As a DIYer or tradesperson, a building project or job can sometimes call for a serious bit of sanding and one sander that is often relied on to carry out these larger jobs is the portable belt sander. The belt sander is a powerful sanding machine that needs a certain level of mastery to use correctly and as a result is not really recommended for beginners or the inexperienced. The belt sander also does its works very quickly, so much so in fact, that it is entirely possible to make a mess of a project if one is not careful.
Belt sanders are, above all, ideal for the sanding of extra rough surfaces and they are usually used as the first step in a sanding project which is then followed by a less aggressive sander such as the random orbital sander or the detail sander to obtain the final smooth finish. The belt sander especially comes into its own when working on large areas such as on flooring or on table-tops particularly when removing old coats of varnish, paint, or other similar coatings which can take significantly longer with a less powerful sander. It can also be especially useful when a significant amount of material needs to be removed from a surface such as when reducing the length of a workpiece that has been inadvertently cut slightly oversize.
In this review of portable belt sanders, we first look at how one typically uses a handheld belt sander before exploring the features found on today’s crop of belt sanding machines available to the UK consumer. Then, once armed with this knowledge, we will be in a better position to choose a portable belt sander for purchase (which is presumably the reason for your visit to this page today!) as we examine the properties and technical characteristics of popular belt sanders on the UK market today.
How to use a portable belt sander
When using a portable belt sander, especially for the first time, there are a few important things to remember to ensure good results:
- 1First and foremost, one should not press down too heavily on the machine but instead let its weight do the majority of the work. This makes it easier to apply uniform pressure across the workpiece being sanded, and decreases the chance of over-sanding in any one particular spot, which might lead to an uneven depression forming in the workpiece. Not putting excessive pressure on the sander also means that the sandpaper belt does not wear out prematurely.
- 2The next thing to remember when using a portable belt sander is to always keep it in motion, constantly moving it around the workpiece gently in a slightly orbital or zigzag path. This, together with frequent stopping and checking of one’s progress, will help prevent any one area of the work project getting over-sanded.
- 3If sanding a narrow edge, then ensure that the belt sander is perfectly level and parallel to the plane being sanded. This will help prevent rounding at the corners of the workpiece. Alternatively, if multiple narrow edges need to be sanded down, then consider clamping them together and sanding them all at once.
What to look for when buying a belt sander
Like most power tools these days, portable belt sanders are made by a number of companies, each of which also might field more than one model of belt sander on the market. As a result, choosing the best belt sanding machine for oneself can sometimes be a difficult task. In order to make the choice of belt sander easier, we outline below some of the characteristics to look out for when purchasing one.
In general, and as with most power tools, the higher the power rating of the tool, the tougher the jobs it can handle. In the case of the belt sander, this means the more power the machine has, the faster and more aggressive its sanding action will be, which should result in more efficient smoothing down of a rough surface.
The sanding area of a belt sander is represented by the area in contact with the workpiece. Intuitively, the larger the sanding area, the faster one can finish the sanding task. Most consumer-targeted belt sanders, however, have similar dimensions with differences of only a few centimetres in some cases.
Sanding Belt Dimensions
The sanding belt dimensions represent the total length and width of the sandpaper belt when it is opened up and laid out flat. There are a few common sizes that sandpaper belts are made into, and when choosing a a belt sander, a good idea is to look at the availability of the size of sandpaper that it is designed to use. Above all, one wants to avoid being locked into a sandpaper belt size that is only used by a single brand of belt sander since this usually means more expensive sandpaper replacement costs as one is forced to buy them from what is most likely to be an expensive brand-name manufacturer.
Some belt sanders have the ability to vary the speed at which the sanding belt turns. This increases the versatility of the belt sander as different types of sanding jobs can benefit from being able to set an optimal speed. In general, the more delicate the sanding work that needs doing, the slower the speed that should be set on the belt sander.
