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Tools

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. Better belt sanders 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.

Jet 708599 JSG-6DC Combination 6-in x 48-in Belt/12-in Disc Sander

Jet is probably the biggest manufacturer of industrial belt sanders. Most of their units are floor standing units, although they do produce a number of benchtop units as well. This is the heaviest-duty of their benchtop models and probably that anyone else makes.

This monster comes with a 1-1/2 HP motor, a 6 inch by 48 inch belt sander, and a 12 inch disk sander. Everything is high quality, as one would expect from an industrial unit. It has a dual thumbscrew tracking system to make sure the belt stays on track, even when under pressure. The platen (the metal pad which backs up the sanding belt) is carbon coated for low friction and cooler running. There’s even a quick-release belt tension lever for quick belt changes. Likewise, the disk sander cover has a quick release for fast disk changes.

JET 708595 JSG-96 6"/9" 3/4-Horsepower Benchtop Belt/Disc Sander, 115-Volt 1 Phase

It may not seem fair to give both the top spots to the same manufacturer, but I can’t help it since Jet simply makes the best belt sanders on the market. This unit is essentially the little brother to the unit I chose as number one. Instead of a 1-1/2 inch motor, it comes with a 3/4 inch motor, which is more than enough for most do-it-yourselfers needs. The disk sander has been reduced to 9 inches instead of 12. Given all this, it’s still a very high quality unit, and has the fit and finish one would expect from a top-quality tool.

RIKON 50-120 6" x 48" Belt 10" Disc Sander

One of the nice things about this sander is the disk sander is positioned below the belt when it’s in the horizontal position. This relocation makes it possible for this sander to be used with large work pieces, even larger than others that have the same size belt.

The belt moves at 2030 SFPM and they've got a 10 inch disk sander, larger than others put on a belt sander, which turns at 1720 RPM. The motor is 3/4 HP, providing plenty of power for any job. Tracking knob and tensioning lever are separate, as with all the units on this list. This unit has very high marks for customer satisfaction.

POWERTEC BD6900 6"x 9" Belt Disc Sander w/ Built-in Dust Collection

For those of us who can’t afford the Jet units, this is an excellent belt sander. This is the only lower priced unit I’ve seen that still has a 6 inch by 48 inch belt and a 9 inch disk sander. Although the motor is a little bit smaller, at 1/2 HP, it’s still enough to take a lot of material off. Powertec has designed a patented built-in dust collection system that really works well. This unit has a great reputation for quality and durability.

Grizzly H6070 1"x 30" Belt and 5" Disc Sander,

I've included this one inch sander from Grizzly mostly because there are times when a larger sander is just too much for what you're doing. While a one inch sander may seem like a child's toy to some woodworkers, you can do contour sanding much easier on these than you can the larger sanders. I've carved a few briar pipes in my day, and you really can't do that very well with a four inch wide belt sander.

This sander comes with a 1/3 HP motor, which is less than the others, but it's also got a narrower belt so there's less drag. It has both the belt and disk, a feature that's not found on all narrow belt sanders and both tables tilt up to 45 degrees. The belt platen and idler roller guard are removable to make contour sanding even easier.

Porter-Cable 371K, 2 1/2" x 14" Compact Belt Sander Kit

This Porter-Cable sander deserves mentioning partially because it is so different. This uses a 2-1/2 inch wide belt, which is only 14 inches long. That makes the sander much more compact than most, which might be an issue for some users. I will have to say that it makes finding belts a little harder, but if you need something compact, this one will do it.

The front handle comes off, making it possible to use both hands on the rubber coated curved top of the sander for excellent control. However, with cheap belts the tracking control on this sander needs constant adjustment. This problem can be eliminated by using the right type of belt.

Black & Decker BR318, 3" x 18" Belt Sander

The first time I saw this sander I liked it from the start. The “race car” design doesn’t make it go any faster, but it does make it easy to sand under tight areas, where a regular belt sander can’t go. Great idea, although I’ll have to say that Black & Decker isn’t the only company doing this.

