If you just want a quick answer, Makita 9403 is the best woodworking belt sander you can buy. Read on to find out why.
Many woodworkers make the mistake of overlooking belt sanders when stocking their shop with power tools. Beginners may feel intimidated by belt sanders since they are capable of removing large amounts of material so quickly. But, as we all know, sanding can be extremely grueling. If you intend to work on large projects, investing in a good belt sander is a must.
This article will explain what you should consider when shopping for a belt sander. We will also review five of the best belt sanders of 2021 so that you don’t spend your hard-earned money on a low-quality tool.
Top belt sanders compared:
Belt Sander Basics
A belt sander uses abrasive belts instead of disks or sheets. This allows the user to sand with the grain at all times instead of the circular motion found on disc and orbiting sanders.
Linear sanding with the grain provides smoother results. When you sand cross-grain, the abrasive will tend to leave small gouges in the wood surface. These blemishes can be seen especially under stains.
The motors on belt sanders will be more powerful than those found on even the top-rated random orbital sanders. This increased power equates to shorter work times.
A larger motor and linear sanding motion will also let you work with larger grit abrasives that can remove material faster. You will also need less force to smooth out the wood surface.
Belt sanders will require the use of both hands in order to maintain proper control.
You may need a little more practice to master this type of sander when compared to a disc or orbital sander as well.
What are belt sanders best for?
A belt sander excels with rough timber. These tools will help you level and smooth boards faster than other sanding techniques or hand planing.
They can also be used for taking wood down to a curved scribed line as well as larger curved edges.
The only sanding work belt sanders fair poorly with is detailed sanding. You may struggle to work on smaller curves also.
Buying A Belt Sander: Things To Consider
A quick look online will verify that belt sanders motors can range from 6 amps to over 10 amps. I would recommend buying the largest motor you can afford. This will give you a sander that can handle tougher jobs without taking forever to finish. It can also help save wear on the belt as well as the motor itself.
You might be surprised how important comfort is when using a sander. This is even more critical on a belt sander. Look for ergonomic handle designs that offer some type of cushioning or materials that help absorb vibration. I’ve discovered that larger hand hold points provide me with longer relief than smaller handholds.
Variable Speed Control
Speed adjustments will provide you with more control while sanding. Belt sanders can sand down wood quickly. Speed control will let you slow down the belt on softer woods or on surfaces that require less material to be removed.
Conversely, speeding up a high grit belt will allow you to take a rough board down with minimal effort and time.
Sanding produces a lot dust. Belt sanders in particular can generate large amounts of debris and that material needs to go somewhere. Proper dust removal keeps the wood particles from collecting on the project surface or in your lungs!
Dust ports with proper connection dimensions for your shop vac or ductwork will make attaching and detaching simple while providing a good seal.
Top-Rated Belt Sander Reviews
1. Best for The Money: Makita 9403
- Quietest belt sander in its class: only 84 decibals
- 4 inch wide belt with a speed of 1,640 feet per minute for fast material removal
- Labyrinth construction seals motor and bearings from contamination
Makita is known for making quality tools for a bit more money than similar models from other manufacturers. A smaller footprint makes this device easier to carry and store, which can be an advantage if you have limited room in your work area.
- A four-inch belt offers more abrasive for larger workpieces. That would have saved me time over the three-inch belt on my first belt sander.
- This model has a decibel level of about 84. That makes it less-noisy than many belt sanders on the market.
- An 11-amp motor will provide plenty of power to sand through the material, including rough milled lumber that is uneven.
- This particular model has only one speed. The lack of speed adjustment makes it less versatile than other models. This can cause more control issues for those using the belt sander for the first time.
- Using a four-inch belt can be an issue if you work on small pieces of wood. It can also create sanding problems if you are trying to work on pieces with tight curves.
2. Best Budget Belt Sander: TACKLIFE PSFS1A
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If you are on the fence about investing in a belt sander, the price point on this model may help you to justify the purchase. This product comes with a variety of sanding belts that will allow you to get started right away.
- The main advantage this product offers is a low price. It should allow you to purchase a belt sander even if you have a limited budget.
- It comes with a three-inch wide belt. This is a good compromise between wider surface contact and surface accessibility. You will experience more versatility at this belt width.
- This belt sander comes with clamps that you can use to secure the tool to your bench. This allows it to be used as a stationary sander as well as a handheld version.
- One issue I found with this particular model was the small five-amp electric motor. This amperage may limit the sanding this unit can do on rough timber. You will also have to spend more time sanding.
