There's a wide range of features to consider when you're buying a belt sander and learning how to use a belt sander, and knowing what they do will help you make the best choice for your needs. Belt sanders are one of the most-used tools in any woodworker's shop, providing massive sanding capabilities in a heavy-duty piece of equipment.
When to Use Belt Sanders
Belt sanders are heavy-duty pieces of equipment that take off a lot of wood, fast. For this reason, it's best to use a belt sander when you're just beginning the sanding process. Belt sanders can scratch the wood surface, so you should sand with the grain and finish your sanding job with a smaller orbital or finish sander.
Look for Variable Speed
A variable speed control gives you better results when you're sanding. A belt sander is designed for heavy, rough sanding, so most of the time, you'll be using the machine at full speed. However, when you want to do fine sanding projects, a variable-speed belt sander gives you the ability to slow it down and do a neater job.
Variable speed controls enable you to use the belt sander for phases beyond rough sanding, and they reduce the likelihood of damaging or scratching the wood. They also make it simpler to work with softer woods, such as pine. Make sure that the speed control can easily be reached while you're operating the machine.
Transverse vs. In-Line Sanders
Transverse sanders have the motors balanced perpendicular to the belt assembly. In-line sanders have the motor designed to sit parallel with the belt. In-line sanders tend to be lighter than transverse models, and you can typically clamp them to workbenches to use as stationary sanders. Transverse models are heavier, which means you'll use less force to remove wood; the weight of the sander does some of that work for you.
Consider the type of sanding you're likely to do most when selecting a belt sander. If you do a lot of overhead sanding, or want to attach the sander to your workbench, go with an in-line. For more traditional sanding on a flat surface with the aid of gravity, a transverse model is best.
Watch that Dust
Sanding is a messy task, and belt sanders produce a lot of dust. Use a dust mask when sanding, and look for belt sanders with a good dust-collection system. Some sanders offer bags to collect the dust as you sand; consider attaching a vacuum instead of a bag for optimal dust removal.
Check the Size
You'll need to change sanding belts frequently, from fine to rough grit, to manage a variety of projects. Look for a standard-sized belt sander so you can get inexpensive replacement belts in practically any woodworking shop. Non-standard sizes may require expensive belts, and a lot of effort on your part to locate them.
It pays to know how to make a table saw fence, since building your own can save you hundreds of dollars over the cost of a fence that might be more than you need for most projects.
Learn how to use a bandsaw safely and how to get the cleanest cuts.