A 1/4 sheet sander is tough to beat for the final finishing stages of a project. Also known as a "palm sander", this type of small finish sander is less aggressive than a random orbit sander, and has a scratch pattern that's much more conducive to the final smoothing of a raw wood surface. 1/4 sheet sanders are lightweight, gentle and easy to control with one hand, making them ideal for a variety of finish sanding work, including final smoothing of highly botch-able projects involving thin layers of veneer and delicate edges.
But the average 1/4 sheet sander does have one shortcoming: When it comes time to change the paper, the mechanisms that hold the sandpaper in place on most sanders of this type are anything but user-friendly. In case you've never put a piece of sandpaper on a palm sander, here's a typical paper-change procedure, and what's wrong with it:
The first step is to clamp one end of a 1/4 sheet of sandpaper in the sander's hold-down mechanism. That's the easy part. Next, you make an awkward bend in the free end of the paper to get it under the hold-down arm on the other end of the sander. Expect a little slow-down here. To finish up, you hold the sander steady while you stretch the paper tight across the bottom of the sander and push the end of the paper as far as you can into the hold-down clamp (all with one hand) and hold it there while you clamp the end of the paper in place. In short, changing paper on most palm sanders involves an unbidden dexterity test. It's not impossible, but the process is time-consuming, rife with potential for frustration, and of course, has to be repeated every time you need a new piece of sandpaper.
Getting the paper on tight is the most important part of the challenge, and also where you're most likely to fail. It's important because loose paper works against to the sander's very purpose: The "play" between the sander's pad and the sandpaper means that much of the desired orbital movement of the sander will happen between the pad and the back of the sandpaper, instead of where you want it to be - between the abrasive and the surface of the material. The misplaced movement also has an ill effect on the paper. It flexes the clamped-down ends of the sandpaper over and over again, causing them to weaken and tear long before the sandpaper loses its bite.
These are relatively minor problems, but they add up to a major nuisance. That's why we were so happy to see Bosch's new SheetLoc™ Sandpaper Attachment System, a solution that makes changing paper on the new Bosch 1297DK 1/4 Sheet Finishing Sander the simple, speedy task it ought to be. With the SheetLoc system, the rear hold-down arm sticks way down below the surface of sander when it's disengaged, making it easy to get the second end of the sandpaper sheet into the clamping mechanism. And when you engage the mechanism, the hold-down arm pulls the sandpaper up tight against the pad more or less automatically. It takes about half the time to change sandpaper on the Bosch 1297DK that it does with most sanders, and getting the paper up tight against the bottom of the sander is just about foolproof.