Dust Collection System
Any type of sanding job is usually a messy affair and this is even more so for the belt sander, which can remove material at an accelerated rate. As a result, this means that the belt sander of choice should have some form of dust collecting system. This will usually be in the form of a dust collection bag, which if designed correctly, can capture the vast majority of the sawdust and debris created by the belt sander. Ideally, the belt sander should also be able to easily swap out its dust collection bag for a vacuum connection if facilities are available.
Popular Belt Sanders in the UK
(If you are located in the US, then check out what the popular belt sanders are in the US here)
|Bosch PBS 75 A|
|Black & Decker KA86|
|Black & Decker KA88GB|
|Einhell TC-BS 8038|
Electric Belt Sander Reviews
Bosch PBS 75 A Belt Sander Review
The PBS 75 A belt sander, made by the German company, Bosch, is a heavyweight prosumer power tool that is well-designed, well-balanced, and sports some excellent features. It has a medium-powered 710W motor that can generate enough torque for most DIY jobs and an automatic belt-centring system that keeps the sanding belt from coming off during use. The sanding belt also runs flush with the machine's body on one side allowing it to sand effectively right up to the edges of work areas. The Bosch PBS 75 A also has a simple belt-changing system, operated through the use of a lever that is pulled to release the tension on the belt, allowing for quick and easy removal and replacement of the sanding belt. The belt size on the Bosch PBS 75 A is the standard 75mm x 533mm, readily available from several manufacturers and merchants. However, it is recommended to stick with Bosch-branded sanding belts as slight variations in size tolerances from other manufacturers can lead to belts that are either slightly too loose or slightly too tight for optimal service life.
The Bosch PBS 75 A belt sander is also a well-built machine. This is partly due to some of its components being made of metal instead of the more fragile plastic parts found in less reputable machines. However, these more durable components also make the Bosch PBS 75 A a relatively heavy machine, which can make extended use of the tool more tiring, especially for those accustomed to using lighter-weight belt sanders. In addition, any sanding that is vertical in orientation or worse, overhead, means that using the Bosch machine requires strength and stamina to hold it in place, especially over extended periods. Fortunately, for ease of use, the power switch on the machine can be locked in the 'on' position so that this, at least, helps with reducing hand fatigue. This lock-on feature is also essential for using the belt sander in its bench-mounted configuration (see more on this below). The combined effect of all these characteristics, and together with its overall bulkiness, means using the Bosch PBS 75 A can take a little getting used to.
The Bosch belt sander's weight and power also mean that it sands at a quick rate, with its weight doing most of the work rather than there being any need to apply pressure on the power tool. Indeed, it can be easy to remove too much material from the surface being sanded if one is not careful. Notably, it does not have user-mediated variable speed control, which means that the sanding belt speed cannot be optimised for less aggressive sanding.
Noise-wise, the Bosch PBS 75 A is one of the noisiest electric belt sanders available to the consumer and certainly requires the use of ear protection along with the other standard articles of personal protective equipment.
The Bosch PBS 75 A also has a couple of other issues of note. First and foremost, is the fact that, although it is capable of being bench-mounted upright or inverted, the mounting accessory frame, the clamps, and the linishing table attachment required for bench-mounting are not included with the machine and have to be purchased separately. This is despite, somewhat disingenuously, showing the machine in its mounted state on some product advertising, giving the impression that these accessories are included. Reading the fine print does indicate that these accessories are not included, so some more careful buyers of the tool may have budgeted for purchasing them separately. However, even finding the accessories can be difficult and rather expensive, taking what is an excellent value-for-money tool to the level of a not-so-good one.
The Bosch PBS 75 A also lacks a carry case and comes with no other accessories other than a dust collection box. Dust collection on the device is adequate. Although the dust collection works as well as any other hand belt sander, the amount and fineness of material that is typically generated from sanding rapidly blocks the Bosch's dust box filter, requiring overly frequent emptying and cleaning. In addition, the dust collection box can be challenging to attach securely, leaving it to fall off too easily when working with it. The natural solution for this is to use a vacuum attached to the dust port instead, although finding an adaptor to mediate the connection to the vacuum can be onerous.
