Milwaukee 6020-21 Palm Sander Reviewby Lorenz Prem
This week we finally made time to review the Milwaukee 6020 palm sander as part of our quest to review all important palm sanders on the market. This particular model has the distinction of sitting at the top of the power charts. Selling at only a slight premium we had to get it into our shop. Let's take a look, if the Milwaukee 6020 palm sander can turn its lead in the power department into a win in the sanding performance test.
The Milwaukee 6020-21 Palm Sander
The 6020 is a 1/4 sheet palm sander from Milwaukee that follows the traditional knob style design. Black rubber covers both the top and bottom of the tool providing a firm and comfortable grip. The tool creates that "monolith-like" feel we all like to experience in our power tools. With no sharp corners and few protruding bits the 6020 is likely to last on the job site. Any fall will have to be of the unfortunate variety to have a chance of hurting this sander.
The 6020 sets itself apart from the competition with its powerful 3 amp motor. This unit is significantly more powerful than any of the competition's power units. Combined with the generous 14,000 rpm oscillation speed, the motor powers the sander to the top of our performance charts. There is no variable speed feature, which is a bit of an omission on such a powerful sander.
The rubber covered power switch feels a bit mushy, but performs its intended function. All we can do as reviewers is hope that Milwaukee understands that small things like the way the On/Off switch feels, have an impact on how much we like their power tools.
The base plate of the sander is made from plastic, which somewhat limits the life of the tool. Thankfully the plate is replaceable should it ever break. The dust collection pathways cut into the bottom of the base plate are larger than average giving the 6020 above average dust collection performance. The sub base plate with its 6 hole pattern is held in place with Allen head bolts. This makes sub-base changes unnecessarily complicated.
The Paper Clamps
The sanding paper clamps are easily the worst feature of the 6020. It seems like the engineers wanted to improve upon the standard design and got it slightly wrong. I had to read the instructions to understand how the system works. That's never a good sign.
The clamps on the 6020 are spring loaded. A stiff flat-metal spring creates downward pressure on the paper at all times, even when the lock-lever is in the open position. To open one of the clamp's jaws the user has to push the lever up while it is in the open position; an operation that would damage the clamps on any other sander. Returning the lock lever to the locked position does not actually lock the clamp. It merely keeps the lever out of the way. The only downward pressure on the paper is that of the spring.
Besides its unintuitive nature this design has a couple of additional problems. Firstly, operation of the rear clamp is hindered by the dust adapter. Installation of the paper is still easy enough, but it is far more finicky than it needs to be. Secondly, the clamps do not pull the paper tight as they close. Both clamps only grip the paper in a downward motion. It's up to the user to push the paper deep into the clamps to pull the paper tight to the bottom plate of the sander. State of the art clamping systems pull the paper tight for the user, making the process much easier than it is on the 6020.
Overall the clamping system almost ruins what otherwise is a very capable sander. The nice molded plastic handles hinted at something great. What we got is a system that is worse than the standard design, and is more prone to failure to boot.
The dust collection performance of the 6020 straddles the line between good and great. The hose adapter secures to the body of the tool as tightly as no other. It's as if the two pieces become one when they are joined. This bond makes dragging a vacuum hose behind the sander as easy as it is on any other sander. Dust collection performance in this configuration is as good as it can be. If the user avoids rapid movements, the sander picks up nearly all surface dust.
The dust bag works better than most. Its relatively thin cloth walls allow a lot of air to pass through thereby increasing dust collection performance. The filter efficiency of the bag, however, is a little suspect. When using the sander in this configuration there is still plenty of dust around, most of which is the dangerous very-small kind.
Taking the bag off the sander to empty it could not be any easier. The bag twist off with ease, yet locks into position securely and with conviction when it is reinstalled. This is the way this operation should feel like.
Without a doubt the 6020 is the fastest sanding 1/4 sheet palm sander we have tested. The 3 amp motor combined with the generous oscillation speed make this tool the stock removal champion. The 6020 will take more weight on top of the knob than any other sander before being in danger of overheating. While it's still best to let the tool do the work, it's good to have the option to go even faster.
The missing speed control can be an issue with this sander. The 6020 is not the best sander for fine work. If left in one place for too long, the 6020 will happily create a low spot for you. When sanding veneer this sander can become a liability rather than an asset.
As fast as the 6020 is, it still cannot compete with a 1/3 or 1/2 sheet palm sander. If speed is the only reason you are looking at the 6020, you might be better served by one of the larger sanders.
Thanks to its large motor the 6020 is nearly indestructible during operation. You can use it all day long, every day of the week and you'll still get several years of service out of this machine. Chances are the clamping system will be the first part you'll have to replace besides the disposable sub base.
As with all palm sanders surface quality heavily depends on how the user guides the palm sander. A skilled operator will have no problems creating a mostly pattern-free surface. The 6020 will, however, create grooves faster than most sanders, if you let it.
The Carry Case
The case that comes with the 6020 is a wonder of modern day commerce. Not because of the way it functions, but because of what it shows about the state of the industry. The case has a molded compartment for the anti-theft device attached to the power cord. Milwaukee apparently expects their honest customers to safely tuck away a part they have no use for every time the tool is used. Talk about optimizing for the wrong person.
Besides this issue that only reviewers can find fault with, the case is actually very good. It is made from thick plastic. The interior is molded to fit the contours of the tool and some of the accessories. When the case is closes all parts are held in place securely without any movement. The case and its content will survive many years of abuse on the way to and from the job site.
As good as the case is, it is still a custom case. If you carry several tools to the job site, boxes that stack are the better option.
The 1/4 Sheet Sander Market
We have tested most of the most popular 1/4 sheet palm sanders on the market. The Milwaukee 6020 has the distinction of being the most powerful of the bunch. Our sanding test confirm this stat. The 6020 is your sander, if you are looking to finish the job as fast as possible.
The Bosch 1297DK is the better choice for work done in finished spaces thanks to its superior dust collection mechanism. The Makita BO4556K, DeWalt D26441K, and Porter Cable 342K are in a close race for the title of best general purpose 1/4 sheet sander. Each one has its quirks and unique features, which makes selecting one a personal choice. We have in-depth reviews for all of them.
The Milwaukee 6020 is a well-built sander that excel at rapid stock removal. It is the fastest 1/4 sheet sander we have ever tested. The excellent case and good dust collection system make it an attractive choice. Fit-and-finish and durability are top notch. Unfortunately the non-standard spring based paper clamping system is poorly design. Paper changes take longer to complete than they do on just about any other sander, and its hard to get a tight fit.
The 6020 scores very well in just about every category. If you can look past the poor paper clamps, this sander may just be the best 1/4 sheet sander on the market. Unfortunately under the cruel light of truth the Milwaukee 6020 does not rise beyond mediocrity. It performs well, but will give you trouble every time you touch the sanding paper.