The Best Belt Disc Sanders in 2020
Benchtop sanders aren’t the first thing on most people’s minds when they’re looking for tools, but they’re a valuable addition to any workshop. A belt-disc combination sander adds a surprising amount of extra capabilities for those who can afford to give up bench space for one. Finding the best belt-disc sander is right in our wheelhouse, so we tested 12 different models over the course of two days to see how they compared and bring you only the best.
For our money, the Shop Fox W1855 is perfectly suited for the average home. It’s not quite a professional sander, but the price is right, and the build quality and overall utility of the sander is pretty impressive if you ask us. Take a closer look, and you may need to look no farther.
In This Article:
- 1 Top Pick
- 2 The 4 Top-Rated Belt Disc Sanders
- 3 Who Needs a Belt Disc Sander?
- 4 How We Selected Our Belt Disc Sanders
- 5 How We Tested Our Belt Disc Sanders
- 6 Top 4 Disc Belt Sanders in 2020
- 7 Getting the Most Out of Your Belt Disc Sander
- 8 Belt Disc Sander FAQ
- 9 Get Shaping, Sanding, and Grinding
The 4 Top-Rated Belt Disc Sanders
|Best Overall Disc-Belt Combination Sander||Shop Fox W1855|
|Runner Up||BUCKTOOL BD4603|
|The Professional Option||JET J-4100|
|Budget Pick||WEN 6502T|
Who Needs a Belt Disc Sander?
Whether you call it a combination sander or a belt disc sander, the configuration only varies a bit. We’ll talk about the different types in a moment, but the truth is that benchtop sanders of any stripe are a must-have for the serious woodworker.
You’re essentially getting a two-for-one with one of these sanders. The belt can be used for heavy stripping on the workpiece while the disc provides a finer surface to work a bit slower on detailed projects.
Basically: if you’re in serious need of some woodworking capabilities in your workshop, then you’ll want one.
They’re not an essential DIY tool, of course, but for hobbyists and professional woodworkers, they’re a must-have tool.
How We Selected Our Belt Disc Sanders
In this roundup, we asked hobbyists how things should be done. The answers were… varied.
The truth is that every combination of sander has its own little niche. Whether it’s a budget sander used for fine finishing and the occasional knife sharpening or a heavy-duty cabinet model, which is primarily used to tune metal workpieces at the end of a project… they’ve all got a niche.
So, we had to find models to accommodate pretty much everything.
When you’re looking through our favorites, the most important thing is to make sure that you know what you’re planning on doing with the sander. That said, we took a look at all of the following before adding them to our testing list.
Belt sanders use a ton of power, it’s just the way things are.
Horsepower is the rating you’re looking for. It’ll be about equal to those in handheld sanders, the motor shaft spins both the disc and the belt. The only way it would equate to lesser horsepower would be if you attempted to use both at the same time.
And there are some serious logistic problems with doing so.
Belts will tend to bog easier than discs, but even the best will end up slowing down if you apply too much pressure on the workpiece.
Combination sanders take a beating during their use.
Depending on whether you’re planning on using the sander for heavier or lighter tasks, build quality should be at the forefront of your mind. A brand like Jet will last much longer under heavier use than something like a WEN.
That said, the latter will last for a long time anyways as long as you’re only using it for lighter duty tasks.
Build quality is what determines the price in most cases; the only other factor which matters nearly as much is the size of the disc and belt.
Belt and Disc Size
While a 1” belt is great for sharpening tools, it’s not what you’re looking for when you’re filing down a 3’ length of oak.
Likewise, larger discs allow for larger workpieces to be used. The average discs are around 6” while they top out at 8”-10” for any benchtop combination sander.
What you’re doing with the machine will determine the size you need. We’ll get into the right sizes in the FAQ at the end of this article, so keep on reading if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for just yet.
These tools take abuse.
That means a higher chance of things breaking down during normal use, so at least look for a few years of limited warranty when you’re purchasing your combo sander. Otherwise, you may end up out in the cold when you have a breakdown.
How We Tested Our Belt Disc Sanders
When it came time to test out the sanders, we were able to come up with some quick and easy tests to ensure that they were up to par before we recommended them.
We put each of the combination sanders through the following tests:
- Speed Testing-We ran the sanders and lightly applied a piece of pine dowel to both the disc and the belt. It was a bit subjective, but we had our tester see how much each bogged down as we applied more and more pressure to the workpiece.
