Woodworking is not only my hobby. It’s my sanity. No matter what the day throws at me, I always know that when the sun goes down, I can retire to my basement wood shop. The sense of pride and accomplishment wood working gives me is the icing on the cake of life.
But there is one part of fine woodworking that doesn’t exactly thrill me. To get a beautiful finish, sanding is a requirement. A lot of sanding. I spend more time sanding than I do actually building projects. Sanding is the one part of woodworking that I happily relegate to machinery.
I have orbital, disc, corner, and some dual-purpose sanding tools. But for the big jobs, I reach for my belt sanders. They really get the job done! But even within this class, there are different types and levels of quality. So, before you buy a belt sander, I am here to help you get educated on what to look for and which ones to consider.
In a Hurry?
If you don’t have time to read the in-depth reviews of the best belt sanders from our list, here’s the bottom line:
The Tacklife 3x18 was a surprise to me. On paper, it didn’t look powerful enough. But it is. It also offers some great features and versatility that makes it a winner for most applications, all for just $55.
The Wen 6500 is a bench mounted belt sander with a disc sander on the side. Versatility, adjustability, and raw power make this heavyweight model a must-have machine in every wood shop.
For under $40, you can pick up the Skil Sandcat. With features like a pressure control sensor, and auto-tracking belt, this machine brings a lot of bang for the buck.
The Makita 9903 is a powerhouse that can tackle huge jobs, like refinishing hardwood floors, with ease. With an 8.8-amp motor and variable seed control, this machine has it all. It will set you back some cash, but if you are looking for professional grade, you just found it.
Our Testing and Selection Process
There is no better way to sort through the glut of belt sanders being marketed today than to put your hands on the grips and give a spin. It actually doesn’t take very long to get a feel for each machine, but we don’t stop there. We meticulously measured and charted things like motor power, weight, balance, grip ergonomics, belt adjustment technology, sawdust filtration, and special design features.
Even with all of this information, there’s simply no better testing ground than real-world application. So, we put a vast collection of what we considered to be the top-rated belt sanders in the hands of real people and let them put the machines to the test. Naturally, there were some surprises in their feedback, and we altered our reviews to reflect these findings.
All of this testing proved one point: There is simply no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to portable design. Think of them as specialists. While a particular sanding machine might truly outpace all the rest when it comes to stripping the old finish off hardwood floors, that same machine may prove too unwieldy while applied on fine furniture.
So, yes, we will give you our top pick. But I am also going to recommend nine other options in this review. Look at it this way; I’m not going to tell you which machine to buy. But I am going to narrow the list down to what I consider to be the 10 top performing models on the market today. I’ll also tell you why they made the list. You can take it from there.
So, Should We Be Trusted?
Absolutely. Look, I have no dog in this fight. It doesn’t matter to me if you choose a Makita, Wen, Ryobi, or any other of a dozen brands of belt sanders. I’m not promoting one brand over another. As an experienced wood worker, I’m simply trying to help you sort through the maze of options.
Of the several sanders in my workshop, no two are the same brand. I don’t care. I pick the top machine for the job, regardless of the nameplate it bears. These reviews of portable belt sander are based on information gathered in the real word, not hype generated by the companies that make them.
That information is gathered through community-based usage, through verified customer reviews, through more than 44 hours of web-based research, and with the help of expert opinions. There is no bias in the equation. Just honest, straightforward comparisons based on actual information.
Our Top 10 Best Belt Sander List
So, with all of that information as background, let’s examine what we believe to be the top 10 models of belt sanders that you should consider. As I said, none of these machines is the perfect solution for every application. But I do believe that each of these machines is appropriate for the particular niche that we place it in. It’s up to you to decide where your needs lie.
To Whom Is This Product Beneficial?
If you do any work with wood, metal, or other building materials, you are going to need to sand pieces. It’s a mandatory part of any building or remodeling process. The larger your project, the more indispensable a belt sander becomes, and the more you are going to want to be sure you choose from among the highest performing machines for the task you face.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy the most expensive. If you have routine but small tasks, you might want to choose a cheap model. But if you plan to make a career out of refinishing hardwood floors, you are going to be in the market for heavy duty options to sand wood safely and properly.
If you’re like me, you will probably find yourself investing in more than one of the machines on our top ten belt sander list. As you will see, these machines offer a wide variety of features that make them useful for specific sanding niches.
About Belt Sanders
What is a Belt Sander?
In general, it is a machine with two rollers that a continuous belt of sandpaper spins between. The sandpaper is held in contact with the material being sanded by a pressure plate on the bottom of the unit. The larger that plate is, the greater surface area a sanding tool can work at any given moment. There are many variations to be found.
What is a Belt Sander used for?
Belt sanders are typically woodworking tools, although there are some variations. They are used to remove old finishes for restoration of wood surface like floors and decks. This machine is really geared more towards completing larger tasks in as little time as possible. Yes, they can be fitted with fine grit sanding belts and do a great job of sanding large areas smooth. But, in truth, other sanding tools are more suited for the particular application.
