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Smooth Quickly with the Best Belt Sander

Belt sanders can be broken down into two categories: handheld and bench- mounted. They both operate under the same principles, with the bench-mounted ones being much larger than the portable ones. Typical belt size for a bench-mounted belt sander is 6 inches wide, while the most common size for portable belt sanders is 3 x 21 inches.

Of all the types of portable sanders on the market, belt sanders are the fastest cutting. These tools are normally used with a coarse grit belt to take off material quickly, whether they are being used for smoothing a hardwood floor, leveling the surface of a butcher block table or countertop, or stripping finish off of a chaise lounge on the patio. They don’t work well for finish sanding; you’re better off with a vibratory sander or a random-orbital for that.

Due to their size, these sanders are considerably heavier than other types of portable sanders. In most cases, this is an advantage, as the weight of the tool eliminates the need for the operator to lean on it. For larger projects, there are a few four-inch-wide portable sanders on the market. However, if the sander is going to be used to strip paint off existing doors, molding, and other vertical surfaces, be sure to buy the lightest weight one possible.

The biggest issue when selecting a belt sander is the tracking. The alignment of the two pulleys that the belt travels over can make it wander to one side or another. If it does this too much, it can damage the belt, the tool, or the workpiece. Best belt sanders in 2021 generally have better tracking mechanisms, with a few of them having fully automatic tracking which you don’t have to adjust.

Power is a secondary issue, but is also important. If a belt sander is going to be used a lot, you’ll want the biggest motor you can get. The same can be said if you’re the type of woodworker who leans on his sanders a lot. Without enough power, the sander can get bogged down, slowing the work. It can also overheat, which could ultimately damage the tool.

Most belt sanders are designed to have one side where the belt runs right up to the edge of the tool for flush cutting. This allows you to sand the entire surface - even the surface of the floor adjacent to a wall. A few of them also do a pretty good job of providing good clearance at the front edge for getting close to vertical surfaces without damaging them. A new design that is appearing on the market has the front pulley smaller than the rear one, much like the wheels on a dragster (racing car) - this allows the sander to get under overhanging objects, such as the toe kick on kitchen base cabinets.

The handles vary on these sanders, although most have a front and rear handle. You want something that will be comfortable, preferably with a rubber overmolding. A few provide movable front handles, allowing you to position them where they will work the best for you, but this feature is pretty rare.

One last little detail which can be useful is how the top of the sander is designed. When using the belt sander for small pieces, it can be useful to be able to turn it upside-down and clamp it in a vice or lay it on a workbench. Most allow this, although a few don’t.

Best Belt Sanders Worth Considering in 2021

best Harbor Freight 4"x 24" Variable Speed Professional Belt Sander

Harbor Freight 4"x 24" Variable Speed Professional Belt Sander - Best Belt Sander Overall

When I’m looking for tools at a discount price, Harbor Freight is one of my favorite destinations. I’ve found their tools to be more than adequate for my needs as a do-it-yourselfer, even though I’ve had some of them for many years. This 4 inch belt sander gives you considerably more sanding surface, making large jobs go quicker.

The overall weight is a bit higher, due to its larger size but the 10 AMP motor has plenty of power for rough jobs. Variable speed allows you better control for taking off less material when you need to. The tracking is very good, but I’d recommend buying some quality belts to go with it, otherwise you’re going to tear the belts up.

Ryobi ZRBE319 6 Amp 3" x 18" Belt Sander - Runner Up

Ryobi’s entry in this category has a little smaller motor than the others, coming in at five AMPS. So, if you’re the kind that likes to lean on your sander, you might want to look at one of the others. However, for most sanding jobs it should work fine.

A really nice quick release makes blade changing easy and the constant tension system helps keep the tracking working right. The dust port is round, making it very easy to connect it to your shop-vac for easy to take care of dust collection. A lock-on trigger keeps you from getting finger cramps on those larger jobs.

Makita 9403 11 Amp, 4" x 24" Belt Sander - Most Quiet

Although many people say that the Makita 9903 is the best belt sander around, this is the 9903's big brother. I'd say that gives it a leg up on the 9903. Instead of a 3 inch by 21 inch belt, this one uses a 4 inch by 21 inch belt. That's a full 33 percent wider for faster cutting, especially on large areas. The 11 amp motor is strong enough to cut through just about anything short of concrete, while maintaining an overall noise rating of only 84dB for operator comfort.

This is a heavy sander, weighing in at 12.6 pounds, so you probably won't want to hold it up for sanding vertical edges. However, all that weight is great for leveling hardwood floors and table tops. The dust bag swivels 360 degrees for operator convenience and the cord is mounted to the top of the handle to keep it out of your way.

Makita Tool 9903 3" x 21" Variable Speed Belt Sander - Consider

Makita wins the prize in this category, mostly for having the best tracking mechanism on the market. It’s almost impossible to get this tool to mess up on the tracking. While it isn’t totally automatic like the one on their 4 inch by 24 inch, it works extremely well. Back that up with an 8.8 amp motor, which makes it the second most powerful sander in this category.

Another thing I like about this sander is the dust collection system which actually works. Granted, it won’t pick up 100 percent, but I’d say that it will pick up a good 90% percent of the dust. They’ve also got an optional sanding shoe, allowing you to precisely set the depth of cut, preventing the sander from taking off too much material. Finally, this is an adjustable speed sander, which is nice for those times where you don’t want it to be quite so aggressive.

