In the world of 1/4 sheet palm sanders the Porter Cable 330 is an anomaly. It looks different and costs significantly more than the clones that have invested the mainstream market. Needless to say, we had to find out what was up. Let's take a look at what makes the Model 330 sander different.
The Porter Cable Model 330
The Model 330's design is a departure from the generic design that dominates the mainstream 1/4 sheet sander market. Following a legacy of several decades the designers at Porter Cable decided against introducing yet another design that differs very little from the competition. Instead the Model 330 dares to be different by concentrating on durability and quality at the expense of features.
The most important difference this philosophy produced is the full-metal frame that hides below the plastic shell of the Model 330. Along with the ball-bearing shaft supports the metal frame gives this sander unmatched durability. Under normal operating conditions the Model 330 will outlast almost all other sanders by a wide margin. In a hobby shop the sander is likely to last decades.
All that metal makes the Model 330 a very heavy sander. This is a welcome attribute in a tool that requires downward pressure to operate, but becomes an issue when working overhead. The Model 330 likes to be used at the workbench for standard sanding tasks. There is no knob handle to hold the sander from the top. The designers intended the Model 330 to be held with one hand wrapped around the curves of the body. Thanks to the flowing contours hands of all sizes will find a comfortable position.
The red power switch near the top of the tool is the only control found on the sander. It turns the sander On and Off with a satisfying click. Recessed just a bit the switch is impossible to trip by accident. The single speed motor moves the sanding pad back and forth at 14,000 rpm. This is a well chosen speed for most generic sanding tasks, but ultimately limits the sander's versatility. Some fine work requires a level of control the Model 330 simply does not have.
The sander has no built-in dust collection of any kind. There are no holes in the base to suck up dust, nor is there a fan to create a pressure differential. The sander leaves behind all dust it creates right on the work piece. Besides requiring the user to clean up after the tool, this design keeps dust out of the motor and body of the sander. This is likely to increase the lifetime of the tool compared to sanders that pull in dust.
The Power Cord and Motor Brushes
The 7 ft power cord performs its task well, but stands in contrast to the great cord mounted on the previous version of the sander. The current cord does not lie as flat and resists kinks as well as the old cord did. Porter Cable has decided to save some money here. If you need a longer cord, it is easy enough to install an after market one in a few minutes.
The motor brushes of the Model 330 are hidden deep within the sander. The manual recommends sending the sander to a Porter Cable licensed repair shop every 100 hours of operation for a brush change. Most of us will baulk at this request. At home brush changes are probably still possible, but you'll spend some time taking the sander apart and putting it back together again.
The Sandpaper Change Process
The way sandpaper is changed on the Model 330 is different than on any other sander. Like on most sanders two metal clamps secure the paper to the sanding pad. On the Model 330 these clamps are made of thick sheet metal following the tool's focus on durability. To open a clamp the user has to insert a flat, hook-like tool into a small slot in the front face of each clamp to pry it open. Form here the process plays out like on any other palm sander.
The clamps secure the paper well. Their wide jaws and strong springs make sure there is no movement anywhere. Tensioning the paper properly can be difficult, but becomes second nature with enough practice.
While resulting in a 100% functional setup, the sandpaper change process is unnecessarily complicated. It takes several times as long to change the paper on the Model 330 than it does on any other palm sander. If you lose the blade change tool, you can still pry the clamps apart manually, but the process becomes even trickier to pull off than it already is. With this design Porter Cable has traded usability in favor of durability. If you are willing to make the same tradeoff, the Model 330 can still be a solid performer.
One way around this problem is to use PSA type sandpaper (stick-on/pressure sensitive adhesive). The pad installed on the sander accepts this type of sandpaper without modification. Unfortunately PSA sandpaper is significantly more expensive than traditional sandpaper.
In the woodshop the Model 330 is an average performer. Neither blessed with the most powerful motor, or the largest orbit, it places well in all of our sanding tests, but fails to capture the top position in any of them. This sander is all about producing good-to-great results for years on end.
The 14,000 rpm motor speed and 5/16" orbit combine to produce decent results when sanding with 120 grit or finer sandpaper. Due to this dynamic the Model 330 is best used for preparing surfaces for finish applications, and for sanding multi-layer finishes. In these situations the sander's mediocre power output is not an issue, and its strengths truly shine elevating its overall performance to the very top.
Rough grits of sandpaper cause the Model 330's performance to drop. The sander will still perform the work without every once bogging down, but sanders with more powerful motors and higher rotation speeds get the job done much faster. Professionals should look at larger sanders for rough work. Infrequent users will never know what they are missing.
The surface the sander leaves behind is beyond any critique. Like all palm sanders the Model 330 can produce visible scratch patterns when used incorrectly, but in the hands of an even moderately experienced woodworker results are uniformly excellent. At 220 grit a second pass with a random orbit sander is usually unnecessary.
The relatively soft pad wears slowly, but its soft edge can make it difficult to produce a consistent finish in corners and along edges. Additional, careful passes can compensate for the issue. Sanders with stiffer pads do better here. Porter Cable only offers one kind of sanding pad for the Model 330.
Without a downdraft table the missing dust collection is noticeable. Hobbyists have to be very aware of this issue and understand what this sander demands of its environment. Cleanup time after each project is significant without a downdraft table.
It was a pleasant surprise to hear how quiet the Model 330 is compared to the competition. While it is still recommended to use hearing protection with all power tools, the Model 330 might be below the limit where that is no longer true. If you are working around people, this sander produces professional results while making less than half the noise.
One attribute that is not immediately obvious from the Model 330's specs is how well it dampens vibrations. Due to its weight and the rubber vibration dampeners built into its base, the Model 330 feels more stable than just about any palm sander without active vibration dampening technology. Professionals who run sanders all day long will tell you that the Porter Cable Model 330 has developed a reputation to keep you working longer.
The feel of the Model 330 when sanding is something to be experienced, rather than explained. Once you have used this sander, you'll know why the competition is inferior. You only truly need this feature, however, if you use your sander regularly. As rough as mainstream sanders can be on your hands, they will produce no ill effects, if you keep your sanding sessions shorter than two hours a day. Cabinet shop owners, who run their tools all day long, will accept no substitutes.
The Model 330 is a sander built unlike any other. A metal frame and overall excellent build quality give it a level of durability far beyond the competition. With care this sander will likely last for decades. Quieter and more stable than the competition it is a pleasure to use. For some tasks there is hardly a better sander than Model 330.
Locked at 14,000 rpm the motor produces good result with 120 grit or finer sandpaper. When doing rough work the Model 330 falls behind sanders with larger, more powerful motors. The unorthodox sandpaper clamps require a tool to be open when changing the sandpaper. With no dust collection at all the Model 330 is very much a situational tool. You have to decide, if it fits the way you work.
The Porter Cable Model 330 is one of the best sanders on the market, if you are willing to make the same tradeoffs as the designers. It is pure joy for some tasks, and a pain for others.
- durable to the extreme
- metal frame
- good downward pressure due to weight
- excellent vibration reduction
- quiet compared to the competition
- a pleasure to hold an use
- excellent power switch
- mediocre sanding performance with low grit sandpaper
- no dust collection
- does not have a knob handle on top
- single speed
- short, mediocre quality power cord
- finicky paper clamps that require a tool to open
- hard to use overhead
- internal motor brushes