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If you like to sand, you’re part of a minority. It’s time-consuming, tedious and, let’s face it, absolutely unexciting sometimes. However, if you skip the sanding job you’re more than likely to end up disappointed when the job is finished- and then all the real hard work goes completely unnoticed.
Fortunately, power tool manufacturers have come to the rescue with a range of power tools engineered to abrade wood, metal and laminate fast and effortlessly. And the undisputed champion for fast stock removal and fine finishing is the best belt sander.
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What is a belt sander?
The belt sander is a workhorse. Faced with a challenging job that would be quite tedious physically, a sander will really grind its way through the job easily. In fact, once you use one, you will start wondering how you managed to come so far without using one.
If you have never touched a belt sanding tool once, make sure you spend enough to familiarize yourself with it when you first get hold of one. Since it is heavier, larger and livelier than a drill-disc or pad sander combination, it does take some getting used to. Also, changing belts, hefting, adjusting belt tracking as well as the pull as the belt gnaws at the work piece will all be fairly new to a beginner like you. To gain the all-important experience, try to use this tool on various materials: metals, soft woods, hard words, plastic sheets, laminated sheets and any others that you normally work with.
Remember the belt sander should always be switched on before you make contact with the work piece and switched off after it is taken off. When lowering the tool to the work piece, make sure that the flat paten is kept parallel to it. Once it makes contact with the work piece, keep it moving to avoid dishing out. The weight of the tool itself provides enough pressure; all one needs to do is guide it through. That said, bearing down on the sander can, as a matter of fact, cause damage. If you are using it to work with wood, move it with the grain of the wood, not the other way around. When used across the grain, the belt sanding tool might plow a deep groove particularly if left for too long in one spot.
If belt sander reviews are anything to go by, most sanders available on the market are all basically the same, with some variations in design.
Belt Sander vs Palm Sander vs Random Orbit Sander – which is the right option?
There will come a time when the job calls for sanding a work piece to make it smooth. While there are several sanding tools you can use to get through the job, nothing comes close to a portable power sander. It can get the job done quickly and ensure a fantastic finish. We are going to look at three most common kinds of power sanders that many use to tackle most Do-It-Yourself applications: Belt Sander, Palm Sander and the Random Orbit Sander.
It sands using a continuous belt that rides between a couple or maybe three pulleys. A drive pulley drives the belt and the idler pulleys guide it. Most models have an adjustment feature that automatically maintains the belt in the centre of the pulley during operation to eliminate belts that wander off the pulleys.
Ideal for a moving material, this sander can remove material aggressively and rapidly. If that is what you need to do, this is the sander for you.
Jump to Compare belt sanders
Palm sander, which is also called a finish sander, has a sandpaper attached to the square pad on the bottom of sander with special clamps. The motor moves the pad in small circular orbits. It’s extremely easy to handle and can make use of standard 9” x 11” sheet sandpaper cut to size, making it a more affordable option than other sanders when factoring the cost of sandpaper. To facilitate dust collection, most palm sander models come with a piercing plate that allows you to transform a standard sheet of sandpaper into one with holes designed to fit on the bottom of the tool.
It is great for finish work and sanding in corners and is one of the more economical options.
You may like: Top 5 palm sander reviews
Random Orbit Sander
It is a blend of two sanders- an orbital sander and a disc sander. The sanding pad is mounted offset relative to the main shaft that’s driven by the motor. When this shaft turns, the pad starts to move in small orbits. The speed at which the freewheeling disc spins varies whenever the pressure changes. And, this helps to make a sanding pattern that is free from the obvious swirl marks left by other sanders.
This tool removes stock as fast as a belt sander but with results that are on a par with better finish sanders. If you are looking for an all in one sander that does the jobs of both disc and orbit sander and removes the swirl marks that can ruin a fine finish, pick one of those random orbit sanders.
