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For finish sanding I use a random orbit sander with 220 grit. I also use it with heavier grits to remove material to bring two uneven pieces to a matched surface level at times. I also have a 1/4 sheet palm sander I use to remove material at times. Between these two they've met my needs so far, but I'm wondering what a hand held belt sander is used for? Does it just do what the 1/4 sheet palm sander does but faster?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
So then what's a practical use for a belt sander?
 

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A belt sander would help you with your early stages of sanding. It would level glue ups a lot quicker and remove the mill marks made by a planer. Unlike the orbital sander which makes swirl marks when using coarser sandpaper you can sand with the grain making the scratches a lot less noticible. It takes a bit of practice though. Unless you keep the base of the sander flat on what you are sanding it can cut grooves or dents in the wood. The wood needs to be sanded with the orbital sander afterwards, it will just get you there quicker.
 

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If I'm laying laminate I'll sometimes use my belt sander to scuff up the sheet goods. Or if I just did lam edge work I'll run my sander down the edge and flatten out the p-lam. Takes a light touch and a lot of practice.
Other than that I don't really use mine all that often.
 

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The belt sander is good for sanding down outside corners, after glue-up. Lots of uses in doing laminate work, as the last post noted.

Also, for installations, the beltsander is great for scribing.
End grain sanding is a breeze, too.
Clamp a belt sander into your bench vice for added pleasure when working small pieces.

And then after a couple of beers, there's always the belt sander racing!
 

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I love using a small belt sander to sand to the line on scribe molding or the face frame I left long to scribe to the wall on cabinets. Works great and is very fast.
 

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Like Ttharp - when cutting curves and shapes - I cut outside the lines and get close with the belt sander, but the final honing down to precision is accomplished with scrapers.
 

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i carved this
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I use mine to level out edge glueups, ive used it to sand the cut sides of my horse heads and tails and the hooks for my gun racks, and I used mine to sharpen my chisels
 

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if i have a twisted board that is too wide for my 6" jointer, i use it to flatten a board face by removing the high corners before i run it through the planer.
 

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My portable belt sander makes for a damn good paper weight. I have destroyed so much stuff with it, I can't even bring my self to throw it in the dumpster.
 
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Old School
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Hand held belt sanders are heavy tools, and for the most part are a two handed tool. Using one takes some experience as it's similar to using a circular (rotating) floor buffer, in that there is a sweet spot on the pad that allows good control. With a floor buffer, that sweet spot will allow you to control that machine with one hand. Off that spot, the machine will carry you to the closest wall. Once you get familiar with the "feel" of the belt sander, control is more of just guiding the tool, and letting its weight work for you.

It has some grab due to the belt abrading, which accounts for a "pull" from the tool, that requires some resistance to control it. Using one for a whole day could make your wrist, arms, and some back muscles a bit sore.

They are very aggressive, and can do a lot of damage pretty quick. Care has to be taken as a common problem are dents or dimples in the surface from the rollers. You may not see them until you quit sanding

I use belt sanders to form curves, sanding sheet goods when mica laminate is used. For example, if a kitchen with 50 or 60 doors are slab doors, and the edges and both faces are covered with laminate, there is a sequence to the laminating process...

The back would get done first. Then the edges get sanded to get the laminate flush...but, after flush trimming with a router, those edges are usually done by hand with a block sander. If you have a stroke sander, that works good.

Next the edge banding goes on, and flush trimmed to both faces. On the back side, it's filed off to the backside laminate, or trimmed with a "no file" router bit. The face side of the edge banding gets belt sanded off, and again a stroke sander works good if you have one.

Then, the face mica is applied, flush trim routed, and filed, or a "no file" router bit is used. A chamfer bit could also be used in lieu of the no file bit.

For the laminate cabinets, all the surfaces that get laminate are belt sanded to get the corners square. Once a panel is applied, it's routed flush, and then sanded to get prepared for the second face...like laminating the sides of a cabinet, and then prepping the face frame to get laminated.





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The belt sander is essential for shaping the recoil pads on shotguns and center-fire target rifles.
The pads are always oversize. Carefully put 3 wraps of masking tape on the stock, next to the new pad. When I start to nick that stuff, I'm done.

