Within the vast and varied family of power tools, Belt Sanders are – like grandparents! – among the oldest and simplest of members.
These rugged handheld tools with a rolling sanding belt at the bottom make removal of material and levelling of flat surfaces a quick and easy task.
Belt sanders are one of the ‘original’ and most well-established of power tools and are also one of the most frequently used. These humble devices are mainstays in woodworking shops and furniture factories.
These simple machines comprise of two drums, one at each end at the base of the tool, around which a continuous belt of sandpaper is looped. This is the sanding belt. As the drums are rotated by a motor the sanding belt also rotates, rapidly sliding along the underside of the belt sander.
A belt sander is possibly the most effective and aggressive of sanding tools, and smoothing out rough surfaces is only one of its uses. This power tool can be fitted with a low-grit sanding belt and used for fast material removal; indeed, even ‘layer removal.’ Equipped with a medium-grit sanding belt this tool is ideal for removing coats of polish, paint, or stain from wood or metal surfaces. Finally, though not usually used for finishing, when fitted with a high-grit sanding belt and properly controlled it can be used to correct imperfections and for gentle finishing. With the right type and grit of sanding belt, a belt sander can even be used to smooth out soft metal surfaces. In a pinch, you can deploy this power tool with a zirconia belt even to sharpen knives, chisels, and other metal tools. Heck, you can even enter your kit in a belt sander drag race! (Yes Martha, there are belt sander drag races.)
Belt sanders, although small hand-held power tools, are so aggressive and effective in material removal that they can be used to level and smooth even large surfaces such as parquet floors and decks. Part of the reason for their power is a motor of usually 700 watts and more that rotates the drums and sanding belt at 300-plus metres per minute. Other criteria to consider when choosing a belt sander would be the presence of a handy trigger lock, variable speeds, and efficient dust extraction. As these are noisy devices you may also want to look into their noise levels.
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Underneath we slice and dice each of the above factors in our review of five recommended DIY belt sanders.
Tilswall’s belt sander is very powerful, has variable speeds, and a few superb features with no flaw worth the name – an exceptional power tool at the price.
Cost: Price not available
A powerful 900-watt motor powers Tilswall’s belt sander which is marketed as being “ideal for woodworking projects and industrial use as well;” a claim which is not without a solid foundation. The belt rotates at 370 to 710 RPMs with the speed selectable via a six-position dial at the top.
The trigger lock to enable continuous operation is very useful, as one may expect, but it is also smartly designed and well made.
Tilswall’s belt sander has a clever retracting design that leaves the fore part of the upper sanding surface exposed; this allows very convenient sanding of fixed or immovable small surfaces facing downwards without the awkwardness of holding a sander upside-down. Also, because the entire frontal area of the sanding belt at the bottom is exposed and the top can be retracted, you can get right into corners.
The main handle is comfortable and ergonomic but the front handle is just adequate; perhaps it could use some improvement.
A handy-dandy belt release lever makes belt changes a piece of cake. While it has an auto-tracking mechanism to prevent the belt from drifting, a knob on the side near the front makes belt adjustments very straightforward.
It does not have any built-in threads or recesses by which to secure it upside-down to a bench for stationary sanding.
This wonderful machine will remove huge quantities of material at high speed with a 60-grit belt yet will produce the finest of finishes at low speed with a 120-grit belt.
Even on that weakness of nearly all belt sanders, noise levels, this one scores high, not being loud at all.
You can put this little beast in the harness every day and it’ll keep going and going without a whimper. Yes, Tilswall’s positioning of the sander as being good for ‘industrial use’ has more than a grain of truth to it.
Build quality, though not the most robust or most sturdy, is very, very good.
With so much to commend it and so little to complain about, Tilswall’s rig edges the Bosch PBS 75 A, reviewed underneath, as our best pick. Yet in view of its attractive price, it also scores as an excellent value buy.
It comes with ten sanding belts, five 80 grit and five 120 grit, and a dust bag. It has a 3.5mm vacuum port.
