A belt sander is a high-end woodworking tool that many beginner woodworkers are afraid to use. You can’t blame them! If misused, a belt sander can mess up your woodworking project in seconds that you spent days building.
You can smooth out just about anything with a good belt sander, but handling is the key. They are multiuse tools commonly used for sanding very rough surfaces, freehand rounding and shaping, leveling surfaces, and trimming to a scribed line. Since they have a lot of power, thanks to the powerful motor, they can handle coarse grits and perform rapid removal of wood. Because the sanding action is linear, you can sand with the grain and get a fine-looking result even with the coarse grits.
If you are a professional woodworker, a belt sander might be an essential tool in your arsenal, but as a homeowner who loves doing DIY projects, using it might be a bit overwhelming.
Whether you are a professional woodworker or an inexperienced DIYer, this post projects at showcasing the best ways of using a belt sander. This could help in enhancing your skills as a carpenter or make you an experienced DIY woodworker for small home projects.
Let’s get started.
Here are the best belt sander tips and tricks.
Choosing the best belt sander
If you ask us, the best multipurpose belt sander incorporates a 3-inch wide belt. Although you will see tools designed for narrower and wider belts, they are for specialized tasks.
- In the 3-inch category, you will see smaller belt sanders with 3 x 18-inch belts, 3 x 21-inch belts (midsize sanders), and 3 x 24-inch belts (large sanders). For casual use and smaller work, lighter sanders are recommendable since they are easier to one-handed use for scribing and shaping.
- For shop use and bigger projects, larger sanders (preferably 3 x 21-inch sanders) are preferable due to their more surface area and weight for sanding wide surfaces.
- Based on the quality and brand, you will find 3 x 18-inch sanders for $50-$150 and $100-$250 for 3 x 21-inch sanders.
- There are also belt sanders with a belt width of around 2.5-inches. These sanders are best for DIY use since they are extremely lightweight, encouraging one-hand use. Moreover, there are belt sanders with 4-inch wide belts. These are heavy-duty belt sanders used by professional woodworkers and cabinetmakers.
It is all about picking the right belt
If you ask most professional carpenters and woodworkers, they use 80-grit and 120-grit belts frequently, and sometimes, 50-grit. Further, grits coarser than 50 put deep scratches on the wood surface that are hard to remove. On the other hand, if you are doing finer sanding, a random orbit sander is sufficient to complete the job. One rule that every carpenter emphasizes is that you can skip one grade of grit, but the quality of sanding will depend on the grades you skip. That is, you can go from 80-grit to 120-grit, skipping 100-grit. However, you cannot go from 50-grit to 120-grit. It will not only waste time but also degrades the quality of sanding.
If you are looking for longer-lasting, disposable, dark brown premium belts, you will find them in less expensive aluminum oxide grit. However, for grits 80 and above, professional carpenters prefer a zirconia belt, which is often known as a ‘planer’ belt. These belts have tougher, sharper sanding particles that sand more aggressively, don’t clog easily, and last longer. Zirconia belts are usually bright purple or blue in color and costs slightly higher than your premium aluminum oxide belts.
Using a Belt Sander
When using a belt sander, don’t put pressure on the equipment – let its weight do the work for you. Start slowly over the wood surface, overlap passes, and allow the sander to go past the end of the wood without dipping. However, while using the belt sander, you need to be careful that you don’t change the direction or speed or tip the sander. This could lead to poor leveling and uneven sanding. Always put the sander cord over your shoulder. This ensures that the cable is out of the way of sanding.
A gouge is the biggest enemy of a carpenter using a belt sander. When using a belt sander, you may see horseshoe-shaped gouges on the board. Gouges on the board indicate that you are using a worn-out belt. It not only makes the wood surface look unfinished but also lacks smoothness. We advise you to use new, clean belts, and always keep the plate under the belt clean and free from dust. Most importantly, you are advised to avoid grits finer than 120.
What are the belt sander safety tips?
When we talk about woodworking and carpentry tools, belt sanders are among the safest tools. However, taking precautionary measures is always advised. Consider the following safety measures when using a belt sander.
- A belt sander can get loud, so wearing hearing protection is recommended.
- Always wear a dust mask. These machines can produce immense amounts of dust within single sand. Don’t breathe the dust; it can be unpleasant. A pro tip would be to rig up a shop vacuum for dust collection.
- When you are emptying the dust bag or changing the belts, always remember to unplug the device. Changing the belt is a bit of a hassle, and there is a possibility that you could turn on the device while changing. To avoid any accidents, unplug the device first.
- If you are using a belt sander for sanding metal, the process will create sparks. So, the first thing you need to do is ensure that the dust bag, as well as the sander, don’t contain any sawdust. The sparks can easily cause a fire within a matter of seconds. If possible, remove the dust bag when sanding metal.
- Before using a belt sander, you need to understand its mechanism fully. A belt sander comes with a locking button that holds the trigger in the ‘on’ position. Ensure that the button is ‘off’ as you don’t want the device to fly across your head when you plug it in.
- You need to hold your wood securely using a clamp. This is because belt sanders exert a significant amount of force on the wood board, which makes it prone to slide right onto you or away from you. We recommend that you use a stopper that’s a little thinner than the wood piece.
When it comes to maintenance of your belt sander, ensure that the device is oriented correctly. Always use brand-recommended cleaning objects and accessories for your belt sander. Always keep a belt cleaning stick with you during work. It will help remove the pitch buildup from sanding the wood surface. The dirtier the belt, the more noise it will generate. So, replace the belt after a considerable amount of use.
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Always use precaution when using a belt sander. Make sure you have a specially designed sanding table so where you perform most of the belt sanding. We hope this guide will be helpful for you in knowledge building as well as the proper uses of a belt sander.