- Does the belt sander's power cord look heavy enough to withstand abuse? More than one woodworker has run over a cord accidentally. If the cord can survive a reasonable amount of punishment, such a mishap might not terminate your day's work early.
- How long is the cord? Belt sanding often requires substantial movement over large areas. Extension- cord plugs have an uncanny ability to hang up on things, causing the belt sander to nose-dive and gouge your work. A long power cord can be a valuable asset.
- Does the machine's switch lock in the "on" position for extended periods of sanding? If it does, could you lock it on accidentally?
- Do the handle and switch work together well so that your hand and wrist will remain comfortable over the belt sander as you sand? Is the machine's front knob well-contoured and comfortable?
- Belt sander prices range from under $40 to $500 or more. Lightweight, inexpensive machines will meet the needs of many woodworkers. As with most tools, however, as the belt sander price goes up, so do such variables as finish and general workmanship, quality of parts, and the ability to perform a task efficiently and effectively.
Unlike dimension lumber, which is milled to industry-established nominal thicknesses, widths, and lengths, most cabinet-quality lumber stock comes in random widths and lengths to keep waste to an absolute minimum. In addition, since all furniture has different dimensions, there's no need for dimensionalized stock.
Thickness, though, has been standardized. As you can see from the chart above, for cabinet-quality lumber thickness is expressed in different ways. Don't be confused by this; remember that the quarter designation and the nominal thickness are the same thing.
When you order cabinet-quality lumber, you'll receive a board as long or longer and as wide or wider than the item ordered; the thickness (if surfaced) will be close to that listed in the chart.
Belt Sander as Bench Tool
The belt sander doubles as a bench tool in many home workshops. If that's your plan, too, check to make sure the model you plan to buy has been designed for this use. Some sanders have flat tops and handles, a design that allows you to clamp the tool upside down on your workbench. Others feature threaded holes tapped into the top of the machine that enable you to screw the sander to a board or bench tool.
Stands or brackets, a third variation, let you mount still other belt sander models for use as a bench tool. We show example in the photo above. Note: If you do use the sander in this fashion, follow the manufacturer's safety recommendations closely. A coarse abrasive belt doesn't know the difference between softwood and soft flesh.
Your Belt-Changing and Adjustment Options
With most belt sanders, you change abrasive belts by pulling out a level release. Doing this causes the machine's front roller to move backward, relieving tension on the sand ing belt.
On others, you need to push the front roller against a solid surface (see the photo above). This locks the mechanism in place and removes tension from the sanding belt. A second push unlocks the nose roller, which returns to its normal operating position and reapplies tension on the belt. Both systems work, so you'll have to handle a few of each type to decide which system you prefer.
More important from a buyman- ship point of view is the location of the knob that centers the abrasive belt over the rollers and metal plate. (Skil has introduced two models on which the belts center automatically.) If the knob is located too far back on the sander, or if it's hidden away under the drive-belt housing, you'll have to interrupt your work to center the belt.
What About Dust Collection?
Though you can buy belt sanders without a dust-collection syst well-being of your lungs make some type of sawdust collector a practical necessity. Of the two general options - a dust bag attached to the sander or a vacuum assembly that connects by a hose to a shop vacuum, we like the former better. Both systems do work, but vacuum hoses can catch on an edge of your project, stop the sander in its tracks, and cause you to gouge your work on the bench tool.
The number of firms offering quality hardwood by mail has mushroomed and you're likely to rind one close to your area of the country. Most firms offer a variety of dimensions and species as well as veneers-and turning blocks. Though you'll be able to order pieces down "A" in thickness, lengths will normally be limited to about 6 feet, since shipping traditionally is done via UPS or parcel post. You can make alternate shipping arrangements for oversize and larger amounts, but you'll have to discuss your purchase on the telephone. Discounts on large orders often apply. Some companies include shipping in their catalog prices; others charge separately.
Mail-order lumber definitely addresses a need for those woodworkers who don't have a supplier nearby. And the quality will be the highest possible for each specie offered.
