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Belt Sander vs Palm Sander: What’s Your Choice?

Belt Sander vs Palm Sander
Written by Brent Butterworth

Sanding is a dreadful task for most woodworkers but a necessary evil. Belt sanders are a great way to make life easier for you but palm sanders are also helpful in many cases.

Here we will show you all the differences between belt and palm sanders so you can easily decide which one you’ll need for your projects.

Belt Sander vs Palm Sander: Their Differences

Belt Sander

Belt Sander

Belt sanders are a must for any pro woodworker’s arsenal. Also known as strip sanders, they’re widely used in multiple fields, including workshops, construction sites, DIY home projects, and job sites.

They’re by far some of the largest, most powerful, and most aggressive sanders you will come across. You’ll need them when sanding down a large plain surface, but they may not be an ideal choice for curved or bent externals.

We see regular sanders and sandpapers come in square or rectangular shapes, orbital sanders in circular forms, but belt sanders are belt sanders. You’ll find them in all shapes and types.

A constant loop of an abrasive sanding belt is mounted on a pair of drums by an electric motor to ensure the most effortless sanding experience in your works and projects.

Palm Sander

Palm Sander

Palm sanders are the smallest of power sanders used for all kinds of sanding tasks. They easily fit under your palm and their 150+ grit sanding papers allow for precise and controlled sanding with the promise of a cleaner and smoother glass-like finish.

Unlike belt sanders, they’re lightweight, easier to use, and let you enjoy complete control over your actions while you sand down the curves, edges, and corners of your work project.

Palm sanders function by simply rotating the attached sanding pad in a circular or orbital motion. You just need to release and tighten up the clamps to replace the used sanding pad with a new one.

The size, weight, ease of use, and moderate power make the palm sanders a suitable choice for small-scale precision tasks, but they can’t handle bigger undertakings such as floors and decks.

Different Types of Belt Sanders

1. Hand powered belt sanders

Hand powered belt sanders

They are the favorites of woodworkers, DIYers and homeowners for their portability and versatility.

Generally, they’re either battery-powered or corded and some units come with useful features like the speed variables and dust collectors.

They do well in finishing small project pieces or smoothing down larger decks. The most common belt sizes for these hand sanders are 3×18”, 3×21”, and 4×24”.

2. Tube belt sanders

Tube belt sanders

Tube belt sanders are for polishing pipes and arches. They’re structured with a pulley tactic that lets the abrasive strip curve along the tube-like surfaces.

You may actively operate with your hands to get these sanders work in the best way and power them with electricity.

3. Belt file sanders

Belt file sanders

Belt file sanders are another example of handheld sanding machines that let you sand through narrow spaces; for instance, when you need to sand between tight curves or inside of a box tube.

You can of course sand whatever you see fits them but they’re particularly great when you need to do away with some rusty welds from the inside corners.

1/2×18”, 1/2×24”, and 3/8×13” are the common sizes for these sanders.

4. Floor sanders

Floor sanders

These mobile sanding machines with wheels are pushed by hand, more in the fashion of pushing a lawnmower or a vacuum cleaner to sand out large wooden floors.

It might be a little surprising for you to witness how quickly they can smooth out an old floor and make it shine like new.

The most common-size floor sanding belts include 7-7/8″x 29-1/2” and 8”x19”.

5. Stationary belt grinders

Stationary belt grinders

Stationary belt grinders are the most multi-functional sanding and grinding machines that come with a diverse range of sanding belts for different work types.

Niche fabricators, commercial manufacturers, and bladesmiths are their heaviest users.

Different Kinds of Palm Sanders

1. Quarter sheet sander

Quarter sheet sander

This is the regular palm sander; people often call them different names like finishing sanders and quarter sheet sanders because they use a quarter of a conventional sandpaper sheet.

Turned on, the sandpaper pad runs in small elliptical patterns. As the palm sander removes materials at an insignificant rate, you’ll hardly mess up your piece.

But you should not depend only on your palm sander as it might take up a long time to sand your entire project.

2. Half sheet sander

Half sheet sander

Half sheet sanders support exactly the same features as quarter sheet sanders but differ only in size. As the name suggests, half of a conventional sandpaper sheet is used.

They’re very flexible to work with and there are occasions when you’ll find them handy especially when you need to sand a sharp edge or smooth out an inside corner of a project.

The only downside is that they regulate a fixed oval pattern; meaning if you hold them in one spot when powered on, they will leave scratch marks on your workpiece since they lack an overlap for that pattern. This problem is solved with the random orbital sanders.

3. Random Orbital Sander

Random Orbital Sander

Random orbital sanders thrive where other palm sanders fail. They’re great for both flat surfaces and pointy outer edges.