The six AMP motor is plenty powerful enough which has automatic belt tracking, a nice feature to have. Just a note on that if you have trouble with the belts not tracking, try a different brand of belt as not all belts are created equal. The only thing I see wrong with this unit is that you can’t flip it upside-down on the workbench.

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

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

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.

Craftsman 3" x 21" Belt Sander, 8 Amp

As usual, Craftsman comes up with a good tool, packed with features for the do-it-yourselfer. This three inch belt sander has an eight amp motor, providing it with plenty of power. Its variable speed ranges from 800 to 1,100 surface feet per minute (SFPM) for better control and accuracy. A LED pressure control indicator helps you to optimize your pressure for the best possible performance.

One unusual thing about this sander is the front or auxiliary handle is adjustable, so that you can fit it to your comfort. A standard dust box is included, which contains a micro-fine filter. It also has a LED work light, so you can see the area just in front of the sander.

Ryobi ZRBE319 6 Amp 3" x 18" Belt Sander

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

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

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.

Hitachi SB8V2 3" x 21" Variable Speed Belt Sander

Hitachi makes the most powerful sander in this category, with a 9 amp motor but that’s not all this sander has going for it though. The variable speed isn’t in the trigger, but rather a separate control, which is accessible to your pinkie while sanding. The tracking is excellent, and the sander works extremely well for flush sanding up against a wall.

Like all of Hitachi’s tools, this is a very comfortable sander to work with thank to the rubber coated handles. It’s also easy to service with the brushes and the sanding belt is easily accessible. The dust collection system works extremely well too, making this sander a real winner.

Porter Cable 352VS 3" x 21" Variable Speed Belt Sander

Don’t let the functional-looking design of this sander turn you away. The high front handle and long rear handle make this a very easy sander to hold and control. I’d say that it’s got the best control of any sander and the tracking is spot-on as well. The one problem is that you can’t turn it upside down on your bench top, like you can with a lot of other sanders. While the dust collection featuring a swiveling bag is descent, it’s not spectacular or really necessary.

Flex LBR1506VRA Pipe Belt Sander

This isn't your typical belt sander, for sanding woodworking projects, rather it’s been designed specifically for sanding metal; metal pipe to be exact. Flex is a German company, and like most German products, this one is expertly designed, assuring you of years of trouble-free work. The 1200 watt motor drives a 618 x 40mm belt at 10 to 30 meters per second while the spring-loaded belt tension automatically adjusts for sanding pipes from 10 to 250 mm in diameter.

Speed is fully electronic controlled, with soft starting and overload protection provided. The front hand grip's angle is adjustable for operator comfort, as well as locking for grinding directly on the front wheel. If you need to clean up weld on metalwork, this is even better than a grinder.

Rich the Tool Man

Before embarking on the current stage of my life, I spent 15 years as a Manufacturing Engineer in both the medical equipment field (medical electronics) and automotive engineering (city transit buses). After that, I owned a small construction company, mostly doing residential remodeling and commercial tenant finishes. I am no longer in either of these fields, but still get my hands plenty dirty as a consummate do-it-yourselfer; working on everything from remodeling my own home to rebuilding my car’s engines. My hobby (when I can find the time) is woodworking; making everything from toilet paper holders, to shelves, to music stands for my own home. My wife long ago gave up the idea that a two car garage is for parking two cars; it is my workshop.

While I cannot claim to having worked professionally with all types of tools, I have worked professionally with some. This comes from my previous careers, where I had to specify, buy and at times live with those decisions. Additionally, I would have to say that my engineering background has given me a thorough understanding of the construction of such tools. So, while I may not have used a particular type of tool personally, I have the knowledge to cut through all the advertising hype and statistics; in order to get at the truth of how well a tool will operate and last.

In my current career as a writer, I've written over 90 books. This includes my own titles and those I've written on contract. I've also written a complete website on how to build your own home.

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