5 Best Belt Sanders
- Makita 9903
- Motor: 8.8 AMP
- Belt size: 3" x 21"
- Speed: 690-1,440 ft./min
- Noise level: 85dB
- Weight: 9.5 lbs
- Warranty: 1 year
- Makita 9403
- Motor: 11.0 AMP
- Belt size: 4" x 24"
- Speed: 1,640 ft./min
- Noise level: 84dB
- Weight: 13.0 lbs
- Warranty: 1 year
- PORTER-CABLE 362V
- Motor: 12.0 AMP
- Belt size: 4" x 24"
- Speed: 1,000-1,500 ft./min
- Noise level: 84dB
- Weight: 17.4 lbs
- Warranty: 1 year
- Genesis GBS321A
- Motor: 8.0 AMP
- Belt size: 3" x 21"
- Speed: 390-1,180 ft./min
- Noise level: 95dB
- Weight: 8.9 lbs
- Warranty: 2 year
Makita 9903 | Best 3×21 Inch Variable Speed Belt Sander
Makita has equipped this 3” x 21” sander with one feature that all makers would do well to notice- an 84 db noise level measured at top speed. Other than that, however, we actually have a basic, variable speed, transverse motor belt sander.
The higher amped motor of this tool could help you get your jobs done a wee bit quicker. This is certainly a great advantage as far as reducing fatigue, as well as adding to its life. With a variable speed setting range of 690- to 1440 feet per minute (fpm), this tool offers allows you to match its speed to the application.
Makita 9903 does have a large knob for tracking; however we noticed that tracking seems to differ in use depending on pressure applied to the sander. This sander has loads of power for a tool its size, and the vacuum bag really sucks up a lot of dust without peppering it all over the workspace.
All in all, this is an attractive and versatile sander.
Makita 9403 | Best 4×24 Inch Belt Sander
With a speed of 1640 fpm and its 4” x 24” sanding area, this beast is ready to tackle any heavy duty job. In fact, this tool represents the biggest, feature-intensive, and biggest class on the sander market and comes out on top on many fronts.
It comes with multi-position side handles and a lengthy power cord, the Makita 9403 scores well for its ergonomic design. Add that to its heavy duty motor and superior construction designed for optimal sealing of motor and bearings, this is a first-grade tool for quality. It has an exposed nose, which means that it could be a great choice for sanding every last inch of a wood board.
It’s a bit of a shame that it is a bit heavier than other tools in its class but it more than makes up for it with a host of incredible features.
Overall, a great choice for any contractor or carpenter who’s looking for a professional grade, heavy-duty tool.
PORTER-CABLE 362V | Heavy-duty 4×24 Inch Belt Sander
This is a well-designed, no-frills, variable speed transverse motor sander. The operation and feel of the tool is extremely good. Even though the sound-level meters placed this tool below other tools of its class, the noise Porter-Cable 362V produces is fairly whiny.
This has got a 12 amp motor that can run the belt up to 1500 fpm. For a device that’s loaded with power, it offers great balance and seems to be well designed and engineered although not as well made as the old power tools from Porter Cable. It is heavy enough to be very effective and light enough to work with on those wood removal and levelling jobs that require extended period of time.
The belt tracking is impressive and the sander does a very good job of sanding flush to one side. One of the striking features of this sander has to be its large dust bag which is also easy to remove and empty.
Porter Cable has built a reputation for selling extremely effective and robust power tools that last longer even after years of service. P-C 362 V is no different. And, it’s already getting rave belt sander reviews.
Genesis GBS321A | Medium-duty Belt Sander for the money
If you are searching for a medium-duty 3” x 21” sander tool with thoughtful design and build, refined performance in keeping with this class, then odds are you will be contented with the Genesis GBS321A.
A low profile design means superior balance and grip even when you reach it into those tight corners. It’s quite light in weight compared to its rivals, and offers pretty good belt tracking- it’s a snap. Along with a comfy grip, it has adjustable front grip handle for better control and operation.
While its 8.0 AMP motor does an average job in terms of cranking out power, this compact tool is otherwise a joy to operate. It’s not the noisiest of them all and fairly vibration free as well. The tool does an excellent work of flush sanding on the side but not as quite at the front.
There is one thing Genesis should put right, however- the power cord. At 6.5 ft., it’s just too short for a tool that is expected to be moved around.
Overall, it’s a great tool and offers best bang for your buck.
