Table Of Contents
Manual sanding is one of the most tedious and exhausting tasks a DIYer or pro contractor can find. Gripping a tiny sanding block or folded sandpaper for hours, making the same back-and-forth motion, ending up with dust caked in the eyes and nostrils—it’s pretty miserable. Worse still, the progress is mind-numbingly slow.
That’s why a belt sander belongs in every toolbox. These tools are designed to smooth and shape wood and metal surfaces at a high rate of speed. Belt sanders bring power and versatility, meaning you can forget those pesky sanding blocks for good.
Almost every workshop can make use of a belt sander, and they’re available with a wide range of prices. Check out some belt sander reviews to find a model that will work well for your projects.
Top 10 Best Belt Sander Reviews
Some belt sanders are definitely better than others. It’s important to shop around and choose the best one for your needs. Check out these belt sander reviews of the best belt sanders available.
The Makita 9903 is a middleweight model for professional carpenters and DIYers alike. It has an 8.8 amp motor that provides plenty of power for renovations and around-the-house jobs. It has a variable-speed adjustment. The 3”x21” belt makes this tool great for smaller hands or lighter jobs. A real plus on this model is the very low noise output—only 85 decibels. The tool does not have a belt centering adjustment but does claim an “auto-tracking” system that keeps the belt straight on its own. These automatic functions tend to wear out quickly. The 9903 has a cloth dust collection bag. It has an open nose so that you can sand flush against surfaces.
Overall, this is a good lighter-weight model. It carries the price tag of a higher-end model ($224 on Amazon), but the Makita brand name means guaranteed quality. The quiet motor is what really sets this tool apart.
The Makita 9403 is basically the 9903’s big brother. Instead of the 3”x21” belt, it uses a 4”x24” belt. Also, the 9403 has an 11 amp, making it at the high end as far as power goes. Like the 9903, it has a cloth dust collection bag and boasts a mere 85 decibel sound level. It has a front grip, which is a must for a sander this large.
The 9403 is a heavy-duty belt sander. Only a couple features set it apart from the 9903, but they are enough to make it a much better buy. This sander is only a few dollars more ($250, Amazon) than the 9903 but has much more power and a larger sanding surface.
The Porter Cable 362V is the best belt sander in its class. It has a whopping 12 amp motor with a 4”x24” sanding belt. Porter Cable is known for making the most durable tools in the business, and this electric belt sander is no different. It has the standard cloth dust collection bag and a front handle for two-handed grips. Keep the belt straight with a belt tracking adjustment. The open nose allows for flush sanding. And, of course, a variable-speed dial allows you to keep a handle on that 12 amp motor.
Best of all, the 362V has a very attractive price ($224 on Amazon) but is much more powerful than similarly priced models.
The Ryobi ZRBE318 is a great introductory belt sander. It’s 5 amp motor is not that powerful and it has a relatively small sanding surface—only 3”x18”. It has nice features like a dust collection bag and front grip, but a lip at the front of the tool means no flush sanding. It’s pretty lightweight, making it perfect for smaller users or shorter jobs. The Ryobi ZRBE318 won’t be the tool for serious DIYers or pros, but it’s cheap enough ($43 reconditioned on Amazon) to lure in weekend warriors and convince them they need a belt sander.
The Ryobi ZRBE318 is a great introductory belt sander. It’s 5 amp motor is not that powerful and it has a relatively small sanding surface—only 3”x18”. It has nice features like a dust collection bag and front grip, but a lip at the front of the tool means no flush sanding. It’s pretty lightweight, making it perfect for smaller users or shorter jobs.
The Ryobi ZRBE318 won’t be the tool for serious DIYers or pros, but it’s cheap enough ($43 reconditioned on Amazon) to lure in weekend warriors and convince them they need a belt sander.
Black & Decker is known for low-quality, low-price tools, and the BR318 is no exception. It’s made of a fairly cheap plastic that feels prone to breaking. But, it has a very low price and standard features, making it perfect for first-time buyers.
The BR318 uses 3”x18” belts and sports a 6 amp motor. It has a front handle but the design of the tool makes flush sanding impossible. It has an auto-tracking system and no variable-speed adjustment. It is very light and narrow. Black & Decker designed this tool for light users who need a belt sander for small jobs. For that purpose, at only $47 (Amazon) with a three-year warranty, it’s a good choice for someone who won’t be using their belt sander very heavily.
The ZRR2740 is another fairly lightweight belt sander. It has a 6.5 amp motor and uses a 3”x18” belt. It does have a variable speed adjustment. Ridgid bills this tool as “heavy-duty”, meaning its housing and components are built of more durable materials than similar models from other brands.
