There are a wide variety of power sanders available to purchase, each of them with their own specific tasks. The belt sander, like most sanders, comes in an array of sizes, but the most common — and for most of our purposes — is the three inch belt sander. While this particular tool isn’t considered a necessity for most home woodshops and workshops, it is definitely a handy tool to have around, especially if you do a lot of woodworking and home repair. The main purpose of the belt sander, regardless of its width, is to quickly remove large amounts of wood in order to prepare it for the final finish. Rather than working with a small power sander, or a sanding block of coarse grit sandpaper, the belt sander saves you a tremendous amount of time on your woodworking and home improvement projects. It is, by far, a fantastic labor saving device that will quickly let you rip through the lower grits so you can do your finishing work carefully by hand if you so choose.

What is a Belt Sander?

So, you’re pretty familiar with a lot of tools in your workshop. You’ve got your scroll saw, hand saws, sanding blocks, clamps, chisels, files.. well, you’ve got a whole lot, and while you may not know all of the uses for all of your tools, you’re confident with them. And you should feel the same way about the sanders that you use. Yes, sanders, because while some sanders are better than others, you really do need a good variety of them if you’re serious about the woodworking or home improvement projects that you can see in your future. Maybe you even have a disc sander tucked away on a shelf, and you managed to squeeze in room for a floor model oscillating sander so you can take care of those rough edges on the doll furniture that you make for your daughter, but neither one of those are really going to let you tackle big projects, not the way the belt sander can.

Advantages you can’t deny…

You see, the belt sander is a small, portable sander that lets you bring a lot of power to the job at hand. These tools are fairly light weight, especially the three inch wide belt models, and generally don’t tip the scales at more than eight pounds. These tools, for the most part, are corded, and can be brought to the job at hand rather than trying to bring the job to your workshop. For example, let’s say you’ve just gone through the mind numbing task of replacing a section of your hardwood floor, and the new wood is just a little taller than the old floor. Not much, mind you, but say a sixteenth of an inch. You need to bring that floor down to the same level as the rest of the floor, and the best way to do that is with a belt sander. The three inch version of this tool allows you to attach a heavy, coarse grit of paper to the belt — which generally runs about twenty one inches in length. So let’s say you attach an 80 grit loop to the belt. The seven amp engine on the sander allows you to bring a massive amount of power to that small section of floor, and the small size of the tool helps ensure that you don’t damage the old floor as well. While working with the grain of the floor, and marking off your section with scrap wood, you can quickly level the floor and get it ready to be finished off with a finer grit.The other option is to sit there with a sanding block, a stack of sand paper, and a whole lot of patience and time.

The woodworkinghobo offers some great tips on how to handle your belt sander. The audio is not the best, but the video is still worth watching!

Three Inches or Bigger? Guys, size doesn’t matter 🙂

In the case of the belt sander, size really isn’t an issue. Some of these tools come with belt widths that can reach up to six inches, but when you get to something that wide, you’re generally looking at a floor model that’s really going to defeat the overall purpose of the sander. A floor model belt sander is a nice addition to any home woodshop or workshop, but you can get the same amount of power and work out of a well built floor model disc sander. And what you’ll lose is the portability of the handheld sander. Now if you’re one of those people that needs to have every type, of every machine, then, by all means, go and pick up a floor model. If you have limited space in your shop, though — and limited funds as well — then all you’ll be doing is wasting space, money, and eventually time as you find yourself having to bring more and more do it yourself projects into your shop, rather than bringing the tool you need to the project at hand.

When you’re working with the belt sander, and looking for one to buy, you’re also going to come across different belt lengths, and this really is just a matter of choice. Some of them come with belts that are twenty one inches long, but the most common length is eighteen inches, which is going to be more than enough for any home improvement project or workshop requirement.

What should you look for in a belt sander?

Each of us is different, especially when it comes to our tools. That’s why there are so many different brands out there, why someone who loves wood carving can have half a dozen different sets of rasps to just to take the rough edges off of there work. Each tool feels different in our hands, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work for another. What you need to look for in a belt sander, then, is a combination of comfort, power, and reliability. You need a tool that you’re going to feel comfortable with using for an extended period of time, so you definitely don’t want something that’s going to weigh too much. Pick the sander up, get a feel for it. Are you going to be able to handle it for more than a few minutes? Sanding can really require a lot of time and effort, especially when you’re working with hardwoods.

makita 9903 power sander

In my mind, a dust collection system is a MUST. The Makita 9903 is also really quiet for a belt sander.

And speaking of hardwoods, how much power does the sander have that you’re looking at? Are you going to be able to use it on a piece of maple, or are you going to be stuck using it primarily on the soft woods? You need to make sure that you’re getting a tool that has enough power to handle whatever jobs you have lined up, or planned for the future.

Finally, you need to make sure that the belt sander that you’re buying is reliable. For this you need to do your homework on-line before going to the store. Pick out some of the brands that you think might work for you, and look at the reviews that other woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers have posted. Make sure that you’re not buying a lemon of a tool when you walk into that store or order online.

Frequently asked questions

  1. What can I use the belt sander on?

    The belt sander is a truly versatile tool, and one that can be used everything from wood to laminate. This doesn’t mean that you can walk up to your laminate countertop and just sand away, of course, but you can — if you use the tool carefully — trim and sand your laminate with it.

  2. What about dust?!

    Dust is dangerous, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Working on older homes can be especially dangerous when you consider the types of paints and chemicals applied. So, when you’re looking for a belt sander you definitely want to look at those models that offer you a dust collection bag. Not only will this help you keep your work area clean (and make cleaning up a whole lot easier), but it will help you protect yourself while you’re working as well.

  3. How powerful is the tool?

    Powerful enough to totally destroy a project if you’re not careful. Yup, it’s that simple. The belt sander brings a tremendous amount of power to your project, and, if you’re not careful, you can ruin hours, if not days, worth of work. The tool is not a difficult one to master, but you definitely need to practice with it and get familiar with the way your individual sander pulls along the wood before bringing it towards something that you want to eventually put a nice finish on. An improperly applied sander with a coarse grit will leave gauges in your wood that you won’t be able to get rid of.

Happy woodworking 🙂