Rockwell RK7866 | Best Benchtop Belt Sander
Benchtop tools are the best solution for anyone with cramped space, but also an appetite for powerful performance. And as far as sander tools go, Rockwell RK7866 is quite similar to those floor models that you’re likely to spot in retailers.
A ½ horsepower motor runs the belt and disc up to commendable speed- good enough for smoothing without scorching and quick stock removal. To handle most sanding jobs, the tool features a 6 inch dia. disc and a 4 inch wide belt. A die-cast aluminum table with a tilt range of 0 to 45 degrees also has a handy miter gauge slot.
Rockwell has certainly put lots of time and effort into the design and construction of the RK7866. It boasts commanding design everywhere you look and the construction is absolutely heavy duty and the tool purrs like a cat.
If you are interested in buying a stationary, versatile sanding machine without breaking your bank, this tool is worth considering.
Types of Belt Sander
Belt sanders can be broadly categorized into two. They are
- In-line belt sander
An in-line sander is characterized by a low profile design with boxlike housing that has a low center of gravity. It also means that the tool is least likely to tip no matter whether you are removing nicks and scratches or flattening panels. On this type of sander, the motor is actually set parallel to the length of the sanding belt. A perpendicular gear drive cuts down motor speed, and power is fed to the drive roller through a sander belt. Irrespective of motor orientation, most sanders utilize a front roller made of metal and a drive roller made of rubber that prevents the belt from slipping. Other features common to all sanders are a platen that supports the sanding area and a belt release lever. A flat top means you can use it upside down on a workbench as a compact stationary sander. This design is usually confined to the small, light and medium duty machines.
- Transverse belt sander
On transverse sanders, the motor is placed transversely above the belt and across the width of the machine. This arrangement drives more power through a simple drive belt (toothed). Reduction gears right behind the drive gear cause further reduction in speed bringing it down to a speed good enough to drive the belt. The fan behind the motor creates a strong current of air that carries dust from the sander to the dust bag collector. A belt tensioning mechanism and tracking knob keep the belt firmly aligned on rollers. In addition to a trigger switch, these sanders have a lock button to keep the tool locked during constant use. The general notion is that transverse sanders are relatively easier to handle than their counterparts. With the motor placed perpendicular to the belt, the sanders are a bit heavier and sand more aggressively as well.
What are the uses of a belt sander?
The good belt sander is handy for all types of DIY work. If you are in a need to grind something down real quick while fitting some carpentry work or building a deck, the belt sanding tool might be the way to go. In addition to several on-the-job applications, a sander can also be fitted with clamps for special uses like a power sander (bench type). When clamped on its side, the sander can be utilized for planing jobs.
Both special purpose and general abrasive papers are made with belt sanders. Or, you can make use of some special purpose belts to convert the tool for use as a buffer, cleaner and polisher for plastics, woods, laminates and metals.
Using a belt sander, you will have to spend a lot less time on grinding tasks such as:
- Reducing thickness of a stock
- Buffing and polishing
- Sanding rough stocks
- Putting a bevel on say a door
- Dressing up a poorly done saw cut
- Back-cutting for neater joints (casings for instance)
Some Belt Sanding Facts You Should Know
Wood– For accurate finishing of cabinetry or furniture, make use of as many finer grits as possible. The main goal here is to get rid of any coarse marks left by the coarser belt that preceded the one in use.
Metal– Tallow or Beeswax are recommended for use as lubricants for polishing, sanding or removing stains from metals. There are several commercial lubricants available for metal sanding.
Refinishing– When removing lacquer or varnish, paint, use an open coat type belt to strip off the layers initially. Then change it to closed coat type belts as the material show through the coating. Use light, short strokes for long lasting belt life and to avoid burning the coating.
How Do You Pick the Right Belt Sander Machine?
Several masters stress to their woodworking students the significance of using hand planes for fine woodworking. Nothing can make a surface as smooth, not even a process like sanding. That said, it takes a great deal of skill and expertise to us, let alone learning how to fine-tune and sharpen them. Even though a belt sanding tool is not a replacement for a hand plane in any way, if your main requirement for a hand plane is to flatten out panels that are glued-up, you just might get by with the best belt sander.
Let’s take a close look at the features you should look at before you buy a belt sander.
