The belt sander is a sanding machine intended to roughly sand large spaces quickly. It's intended for a number of tasks, but primarily to roughly sand material along the grain. Belt sanders are used for everything from sanding workbenches to entire floors. The machine essentially consists of a sanding belt, motor and dust extractor. These work together to give as good a performance as possible on the basis of the design and build quality of the belt sander. The dust collection is an important parameter because dust leads to impaired performance and a poor working environment. Some belt sanders also come with a nozzle so that you can connect them to a workshop vacuum cleaner to keep your working environment dust free. To be able to sand something, you also need sandpaper. This is attached to the sanding belt, normally with a device consisting of a spring that you tighten to keep the sandpaper in place. Some models also include a frame that prevents you from removing too much material. Another accessory that is sometimes included is a device enabling you to attach the belt sander upside down to the workbench and use it as a stationary machine.
Belt sander prices vary significantly. You can find a belt sander for around £30, or one for a couple of hundred pounds. At first glance, machines with such different prices can appear very similar. But often a higher price tag means a better sounding result and a cleaner working environment. That's what we discovered in our test of different belt sanders. However, the accessories also affect the price. For example, a belt sander with a frame costs more than a similar model without one.
A good belt sander should be effective, have efficient dust collection and shouldn't leave scratches on the material being sanded. In this test, these have been the primary parameters. In addition, we have taken a number of other factors into account, such as user-friendliness, ergonomics, noise level, build quality and guarantee.
To verify the performance of the belt sanders, they have been exposed to several different types of material, and tested with different grit sizes of sandpaper. The sandpaper used was of Mirka brand and the grit sizes were 80, 100 and 120.
All belt sanders were tested on oak, pine and epoxy. They were also used to sand an elm dining table. Finally, we have carried out a function test on a resinous pine board where we investigated how quickly the sandpaper got clogged up. The quicker it clogged, the worse the belt sander's dust collection.
All of these aspects have been considered together to produce an overall score which also includes value for money.
There are a number of parameters to consider when you buy a belt sander.
The higher the wattage, the more powerful the belt sander. But it's above all a combination of power, dust collection and the sanding belt that determines the performance of the belt sander.
The dust from the sanding process significantly affects the durability of the sandpaper. If the machine's dust collection is poor, the sandpaper will wear out more quickly, because it will become clogged. Dust collection also affects your working environment. It's not healthy to work for a long time in a dusty environment. In other words, a good belt sander has good dust collection.
It's also useful if the machine includes a nozzle so that you can connect a workshop vacuum cleaner. The working environment becomes significantly better with a workshop vacuum cleaner connected to the belt sander than when you only use the belt sander's own filter solution.
It's a well-known fact that vibrations occur when you use electric tools. And given how a sander works, a belt sander is obviously no exception. So this makes it even more important that the ergonomics are good.
The belt sander should have sufficient weight and should be easy to hold in place during sanding. It should also be ergonomically designed so that you can use it for longer sessions. This involves aspects such as the balance of the machine, material choices and the design of the handle.
As well as being ergonomically designed, the belt sander should also have a number of features that mean you can get to every part of the material you're sanding. With a good belt sander, you shouldn't have to hand sand the last bit. For example, the handle and the front should fold out of the way so that you can sand very close into corners and other obstacles. Some models have a wheel that makes this easier. Some of them also have an extra handle, which means that you can hold them steady on vertical surfaces.
Build quality and dust collection often go together. But there are other parameters that also play a role. For example, the quality of the sanding belt is an important factor when it comes to the belt sander's performance. Another is whether the sandpaper stays in place as you work or whether it comes loose and moves along the sanding belt.
If the build quality of the belt sander is good, you save time spent on adjusting problems and have more time for the actual sanding process.
A belt sander is normally quite simple to understand. There aren't loads of functions and buttons to work out. But ease-of-use is still important. For example, it should be easy to replace the sandpaper and any filter, and to fold the handle etc., if this function is present. Ideally it should be possible to adjust all functions without using a tool.