Tilswall provides a one-year warranty extendable to a total two-years upon registration of purchase.
- This variable-speed all-round belt sander is equally good for material removal and rough usage, and for finishing and finer uses.
- Clever retracting design gives it a unique leg up over the competition.
- Sold at so moderate a price that this Best Pick even doubles up as an excellent value for money.
- A niggle – the front handle is not one of the best.
Though some units turn out defective and the kit’s not perfect, Tacklife squeezes in so many high-end features at such a friendly price that it’s Top Value.
Tacklife’s 600-watt rig has a speed of 170 to 250 metres/minute. The sanding belt rotates at 360 to 560 RPMs, adjustable via a dial with six settings. Variable speed is a bonus feature to get in a budget kit.
The sanding surface is 75 x 150 millimetres.
The trigger lock button at the side facilitates continuous operation; that said, the trigger is comparatively easy to keep depressed. The sander as a whole is quite ergonomic.
Another nice feature is that this belt sander doubles up as a little bench sander courtesy of its design and the two supplied screw clamps with which it can be stably and securely fixed to a workbench.
Dust collection is not a strong point, this one spews dust. Also, the dust collection box isn’t held in place and if it’s in the mood to misbehave, it will simply come off! You’ll either have to improvise to keep the box in place or connect the kit to a vacuum.
On the other hand, changing belts is the simplest of procedures. To adjust the belt’s tracking and correct any drift, Tacklife’s sander has a screw at the bottom near the front; you’ll need a screwdriver for this one.
It makes quite a dreadful high-pitched din at the highest setting; ear defenders are almost necessary.
Some defective units make it through Tacklife’s door and into the hands of consumers. These fail by the motor evidently running but the rollers stopping dead or by the motor burning out.
We think that even if a user exerts unwarranted pressure on a moderately-powered belt sander, it may slow down or stall but it shouldn’t shut up shop.
The power cord is a generous 3 metres. At 3.6 kilogrammes it has just the right heft to it. It has decent build quality and feels good in hand but is not durable enough for trade use.
Available at very budget-friendly price, having adequate power for DIY use, even better features, and an array of extras, Tacklife’s belt sander is a deserved Value Pick and is excellent value. It is ideal for home use and for enthusiasts.
It comes with a total of 7 80-grit sanding belts, 6 120-grit ones, two vacuum adaptors (32- and 35-millimetre), and 2 screw clamps.
Tacklife provides a two-year warranty.
- For a budget kit it has a few distinctly ‘non-budget’ features like a variable speed selector.
- By virtue of its design and the supplied clamps it can be used as a bench sander for stationary work.
- Overall, the value for money blows you away.
- Quality control is a weakness – some percentage of units simply die.
- Dust collection and also the dust box are sub-par.
- At the highest speed it makes an awful noise.
The name of the game here is Power in Spades, as Bosch’s limited one-speed sander scores an ‘A+’ in rapid material removal as well as for its build quality.
With 710 watts of power Bosch’s belt sander has a no-load speed of 350 metres/minute. Speed is not adjustable manually or otherwise.
It has a sanding surface of 75 x 160 millimetres.
This is a very aggressive belt sander, even by belt sander standards. What Bosch writes in its sales materials about this belt sander being the “ideal power tool for all coarse sanding work that demands a high material removal rate on large surfaces” like floors is right on the money. In fact, this little gorilla is so muscular and torquey that you can let it loose (with the appropriate sanding belt) on your knives and chisels to sharpen them – and the only whining you will hear is from the knives and chisels.
Although very powerful, this belt sander is prone to overheating and one should avoid continuous and prolonged usage.
Both handles are insulated and they can’t be beaten for comfort. You can take off the front handle by unscrewing it to enable you to get closer to a floor’s edges and corners.
The automatic belt tensioning and adjustment system does what it says and is an excellent feature. Belt changes are as easy as 1-2-3.
The microfilter system is good but the built-in dust extraction is poor. The dust box is small, requires frequent emptying, and now and again it comes off.
