If you have a surface that requires rigorous sanding, a belt sander is an excellent tool that can save you from tedious, manual labor. It can get the sanding job done efficiently and much quicker than anyone would be able to do it by hand.
A belt sander can be used for a wide range of tasks. It’s commonly used for smoothing down rough edges, cutting along scribed lines, leveling surfaces such as hardwood floors and replacement boards, and shaping workpieces. Their linear sanding motion ensures better finishes and delivers aesthetically appealing results, even when used with rough grit sandpaper.
Let us look at how to use a belt sander in a few simple steps.
What You’ll Need
- Protective equipment such as safety goggles, ear protection, and a dust mask
- Clamps to hold the workpiece in place
- Belt Sander
- Sandpaper belts of the correct size and grit
- Wiping Cloth
Step 1: Select the Right Size Belt
Traditional belt sanders come with a three-inch belt. You may see some sanders with narrower or broader belts, but those are used for special applications.
Even within the three-inch category, multiple lengths are available to suit different sanders and range from 18 to 24 inches. The tools that use smaller belts are usually lighter and are suitable for casual use or smaller jobs. With each stroke, the larger sanders cover more area and are more suited for bigger jobs and larger surface areas. Whatever the case, remember to select the belt size according to the sander you are using.
Step 2: Select the Right Grit
There are two types of materials available for the belts: Aluminum oxide and Zirconia. For most applications, Aluminum oxide sandpaper is an excellent choice. But some people prefer to use Zirconia when working with coarser grits. Zirconia is harder than aluminum oxide, features sharper cutting particles, and does not clog as easily as aluminum oxide.
Depending on what you are sanding, you can choose the grit according to the following:
- 40 – 80 Grit: This is coarse sandpaper suited for rough sanding and bringing down the thickness quickly. For instance, if you have a door that is getting stuck when closing or not closing correctly, you will use low-grit sandpaper to sand swiftly.
- 100 – 150 Grit: This grit delivers medium results and is usually a good starting point for most projects. These grits can smooth unfinished wood or remove old varnish and paint.
- 180 – 220 Grit: These are fine grit and work well to remove any scratches left when sanding with coarser grits. They can even be used to sand between coats of paints
- 320 – 400 Grit: These grits are used to sand between final coats of finish. They are also used to sand metal or other hard materials.
Step 3: Put On Safety Equipment
This is one of the most crucial steps that is often ignored. Remember to put on your safety equipment. Safety goggles are necessary to keep any flying debris from damaging your eyes. Similarly, belt sanders can be pretty noisy and require you to wear ear protection. Dust masks are also crucial as they keep you from inhaling harmful dust particles.
Step 4: Clamp Down
Sanding can include some rough motions. It is essential to clamp down the surface you will be sanding. Clamps will help prevent injuries from falling objects and ensure that the quality of work is not compromised. Make sure to clamp the workpiece to a sturdy and fixed place to ensure it doesn’t move around when you are working on it.
Step 5: Begin Sanding
Start the belt sander and hold it smoothly against the surface. You will notice the sander pick up speed after a few seconds of turning it on. Start by sanding the rear part of the workpiece and work your way up towards the front.
Allow the machine’s weight to do the work for you, and avoid pushing down on it. There is no need to rush the process. Try to keep a steady pace throughout the job. Remember to keep the sander moving. If you leave the sander in an area for an extended period, it will result in an uneven finish. Slow and steady is the key to sanding.
Once you have completed a pass across the surface, check the results; if they are not as desired, start sanding again. Sanding requires patience and time, and you will need to prepare yourself as the job can get tedious.
Once you are done with all the rough areas, check the sand collection bag, and empty it if it is full.
Step 6: Apply the Finishing Touch
You will need to change the belt for a finer grit when moving towards finishing. With the finer belt, repeat the process of sanding again. Ensure that edges are smoothing out with your sanding. If the edges seem unaffected, choose a coarser grit.
Remember to keep your hand light and steady when finishing the job. Your goal here is to remove the scratches and other marks left behind by the coarser grit. This step must be completed with patience, as it will determine your final product.
Step 7: Clean Up
Once you are completed with all the sanding and are satisfied with the results, you can begin to clean the workpiece. You can use any wiping cloth to get the dust and debris off your workpiece. Cleaning the dust is essential, especially if you are going to apply a coating on the workpiece such as paint, glue, or varnish. Not cleaning correctly can lead to issues with the coating.
Our Final Thoughts
Using a belt sander is not complicated. With a bit of practice and following the steps above, you should be well on your way and sanding away. However, we recommend practicing on some test pieces to get your hands used to the tool before taking on professional jobs.
If you know how to use a belt sander correctly, you can significantly reduce the burden of sanding. Belt sanders deliver excellent results in very short periods. However, it would help if you exercise caution when using belt sanders. Due to their speed and power, they can quickly damage your workpiece and make it uneven.