Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill
These aggressive sanding machines can work wonders in the shop if you know how to handle them.
A belt sander takes a bit of time to get to know well, but once you’ve mastered its use it will make quick work of much of your rough sanding tasks around the workshop. Belts, ranging from 36 grit to 150 grit, can be easily removed and added, giving the user a wide range of uses. If you’re using a belt sander quite often a light yet powerful model, that feels comfortable in your hands, is what you want. Some battery-powered models are now available, though corded models are still the norm. Small units, called palm sanders, are essentially small belt sanders that can be used single-handed.
Price: $80 – $300
Amps: 5 – 10
Common Belt Widths: 3″ and 4″
Common Belt Lengths: 18″, 21″ and 24″
Weight: 5 – 15 lb
Low-grit sanding belts are very aggressive, while higher-grit belts can produce a fairly fine and smooth surface. A high-grit, that’s asked to remove too much material, will clog quickly and may cause burning.
Belt sanders can eat through a layer of veneer in seconds, if not used with care. A light touch and putting the unit down gently before pulling the trigger is a good start.
Setting up a specific area in your shop where you can sand panels and longer lengths of material can help greatly. A stop to keep the workpiece in place is very helpful.
Know when to use a belt sander, and when a lighter sander is the best tool for the job. Belt sanders are typically one of the first to be used, while finer sanders provide a surface worthy of a great finish.
Sanding dust accumulates quickly, so empty the attached dust collection bag often. To keep the ambient dust down a fan, an open door / window and dust mask / respirator can go a long way to keeping your lungs happy.