This is one loud, noisy rig.
The PBS 75 A can be used as a bench sander but be informed that you’ll need a bench or workmate and will have to buy clamps separately.
This kit has aluminium components, exhibits seriously sturdy build quality, and is rugged. It has a good weight at 3.4 kilogrammes.
No carry case or anything else included which is a shame at the price.
Bosch provides a two-year warranty extendable to three years if the purchase is registered within 28 days.
- Major league power and torque means that if you’re not careful this aggressive sander will remove material . . . by the centimetre!
- Especially quick and easy belt changes and no need to worry about belt tracking and adjustment.
- Sturdy and rugged, this kit has excellent build quality.
- One speed is all you get.
- Everything about the dust collection system is a weak point.
- A thumbs-down for not including a carry case or, indeed, anything else given its price.
Einhell’s aggressive one-speed sander may tend to heat up but it tracks its belt particularly well; effective and powerful, this kit will do any DIYer proud.
Einhell’s 800-watt belt sander has a no-load speed of an impressive 380 metres/minute. It does not have variable speeds.
The belt sander’s surface area is 76 x 142 millimetres.
This is a powerful and torquey sander for rapid material removal, and powerful enough that if you’re not alert for even a moment it will leave you with a millimetre or two less than what you had planned on. Floor sanders aside, this one’s an excellent choice for working on flooring, decks, boards and large surfaces.
The sanding belt can be precisely adjusted by the springy knob one side near the front. In case the belt is not set correctly, an intermediate ceramic guard protects both the sander and the belt. However, this one is really good about keeping its belt centred.
This sander’s dust collection performance is about par for the course – nothing to write home about and nothing to complain about.
Swapping out sanding belts is a quick and easy operation and the belt-release lever is effective and well made.
You may find that this rig heats up during prolonged use. If so, use it for 15 minutes on, 10 minutes off. Somewhat contradictorily, the TC-BS 8038 turns out to be quite a workhorse; it can go day-in day-out.
Though it is marketed as a DIY kit and is not meant for commercial use, if ever a DIY power tool could breach its boundaries, it’s this one. This sturdy, chunky kit could be a good inexpensive buy for independent contractors for light trade use (note that doing so would void the warranty).
At 3.4 kilogrammes it has the right weight to it.
It comes with a dust bag.
Einhell provides a two-year warranty as long as the tool is not used for trade or commercial purposes.
- Really powerful and aggressive sander is excellent for quick material removal over large surfaces.
- Especially good in tracking and adjustability of the sanding belt.
- A workhorse, this DIY kit is robust enough for light-duty trade use.
- Does not have variable speeds.
- Heats up during prolonged use, and could overheat.
- Einhell’s oddball sense of humour, bragging that they (cue applause) “Includes 1 sanding belt”!
Take a chance on Silverline’s bare-bones basic belt sander and while you may get a kit that bombs, odds are you will land a killer value for money power tool.
The 730-watt motor on Silverline’s belt sander runs the sanding belt at a no-load speed of 260 metres/minute. These specs are nothing to shout about, particularly the speed, yet somehow this is a fairly aggressive rig. It is quite effective and displays sufficient muscle to enable effortless sanding of floors and other large areas.
It has a well-positioned trigger lock.
The knurled knob on the side near the front is to adjust the sanding belt tracking around the drums. The sanding belt on this one tends to drift a bit more than usual so you may need to use this adjustment knob a bit more than usual too.
Dust collection is good and it has a vacuum port. However, it is somewhat noisier than the typical belt sander – and that’s saying something.
The front handle barely qualifies as a ‘handle,’ being little more than a moulded protrusion.
This belt sander is a cheap, no-frills, entry-level kit and it has the look and feel to go with it. It is built to its price point. For the hobbyist or occasional user looking to minimise expenditure and maximise utility, Silverline’s 261792 cannot be beaten.