It is a pretty heavy sander which makes it good for long, continuous use. It has an auto-tracking feature for the belt and a top-of-the-line dust collection system. Most sanders have one small fan to direct dust into the dust collection bag; the ZRR2740 has two. Also, you can plug a shop vacuum hose into the dust collection port for an even cleaner project.
The ZRR2740 is a great mid-grade belt sander. Unfortunately, it’s notoriously difficult to find. Used and reconditioned models are available on auction sites but none of the big-box stores or online retailers carry new or even reconditioned ZRR2740s. That’s too bad, because it’s a solid tool that’s great for DIYers.
The 7510-01 Sandcat is a great introductory belt sander. It’s cheap ($45 on Amazon) but Skil is known for building quality tools. It only has a 6 amp motor so it is restricted to light-duty use. But the dust collection system is awesome—Skil has a plastic container with an internal filter that captures the dust and filters the exhaust air. Wow! Most units have leaky cloth bags for dust collection. Skil takes it one step further.
The Sandcat has other unique features, like the pressure control technology. This feature supposedly alerts the user if he is using too much pressure. This keeps you from gouging the surface being sanded. It also has an auto-track belt system. These automatic systems are always suspect but Skil really steps it up a notch with the pressure control feature.
Overall, this sander is a great buy for the price. Don’t expect it to hold up to heavy use and it will surely last years.
This is another unique belt sander. It has some standard features—cloth dust collection bag, front grip, variable-speed control. It packs a powerful 9 amp motor, making this a more heavy-duty model. What sets the SB8V2 apart is the unique nose shape. The entire front curve of the belt is exposed, and a little of the top is even exposed. This makes flush sanding a breeze. Also, this allows the user to gouge curves more effectively for woodworking project. It’s a heavy tool—9.5 pounds—perfect for long jobs. It only has a 3”x21” belt, which means it is a smaller tool than most heavy-duty belt sanders. The SB8V2’s price reflects its heavy-duty quality—around $150. It’s worth it, though. Hitachi is quickly becoming one of the top brands in power tools and backs this belt sander with a five year warranty.
This is another unique belt sander. It has some standard features—cloth dust collection bag, front grip, variable-speed control. It packs a powerful 9 amp motor, making this a more heavy-duty model. What sets the SB8V2 apart is the unique nose shape. The entire front curve of the belt is exposed, and a little of the top is even exposed. This makes flush sanding a breeze. Also, this allows the user to gouge curves more effectively for woodworking project. It’s a heavy tool—9.5 pounds—perfect for long jobs. It only has a 3”x21” belt, which means it is a smaller tool than most heavy-duty belt sanders.
The SB8V2’s price reflects its heavy-duty quality—around $150. It’s worth it, though. Hitachi is quickly becoming one of the top brands in power tools and backs this belt sander with a five year warranty.
This is a table-mounted belt sander. The H6070 has a 1”x30” belt, which is pretty common for these woodworking sanders. It also has a 4” disc. Both sanding surfaces have tiltable benches in front of them, and the disc’s bench even has a built-in miter gauge. These features are really handy in the woodworking shop. The H6070 has a 1/3 hp motor, which is on the smaller end. However, this unit is obviously designed for fine woodworking projects, meaning a huge motor isn’t usually necessary.
The H6070 brings some high-end features together for a really nice woodworking sander. The cost is only $133 (Amazon), making it a great choice for hobbyists.
If the Grizzly unit above is for hobbyists, this one is for full-time pros. The Jet 708599K is a workhorse of a sander. It has a huge 1 ½ hp motor capable of chewing through wood like nothing. Unlike most table-mounted sander’s narrow belts, the Jet has a massive 6”x48” belt and a 12” disc!
This machine is absolutely top-of-the-line. Both sanding surfaces have solid benches mounted in front that are tiltable. The disc’s bench has a built-in miter gauge. The belt sander can be adjusted to operate in the vertical or horizontal position. It has a dust guard and belt guards for its powerful sanders. All adjustments are locking, meaning you don’t have to worry about the workbenches moving under pressure.
The features on this tool go on and on—it’s made by professionals for professionals to the highest quality standards. Of course, that quality is reflected in the price. The 708599K goes for upwards of a grand ($952 on Amazon). But if you run a professional woodworking or machining shop, this tool will fit right in.