How Are Belt Sanders Different from Other Types of Sanders?
These sanding tools are the true workhorses in the line-up of machines that grind away microscopic amounts of material in order to make a joint between two pieces or an entire surface smooth. Orbital, straight line, palm and sheet sanders, and all the variations thereof, really focus on finishes small areas to a very smooth and ultra-fine degree. These machines are more about working on larger surfaces, everything from a wood tabletop to an entire hardwood floor. Unlike an orbital sander, a belt sander does a great job for large surfaces.
Because they are called upon to work large areas, they are expected to be durable, powerful, and a bit on the heavy side. The heavier the machine, the less the operator has to put a shoulder into the job. Because of this, belt sanders can take a bit of muscle to use properly and, in fact, they also take a bit more practice than other types of sanders to develop a good touch for getting the job done right.
Top Factors to Look For
The first consideration I have when looking at belt sanders is the power rating of the motor. Powering a this tool is a tough job and if the motor isn’t up to it, you are going to find the machine bogging down on you. This leads to a less than satisfactory sanding job and it’s going to eat up a lot of time and effort on your part. Always pick a sander that has power to spare.
Design and durability are my number two considerations. A sander has to be sturdy enough to stand up to a rigorous assignment. Lightweight plastic parts, small screws, handles that may break are all red flags to me. One of the biggest design complaints about many models is the dust collection system. Many use cloth bags, and some use a plastic box of some sort. Neither is necessarily better, but make sure that whichever you choose, the attachment system is strong enough to withstand the rigors of the job. Broken dust collectors are a common complaint.
The weight and size of the machine matters. You want a bit of heft because the weight of the sander actually helps you maintain pressure on the surface you are sanding. If the tool is too light, you are going to have to put more of your body into the job, and the whole idea of using a machine for a task is to lessen your physical burden.
From this point, I start looking at the special features. Variable speed controls are one of the first things I look for. A machine that doesn’t offer variable rates has a big black mark against it. Flush edge sanding is another ability that a belt sander simply has to have. A decent warranty also provides a little peace of mind. I hope I never have to use the warranty, but I figure that if a company is willing to warranty their product, that tells me they believe they have built quality into that machine.
Lastly, I look at price. I don’t mind investing money in a power tool that’s going to perform well for a long time. I would rather do that than have to buy a new one very year or so.
Pitfalls to Avoid
A belt sander has to have smooth running operation to be effective. If the machine is vibrating heavily or out of balance in some way, you’re not going to get great results. Heavy vibrations are also going to fatigue you as the operator. You simply won’t be able to use the sander for as long a period of time.
As I mention, there is simply no substitute for power. An underpowered working unit will bog down. So, you will have to lighten your pressure on the machine. The results? It’s going to take a lot longer to complete the task, and the results are likely not going to be as satisfactory. Always buy a model that has plenty of power to spare.
There is another problem with an underpowered belt sander. Running it at maximum capacity is going to lead to burning out that motor much faster than if it is just cruising along. Motor burnout is probably the number one reason that these tool owners find themselves looking for a new one.
Usage, Maintenance, and Safety Guide
How to Use Belt Sanders
Luckily for me, it takes more muscle than brain to operate a belt sander. It’s really very easy. Select the proper grit for the task at hand (remember the higher the number, the smoother the finish), slip the belt in place, latch the belt tensioner handle, and away you go.
A belt sander is really a constant tug-of-war. It wants to run away from you, and you need to rein it in place and keep it moving at a smooth, steady pace over the surface you are sanding. The smoother you can control it, the better the result. It does take a bit of practice, so start on a piece of scrap wood until you get the hang of keeping this dog on the leash.
The by-product of using a such machine is dust. Lots of dust. They all have some type of dust collecting system, but they are less than perfect. Protect yourself from this dust by wearing a mask, and eye protection. I prefer goggle-type eye protection, as opposed to safety glasses. The glasses won’t keep the dust out of your peepers. I also recommend leather gloves, because you don’t want bare skin coming in contact with a sanding belt that is running at a thousand feet per minute. Flesh loses that battle every time.
Once again, dust is your main concern. Keep the dust bag emptied. Thoroughly clean the dust from your belt sander after every use. An old paint brush is a great tool for this. Modern sanders have sealed bearings, so there really isn’t any lubrication required. On higher end models, you may be able to replace the drive belt after the machine has logged a zillion hours. Other than that, belt sanders don’t require much TLC.
It’s Time to Wrap Up
I have more than five decades of time in wood working shops, and in that time, I have wrapped my hands around a lot more than one belt sander. This review is based on a lot of lessons learned the hard way, not just from me, but from the thousands of online reviewers who shared their experiences with us.
A lot of these machines specialize in one unique characteristic, and by studying not only what they can do, but what you really need them to do, I know you will land on the best belt sander for your needs.