Tops the charts in terms of versatility. Sander is weighted well and feels sturdy. Can sand a floor, strip a cabinet, or polish a knick-knack with equal ease.
Dust bag is poorly located and often fails. Tends to heat up, but not overheat.
Adjustable handle and low-profile nose design sands into tight corners where other models can’t reach. Good value for small to medium jobs.
Single speed only. Some durability issues. It’s a light-duty sander, not a pro model.
Tracks well, with little adjustment needed. Packed with plenty of easy to use features.
Variable speed settings leave machine feeling under-powered. Unit does not feel well-balanced.
Tracks well and is stable. Belts are easy to replace. Dust collection feature works well. Is well-built and provides plenty of power.
Plastic parts do not hold up. Makes excessive noise. Changing the belt is clumsy. Design leads to extra weight on the left.
Excellent choice for finish work. Solid, with well-located grips. Unit is well-powered for its size and does a fine job sanding.
Gets uncomfortably hot during prolonged use. Does not come with variable speed settings. Plastic parts occasionally fail.
When searching for a belt sander, it can look like all the options are the same. This is especially true if you’re not a tool expert. They’re just gadgets with sandpaper on the bottom, maybe with different aesthetic designs, right? Not at all. Belt sanders come with a host of features that makes each one unique. A motorized belt sander may feel like a luxury item if you’re just finishing an edge on occasion, but for larger projects a sander is a must-have. The fine-grit, fast-moving sand belt at the bottom of a sander can flatten and smooth any wooden surface. It’s a great tool to save elbow grease on larger projects, such as sanding tables, doors, or anything with a large surface area. Smaller models are great for projects with a lot of finishing work.
If you want to pick one of the best belt sanders right away, refer to our recommended products. But if you want to get to know more about belt sanders before dropping the money on one, read our complete buying guide to belt sanders.
There are two major types of belt sanders: in-line and transverse. Neither is inherently better, but transverse belt sanders may be a bit easier to use effectively.
This design has a boxlike housing with a low center of gravity. The motor is parallel to the length of the sanding belt. It’s less likely to tip.
The motor of a transverse belt sander sits above the belt and across the width of the sander. Some of these have fans behind the motor; the fan can deliver dust to a dust bag. These tend to be heavier and easier to hold, since the weight of the machine adds pressure to the wood itself.
Belt sanders come in various sizes. The most common are 2.5 inches to 4 inches in width. Lengths typically start at 14-inch compact varieties, typically going up to 24 inches. If you’re working on large surfaces, bigger tends to be better. However, if you’re aiming for vertical woodwork or a smaller touch-up job, look for a smaller machine. Many of the smaller machines are much lighter, making them easier to handle for precise touch-up and vertical work.
Many belt sanders also come with variable speeds. If you’re going for more precise touch-up work, variable speed machines are a better option. A lower speed means less of a chance of sanding down too far. However, for thick wood and large spaces, a non-variable speed machine does the job.
If you suffer from allergies, or just really hate dust, a dust-collecting feature is something to look for in a belt sander. These are bag attachments that hang off the top or near the back of the sander, collecting dust as you work. It’s a good option if you’re doing large jobs – you’ll breathe less dust and have less to clean up.
The sanding frame is an add-on to many machines. It lines the outside of the belt sander, giving stability to the machine so that you sand evenly. It’s a great option for sanding beginners. Some sanders can fit them, some can’t, so be sure to check the machine before purchase if you want a sanding frame.
The belt sander is a pretty simple machine. The sandpaper is attached to two cylindrical drums. As the drums turn, they move the paper. One drum moves via an electrical motor, the other is spring-loaded to keep tension on the belt. You hold the sander on the surface of the wood you’re smoothing out, then the grit of the sandpaper wears the surface down.
The belt sander is a tool that takes some know-how to work safely and properly, however. Here are some tips on how to work the sander:
Your first and foremost goal is to make sure you can move the sander in as smooth of a motion as possible. Check that the cord is well out of your way, and arrange your sanding surface to be as straight as possible.
Hold the sander slightly above the sanding surface, so you’re coming at the surface with a smooth start.
Ease the sander onto the surface in a smooth motion, moving back and forth immediately. Move in the grain’s direction.
Don’t put pressure on the sander; just let the weight of the sander evenly add its own pressure.
Move in one long stroke, then move the sander to the side by half the distance of the first stroke. Repeating this pattern over the whole span of the wood ensures coverage of the sanding area.
Never go over the wood’s edge by one third or more of the belt’s length. The sander’s weight could cause a rocking motion, rounding the edge of your wood.
When you are done, ease the sander off the surface, then turn it off.
The lifespan of a belt sander depends on how well you take care of it. Below are some tips for maintenance – follow these to keep your sander balanced and functional. Solid maintenance is a good way to prevent mishaps, such as the sanding belt snapping on you unexpectedly.
Check the belt on the sander itself for cracks, and ensure that the rollers are lining up properly.
The platen is the metal plate under the belt. Check it regularly. If it looks worn away, replace it.
Keep an eye on the belt sander itself for debris, and vacuum out any recesses you can.
To protect the platen, attach a graphite cloth to it if your sander does not already come with one. These are typically backed with canvas and reduce friction against the machine itself.
Store the sandpaper belt in a sealed bag, away from moisture, humidity, and extreme temperatures. This protects it from becoming brittle and cracking.
The belt itself can get clogged with the materials it’s sanding down. To clean the belt, hold an abrasive cleaning block against the belt while the machine is on.
Belt sanders, like anything else, come at a host of different price tags. They tend to be found in three staggered price ranges of around $50, $100, and $200.
These belt sanders are smaller machines, generally 3” by 21” or smaller. Many of them come with dust collection bags as a feature, since it’s not an expensive add-on. These typically sand at one speed.
These belt sanders are the variable speed models. Machines in this category are usually still on the smaller side, around 3 by 21 inches.
Belt sanders in this price range contain bigger machines, like 4” by 24” and larger varieties. This range also has professional power motors. Full features like dust bags and quick-release belt-change levers are extremely common in this price range.
Q: How can I get the longest life out of my sander?
A: To get the greatest longevity out of your belt sander, make sure to keep up on its maintenance. Keep an eye out for anything that looks worn down or clogged with dust and debris. Vacuum out your sander as needed, replace belts when they start to look cracked or are sanding less efficiently, and use an abrasive cleaning block to clean the belt itself.
Q: How is a sander better than just plain ol’ elbow grease?
A: Elbow grease with a basic sandpaper block is great for jobs that take very light sanding, like adding distress marks to furniture for a vintage look. However, for larger sanding projects like doors, tables, decks, and the like, it makes sense to not wear your arm tired. That’s where a sander comes in.
Q: What’s the best way to hold and use a sander?
A: Have a firm grip on the sander where the handles are on that particular machine. Hold the sander straight, and never start the sander while it is touching the sanding surface or the sander creates an uneven spot as it kicks on. Move in long motions with the grain of the wood.
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