How They Work
A belt sander is a tool that pulls a loop of sandpaper (called a sanding belt) around a rotating pulley system. An electric motor rotates the pulleys very fast–over one thousand revolutions per minute. The sanding belt is pulled tight against the drum or pulley and rotates along with it, sanding material off as it goes.
Sanding belts are two layers of material. The outer layer looks and feels just like sheets or blocks of sandpaper. This is the area that touches the material. The inner layer is a cloth-like backing that can withstand the heat and pressure of being pulled round the pulleys.
Belt sanders have a lever system that holds the sanding belt in place. When the lever is turned one way, the opposing ends of the pulley system come towards each other a small amount, allowing the belt to slip over them with ease. The lever is then pushed back the other way and the two ends of the pulley system move back to their original positions, pushing out against the belt and locking it in place.
The best belt sanders are capable of sanding a wide variety of materials, including soft woods like pine and birch; harder woods like oak or hickory; and metals like steel and aluminum. Belts are available in all degrees of coarseness, meaning the tool can take just a little material away with each pass or can gouge away quite aggressively.
Types of Belt Sanders
While there are dozens of models available, belt sanders can be basically divided into four categories: handheld electric, handheld cordless, table-mounted, and pneumatic. Each kind of belt sander is designed for a specific application. Choosing the wrong kind of belt sander can ruin your purchase.
A handheld belt sander (electric or cordless) is about the size of a brick or a shoebox. The bottom of the tool is placed against the work surface.
Table-mounted belt sanders are mounted, as the name implies, atop a table with four legs or a small bench. The belt(s) may be aligned vertically or horizontally (some can even switch) on top of the table.
Pneumatic sanders are the size of a large flashlight with the belt at one end. The tip is usually placed against the work surface.
Handheld electric belt sanders
Handheld electric belt sanders are the most common. They are called electric or corded because they plug directly into a wall outlet. A handheld electric belt sander will have an electric motor in the neighborhood of six to ten amps.
The best belt sanders are “variable-speed”, meaning the user can control the power being generated by the electric motor. This is an important feature for someone who intends to use a belt sander on a variety of different woods and materials. Running a full twelve amp motor on balsa wood would chew the material up in a heartbeat. On the other hand, sand bois d’arc poles with a measly six amp sander might take forever. A powerful belt sander with variable speed control can handle either situation easily.
An advantage of handheld electric belt sanders is the continuous power source. There is never any concern about batteries running low. But, being corded means extension cords are required to reach the work area.
Porter Cable is one of the top manufacturers of handheld electric belt sanders. Their model 362V is the best on the market, for DIYers or professional contractors. This tool has a 12 amp motor, variable speed adjustment, a dust collection bag, and an open nose for sanding flush against perpendicular surfaces. The 4”x24” sanding area makes it easy to rip through large jobs in no time.
Handheld cordless belt sanders
The difference between the two kinds of sanders, of course, is the power supply. Cordless sanders have a battery (several types are available) and require recharging. Corded sanders plug in to the wall.
Cordless sanders are only suitable for light use. Sanding requires a lot of power, so cordless sanders will drain their batteries rather quickly. For some models, the battery life may not be more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Even the best batteries won’t hold out more than fifty or sixty minutes.
Choosing a cordless belt sander with the best kind of battery will help extend the battery life. Nowadays, most cordless tools use lithium ion batteries. These are the best available because they recharge quickly and do not have a “memory”. A battery with “memory” will slowly lose its capacity to recharge fully over time. NiCad batteries, which used to be the standard for power tools, are an example of batteries with “memory”. While NiCad systems are still available, generally they should be avoided because of the low quality of the battery.
The power of a cordless belt sander is determined by the voltage rating of the battery system. Common battery ratings are 9v, 12v, 14v, 18v, and 21v. A belt sander running on a system below 18v will not be powerful enough for most uses and will die very quickly. For cordless options, the best belt sanders will use a battery system with an 18v or 21v rating.
About the only company that makes cordless belt sanders is Metabo. Their RB18 model is a belt sander specifically designed for sanding the ends of pipes before attaching them together. It’s a pretty versatile tool that could be used for carpentry and woodworking, even if that’s not the intended purpose. It offers several different surfaces to sand with and the head can be rotated for hard-to-reach places.
Table-mounted belt sanders
Table-mounted belt sanders, also known as stationary or bench belt sanders, are a very different beast than the handheld tools. They look very different, use different belts, and are used for a very different set of tasks. Stationary sanders have the tool mounted on a table with four legs or a short bench.