- Vibration Testing-We checked to see how much each sander vibrated on the bench. As expected, the lighter sanders tended to move around more easily and vibrated more than the high-end sanders, making them harder to use for precision work.
- Knife Sharpening-We used the belt on each sander to sharpen a dollar store kitchen knife. This helped us determine how well the belts functioned, and it’s a common task for smaller combination sanders.
- Rounding Test-On each sander, we applied a pine 2×4 and attempted to round off the edges. It was a quick and easy way to check how well the discs worked.
- Material Stripping Test-We used the sides of the 2x4s from the previous test on the belts to see how well the sanders performed under a medium-heavy task like stripping a large amount of material.
Once all was said and done, we decided that 4 of the 12 sanders we tested were suitable for a recommendation.
They broke down as follows:
- The Shop Fox W1855was our favorite. The horizontal/vertical belt sander, combined with the ½ horsepower motor, made it an excellent choice for DIY types.
- Our runner up was the BUCKTOOL BD4603, which had excellent reviews. It’s more powerful than the Shop Fox, but the build quality isn’t quite at the same level.
- The JET J-41002 is a serious step up from our favorite and runner up. It’s also about three times the cost, but for a professional, it’s absolutely the best quality unit that we tried out.
- Lastly, the WEN 6502Twas a cheaper unit, but it’s a great start for hobbyists and those on the fence about getting their first benchtop grinder. Professionals will want to skip it, though.
In the end, we know that our testing wasn’t fully comprehensive, but we did our research, and we’ll get into how to set your new combination sander up for your own needs after the reviews.
Top 4 Disc Belt Sanders in 2020
The truth is that most disc belt sanders are pretty similar. That said, we were looking for the best quality per price point, and these were our favorites. There’s something here for everyone from the hobbyist to professional, so let’s hop to it and dig right in.
Best Overall Disc-Belt Combination Sander
Shop Fox W1855
- Belt Size: 4”x36”
- Disc Size: 6”
- Horsepower: ½ HP
For the average person, this is the sander to look for. Shop Fox tools are fantastic, and unless you’re looking for a full cabinet model, this is likely the best value for your dollar that you’ll be able to find.
It runs smoothly on both the disc and belt, only bogging down when we applied serious pressure with the workpiece. All of the other tests were passed with flying colors. Of particular interest to us was the low level of vibration, making it easy to use for extended periods.
It’s set up just about right for light-to-medium duty work on a daily basis, and you’ll likely find it to be great for the occasional heavy-duty use as well. It might be a little underpowered if that’s your primary intention, however.
It’s only a half-horsepower, so you need a light, but not feather-light, touch, and we’re not too sure how well it’d hold up for long term heavy-duty usage. There are also some plastic components on the upper, which we aren’t fond of. Dust collection also isn’t exactly the forte of this one.
- Belt Size: 4”x36”
- Disc Size: 6”
- Horsepower: ¾ HP
While not quite as good in build-quality as the Shop Fox, the Bucktool BD4603 is more powerful and a great option for regular heavy-duty work if you’re not ready to invest in a professional quality tool.
There’s some good stuff here, that’s for sure. It switches between vertical and horizontal easily, won’t vibrate out of place due to the larger cast iron base, and it’s overall well-built if not excellent in quality.
The higher power is nice, allowing for the belt and discs not to bog down. We had some complaints about the positioning, this is a direct drive combination sander, so the belt and disc are on opposite ends, but it’s a great way to get the job done.
The biggest problem is that the table moves a bit when you’re squaring it off, but it’s a minor complaint since you won’t find a comparably powerful sander at this price point.
The Professional Option
- Belt Size: 2”x42”
- Disc Size: 8”
- Horsepower: ¾ HP
- Belt Size: 4”x36”
- Disc Size: 6”
- Horsepower: Roughly ¾ HP
WEN usually makes our list for one good reason: they make good budget tools. This was our favorite of the three WENs we tried, although there are some cheaper variations available for those who really only need their sander once or twice.
The 6502T is suitable for hobbyists, but it has a higher vibration level than any of our other recommended models. Our favorite part is the easy changing of belts, making it great for doing a lot of light-to-medium duty work in a single afternoon.
For being such a cheap belt disc sander, it’s also nice that you’ll be able to change the horizontal and vertical configurations easily. It even has a decent miter, although it’s plastic, so you’ll need to be careful with some workpieces.
Is it a bit cheap in build-quality? Absolutely. You’re not going to want to run this one all day, and heavy-duty tasks are pretty much impossible because the motor bogs down quite quickly.