Reliability and durability, however, cannot be vouched for and are the main concerns about this kit. Now and then units simply stop working, sometimes within days. In sum, if you luck out you’ll be patting yourself on the back on getting a killer value-for-money power tool but if you get a defective piece you’ll be ruing your purchase. As such, this ‘dicey’ kit is one for DIYers with a gambling streak – can you throw Elevens?
It weighs 3.16 kilogrammes. A dust bag is included.
Silverline provides a three-year guarantee if you register the sander within 30 days of purchase, and if you do so upon purchase you’ll be covered if the kit fails.
- Good, effective, efficient, and hard-working – overall a solid ‘B.’
- Dust collection is good but if not, there’s the vacuum port.
- Very low price and terrific value for money.
- This one’s no frills, bare bones, plain jane . . . you get it.
- Quite a poor front handle – just functional.
- Not very reliable; if your luck is out you may get a kit that goes, “Goodbye, cruel world!”
How To Use A Belt Sander
A belt sander is one of the easiest and one of the safer power tools to operate. Nonetheless, it is wise to wear protective goggles and work gloves. You really should wear ear defenders.
Finally, the one ‘must’ when working with any sanding tool is to wear a face-mask or dust-mask to protect your respiratory organs.
• First, make sure that your belt sander has a sanding belt of the correct grit for the job at hand; if it doesn’t, replace it. Doing rough material removal with a high-grit paper will result in much wasted time and effort; using a low-grit sanding belt to do final smoothing or finishing would be even worse as it will damage the workpiece.
• If your belt sander has a speed-selection dial, choose the appropriate setting.
• Hold the sander by the main handle with your dominant hand and hold the front guiding handle with your weaker hand.
• Hold the belt sander so that the sanding belt at the bottom is perfectly parallel to the workpiece’s surface; that is, do not sand at an angle or at a tilt to the workpiece’s surface.
• Maintain a firm hold and do not exert downward pressure; let the tool’s weight do the work.
• Move the sander back and forth on the workpiece’s surface lengthwise using straight strokes that are parallel and slightly overlapping. Do not leave the sander at one spot.
• As you move the belt sander go past the edges of the board but do not tilt or angle the sander as you do so. To be able to keep the belt sander level, put a piece of scrap wood adjoining the workpiece so that the sander stays horizontal as you move it past the workpiece’s surface.
• For rough work and material removal move the sander at diagonal angles to the grain except when sanding varnished surfaces. For normal sanding and finishing move it only along (that is, with) the grain.
• If you have started with a low grit, to obtain a smooth surface switch over to a higher grit and finish with that.
How To Replace Sandpaper On A Belt Sander
• Make sure the belt sander is turned off. Physically disconnect it from the power supply. If you have been using the sander, it would be wise to wait ten minutes or so to let it cool down.
• Put it upside-down or on its side such that the side where the sanding belt’s edge is exposed is upward.
• You will see a lever-like locking mechanism on the side. Pull or slide it in the direction shown; it may lock in the extended position or you may have to hold it in place. This lever or catch will slightly move the drums so that the sanding belt gets loosened. Pinch it from the exposed side and pull it out.
• Take the new sanding belt and see if it has arrows printed on the inner surface. If so, align the belt correctly with the belt sander’s drums by positioning the belt so that its arrows match the directional arrows on the side of the belt sander.
• Slide the belt into the belt sander over and around the drums, try to position it as centrally as possible, and let go or push back the locking lever or catch.
• If your belt sander has automatic belt positioning and tensioning, then you’re good to go. If not, you have a couple more steps to complete.
• Connect the belt sander to the power supply, and holding it upside-down, depress the trigger.
• Look at the new sanding belt to check whether it is properly centred and is tracking correctly, or whether it is rubbing against the belt sander’s body on the closed side or whether it is drifting toward and out of the open side.
• You will see either a tracking knob or a screw on the open side. With the sander on, slowly rotate the knob or screw to adjust the sanding belt and position it centrally.
• When you see the sanding belt getting positioned centrally, remaining in place, and not drifting to either side, the task is completed.
Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.