- The price point comes at the cost to build quality. The materials used to build this sander feels a bit flimsy when compared to more expensive products.
3. Makita 9903 3″ X 21″ Belt Sander
- Powerful 8.8 AMP motor; only 85dB
- Variable speed control dial (690-1,440 ft./min.) enables user to match the speed to the application
- Auto-tracking belt system tracks belt without adjustment
A low noise level on this 8.8 amp model allows it to run with less noise while providing adequate power to the belt. It also has a low profile, a feature that helps provide more balance.
- Unlike the previous Makita model reviewed above, this model provides users with variable speed control. That provides it with increased versatility over the single-speed model.
- A flush design on the body allows this belt sander to reach into corner areas that other belt sanders would struggle with.
- It has a dust collection bag that appears to be larger than those found on some belt sanders. The extra space will allow you to run this sander longer between cleanouts.
- The front hand holding point is not very ergonomic. That can make it more difficult to grasp and to hold onto during operation.
- A one year warranty seems a bit short considering the price point on this particular model. When combined with its import status, the limited warranty may affect customer confidence in a negative manner.
4. SKIL 7510-01 Sandcat
- Pressure control technology warns user when excessive pressure is applied
- Auto track system keeps belt centered on track
- Micro-filtration captures and contains fine dust particles
With six amps of power, this belt sander might be best considered as a hobby-level product. It will do the trick with softer woods, but it will take some time to get really rough material or hardwoods flat.
- A built-in pressure sensor will indicate when too much pressure is being applied. That will help prevent gouging and extra wear on the belt also.
- An auto-track system will assist in keeping the belt in line. This will limit the adjustments you will have to make during use.
- The micro-filtration will catch nearly all dust particles generated during sanding, helping to keep the air clean as you work.
- The body is not made from rigid materials. This makes the product less durable. It also makes it light, which means it lacks the weight for the best sanding results.
- A small front handle may prove to be uncomfortable for operators with larger hands. It may also prove awkward for those wearing gloves as well.
5. PORTER-CABLE 352VS
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The belt and gear drive on this sander do a reasonable job of transferring power from the motor to the belt. This makes an efficient system with a minimal amount of power loss during the transfer.
- A three-year limited warranty is included with purchase. This is one of the longer warranties found on belt sanders.
- The metal housing will help to protect interior components from dust. It also helps to add weight to the sander, a feature that lets you operate it without having to apply pressure.
- An adjustable dust collection bag can be twisted. This allows you to position it in a variety of ways, keeping it out of the way while you work.
- A larger motor than the eight-amp that is included would have made the price point well justified. It feels like the gear system has been added to compensate for the lower amperage.
- There may be the possibility of poor seal near the joint of the twisting dust bag. If the joint does lose its seal it will severely limit the dust collection ability.
Using A Belt Sander: A Few Tips
One thing I had to learn the hard way was that you don’t need to push down on a sander. A belt sander has the ability to sand material without added pressure.
Move slowly as you sand, keeping the same speed and tool profile as you move across the wood surface. This will provide even results. Make sure that the belt sander does not dip as you move across the end of the board.
Make sure to keep the space between the plate and the belt clean in order to prevent build-up that can cause uneven sanding. Keep the belt surface free from dust buildup also. Do not hesitate to replace worn belts with a new one to keep your sanding smooth and free from gouges.
Stay safe while working.
Securing your project before sanding will prevent it from moving, or even launching, from your bench. These tools are loud, so make sure to wear ear protection. They also generate a lot of dust, so wear a mask and eye protection (even if you have dust collection).
Make sure the power is off before you plug the sander in, otherwise it might take off on you. Also, remember to unplug it before you change belts or perform other maintenance tasks.
The Smoothest Choice
I did like each of the products reviewed above. They all offer advantages that would cover the gambit of needs for most beginning and intermediate woodworkers. With that being said, however, I do feel that the Makita 9403 4″ X 24″ Belt Sander represents the best belt sander among them.
Its 11-amp motor will provide enough power to get through most jobs quickly. It may require more time and effort to get through the roughest timber, but it will eventually get the job done.
Even though this sander does not feature a variable speed dial, it performs exceptionally well sanding at the speed it was designed to. Moreover, the 9403 operates at its most optimal speed so variable speed settings aren’t actually needed here.
It comes with handles that offer plenty of purchase for your grip, even if you have larger hands or are wearing gloves.
Finally, a swiveling dust bag helps to keep it out of the way as you work.
Need a stationary sander? Check out my review of the best belt and disc sanders.