The spinning disc beneath a random orbital sander quickly takes off materials just like a disc sander but gets the finesse of a finishing sander by moving in an elliptical shape, and the random orbit part comes into play.

Running in a random orbit means the exact abrasive unit will never come around in the same trail the second time as those units imbricate and extend over each other to eliminate spinning scratches for a more sophisticated finish.

Belt Sander vs Palm Sander: Head-To-Head

Finesse

Belt sanders are absolutely fantastic to get a big rough surface accomplished in a short amount of time, but you might agree that finishing is what matters most about sanders.

Palm sanders are unbeatable when it comes to preciseness in the finish. They’re so great at it that you might forget to paint your wooden piece after it’s done with a palm sander.

Size and weight

The magnitude determines how easy or difficult it will be to thrust or move your sander. Belt sanders are usually way more extensive and heavier than palm sanders, it’s rather an advantage for belt sanders since they’re designed to perform like beasts.

Palm sanders have been there for a very long duration, but they’re even called mouse sanders in these modern times because of their resemblance to fitting under your palm.

The largest woodworking palm sander might only match the size of a small belt sander. Belt sanders also include larger motors, broader sanding pads, and a bunch of wheel drums in their stereotypical features.

Normally a palm sander would weigh about 1 pound; a little bit more or less, whereas belt sanders devise poles apart weights. Regular palm sander models weigh between 4 to 20 pounds but some commercial or industrial units weigh much higher.

Power

Belt sanders are capable enough to wear down several coats and paints from the wood without much effort as they come with fairly powerful motors ranging from 2 to 4 amps.

A 2.5-amp motor can reach up to 3200 rpm (revolutions per minute) which is tremendously powerful. The motor is one of many reasons why belt sanders perform large-scale tasks.

On the other hand, palm sanders come with less than 1 amp motors in most typical situations.

Ease of operation

A lighter, smaller, slower, and well-behaved palm sander would definitely be a subject that’s easy to deal with. A belt sander, on the other hand, is somewhat aggressive and not really your primary sander for the finishing fragment.

Belt sanders create strong vibrations that might take along complexities for beginners so they’re strictly restricted to qualified experts while technically everyone; from brand-new DIYers to pros can use these tools.

Cost

It shouldn’t come as a shock that belt sanders would cost you a lot more than palm sanders. It seems fair enough when the incredible force, exceptional dimension, and eloquent momentum of the belt sanders are taken into consideration.

In today’s marketplaces, the best regular 3×18-inch belt sanders range between $50-$150 and 3×21-inch sanders for $100-$270. The price point of a belt grinder would start around $320

You can get a palm sander for $20 at the lowest or $200 at the highest based on the power, size, feature variables, building materials, or brand value.

Belt Sander vs Palm Sander: Common Issues

  • Belt sanders

The main issue is that they are unsafe and hard to work with. Fast and destructive belt sanders might carry off a lot more material than necessary if you fail to use them wisely and carefully every second.

  • Palm sanders

Square/Rectangular palm sanders

The major problem with square or rectangular-shaped palm sanders is the oval or elliptical rotation of their sanding pads because your workpiece will be left with scratches after being sanded out by them at times. The marks are more noticeable on the flat surface.

Round pad palm sanders

The only issue mentionable for the random orbital round-shaped palm sanders is their round shape because they will never reach the corners or edges of your piece.

Belt Sander or Palm Sander: What’s Your Choice?

As you might have guessed by now, there is no winner or loser between a belt sander or a palm sander. They serve the same niche but are used to achieve remarkably different objectives.

We recommend our beginner friends to go for a palm sander since it is user-friendly, gets the smaller projects done, and costs less.

In case you need to get a sander machine for large-scale projects such as a floor renovation or smoothing out a rough deck, a belt sander is your best tool. But before you get your hands on the actual work, make sure you spend a decent amount of time rough-practicing.

FAQs

1. Why should you use a belt sander over an orbital sander?

Ans: Orbital sanders help give a fine finish on your piece but work at a slow rate and are smaller in size. On the other hand, belt sanders are comparatively way more powerful and capable of quickly removing rough materials from larger surfaces.

2. What is the best speed for a belt sander?

Ans: 3,000 SF (surface feet) is considered the best safe speed per minute for a belt sander. You can figure out the running speed of your belt sanders and grinders using the SFM=RPM X method.

About the author

Brent Butterworth

A Professional Woodworker & Custom Furniture Builder

Brent lives in Wisconsin and is a woodworker, custom cabinetmaker, interior consultant, and a freelance writer who got the opportunity to write several magazine articles for different publications on home improvement and woodworking. He’s always amazed at the depth and breadth of woodworking all over the globe, and feels proud to be a part of this great effort. Brent has built everything one can imagine, from unique art furniture to different types of home furniture to canoes and even a sailboat.

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