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6020-21 Palm sander (revised)


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As you may recall, back in May I posted about the Milwaukee 6020-21 1/4 sheet palm sander. My impression of the tool was that it was a very powerful sander for it's type, but the unusual paper clamp system was difficult to operate. Today I feel I owe it to all who grace the forum here at TIA to revise my position, so here I go.

I enjoy woodworking. My wife likes these "primitive style" things and she always has me building something. 4 days ago I began building an entertainment center which I will post pictures of by the end of the week assuming I can get them to upload. Anyway, for those of you that don't know what the hell "Primitive" is, it's the crap you see in magazines like Country Living that looks old when it really isn't. Though I have a house full of it, I'm really not all that crazy about it myself, but my wife is and you know how that goes. If you've ever made any of this stuff you know that a palm sander is the key to the whole operation. You basically build whatever it is your building in a crude but functional way, sand it to shape the corners and smooth the edges, paint it, sand it again to give it a worn or distressed look, then stain over the whole thing. This sander was built like a tank. It had that heavy, quality, feel you expect from Milwaukee. I loved the power the 6020 brought to the table, especially for the initial sanding step. It rounded corners and smoothed out edges with ease whereas before I had to really work on them with my 2 amp Dewalt. While it sounds like a fine machine, it did have an achilles heel. As I mentioned in May, the paper clamp system left a LOT to be desired. The clamp has tension on it and loading paper requires you to keep constant lifting pressure  while trying to work the paper into place. That alone wouldn't be all that bad but when coupled with the fact that the opening itself isn't much wider than the paper is thick. It's a chore to say the very least and I found myself using the paper longer than I should to avoid the pain in the ass of changing it. I'd like to tell you that after all this effort and over complication the paper is locked up tighter than Fort Knox, Sadly I must tell you this is not the case. Today the paper slid out of place every time I placed it flat against a surface. I tried 2 different brands of paper (3M and Freud) and got the same result with both. It rendered the tool virtually useless and I had to run to my dads and get the old Dewalt to finish the job. You guys know I'm a big Milwaukee fan, so it is with a heavy heart I must report that this tool is terrible! Don't buy it, don't borrow it, and if someone tries to give you one tell them no thanks. This is by far the worst Milwaukee tool I have ever used. I firmly believe that with a normal clamp system this would be a top tool in its class, but as it stands it's just useless junk. I hope Milwaukee releases a revision, but I'll go by the Makita I started to get in the first place. 

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While I usually use my old PC Speed-Blocs, I got caught out without my small sanders and rather then drive all the way back to the shop, I went to the local big box and picked up a PC 342. I have been surprised by the effectiveness of this little sander. The paper mount tabs are worlds easier to use then my Speed-Blocs, the light weight makes sanding vertical or overhead a piece of cake, and it is has very little vibrations transmitted to the user. They might be worth a look. The old PC Speed-Bloc sanders, I have had for 20+ years have been faithful workhorses, but they are heavy, which works as an advantage when sanding on the bench or other instances when you can use it upright, but can be a bit of a pain otherwise. All that mass does wonders to absorb vibrations making them a real pleasure to use for extended times. The paper clamps are backed by a very strong spring and make it interesting to load, once it is loaded the paper does stay in place, even when loaded with multiple sheets. I've noticed that PC still produces the Speed-Bloc, but I'm guessing it is probably made in Mexico or China now. I'm surprised that you have had problems with the Milwaukee, I have one of their new generations of ROS and it is a pretty good little machine. Does Milwaukee use some weird non standard method of paper mounting that is causing the problem?

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The clamp system uses the same concept as the others only instead of the typical wire looking clamp it's a bar with teeth. It looks like it would hold way better than the others but that just isn't the case. Loading paper is like trying to thumb wrestle a bear. There's a lot of tension on it so you have to keep holding it up with one hand and try to work the paper in with the other. Having someone help you put paper in your sander sounds obsurd, but with this thing it's just about the truth. I get what they were shooting for with the design, but it failed on delivery. Kind of like the passenger jets with the square windows the kept blowing out in mid air.

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