Weight and Power
You certainly don’t need earth-shattering power for most of those sanding jobs, so this wouldn’t be a top priority. Of course, extra power for the same cost is always a nice thing to have, so it pays to compare motor amperages from one belt sanding model to another. You’ll get to see a whole range of amperages from as little as 6 to as much as 10 or over.
Belt sanders are mainly used in the horizontal position so weight is not a serious consideration. However, if you carry out a good chunk of home renovation work and might need to use this tool vertically or perhaps overhead, then pay heed to the weight ratings. A machine that weighs 10 lb or less will be a lot easy on the arm when used vertically, compared to a sander that weights anywhere between 12 and 15 lb.
Size and shape
Even though there are various sizes out there, most belt sanders are categorized into two sizes: 4” x 24” and 3” x 21”. The former is used for heavy duty sanding and might be too hard to control for an amateur, whereas the latter gives the best combination of speed, balance and power.
Note that belt sanding machines are classified by the size of the belts they use, as measured by the width and length of the belt. The larger the belt size the heavier the tool and the quicker the time taken to finish off work. Choose the larger model if you’re after an industrial grade belt sander. Pick one of the smaller models, if you’re more likely to use the tool for a variety of applications and particularly for free hand or vertical on-site work. Again, it’s a personal choice.
Back in the day, most sanders had only one speed of operation. Most belt sanders now have variable speed, which ranges anywhere between 500 fpm to around 1500 fpm. Several advanced tools have two distinct speeds of operation, whereas others have a speed dialler to let you choose any speed in between. Buying a variable speed sander is a wise choice if you are going to use it for a variety of applications. What might work well on hard word could be very rough and coarse on pine. Assess your requirement and go for the variable speed model if it is not a costly proposition for you. However, if you are on a shoestring budget, a single speed will just do fine. You can change the stock belt to a finer grit belt so as to control the aggression of a single speed sander. Speaking of changing belts, we come to the next aspect of how to buy a belt sander.
Most sanders out there allow you to change belts easily and quickly- all it takes to change a belt is to take the tension off of it and push it back in the groove to tighten it up again. Once you put the new belt on, make sure you track it, similar to how you track a blade on say a bandsaw. Some tools have automatic tracking, while others come with an adjustable knob that you turn until the belt sits in the middle of the metal plate that supports the belt between the rollers. Manual tracking, in fact, is not a challenge.
If you have been doing a lot of sanding jobs or, if your wife has not been pleased with the dust settling in the work room, the extra money that a dust collector costs will be worth it. Most makers offer at least one belt sander fitted with a dust collector in the form of a canister or an on-board dust bag. It is a pretty good feature in that it adds very little to the total cost. Make sure whatever the dust is collected in is big enough so you don’t have to stop sanding for a trip to the trash bin when the bag gets full. Some sanders allow you to take the bag out and reattach to it, while some allow you to get rid of the bag and connect a vacuum hose to it- that’s worth looking at if you plan to use the tool frequently.
Comfort and Handle
When it comes to hand operated power tools, don’t underrate comfort. And that includes noise ratings. You might put your belt sander to work for an extended period of time, so make sure that it gives you superior comfort. It is mostly subjective, depending not only on the type of handle you are used to but also on the shape and size of your hands.
For instance, the rear and front handles on the Elu sanders are a touch too close together for someone with large hands. Also, woodworkers with large hands prefer large, flat, front handles over rounded knobs because of the extra grip and control. Some find the top-handle tools easier to lift on and off the material and easy to cart around singlehandedly.
Pay attention to handles and placement of switches, knobs and handles in particular. Certain belt sanders have handles that can be adjusted in several ways or even detached to get into tighter work spaces.
Belt sanders are excellent machines and they don’t vary greatly from one model to another as much as other power tools. Nevertheless, make sure you consider belt sander reviews to buy a sanding tool that meets your requirement and offers ultimate comfort. More importantly, buy a first rate tool you can afford and it will give several years of exceptional service.
So there you have it. Now you have a grasp of what a belt sander is, you have the confidence to take on any DIY project that requires sanding. And everything will go smoothly because you know how to how to choose the right belt sander for the application. In the end, your reward will be a flawless finish that you will admire for years to come.
Good luck with your project!