Table-mounted belt sanders have small, narrow belts, in contrast to the wide belts used on handheld versions. Most models use belts that are between one and two inches wide. The belts are much longer, however. It is worth mentioning that some higher-end commercial and industrial table-mounted belt sanders do have wide belts of four or six inches or more.
Stationary belt sanders have a small bench that sits up against the sanding belt. Users can place a workpiece on the bench for more control in introducing the piece to the sanding belt. With a stationary sander, the work surface is brought to the sanding belt. With a handheld unit, the sander is brought to the work surface.
Many table-mounted belt sanders have a sanding disc as well as a sanding belt. It’s simple for the manufacturer to use the same electric motor for both functions. Like the belt, the disc will have a small bench where the workpiece can be placed while sanding. Most sanding discs are usually four or six inches wide. Like the sanding belt, commercial or industrial versions may have discs that are ten or twelve inches.
The best sanders in this category have 1.5 to 2 horsepower motors. Hobbyists or DIYers may find that sanders with motors as small as one-half or three-quarters horsepower work well for them. Cordless models are not available; neither are variable-speed models.
The best table-mounted sander for a DIYer is the Grizzly H6070. This unit has a one inch sanding belt and a five inch sanding disc, which are plenty for most woodworking or finishing projects. Both sanders have workpiece benches. The bench in front of the belt can be tilted up to 45 degrees. The disc’s bench can be tilted also and has a built-in miter gauge. This table-top belt sander has a 1/3 hp motor
Pneumatic Belt Sanders
Pneumatic belt sanders are the least common type. They have a specific application and are not often used by DIYers or woodworkers or carpenters.
As the name suggests, pneumatic belt sanders are powered by compressed air, rather than batteries or electricity. An air compressor is required. Pneumatic sanders are fairly small as far as air tools go, so a small air compressor can be used—as small as three gallons.
Pneumatic belt sanders (like all air tools) are not variable speed. And they are very powerful. To that end, pneumatic belt sanders are mostly used in metalworking, auto body or machining shops. These sanders are only useful for hard metals like steel, aluminum, or even titanium. Using a pneumatic belt sander on wood would tear the material up very quickly.
The belts are almost always one inch or smaller in width. Many models are as small as one quarter inch.
Belt Sander Applications
Belt sanders are one of those tools that might not strike the DIYer as necessary but, once purchased, finds dozens of different uses. Experienced carpenters know that belt sanders are one of the most powerful, versatile finishing tools. When a job or project calls for a belt sander, nothing else can really take its place.
The variable speeds and different sandpaper grits are what make belt sanders so widely useful. Belt sanders can be used to gently smooth cabinet doors for refinishing, or they can aggressively remove years of grimy buildup on a wooden floor. A handheld electric belt sander with a very coarse belt can grind a block of pine into nothing in no time.
The portability of a handheld belt sander really makes them the most popular type of belt sander. You can easily bring a small woodworking piece to the surface of the handheld sander for fine work. But, you can also take the belt sander almost anywhere, meaning less disassembly for refinishing projects.
An often overlooked use of belt sanders is sharpening metal items. Sanders are used most often on wood pieces so many people don’t think about using them on metal. Knives, screwdrivers, chisels, axes, hatchets, putty knives, scrapers, saw blades, and many other metal tools require sharpening from time to time. Really, anything that has an edge needs to be sharpened.
When using a belt sander on metal items is to use a zirconium belt (rather than the aluminum oxide belts used for wood). These are more effective at removing metal without damaging the belt.
While a belt sander might not achieve the razor-sharp edge that a wetstone or strop would, it is great for a quick touch up. Simply flip the sander over, then hold the tool so that the sanding belt is drawing down the face of the blade. Tilt the tool twenty or thirty degrees and slowly introduce the edge to the sanding belt’s surface. Gently grind along the entire edge, then flip the tool and do the other side.
There are other times a belt sander is handy for smoothing metal edges. The pinch cutters used for plumbing and gas line leave the end of the pipe with lots of burrs and sharp spots. Simply bring the belt sander to the end of the pipe and run it around the pipe, along the end’s edge. Make sure all the burrs are gone, then hold the belt sander right up against the cut end, removing burrs on the inside of the pipe.
Sometimes when installing screen doors or windows, the metal flange along the outside edge must be cut for the door or window to properly fit. This is usually done with tinsnips or a jigsaw. Both tools are notorious for leaving jagged edges and many a carpenter or DIYer has gotten a nasty gash from handling these items. With a belt sander, you can easily smooth that edge, making it safe during installation. With a zirconium belt, run the sander up and down the flange on both sides for a nice, smooth finish.
