Sanding is a regular task for woodworkers, but doing it by hand is often not only a tedious and messy process but also inefficient and sometimes even tiring and painful. If you need to remove a lot of material in a short time, it’s a lot easier and faster to use a belt sander.
A belt sander is a heavy-duty power tool that can be used for multiple purposes, from sanding very rough materials to leveling surfaces and freehand rounding and shaping a workpiece.
This powerful tool can handle coarse grits, which makes it perfect for the rapid removal of material. However, if used incorrectly, a belt sander can ruin your project in a matter of seconds.
To avoid this, we’ve put together a guide to teach you the belt sander basics and show you why it’s so popular among experienced DIYers and carpenters. Let’s get into it!
The belt sander is commonly used in woodworking, but it’s also suitable for working on metal, plastic, steel, and iron as long as it’s equipped with the right sanding belt.
This tool isn’t typically used in fine and intricate woodworking because it can accidentally damage or obscure sharp edges and details.
However, it excels when you need to quickly remove considerable amounts of stock from large pieces of wood. Taking off old layers of paint, planing damaged wooden surfaces, straightening wooden edges are just a few of the main tasks you can carry out with a belt sander.
Belt sanders that can be operated as stationary devices are even more versatile. You can take advantage of the stability it provides to work on smaller pieces and remove rust, bevel slats, straighten bars, deburr threaded rods, and more.
Some fun projects you can use a belt sander in include furniture and cabinet making, staircase building, and even toy manufacturing.
Whatever you use a belt sander for, keep in mind that this is a tool for the first, rough stages of surface smoothing. Afterward, you’ll need a palm sander or random orbital sander to finish it up.
Belt sanders are powered by an electric motor that spins a pair of drums on which the sandpaper belt is mounted. They can be either handheld so they can be moved over the material or stationary, in which case the material has to be moved to the sanding belt.
What Are the Different Types of Belt Sanders?
You might come across different types of belt sanders, such as the bench belt sander, disc sander, and mini belt sander. Here’s what you should know about them:
Stationary belt sanders can be fixed to a workbench, in which case they’re called bench sanders. This allows you to use both hands on your workpiece and gives you more control over the task.
The belt in bench sanders is usually adjustable, which allows the user to set it vertically, horizontally, or at an angle.
They’re particularly useful for sanding smaller pieces or shaping wooden edges, but they might lack some precision. However, they work best as a rough tool sharpener for grinding the face of chisels, for example.
Disc sanders are made up of circular abrasive paper that’s mounted on a circular plate. They can get into places where belt sanders can’t and be used to strip old paint from wooden surfaces, shape subtle round corners, and remove large amounts of material in smaller projects.
The user can choose between a powerful, large disc sander that requires two-handed operation or smaller disc sanders that leave one of your hands-free for greater control over the workpiece.
The mini belt sander is a type of handheld sander that’s sometimes called a wand or file sander. This compact and lightweight tool is designed to work in tight areas, and it can be used to smooth and shape small pieces.
They can be cordless, corded, or pneumatic, and are available in widths of ⅜ inches, ½ inches, ¾ inches, 1 inch, and 1-⅛ inches.
The price of a belt sander might vary depending on the size, brand, and features it offers. For instance, you can find 3 x 18 inches sanders for $50 to $150 and 3 x 21 inches sanders at a higher price range of $100 to $250 if you go for the best belt sander.
Mini belt sanders are the cheapest ones, with a price tag that typically ranges between $35 and $80, although you can find them for as low as $25 on Amazon. Industrial Sanders, on the other hand, can cost as much as $2,000.
Your local hardware or home improvement store and Amazon are sure places to go looking for a new belt sander. Lowe’s has 12 belt sander options that go from a mini belt sander as the cheapest one at $45 to more professional models at over $100, with different corded and cordless alternatives in between.
Home Depot offers an even wider range of belt sander models, having over 50 options available. Starting with a mini belt sander at less than $40 and going up to industrial belt sanders at over $1,000, you are sure to find the one you need there.
Surprisingly, even Walmart can be a good place to shop for a belt sander with all the models and accessories they offer.
There are three primary features we’d look for when buying a belt sander:
- Variable speed. We believe that even though a belt sander is commonly used to remove large amounts of material, you should be able to use it to do controlled sanding as well.
A variable-speed motor is particularly useful on delicate sanding operations or when you’re first learning how to use a belt sander.
- Dust collection. Dust is unavoidable in woodworking projects, and belt sanders, in particular, can produce a lot of fine dust in a matter of seconds. Because of that, we consider that getting a belt sander with a dust bag is essential.
Most sanders nowadays include a small built-in bag to collect some of the dust, which might be compatible with external dust collection systems.
- Portability. Depending on the nature of the projects you want to tackle with your belt sander, you might need a portable or a stationary sander.
Portable sanders are easier to handle and, of course, to move to and from different areas as long as the extension cord can reach them. They’re particularly useful when working on vertical surfaces. On the downside, this is a two-handed tool, so the workpiece must be secured in place.
Stationary sanders, on the other hand, are bigger and heavier machines, but they leave your hands free to allow greater control over the workpiece. They’re easier to keep flat on the piece, especially if you’re using them on horizontal surfaces.
A belt sander is nothing without a belt, and it’s important to get the right one for your project. There are two things to consider when buying a belt: grit and material.
We typically use 80- and 120-grit belts and rarely, if ever, 50-grit ones because they tend to leave deep grooves and scratches that are almost impossible to remove. We recommend that beginners stay away from 50-grit belts as they can greatly damage their workpieces by accident.
As regards belt material, you’ll find that aluminum oxide is the traditional one. They can come in a cheap khaki color that’s perfect if you need a disposable belt or in a durable dark brown color if you want a more premium belt.
When we need a more aggressive approach, we prefer using zirconia belts for 80-grits and coarser, because they last longer and don’t clog as easily as aluminum oxide belts. They come in bright blue or purple colors and are a bit more expensive.
A belt sander can save you the hassle of hand-sanding when working with large surfaces. While they can be used for multiple purposes, they excel at removing a lot of material very quickly.
If you already have a particular project in mind, you might need to get a specific belt sander, such as a mini belt sander if you need to carry out small tasks or a bench belt sander for heavy-duty operations. Whichever you choose, remember to get the right belt for it!
If you still don’t own a belt sander, what are you waiting for? Go visit your nearest hardware store and start sanding with more efficiency than ever!