Overall, the Bosch PBS 75 A electric belt sander is a high-quality machine designed for the DIY consumer. It is not a professional machine, so it should not be expected to last if used heavily in a professional setting. It does, however, provide great value-for-money as a hand-operated belt sander and provides some great features, such as automatic belt-centring, that work very well. However, the lack of accessories, especially the bench-mounting components, limits its initial use to hand operation and separately purchasing these accessories rapidly decreases its excellent value-for-money proposition.
Makita 9404 Belt Sander Review
If you are looking for a beast of a belt sander, then look no further than the Makita 9404. This Makita belt sander has a 1010W power motor making it one of the most powerful belt sanders available to the prosumer. The 9404 is also big and heavy with a weight of 4.8 kg making it one of the heaviest belt sanders on the market. The heavy weight and high power, however, is a good thing to have on such a machine as it allows the Makita belt sander to sand wooden floors and other surface timber with relative ease, requiring little to no pressure applied to it for it to do a good job. The power and the weight of the Makita 9404 also work together to shift large amounts of timber, sanding down wood very quickly. But for even better control and its use on less robust surfaces, the Makita 9404 also has variable speed control so that the aggressiveness of the sanding action can be better tuned to suit the job at hand.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Makita power tool, build quality on the machine is second to none, with every component beautifully made. This is perhaps the result of the power tool being manufactured in Japan (as opposed to another common but less reputable manufacturing location in east Asia), which has an immaculate reputation for producing premium quality equipment. The high build quality of the machine has not gone unnoticed by tool-hiring companies, several of which offer the Makita 9404 as one of their industrial-type belt sanders available for hire. Tool-hire companies tend to be quite picky when it comes the models they offer to their customers, so the inclusion of the 9404 as part of their inventory shows just how much this tool is well regarded by the industry.
The high quality of the components and the excellent build quality also make the 9404 a pleasure to use producing very little vibration for the user and letting him or her use the machine for extended periods with little or no discomfort.
One of the Makita belt sander’s biggest assets, however, is its dust collection system which captures more than 95% of the dust generated during a sanding session in the accompanying dust bag. Importantly, however, a dust mask is still required when using the 9404 as, like all sanders, the very finest of particles produced on any sanding job will still be discharged into the work environment presenting a health hazard.
The physical characteristics of the body of the Makita 9404 is also another excellent positive on the power tool. Firstly, the belt sander has been cleverly designed so that it can be used right up into corner areas, so no work area is missed when sanding floors or within enclosed structures. The design of the body also allows the belt sander to be inverted and used as a bench tool, as the sander has been specifically designed with a flat top. With its heavy weight plus the odd clamp or two, the 9404 can be stabilised in this orientation, making it just as capable a benchtop sander as it is a hand-held power tool.
The Makita 9404 uses a 100 mm x 610 mm-sized sanding belt which is larger than the more common 75 mm wide variety, but still relatively easy to find. The sanding belt is automatically kept perfectly in place on the rollers through an auto-tracking mechanism. In addition, spare parts for the machine can also be easily sourced as they wear over time, as Makita tends to go out of its way to ensure parts for their current machines are always available.
On the more negative side, the one standout feature that is missing from the Makita 9404 is that it does not come with any form of carry case. For such a large and heavy (not to mention expensive) machine, including a carry case with the power tool should have been a no-brainer. Fortunately, it is very easy to procure a bespoke carry case separately. Makita has a universal tool carry case system where inlays for different power tools can be inserted to assemble the required transporter that fits. In the case of the 9404, the carry case required is Makita part number 821551-8, and the inlay to hold the 9404 belt sander in place inside the case is Makita part number 837653-0.
Overall, the Makita 9404 is an excellent option as a belt sander for the home workshop or professional job. However, one does have to take into account its premium price, not to mention the extra cost of getting the almost required carry case for storage and transport. So if you can afford it, then you will not be disappointed with this Makita power tool.