Variable speed is a useful function if you want to control how fast the belt sander moves over the material. If you can control the speed, you can also set how much material is removed.
If the belt sander comes with a frame, there's less risk that you will work the material too hard and damage it as you sand. So a frame is an accessory that many people appreciate, but which isn't always included as standard.
Another function that far from all belt sanders have is the possibility of attaching it to a bench for stationary use. This normally involves attaching it upside down.
The noise level is important if you want to work for a longer period. But it's not only about how loud the noise is, but also what the profile is like. For example, a belt sander can have just as high a noise level as a competitor, but if the noise is more of a whine it will be perceived as noisier. However, you should always wear hearing protectors while working with a belt sander.
The belt sander's most important accessory is the sandpaper. When you choose sandpaper, the quality and grit size determines how coarsely and how well it will sand.
But remember that the quality of the belt sander largely affects the quality of the sandpaper – poor dust collection means that the sandpaper will wear out more quickly because it gets clogged up.
A belt sander perhaps isn't the most expensive electric tool in the tool cabinet, but some models cost more than £100, and obviously you want factory faults and similar problems to be covered by the guarantee if it breaks down. It's always important to check the guarantee when you buy an electric tool.
With its combination of compact design, raw strength and price, the Makita 9911 gives the most belt sander for the money, and is therefore designated our best in test. It takes only 10 seconds to remove 1 mm across a 45 mm wide pine plank, which is clearly extremely good. Nor was the task of sanding an oak table a tough task for this belt sander. And it removes the material evenly across the entire surface. The quality of the end result means that although the sander is definitely capable of preliminary tasks, because it tends to leave scratches it's not suitable for fine carpentry where you’ll need a better surface finish. The dust collection system can't cope with epoxy sanding. However, it can sand a resinous pine without immediately getting blocked. We'd have liked to see a nozzle to connect the belt sander to a vacuum cleaner. Instead we had to cobble together our own solution made from tape. Another disadvantage is the relatively short cable, which popped out of the socket a couple of times during use.
Working for longer periods with the Makita 9911 is no problem. Ergonomically, it’s a high quality design which is easy and pleasant to operate. The two handles are close to each other, giving you good control over the machine. However, one major disadvantage is that the filter builds up static electricity. On more than one occasion as we used it we got a couple of hefty shocks. And naturally enough this has a negative impact on the otherwise high levels of user-friendliness. In terms of construction quality, the only thing that’s not quite so good is the tension spring. The noise level is normal, but the noise profile is annoying, because it whines. Otherwise, this is a belt sander that feels extremely well made and which is easy to get to grips with. We would have liked it to have had a frame and the possibility of fixing it in place and using it as a stationary machine. However, the Makita 9911 does have a number of other intelligent functions. For example, you can adjust the speed yourself and lock it in auto position. It also has lateral adjustment, but unfortunately you have to set this using a screwdriver instead of a simpler rotating control, which we would have preferred. However, this is a minor aspect considering how easy it is to operate the belt sander in general. The neat size also makes it easy to store when it's not in use. Despite a couple of shortcomings, this is a good belt sander for rougher sanding regardless of whether you're an amateur or a professional.
The Bosch GBS 75 AE gives a uniform sanding result, which is the belt sander's greatest strength. It's not particularly efficient in terms of time, but the end result is better than expected. For example, when we sanded an uneven oak plank, you could both see and feel that the finish was more than acceptable. Not sufficiently good for cabinet making, but it does a very good rough job. Two additional advantages are that you can lock it in auto mode and that you can set the speed yourself. The GBS 75 AE is supplied without a frame, which sets high demands on the belt sander's build quality and design to achieve a good result. Because it has no overhanging motor and is relatively elongated, it's well balanced. It stays flat on the surface, and doesn't wobble during use. This is one of the reasons why the end result is so even. It also has a long cable, which means that you don't have to drag vacuum cleaners and extension cables around with you. Other than the front handle, which could have been better ergonomically, the design of the GBS 75 AE gets a thumbs up.
