When you need to remove a lot of material in a short time, a belt sander is your go-to tool. Whether you’re in the market for your first belt sander or thinking about replacing one that you’ve had for awhile, there are a few things to think about before you do.
The size of a belt sander is measured by the width and length of the belt. A common size for home shop use is a 3" x 21" sander. This size offers a sizeable sanding area, without the fatigue generated by running a large machine.
The main advantage of a belt sander is the speed as which it removes stock. And key to keeping a surface flat during this aggressive stock removal is the platen. The platen on a belt sander is the plate on the bottom of the sander that comes in contact with the workpiece. It should be perfectly flat so that the sander doesn’t create a wavy surface. There are two types of platens available — metal and graphite. Metal platens are thin and often warped or buckled, even on new sanders. Graphite platens are less likely to warp and can be an advantage over metal.
A belt sander excels at removing a lot of material at high speed. But you should also be able to use your sander to do controlled sanding. That’s when a variable speed motor can be helpful. All you need to do to make the adjustment is dial down the speed control.
A belt sander can fill the air in your shop with fine dust in a matter of seconds. That’s why I place good dust collection capability near the top of the list of necessary features when I’m comparing sanders. The small bags included with most sanders will only trap some of the dust. So it pays to look for a sander that includes a dust port or an adapter that will fit your shop vacuum or dust collector.
You can upgrade thin, flimsy metal platen on your belt sander with a graphite platen. Not only will it help you create flatter surfaces, it also keeps your sanding belts running cooler with less friction. And that means longer life for all your belts. Graphite is a form of carbon that’s smooth, tough, and stands up well to high temperatures without warping or buckling. The graphite platen material comes in rolls and is simply cut to length with a utility knife. You can use the original metal platen as a template to lay out the screw holes in the graphite platen. Then just attach it to your machine.