Three Things to Consider Before Buying a Belt Sander

Carpenters know the value of a good sander, but this amazing hand tool can also tackle countless jobs in your home.

Woman sanding a piece of wood
Belt sanders are easy to operate and won’t leave your arms sore from a day of sanding wood.Unsplash/Ian Schneider

Belt sanders offer instant gratification! Grit-impregnated belts will chew through wood like nobody’s business, though, so you have to be careful and start off lightly. Most belt sanders will accept a wide variety of belts, designed for soft woods, hard woods, and even metal. Match the sander and the belt for your specific application, and then get to grinding. Here are three things to consider before adding a belt sander to your home workshop.

Size Matters

Makita 9403 4" X 24" Belt Sander
This product comes with a large front palm grip to help handle its 13-pound weight.Makita

The standard belt sander operates with a 3-inch wide belt, but there are different size classes to choose from: 3x18-inch sanders, 3x21-inch sanders, and the largest, 3x24-inch sanders. The 3 x 18-inch models are the smallest and the lightest and can more easily be used with one hand. Move up to the midsized sanders or even the large, two-foot-long 24-inch models, and you’ll definitely need to have a bit of arm strength to operate them safely. The advantage to the larger sanders is their ability to work on wide planks of wood for a more consistent finish.

Get a Grip

Makita 8.8 Amp 3-Inch-by-21-Inch Variable Speed Belt Sander with Cloth Dust Bag
This product features variable-speed control for fine-tuning the amount of wood removed.Makita

Belt sanders operate best when you let the weight of the machine do the work. If you press down too hard, it’s easy to remove more wood than you planned on, and there’s no going back. There are multiple grip options—some look like a doorknob while others resemble the handle on an iron—so think about what you’re most comfortable with. If you’re a small person, you’ll definitely want to opt for a smaller belt sander, because they all can be a bit heavy.

Belt Racks

BLACK+DECKER Belt Sander with Dust Bag
A retractable, three-position handle enables you to reach tight places with this sander.BLACK+DECKER

Belt sanders aren’t just for wood. Use an aluminum-oxide sanding belt and you can work with a variety of other materials, such as aluminum, plastic, and fiberglass. You can even sharpen common tools such as chisels and pruning shears. First, remove the dust bag from the belt sander to keep hot sparks from contacting wood dust. Clamp the belt sander upside-down to a sturdy work bench and press the tool you’re sharpening lightly to the belt. Lift the tool from the belt every few seconds to check the edge.