A belt sander is a must-have in a woodworking shop. Woodworking is all about precision—precise measurements, tight fits, perfect cuts. A belt sander is there for when mistakes happen. Cut something a little too long? Run it across the belt sander til it fits. Made that corner a bit too sharp with the scroll saw? Round it off on the belt sander. Planer leaving tool marks on your veneer? Gently erase them with a belt sander.
One of the coolest ways to use a belt sander in a woodworking shop is for making rounded corners. Usually, this task falls to the jig saw or scroll saw. But if the piece is already cut to ninety degrees, simply hold the belt sander on the corner until it grinds the corner down to two forty-five degree corners. Then rock the belt sander back and forth and you’re left with a perfectly rounded corner.
Even better, use the belt sander for irregular curves or corners. In situation described above, you could focus the sander more on one part of the corner than the other and you’d be left with an elongated curve instead of a perfect curve.
One of the most indispensable roles of the belt sander is in fitting tenon joints. The tenon has to fit perfectly into the mortis with no wiggle room at all. You’ll find that the belt sander quickly becomes part of the routine for tenon construction. Cut the tenon a tiny bit larger than necessary—hold the saw to the outside of your pencil mark instead of the inside. Try the fit. If the tenon is too large, simply hold that edge against the belt sander for a second or two, rather than using a saw and risking too much removal (which happens maddeningly often). Presto, perfect fit!
Remember when using the belt sander for fine woodworking finishes: adjust the variable speed to a low setting. When only a little material removal is required, running the belt sander at full speed is a quick way to overdo it. Dial it down at least to half the sander’s available power. Most woodworkers find that the lowest setting is actually best for their projects.
Even More Applications
This just touches the surface of belt sander applications. Here are some more common carpentry projects around the house that really benefit from the use of a belt sander:
- refinishing cabinets
- removing bar top varnish
- removing grime or finish from small areas of flooring
- removing paint from window sills or baseboards
- preparing wooden surfaces for painting or finishing
- smooth edges on fence boards or fence posts
Woodworking projects often call for belt sanders:
- sanding surfaces on small woodworking pieces (jewelry boxes, signs, etc.)
- shaping or rounding homemade handles or knobs
- fine-tuning tenon joints
- crafting wedges or shims
There are many instances where a belt sander is necessary on the professional’s jobsite, too:
- field planning boards for framing
- removing burrs from window edges
- smooth sheet metal cuts
- sanding mudded sheetrock joints
- sharpening metal tools (knives, screwdrivers, chisels, etc.)
- scribing corners on countertop
Features to Look For
- exposed, rounded front nose (good for rounding soft woods or creating little holes or whatever)
- dust collection bag
- vacuum hose attachment
- track centering system (to keep belt centered)
- heavy (you don’t have to push as hard)
- pistol grip with trigger
- locking trigger (keeps sander running without squeezing the trigger constantly)
- sideways front grip for left hand
- flat top (can lay upside down for belt changing or use)
- three prong cord (grounded cord)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why do the belt sanders have different size belts?
A: The different size belts make the tools more appropriate for different uses. Large belts are used on large sanders and work well for large jobs with lots of space. Smaller belt means smaller sander.
Q: What kind of electricity do they run on?
A: All of the models in the belt sander reviews here run on 110v (normal household electricity in the U.S.)
Q: How do you change the belt? Is it difficult?
A: On most models, there is a lever you pull to bring the pulleys in a hair. The belt is slipped on or off, the lever turned back, and tension holds the belt in place. It is very easy.
Q: How noisy is this tool?
A: Most belt sanders are rather loud, especially if used indoors. Consider using hearing protection. Check out the belt sander review of the Makita 9903 and 9403 for quite belt sanders.
Q: Can you use the sander upside down?
A: A popular use for belt sanders is finishing small pieces of wood. The safest way to do this is to mount boards along each side of the belt sander, so that when you flip it over it won’t “walk”, or move around unexpectedly.
Q: Will this tool work for floors?
A: Large belt sanders can be used for wooden floors, though often a large drum sander will get the job done quicker.
Q: Will this tool work for cabinets?
A: Belt sanders are perfect for cabinetry.
Q: How well does the dust collection work?
A: Like any dust collection system, it is not 100% perfect. Belt sanders kick up a pretty fine dust and some will invariably slip through the pores of the dust collection bag. Consider a sander with a plastic dust collection unit, or wear a respirator or mask. Check out belt sander reviews of the Skil Sandcats for superior dust collection.