What Is a Belt Sander Used For?

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A belt sander uses lateral action and an abrasive surface to aggressively remove material. They are mostly used to sand wood. We’ll explain in this article what is a belt sander used for.

What Is a Belt Sander?

Belt sanders are electrical appliances, powered by an extension cord or rechargeable battery back. The belt referred to in the name is a continuous loop of abrasive material. This loop travels around two drums thanks to power from the motor.

A man holding a belt sander for project

When you use a belt sander, the abrasive material moves quickly over your chosen surface, sanding down whatever is in its path. The belt will pull the sander forward. Leaving a belt sander in place for too long could result in gouging or burning the wood.

Belt sanders often have variable speed motors, allowing you to control how fast the belt spins. Belt sanders generate a lot of sawdust, so they are usually equipped with a dust-catching system.

Belt Sander Uses

A belt sander is a versatile tool that can accomplish a variety of tasks. It can be used to smooth or remove material from wood, metal, and concrete. Read about the different uses for belt sanders, organized by material choice.

Using a Belt Sander on Wood

Belt sanders are most often used to remove material from wood.

Sanding Rough Wood

Rough wood has never been milled or finished. It will feel coarse or rough to your hand, and may still show marks from the saw.

A planer is one way to flatten and smooth the wood; a jointer can also be used. If you don’t have one of these large, expensive tools, you can perform a similar function with a belt sander.

Running the belt sander over the surface of the rough wood will eliminate the saw marks. As you work, the wood will become smoother and softer.

Remove Old Finish

When wood is thickly covered in paint or another finish, a belt sander can quickly restore the appearance of the bare wood.

Sanding Flat Surfaces

Belt sanders excel at quickly sanding flat surfaces. Decks, tabletops, and cabinet doors can all be sanded with a belt sander. A belt sander is used for rough sanding only.

Any finishing work should be done with a gentler sander.

Leveling Surfaces

Belt sanders are commonly used to level surfaces. For example, when a new board is installed in an old hardwood floor, the new plank is likely a slightly different thickness than the boards around it.

A belt sander, run at a 45-degree angle to the direction of the boards, will sand down the exposed plank until it is level with the boards around it.

If you’ve made a mistake when jointing a tabletop and your planks are misaligned, a belt sander can quickly bring them down to the same level.

Stationary Sanding

One popular use for belt sanders is to flip them over and mount them on a stand. The stand can be self-made, or prefabricated belt sander stands are available for purchase.

Stand-mounted belt sanders are useful when it comes time to sand smaller pieces. They are also helpful at sanding corners and edge profiles.

Scribing

When you’ve transferred a profile directly onto wood and want to quickly sand down the excess, a belt sander is the perfect tool for the job.

Fix Swollen Doors

When a door has difficulty closing or opening, it’s likely that there is a swollen or bulging area. A quick pass with the belt sander might give the door the clearance it needs to swing freely again.

In some cases, you can do this while the door is still mounted on the hinges. In many scenarios, you must remove it before you can sand down swollen wood.

A man using belt sander in woods

Using a Belt Sander on Concrete

Not only can belt sanders be used to sand wood, but they can also smooth concrete. Use a diamond-grit sanding belt for the best results, and be prepared to deal with a lot of dust.

A belt sander can’t match the smoothing action of an angle grinder or walk-behind concrete polisher, It can only shave down the roughest parts of the concrete.

Using a Belt Sander on Metal

You can use a belt sander for some metal sanding tasks. Make sure to empty the dust bag when you switch from sanding wood to metal. A belt sander can create sparks when sanding metal and sawdust is highly flammable.

Tool Sharpening

A clamped or stand-mounted belt sander can be used to sharpen small tools. Belt sanders will sharpen knives, chisels, or even scissors.

Remove Rust from Metal

A belt sander can be used to give metal a rough sanding, helping dislodge dust. For more robust cleaning and polishing of metals, an angle grinder is a better choice.

Grinding Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-ferrous metals are fairly soft and have a tendency to clog the surface of grinding wheels. A stationary belt sander can be used instead. As the belt moves around the sander, it flexes, allowing material to escape and reducing the likelihood of clogs.

When Not to Use a Belt Sander

Now that you understand some of the many times a belt sander is an appropriate tool for the job, take a look at a few examples of when to choose another tool.

Plywood

The face of plywood has a thin veneer that can’t stand up to the aggressive power of a belt sander. Sand by hand, with a palm sander, or with an orbital sander instead.

Finish Work

Belt sanders are aggressive tools that remove material quickly. It’s easy to over sand with a belt sander, potentially ruining your work. Finishing touches are best done with a gentler sander, such as a random orbital sander.

Corners

The rounded nose of a belt sander can’t reach into interior corners. Instead, use a detail sander, a palm sander, or sand by hand.

Conclusion

Belt sanders are versatile power tools that can be used in a variety of situations. They are best suited to rapid material removal. Belt sanders can be used on wood, concrete, or metal.

You should not use a belt sander on plywood, in corners, or to finish a workpiece.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.