, we discovered that the wear and tear on our arm was considerably less and we realized what a struggle on the wrist standard orbitals actually are.

craftsman_antivibe_dust_connection.jpgA second interesting feature of this tool is the dust collection. Instead of a soft filter dust bag, the Craftsman comes with something they call a 'cyclonic dust box,' which seems to work fine, but gains awesome points because it's called a 'cyclonic dust box.' It even has this nice little flip-up door at the back end of it so you can empty the canister without having to take it off the tool. Unfortunately the connection point between the tool and the dust box is done with these two little clips that look like they're one workbench drop away from breaking off. If you're not into the whole cyclone thing, the Craftsman comes with an adapter for a vacuum.

The one real downside to the tool is the fact that it's a single speed. If you're not used to variable speed orbitals, it's probably no big deal, but we like having that kind of control over disc speed based on the situation and it's too bad it's not an option with this tool.

craftsman_antivibe_discs.jpgAnother minor bone that we have to pick with this tool is the case that it comes in (we can actually hear some of you clicking away from the site). It's one of those cases where there is only one possible way for everything to fit in (which includes removing the dust canister from the tool), and there's really no room left for storage. in our experience, orbital cases end up being sandpaper clearing houses, and here, there's no way for that to happen.

Less vibration means more money because the Vibrafree sells for $100, which is a good $30+ higher than the average high-end name brand orbital. There's also the issue of discs. Because of the anti-vibration design, the sanding discs are unique and, thus, not easily available. They're on the Sears website (a 3 pack for $4), but items like this, you need to have available on the fly. It's likely that they're also at your local Sears. Also, it's worth noting that Rockwell has also released a Vibrafree sander that looks similar to the Craftsman. And when we say, 'similar,' what we really mean is, 'identical.' It's like someone photoshopped in some new colors and a new logo. The Rockwell even has the kickass "cyclonic dust box." The tools are so similar that there's got to be some sort of licensing agreement going on. But anyway, our point is that while the Craftsman may have limited availability with their discs, the Rockwell may be easier to find.

So our final say is that the orbital works great, even though we have some finicky little issues with it.

At Craftsman

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at March 18, 2010 5:00 AM
Recent Comments

I have the Craftsman vibrafree sandeer. I really like it. Less tiring to operate, dust collection is good with the cyclone box. Two things to comment on, however. First hooking a shopvac to the thing is unworkable. The sander limits the air coming into the vac and causes the hose to suck up to the point you can't control the sander. While it seems like a good idea, it doesn't work well. However, as long as you don't mind working with the box, that isn't a problem. The cyclone really, actually does suck up the particulate very, very well.
The second comment is that if you simply take any hook and loop, 5" discs and cut them between the holes you have a serviceable disc for this sander. Not what Rockwell/Craftsman had in mind to garner sales, but they work just fine and since I have hundreds of regular 5" discs on hand, it is going to save money from having to go out and buy special discs.

Posted by: Zeke Corder at April 26, 2013 11:49 AM

I bought one of these in 2012 (in part because of this well-written review). It's verrrrrrry nice, I'm kind of amazed that everybody doesn't know about this thing.

Yesterday I needed some coarse discs and called around everywhere, couldn't find them. I didn't want to mail order them and wait several days...

So I just bought some plain, solid 5" discs with hook-and-loop backing and cut them to fit with a utility knife. Worked perfectly.

The material does seem to dull the utility knife pretty quick, but then again everything these days seems to dull utility knife blades pretty quick.

Also, perhaps the case changed since your model. I had the same complaint about not having a space to store discs in the case. But yesterday I noticed that there's a sort of recess in the inside of the case lid that fits the manual and a pretty decent stack of discs.

Posted by: Steven J. Owens at September 26, 2012 2:23 PM

I just bought it online a couple days ago and am waiting with antisipation for it's arrival. I really appreciated the review you has as well as the comments placed by all others. These reviews are exactly what I look for when looking to purchase products like this and what a coinceedinc...I was also considering the Rockwell edition after seeing it on the Rockwell website while shoping for my new soon to arrive "SonicCrafter" we thanks for all the comments and feedback on the new "Vibrafree", well at least new to me.

Posted by: Jim at May 27, 2010 1:40 AM

I was thinking about getting one of these when they first came out, but the sanding disks were the deal breaker,I just dont feel like paying extra cash for hard to find special sanding disks, especially when its a very common accessory/part that is always wearing out. It's the same reason I went with the dremel multimax over the soniccrafter, dremels distro is better and I can find a part in my local store. I dont alway plan ahead when I decide to start work on something.
Rockwell also makes a vibefree sawzall ,the Craftsman one appears to be the exact same as well.

Posted by: Kevin at March 22, 2010 6:57 PM

"Thanks" for "commenting" on my "review."

Posted by: Tool Snob at March 20, 2010 8:48 AM

I'm not sure which came first. The Rockwell one has been out for some time too. I have the product and the performance is great. Your "review" seems accurate.

Posted by: Chris at March 20, 2010 12:13 AM
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