A belt sander is a heavy power tool that features a continuous belt of sandpaper wrapped around two rollers. The belt spins around the rollers, allowing the tool to quickly remove large amounts of wood from the sanding surface. A belt sander is best for the heavy-duty jobs at the beginning of a sanding process, such as smoothing out a deck or floor. Here are seven things to keep in mind when purchasing a belt sander.
Portability: Most belt sanders built for home use are handheld models. These models all feature front and rear handles, motors, sanding belts and dust collection units. Beyond that, the specifications vary by manufacturer. Stationary belt sanders are much larger and more expensive, and are usually built for professional use. They are particularly useful tools for carpenters or metalworkers who need to quickly round off edges or otherwise smooth large surfaces.
Grip: Again, most buyers will be purchasing handheld tools. Since using a belt sander typically involves holding it for a long period of time, it is very important to try many different models to see which feels best in the hand. Obviously, this is not a concern for buyers interested in stationary sanders.
Belt Size: Sanding belts come in a variety of sizes, depending on the model and manufacturer. The most common belt sizes for handheld sanders are three inches by 18 inches, three inches by 21 inches and four inches by 24 inches. Stationary belt sanders include much larger belts, which may be six inches by 48 inches or 25 inches by 60 inches. All of the handheld belt sizes are sufficient for most at-home sanding jobs. Still, it can be important to take into account how large the sanding surface is and whether a particular belt size is too large or too small.
Motors: Some handheld belt sanders include adjustable motor speed and power settings. Such features are excellent for smaller sanding jobs and detail work, so buyers who plan on doing those kinds of jobs should consider opting for a belt sander with this feature. Additionally, the ability to slow things down can be very helpful for inexperienced home operators.
Dust: As a side effect of smoothing so much wood quickly and efficiently, belt sanders generate a lot of dust. This can be a health hazard, especially if the wood in question is pressure-treated or contains lead-based paint. All belt sanders have some way of dealing with dust, but some features are better than others. The highest-quality belt sanders can be connected directly to a shop vacuum, keeping dust to an absolute minimum. These features not only keep the health risks to a minimum, but also extend the life of the tool.
Grit: All sanders and sanding belts feature grit in varying degrees of coarseness, from the coarsest 24 to a fine 360. The most economical sanding belts have grit made from aluminum oxide, which is sufficient for most wood sanding jobs. More expensive belts have grit made from ceramic aluminum oxide, which takes longer to wear out but is also more expensive. Additionally, the cheapest sanding belts are made from paper, which tends to tear easily. More expensive belts are made from cloth-based materials, which tend to last longer and can save the buyer money in the long run.
Closed-coat vs. Open-coat: Grit comes in two varieties. Closed-coat grit is packed together tightly in the resin, while open-coat grit is spaced out. Closed-coat sanding belts are ideal for use on metal or hardwoods, which do not produce gummy dust. Open-coat grit is designed to cut down on clogging, which is very important if the sander is used on a resinous wood, such as pine, or on a paint-covered surface. The buyer should consider the materials he intends to sand and choose a sander with the appropriate type of grit.