The dust collection is also acceptable, but here there are things worthy of comment. Because not only must the filter sack be installed using a screw, it can't cope with tougher tasks. For example, the epoxy test had to be abandoned completely because the sander produced so much dust that the work environment became downright unhealthy. But the dust collection system worked well with all of the other tasks we gave it. You can also connect a vacuum cleaner to the nozzle. The biggest disadvantage of this belt sander is that it's ineffective. For example, it takes 20 seconds to sand 1 millimetre of pine across a 45 millimetre width, which is a relatively long time for a belt sander in this class. There's also no way of attaching the GBS 75 AE to a workbench and use it as a stationary unit. But in general, it's a solid and stable belt sander with good build quality. It delivers a clearly acceptable result, even if it takes a bit longer than you'd like.
The Ryobi EBS800 is a machine that produces a number of positive surprises. The belt sander is strong and removes 1 mm of pine across a 45 mm plank in barely 10 seconds, which is extremely good. Nor will hardwoods pose this machine any problems. At the same time, it produces a flat, attractive sanding result. Not good enough for fine carpentry, but sufficiently good for the majority of the rougher tasks that a belt sander is intended for. Its major shortcoming is dust collection. When sanding a resinous pine, the sandpaper quickly gets clogged, which is an indicator that the dust collection system isn’t up to the task. And this was confirmed when we tried to sand an epoxy surface. The gigantic filter seemed to do absolutely nothing, and nor was it possible to connect it to a vacuum cleaner. In addition, during even simple tasks producing a lot of dust, we discovered that the filter wasn't very effective, as a great deal of dust was produced even when we sanded an elm table. The filter seems to be unnecessarily large. We would have preferred a vacuum cleaner nozzle to be included.
The EBS800 is made of plastic, but despite this the build quality feels reasonable. It doesn't make any surprising noises or knocking in use. The front handle can also be adjusted up and down. A really positive surprise is the small drive wheel right at the front which means you can get really close to obstacles, corners and walls when you're sanding. The only disadvantage we noted was that the belt sander is slightly unbalanced, which can make it less easy to operate – particularly as it doesn't include a frame. Two other functions we'd like to see is the opportunity to attach the Ryobi EBS800 to the bench so it could be used as a stationary machine, together with a speed adjustment setting. But given its price class, this is a very powerful and competent belt sander. If the dust collection system had been better, making the working environment a little healthier, the score would have been significantly higher.
The Black & Decker KA 88 is good at effectively sanding with a uniform and attractive result. It can cope with sanding both soft pine and hard oak, and even epoxy. 1 millimetre of pine was sanded in 10 seconds, which is a good result. But this belt sander also suffers from a number of shortcomings which mean that user-friendliness and performance are also impaired. For example, dust collection is less good than expected. The sandpaper quickly got clogged when sanding resinous pine, and a great deal of dust was produced when sanding epoxy. However, on the plus side it does include a nozzle for the vacuum cleaner. The build quality is the KA 88's biggest downside. The machine feels clumsy and unbalanced during use, and also has physical problems over time. For example, the button that tightens the spring to hold the sandpaper in place felt loose after only two changes. The machine also creaks and grinds alarmingly during use. But it has a rubber handle, so it does at least feel stable in your hand.
A major advantage of this belt sander is that you can tilt the handle. It also has one intelligent function – a small drive wheel at the front – which means that you can get very close to obstacles etc. as you're sanding. But we would have liked to see functions like speed adjustment and the opportunity to attach the belt sander to the workbench for stationary use. Nor is there any frame, which makes it still more important for the actual belt sander to be well balanced so that you don't sand away too much material, particularly when you're using such an effective machine as the KA 88. Including a frame would have outweighed a number of the shortcomings we found in the design. As it now stands the machine is hard to manoeuvre during use. It bounces around a lot and is hard to control. We think this is a shame, given how efficient the KA 88 is in terms of time. The machine has a number of very good features, but also several that need to be improved before we can recommend this belt sander.