Building flyrods, I like to alternate cork and 3/8" neoprene. The glueup is a mess. With a stationary belt sander, I can shape dream grips (the neoprene lets the rod flex, right into the reel seat.)
 

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Listen carefully to the word "aggressive". These guys are right on. Belt sanders- especially the larger ones- are extremely aggressive tools. If you have a piece that is flat, and you just want to make it smoother, don't even let your belt sander in the same room. They destroy material quickly. They take practice, and lots of it, which can get expensive. I've used a 4x24 Harbor Freight to strip paint and other material off of hardwood floors, and it was the right tool for the job(they weren't flat to begin with). I keep the same belt sander in one of the end-vices on my work bench, as I don't yet have space for a stationary combo sander. It's variable speed, so it's quite nice for shaping small pieces. Just make sure you wear close fitting gloves(think second skin), and have a serious grip. It will jerk the stock out of your hands and skin your knuckles before you blink. Not trying to scare you away from it; just sharing my experience from not heeding the good advice on this and other sites. It's a great tool, and in the right hands, very versatile, but it is not to be taken lightly, and can destroy a project faster than anything else in my shop(aside from my ego). Oh, and from my experience, this is one of those Harbor Freight "gems". I've put the miles on it, and aside from a terrible dust bag, it's still a darn fine tool. Have fun!

WCT
 

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I have a 4x24 belt sander (Harbor Freight cheapie) and I use it mostly on flooring / deck projects. I would not consider this a fine woodworking tool...

I have a Ridgid 4x24 belt / spindle sander that I use for shaping, and fine sanding actual furniture / doo dad projects that takes more finesse than my handheld unit is capable of...

A hand held belt sander is made to hog off a LOT of material quickly. I have used it to knock bumps down on rough spots on concrete leveling compound, knock the top layer off of a PT deck that was nasty weather aged and smoothing the tops of rough sawn 4x4 fence posts in place.

For the most part it is not something I consider to be a critical shop tool. Nice to have kind of, but not too useful. Not worth spending a ton of money on which is of course why I got the HF cheapie...
 

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Thumb Nailer
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Listen carefully to the word "aggressive". These guys are right on. Belt sanders- especially the larger ones- are extremely aggressive tools. If you have a piece that is flat, and you just want to make it smoother, don't even let your belt sander in the same room. They destroy material quickly. They take practice, and lots of it, which can get expensive. I've used a 4x24 Harbor Freight to strip paint and other material off of hardwood floors, and it was the right tool for the job(they weren't flat to begin with). I keep the same belt sander in one of the end-vices on my work bench, as I don't yet have space for a stationary combo sander. It's variable speed, so it's quite nice for shaping small pieces. Just make sure you wear close fitting gloves(think second skin), and have a serious grip. It will jerk the stock out of your hands and skin your knuckles before you blink. Not trying to scare you away from it; just sharing my experience from not heeding the good advice on this and other sites. It's a great tool, and in the right hands, very versatile, but it is not to be taken lightly, and can destroy a project faster than anything else in my shop(aside from my ego). Oh, and from my experience, this is one of those Harbor Freight "gems". I've put the miles on it, and aside from a terrible dust bag, it's still a darn fine tool. Have fun!

WCT
LOL! Same experience with that 4x24 HF sander. It IS a beast and puts up with serious abuse, but yeah, aggressive doesn't even begin to describe them... I have considered trying much finer grit belts, but for now, I have a mess of 80 grit, combine that with the surface area, and down right power of the belt sander and it rips material straight off of a work piece!
 

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Belt Sander Drag Races are always a popular feature of our "Home Shows."
In my next life, I'll be a racer.
For now, just recalling them puts a big, stupid smile on my face.

Two tracks, side-by-side, tree of lights, you know the NHRA set-up.
 

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All the above. Plus, I invert my little 3 X 18" sander, clamp it in a vise and use it for a variety of grinding and shaping functions. I've used it to shape knife blades from old sawsall blades, for example.
 
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