Belt Sander – Is It a Lost Tool?
At the AWFS show in Las Vegas (I’m sure you’ve seen the blog entries and the special AWFS page at our web site), one of the highlights was a trip to the Hard Rock CafÃ?Â© to witness my first Delta/Porter Cable press event. What a great evening.
At the event, Delta/Porter Cable unveiled a new look and some new tools to the attendees. Some of these tools were going to be immediately available, some will be brought out during the coming year and a few were prototypes that may change drastically prior to anyone seeing the end result.
As I surveyed the tools displayed behind velvet ropes , the “look but don’t touch” directive gave the impression of a Hollywood movie-star filled event , I noticed a large number of belt sanders. The belt sander was once my most useful sanding tool, but I cannot remember that last time I used it in the shop.
As I began woodworking I would assemble my panels and when they came out of the clamps, the belt sander was the next tool used. I would flatten the panels, working at a slight angle to the grain and glue line, starting with #120-grit sandpaper then progressing through #150. Once the panel was flat and smooth, I would make a couple passes over the board using #150 and #180 grit in a random orbit sander (ROS).
That entire process got easier with the addition of a drum sander. I used #120 grit in the drum sander, but because a drum sander leaves straight-line scratches, my belt sander was still my tool of choice for the next step in preparing the panels. I used it with #150 grit to clean up those scratches before the ROS took over.
Bringing the wide-belt sander into the shop was the “kiss of death” for my once-beloved belt sander. Now I had a machine that not only sanded flat and smooth, but because the pivoting head allowed the sanding belt to oscillate back and forth, there were no more straight-line scratches. From the wide-belt sander I moved directly to the ROS to finish the sanding process.
This walk down memory lane leads me to wonder about the belt sander’s role in woodworking today. I know hand-tool folks don’t use this tool, except for possible rough grinding of nasty chisels or blades. But what about power tool woodworkers? Do you still have the belt sander in your arsenal of power tools? As new sanders are released should Popular Woodworking bring them in for review? Would those reviews be helpful? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.