Getting the Most Out of Your Belt Disc Sander
If you’ve never had a good benchtop combination sander, then you’re going to need to know the basics of using one before you get started. We helped one of our testers to learn as things went along, so we’ll give you the same advice.
PPE and Combo Sanders
You’re going to need the following in order to be safe with the sander:
- ANSI-rated protective goggles
- Hearing protection
That’s enough to protect you from any serious damage as long as you’re safe about the belt.
Don’t wear loose clothing when using a combo sander, it can get caught in the belt and cause serious injury. Likewise, remove any jewelry and secure long hair, or you’re risking serious injury.
General Tips for Using Your Combo Sander
Using a combo-sander is a bit different than the vast majority of sanders the average DIYer is familiar with like random orbitals. They’re stationary and powerful, which means you need to have a little bit of know-how to get the most out of them.
- When to Use the Belt-The belt is for stripping large amounts of material from the workpiece. Thinner belts are suitable for things like sharpening knives. Essentially you’ll be using it for stripping flat surfaces rather than shaping in most cases.
- When to Use the Disc-The disc is best for precise shaping work. Be careful, however, as the disc is powered by the same motor, and they’re much more powerful than the average handheld sander.
- Work Away From Yourself-When using the belt, always move the workpiece away from yourself; if you don’t, you’ll quickly find yourself in a bind. It’s just the safest way to do things. When using the disc, you should also move the piece away from yourself if possible.
- Use Light Pressure-Even though the motor is powerful, and we tested to see how things bogged down… try to use the lightest pressure possible. Metal will usually require more pressure, so keep that in mind if it’s going to be your primary use.
- Respect the Machine-Seriously, a ½ HP or larger motor will make a mess of your hands quickly if you’re not careful while using your combo sander. They’re not overly dangerous, but a lack of care might lead to a hospital trip.
Grits and Materials
The grit you use for the belts and discs is extremely important. We recommend sticking with high-quality silicon dioxide paper to extend the lifespan of belts and discs, but you can use pretty much anything if you’d like.
For wood, try sticking with 40-120 grit papers. 40 is extremely aggressive, and if you’re not familiar with the machine, something around 80 is a better idea. 120 grit is usually used for finishing wood, but some go as high as 150 or 220 grit.
Metal requires finer paper. Roughing metal with paper in the range of 80-150 is normal, just make sure you’re using protective glasses since it’s likely to spark. Finishing metal with one of these sanders is usually done in the 220 to 400 range. We finished the edges of our knives during the sharpening process with 400 grit belts in most cases, which we found suitable.
Having a variety of grits on hand is pretty much essential.
Belt Disc Sander FAQ
It’s that time: we’ve got the answers to your anticipated questions. If we haven’t answered your question, drop us a line in the comments, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
Can’t I just mount a handheld sander?
Sure, but you’re not going to get the same amount of power from either a disc sander or a belt sander when doing so. If you need a dedicated benchtop sander, we strongly recommend a combo sander rather than just mounting something. For a single-use mounting a belt sander might be a better option, however.
What do I need for a dedicated combo sander for metal?
Generally, thinner belts, higher horsepower, and above-average build quality are what you’re looking for. A 4″ wide belt is usually overkill, so go for a high-end sander like the JET J-4100 with a smaller belt but more horsepower and build-quality.
Do I need to permanently mount my belt disc sander on my workbench?
It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not really required for a good one. Check how the vibration works on your bench if you’re limited in space before you commit to a permanent setup. Most will already have holes drilled to allow you to easily mount the sander if that’s your preference, but of our picks, only the WEN really moved around a bunch during testing.
Can I reduce the vibration of my belt disc sander?
If you’re really looking for precision and lower vibration, you can mount a rubber pad underneath the sander before bolting it to the bench. Something about ½” thick will really tone things down, but you won’t be able to get rid of vibration entirely.
Is a belt disc sander usable for knife-making?
Absolutely. Every bladesmith has one, and for most, they’re considered one of the most useful tools in the workshop other than the forge. Just make sure that you pick a high-quality one that is suitable for metalwork.
Get Shaping, Sanding, and Grinding
Finding the best belt disc sander can be a difficult task, but with a little bit of thought, you can end up with a fantastic tool for your use. They vary across the board, each suitable for someone, but we think that our four picks just about cover it in the majority of cases.
So, what are you waiting for? Get the right combo sander on your bench today.