If you have any questions or are uncertain of your needs before you order, call the company. That way you'll receive the quality lumber exactly what you require.
Note: When ordering by mail from an area of different climate, such as Pennsylvania when your home is in Arizona, Keep this in mind: differences in temperature and humidity cause changes in the wood and so can adversely affect the outcome of a project if you use it right away. So be sure to allow the wood to acclimate in a dry spot in your shop for at least two weeks before working.
One other lumber-purchasing option deserves mention because it sounds attractive to lots of people. And that alternative is green wood. In rural areas you can normally go directly to the logger and purchase a felled and de-limbed log, then hew it yourself, or take it to a mill. Or you can go directly to an area sawyer for the log and for any custom-cutting you desire. In metropolitan areas, you often can find green wood for free from tree- trimming services, water works and parks departments, and county and state highway departments.
Our advice on purchasing quality lumber green wood is brief and to the point: Unless you have prior experience with green wood and know how to bring its moisture content down, stick with kiln-dried material.
How Much Belt Sander Do You Need From All Portable Belt Sanders Out There?
When you begin researching belt sanders for your woodworking workshop or for other use, you'll notice that they're categorized by the size of abrasive belt they use. Mini-portable belt sanders with 2" or 2,5" - wide belts can be excel lent tools for small projects - for vertical sanding or for such tasks as working inside cabinets. Because they're small and light, you can control them easily and work with them for long periods without tiring. Mini-portable belt sanders can be short on power and speed, though - factors that minimize their usefulness on large projects. And their nonstandard belt sizes also limit the availability and variety of abrasive belts that fit them.
Most of the portable belt sanders machines you'll find use 3"X21" or 3"X24" belts. Of the two, the 3"X24" machine is particularly efficient. Its longer belt creates a larger sanding surface, which speeds up the work and im proves the stability of the tool, a welcome characteristic when you're operating the sander near the edge of a workpiece.
For big jobs such as gluing up stock for doors, tabletops, or other large surfaces, a 4"X24" portable belt sanders provides 33% more sanding area than most 3" machines. The substantial weight and power of this size machine allow you to smooth surfaces quickly and evenly. These same features, plus the higher cost of 4"X24" machines, make them less suitable for smaller work or small workshops.
Pay attention to the number of amps a belt sander draws, too. It's this rating that tips you off to how powerful the portable belt sanders are. For light-duty applications, portable belt sanders machines with lower amp ratings will serve you well, but you won't go wrong buying as much amperage as you can afford within the category you've decided on. We've included in the chart the amp ratings of most of the sanders you're likely to come across.
Why Weight and Balance Make a Difference
The ideal belt sander should be heavy enough to cut smoothly on its own, well balanced so you can control it without exerting substantial down-pressure on the tool, and be able to rest evenly on its pad and not show a tendency to tip to one side or the other.
If you have to bear down on the sander to get it to cut properly, or fight the machine to keep it under control, you'll probably leave dips or wave marks in your work. And, likewise, if portable belt sanders are back- or front- heavy, you'll have to compensate continually, which will make controlling the tool a problem, particularly along edges and near corners - you'll also find that using a sander that isn't well balanced will cause hand and wrist fatigue.
Unlike dimension lumber, which manufacturers grade according to its use in construction as full width and length members, hardwood is graded according to the expected number of clear face cuts a board will yield. And, since most hardwood is expected to be made into furniture, these cuts will be from 2 to 7 feet long. For more information on the hardwood grading system, which was developed by the National Hardwood Lumber Association, see the chart above. This same chart also discusses the grading system for white pine, which was formulated by the Western Wood Products Association. In cabinet lumber there are great differences in quality, just as there are in construction lumber, so use the chart as a guide.
Remember, too, that in building a large project such as a table or desk top, you'll generally need the higher grades of lumber because they have fewer defects and are available in greater widths and lengths than lower-grade boards.
Many retail hardwood dealers carry only the highest grades possible to avoid customer complaints and discount requests.