Everything to Know About Belt Sanders

Last Updated on May 9, 2024 by Sharaj

Woodworkers know how important a sander is in their tool collection. Sooner or later, a surface will need smoothing or polishing and a sander will need to be used. There are a lot of sanders in the market today all of which have their unique functions. However, belt sanders are hands down among the best ones out there.

But if you’re not familiar with them you’re probably wondering ” what are belt sanders?” “What do they do?” And ” How do I buy them?”. If you don’t stop reading this post, you’ll find out.

What is a Belt Sander?

Belt sanders do many things and you can, therefore, call them all-round tools. Their most common functions include levelling surfaces, sanding rough surface areas, trimming to a drawn line, shaping materials like wood and making them round.

Belt sanders are very powerful, which is why any material that has coarse grit can easily be handled by them. Also, the sanding method of a belt sander is straightforward, no curves only straight lines.

Meanwhile, this is not so with other sanders like vibrating and orbital sanders. So, when using your belt sander on coarse grits you’ll be able to sand along with the grain and still achieve an excellent result.

Quite frankly, these sanders are not so important that woodworkers can’t do without them. However, they’re so useful that many experienced wood professionals own them.

Advantages of Belt Sanders

Like we mentioned earlier, a belt sander is among the most powerful sanders that exist. This means they can perform very quickly while still delivering impressive results.

Apart from this very important benefit that the belt sander offers, there are two more. And these two benefits have been explained below.

Belt Sanders are Great for Scribing

Scribing and belt sanders go hand in hand, especially if the belt sander is a small one. Scribing, also called coping, has to do with shaping the edge of one wood to make it flush with the edge of another wood.

So, anytime you want to connect a wood piece to a wall that has an angled edge, a belt sander will help you get that perfect shape.

Used to Flatten Rough Grit

When it comes to quick wood removal, belt sanders do it perfectly. They are the best hand power tool that can be used for smoothing or levelling rough boards. When doing it, just make sure to begin at an angle to the grain for serious levelling, then finish with the grain. When starting, use 80-grit before switching to 120-grit.

Sizes of Belt Sanders and How to Choose the Best One

Ryobi R18BS-0

When you’re looking for the best belt sander, keep in mind that standard belt sanders that can-do multiple tasks are made for belts that are 3 inches wide. Of course, there are belt machines created for narrower or wider belts. However, these models are often best used for specialised projects.

Still in the category of 3-inch belts, you’ll find smaller Sanders that work with 3 x 18-inch belts. You’ll also find midsize tools that use 3 x 21-inch belts and a few bulky sanders that go with 3 x 24-inch belts. Naturally, the smaller machines are not weighty and are even simple to use with only one hand, whether they’re being used for shaping or scribing.

The larger versions come with a larger surface area and are also weightier. As such, they can smoothen wide surfaces. The best place to use these machines, however, is in a very big workshop.

In terms of price, there are 3 x 18-inch belt sanders being sold for between $50 and $150. There are also 3 x 21-inch sanders sold for between $100 and $250.

You can also expect to find smaller sanders that use belts that are only 2-1/2-inch wide. They are very lightweight and extremely handy, especially when it comes to one hand use. On the other end of the spectrum, 4-inch wide sander belts are very bulky machines that can only be of use to cabinetmakers.

Picking a Belt

It is better to use belts of 80 and 120 grit, although this depends on the kind of project you’re working on. You can even use 50-grit once in a while. However, grits that are coarser than 50 often cause serious scratches which can be hard to remove.

This means you have no business with belts that have a higher degree of grit than 50 unless you’re dealing with a very rough surface that requires heavy sanding. However, if what you’re working on requires only fine sanding, you could even switch to a random orbit sander

Aluminium oxide sanding belt is arguably among the most commonly used sanding belts. this sanding belt is in fact, the conventional grit material. It exists in many colours but the less expensive ones are those with khaki-colour. If what you’re looking for is a belt that is disposable but longer-lasting at the same time, consider getting the dark brown high-value belts.

That said, the zirconia belt is also a strong contender, especially because of their grit. What’s more, their cutting particles are considerably tougher and sharper such that they can cut aggressively. They also tend to last very long and you won’t find them clogging easily. They’re a little bit costlier than the aluminium oxide premium belts and come in purple and bright blue colours.

How to Use a Belt Sander

Being such a powerful tool, belt sanders ought to be handled with utmost care. Therefore, we advise that you avoid pushing down on the sander. Instead, allow the machine to sit on the material you’re working on and hold it down for you. Be slow and gentle.

Make sure to overlap passes while allowing the machine to move beyond the edge of your wood without dipping. You also need to be careful so that you don’t tilt your sander or alter its direction or speed. You will also want to hang the cord on your shoulder to stop it from getting in your way while you work.

Safety Tips for Using Belt Sanders

  • Wear something over your ears; belt sanders are quite noisy.
  • Wear nose protection to prevent inhaling wood dust
  • Make sure to unplug your sanders from its light source before you empty its dust bag or change belts.
  • Ensure that you get rid of the sawdust inside your sander before using your belt sander machine to smoothen metals. Otherwise, the metal can cause Sparks that’ll cause a fire if they touch wood dust.
  • Before you plug your sander, make sure you switch off the trigger.
  • Because of their heavy and powerful nature, you may lose control of your sander and ruin your work. Make sure to hold your project securely so it doesn’t slide away.

Trimming After Sanding

If not properly guarded, your sander can gouge or round the edge of your board. This is why you should consider belt sanding the wood before you trim it to its final size. This way, if a mistake occurs it’ll be easier to correct it

When working with a more flexible type of wood like the plywood you need to use extra care. Your belt sanders can eat up plywood completely within a twinkle of an eye. If sanding solid wood edging that is joined with plywood is compulsory, make sure to draw a line using a pencil on that plywood. This way when the sander starts to remove veneer, you’ll know.

Maintaining Your Belt Sander

The first thing to do is to ensure that the belt is rightly positioned. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what direction you place the belt, but at other time it does matter because the belt is non-directional. There’ll be an indication on the inside of the belt if it is directional.

Even if the belt can be fixed in any direction, you’ll still have to make sure the belt is on the middle of the roller. However, some sanders have automatic tracking so you may not have to trouble yourself ensuring that the belt is centred.

Some sanders come with different speed settings. It’s ok to use the fastest speed but if you’re working on a delicate project, it’s wiser to reduce it a little.

Cleaning the Belt

If your belt is dirty, it’ll tell on your work. You can easily remove dirt from the belt using a cleaning stick. Press this stick against the working belt to remove the dirt.

Upgrading Your Sander

If you’re the type to use your belt sander professionally, your need to consider adding some upgrades. Below are two upgrade suggestions.

Dust Collection

It is normal for belt sanders to have built-in bags for sawdust. These bags gather the coarser particles of dust and require frequent emptying. However, despite this bag, fine dust is still able to escape into the atmosphere. The way you can solve this problem is by purchasing a hose and using it to connect a shop vac to your sander.

The vac collects the fine dust thus stopping them from getting released to the environment.

Woodworking stand

There are times when you’ll need to change the positioning of your sander, probably turn it onto its side, hold it upside down or put it in a vertical position. To make this easier for you to do, you should get a woodworking stand.

This stand is made by arranging multiple levels of plywood and each of the layers must have a hole that can contain the protruding parts of your sander. If the stand is well made it’ll be very useful in your workshops.

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