Buyer's Guide

Sanding is a core part of woodwork and furniture making; it is a process that involves the use of sandpaper to smoothen or polish a surface. Belt sanders are machines used to mechanically sand surfaces. They are must-have power tools in any woodworker’s tool kit; an average belt sander rotates around 40,000 times per minute. They are powerful tools that improve efficiency, reduce stress, and save time. With the review of the best belt sanders, you are familiar with the best sanders you can get. This guide discusses everything you need to know about belt sanders before buying one.

How do Belt Sanders Work?

Belt sanders are made up of two rollers that are fixed at a parallel angle to one another. Sometimes referred to as drums, the rollers have a sanding belt that is wrapped around them. Like manual sanding, belt sanding entails rubbing the sanding tool (in this case, the sanding belt) against the surface that needs sanding. A motor drives the roller at high speed once the sanding unit is switched on. The user then uses the machine on the surface that needs smoothing. The speed of the motor determines how fast the rollers will move.

Tips for Using Belt Sanders

  • Do not press down on the sander. Usually, the sander’s weight is enough to sand any surface. Too much pressure on the belt sander may ruin the surface.
  • Avoid leaving the belt sander stationary on the surface when switched on. The sander should be kept moving to avoid dishing the sanding surface.
  • To avoid injuries or damaging the sander, always start the belt sander before placing it on the sanding surface. Starting the sander while it is placed on the sanding surface may cause it to jerk forward, causing the user to lose control of the sanding belt.
  • Always use safety equipment like gloves, ear protectors, and safety glasses when using a belt sander.
  • The sander’s belt is bound to wear out; always check the belt’s status to avoid overworking the machine.
  • Ensure the rollers are level to ensure optimal output.
  • Finally, ensure you read the user manual before using the tool. They usually hold a lot of information specific to your belt sander.

What are the Things to Consider before Buying Belt Sanders?

Belt sanders abound in different shapes, specifications, and sizes. To get the ideal belt sander, some factors should be considered before making a purchase.

Motor capacity

As described earlier, the motor drives the sander’s rollers. Since the sanding belt is attached to the rollers, the sander’s speed of rotation and efficiency depends on the motor’s power rating. For example, a belt sander with an 8.8 amp motor will be more powerful than a sander with a 6 amp motor for the same voltage.

Belt size

The belt size determines the surface area that you can cover when using a belt sander. The belt size varies from one belt sander to the other. The bigger the belt size, the larger the area that can be covered.

Dust bag

A belt sander produces a large quantity of debris when in use. In a matter of seconds, the whole workshop could be filled with dust. Usually, belt sanders come with a bag that collects the dust and debris. However, their effectiveness in collecting dust varies from product to product. Therefore, you should be on the lookout for belt sanders with airtight dust bags that effectively keep dust in check.

Variable speed

Belt sanders are built to make work faster hence their high speed. However, the speed required to perfectly accomplish different tasks varies. Therefore, a belt sander that gives users control over the motor’s speed will be ideal for handling various tasks.

Noise reduction

Belt sanders make a lot of noise. Latest technological advancements have made it possible to have belt sanders with the noise reduction feature. If you like to work with a belt sander that makes lesser noise, a sander with the noise reduction feature should be top of your list.

Comfort

Since you will be holding the belt sander for long periods, a belt sanding machine with a good handle that ensures gripping with comfort should be prioritized. You don’t want to have discomfort around your palms after using the sander.

Weight

As a power tool, a belt sander is not exactly lightweight. If your work requires you to use the sander in a horizontal position, the weight will not have a lot of effect on your arms. Conversely, if you use the sander in a vertical position, a less heavy sander will be ideal for reducing the effect of the weight on the arms.

Safety

As with all machines, the safety of users while handling a belt sander should also be considered when buying a belt sander. For example, a two-step switch activation will ensure that the belt sanding machine is not inadvertently switched on.

Corded vs. cordless belt sanders

The difference between the two is their power source. A corded belt sander needs to be plugged into an outlet to work. The range of movement of such sanders is limited by the cord’s length. Cordless sanders work on rechargeable batteries and are highly mobile. On the downside, they may require more batteries to work over long periods.

How much do Belt Sanders Cost?

You can buy belt sanders for as low as $50, and there are high-end ones that cost over $500. The price of belt sanders depends on the size and other extra features. A middle ground between efficiency and cost can be found with belt sanders within the $100 and $250 price range.

FAQs

Q – Are belt sanders better than orbital sanders?

A – The two types of sanders are ideal for different types of tasks. Belt sanders are ideal for working on large areas, while orbital sanders fit into tight spaces and are good fits for smaller pieces of furniture.

Q – What is the difference between a drum sander and a belt sander?

A – Structurally, a drum sander resembles a lawnmower and is used for heavy-duty finishing. A belt sander is a handheld device for handling light-duty work.

Q – Why does my belt sander keep breaking belts?

A – This could be due to different reasons. The belt’s age, heat, and exposure to humidity are common reasons for constant breakages. If the pulley over which the belt rolls is not fixed properly and vibrates, it may break.

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