How to Use a Belt Sander

Smooth rough wood by utilizing this helpful tool.

When you have a large area of rough wood to remedy, manually sanding is out of the question. Even a power sander, such as a random orbital sander, can take ages if the wood is excessively rough or the project is large. Instead, opt for a belt sander.

This heavy-duty tool relies on sanding belts wrapped around its base to clean up even the gnarliest materials. Because the belts move in a constant rotation, rather than a random orbit like an orbital sander, they can tear through material extremely efficiently.

What Is a Belt Sander?

A belt sander is a power sanding tool that utilizes sandpaper belts in various grits to quickly remove material.

close up belt sander

Rachel Marek

Choosing a Sandpaper Grit

Before you take a belt sander to your material, take time to choose the right grit sandpaper belt. If it's your first time with the tool, choose a higher grit like 180 to help get the hang of it without removing too much material. Lower grits can chew through material quickly, causing damage and ruining your project.

Once you get the hang of it, choosing a coarser grit such as 40, 80, or 100 will make quick work of smoothing rough wood or removing thick finishes. As you work, follow each grit with a finer grit to achieve the smoothest surface possible.

How to Use a Belt Sander

Follow the steps ahead to safely and effectively use a belt sander without damaging your DIY project.

What You'll Need

  • Belt sander
  • Sandpaper belts
  • Clamps
  • Scrap wood
  • Eye protection
  • Ear protection
  • Dust mask

Step 1: Install the Belt

To insert the belt into the sander, release the tension lever, usually found on the side of the sander, and slide it onto the wheels. Return the lever to its closed position to lock the belt in place.

Once the trigger is engaged, if the belt is moving back and forth rather than sticking to the middle of the tool, turn the adjuster on the side of the tool until the belt stays steadily in the middle.

Step 2: Clamp the Material

Belt sanders are incredibly powerful. Secure the material you're sanding to your work surface with clamps to keep the sander from launching it across the room.

Step 3: Start Sanding

Turn the sander on and get it up to speed, then follow these steps to sand the material:

  • Starting with the rear of the sander, gently ease the belt onto the wood. Brace the sander and hold it steady as it makes contact with the material.
  • Make long, even strokes following the wood grain.
  • Apply steady pressure to the sander but avoid pressing down too as this could gouge the board. Instead, let the sander do the work.
  • Keep the sander moving steadily and inspect the wood's surface as you move from one place to the next.

Step 4: Finish Up

Once finished, ease the belt sander off the board. Before sanding again, check the dust bag if present. When it's full, remove the bag from the sander to empty it. If the belt isn't staying in place or is no longer efficiently removing material, try swapping it for a new belt.

What Not to Do With a Belt Sander

Belt sanders are not ideal for finish work, but can be highly effective during the stripping and prepping stages. To maximize the effectiveness of your belt sanding, avoid these actions:

Never stay in one place too long. You can easily gouge material by sticking to one spot too long. Keep the tool moving to maintain an even surface.

Choose a finer grit than you think you need. Until you get very familiar with the different grits, choose a finer grit than you think to avoid damaging the material. Additionally, different wood species sand differently and one variety may call for a coarser grit than others.

Be careful along the material's edges. As you approach the edges of your material, hold the sander steady to keep it from rounding the edges. As you approach the end of a board, hold the sander's nose up. To make this easier, you can place a scrap piece of wood along the edges of your material.

Don't press down on the tool. A belt sander will do all the work of removing excess material without additional force applied to the tool. Simply hold it steady, keep it moving, and allow it to do all the work.

How to Keep a Belt Sander in Good Condition

Once you're finished using your belt sander, use compressed air to thoroughly blow out the tool. If your tool has any removable covers, remove them to better clean out the internals. Loosely wind up the cord and place the tool in a designated case or toolbox, then store it in a dry area.

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