The Best Belt Sanders in 2020
There’s nothing quite like a belt sander for those who are planning on really stripping down work materials. They’re the workhorse of handheld sanders, but that also means that they’ll take plenty of abuse as time goes on. For those needing one, that means having the best belt sander around is a much better idea than taking a blind leap of faith and hoping the tool will hold up.
After testing fifteen different models of belt sander over the course of two very dusty days, we’ve found five that we think stand out from the competition. Read on, and we’ll show you how to pick the right belt sander in the first place, rather than a tool which will fail on you.
Heavy, powerful, and durable, the Makita 9403 was our top pick for a belt sander. It’s professional-grade and exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to heavy-duty jobs. It does what belt sanders are meant to, and it does it very well.
In This Article:
- 1 Top Pick
- 2 Makita 9403
- 3 The 5 Top-Rated Belt Sanders
- 4 Who Needs a Belt Sander?
- 5 How We Picked
- 6 How We Tested the Belt Sanders
- 7 Top 5 Belt Sanders
- 8 Using Your Belt Sander
- 9 Belt Sander FAQ
- 10 Getting Things Level
The 5 Top-Rated Belt Sanders
|Best Overall Belt Sander||Makita 9403|
|Runner Up for Best Overall Belt Sander||Metabo HPT SB8V2|
|Best Belt Sander Under $100||SKIL 7510-01|
|Awesome Belt Sander With Flaws||RIDGID R2740|
|Best Cordless Belt Sander||Ryobi P450 One+ 18V Lithium-Ion 3 x 18 inch Brushless Belt Sander|
Who Needs a Belt Sander?
Unlike random orbital sanders, belt sanders are really only useful for stock removal. They’re what you need to smooth out really rough workpieces rather than just touching up the surface of a counter.
They’re not as versatile as many types of sander; unfortunately, they’re simply too powerful to recommend as an all-purpose sander for the home DIYer. For finer work that requires a sander but with enough power to level most materials, a random orbital sander is the ideal way to go.
However, if you’re working with warped wood or uneven metal surfaces, a handheld belt sander is about to be your new best friend.
If you’re looking for the heavy-duty, stationary tools, then you’ll want to check out our guide to belt disc sanders.
How We Picked
As usual, we started out by consulting the professionals. In this case, we talked to handymen, cabinet makers, and a few hobbyists to determine which brands seemed to be most prominent among the professionals.
After that, we checked online reviews and forums as usual just to see what people were talking about. A belt sander is a serious tool, so we quickly found that the cheaper models tend to fail too quickly for us to recommend.
You should take a close look at the following qualities when picking out your new workhorse sander.
We always harp on build quality. It’s important, a tool that’s half the cost but needs to be replaced in a quarter of the time simply isn’t a good bargain. If you’re only using a tool for one or two jobs that you never plan on repeating, then go cheap, but chances are you’ll find a use for it again eventually.
It’s doubly important with handheld belt sanders, however. They’re going to go through heavy use, and the tool needs to be solid enough to stand up to a lot of force for an extended period.
Power ratings for belt sanders depend on whether they’re cordless or not. Most of the serious sanders will require a plug and be rated in amperage, or A, while the few cordless belt sanders out there that are worth dealing with are rated in voltage.
For the most part, we found little difference in the power portion of our belt sanders, instead what was important was whether or not they had variable speed. Being able to throttle down for more delicate work can help save a lot of time.
The weight of a belt sander is much more important than it appears at first glance. Good technique means using the weight of the sander instead of downwards pressure, and these babies are powerful.
We’ll cover proper technique later in this guide, but for now, just know that this is one place where a heavier tool is actually better in most cases.
If the weight of a belt sander is too much, you should consider switching to a different type of sander or hiring a professional.
Belt sanders remove a ton of material quickly.
That’s great for speedy working, but it also means you’ll be dealing with a ton of dust. Good dust collection for a belt sander is… well, usually it’s good. You should still wear a mask in most cases, however, as we didn’t find a way to completely eliminate particles that worked during our testing.
Still, a built-in bag can save some on clean up after the work is done.
How We Tested the Belt SandersIn this case, we only did a few quick and simple tests. Since we tested such a wide variety of sanders, we believe the following were sufficient:
- Hardwood Test-We found a few dozen hardwood planks that had been removed from homes due to minor warping. We then had our tester(they’re a bit difficult to use, and he had it down) run them back to flat. We tested each sander on two planks and rated the speed and ease of use.
- Metal Test-From there, we took some sheets of aluminum and gouged them lightly with a screwdriver. We then ran the belt sander over them until the surface was uniform and rated them for ease of use and speed once again.
- Concrete Test-This was the make or break test for many of the sanders we tried. We attempted to use 40-grit belts to flatten out slightly damaged concrete surfaces. Quite a few sanders didn’t make the list simply because they didn’t have the weight and power to handle it.
- The Makita 9403 was our favorite. It handled all testing well and was all-around the best of the belt sanders which we tested with.
- Our runner up was the Metabo HPT SB8V2, which compromised a bit on build-quality compared to the Makita but was a sander we’d feel confident recommending to a professional.
- The SKIL 7510-01 was undoubtedly the best belt sander under $100. It’s a great tool, but don’t expect the quality to match our favorites.
- The RIDGID R2740 is a great sander but suffered from some serious flaws in design. We recommend it cautiously, see the full review for our take.
- Lastly, we have the Ryobi P450 One+ 18V Lithium-Ion 3 x 18 inch Brushless Belt Sander which was the only cordless belt sander which we felt made the cut, but be aware it’s much less powerful than any of the others.
Top 5 Belt Sanders
We feel confident recommending these five sanders to homeowners and, in some cases, professionals. Unfortunately, the market for belt sanders isn’t as big as it used to be, and many great sanders we were recommended ended up being unavailable or discontinued. These five are all still available at this time, however, and there’s something here for everyone.
Best Overall Belt Sander
At a Glance:
- Power: 11A
- Belt Size: 3”x21”
- Weight: 13lbs
The Makita 9403 is a beast of a belt sander, and those who choose to go with one definitely won’t find themselves disappointed. There’s simply no way around it if you can handle the weight and power, you’re not going to find anything better.
Coming in at 13lbs, it was surprisingly easy to operate due to the convenient foregrip, which allowed for increased control compared to almost every other option on the market.
It also ran quietly, at 84dB, when compared to even sanders with less power. The dust bag also swivels, allowing you to get into tight corners despite the enormous size of the machine. Even the cord is located on top, the engineering here is just great all the way around.
It’s a bit expensive, but in the end, you’re simply paying for the best in class. Smaller people may have some trouble controlling it as well.
Runner Up for Best Overall Belt Sander
Metabo HPT SB8V2
At a Glance:
- Power: 9A
- Belt Size: 3”x21”
- Weight: 9.5lbs
First things first: Metabo is a rebranding attempt by Hitachi. We’re not sure why they decided to go down that route since their tools were well recognized, but… here we are.
This is a great belt sander for most homeowners. It’s still got some heft to it, but it’s a bit lighter for those who aren’t confident pushing around a 10lb+ sander while maintaining control.
Spec-for-spec, we found that it was more powerful than any other 9A belt sander on the market. It’s well built, and the cord is placed properly for those tight corners, although the bag doesn’t swivel.
It’s a bit expensive for a single-use tool, however. We recommend going a bit further down the list if that’s your plan. The belt needed to be adjusted a bit frequently, as well.
Best Belt Sander Under $100
At a Glance:
- Power: 6A
- Belt Size: 3”x18”
- Weight: 6.75lbs
If you’re trying to spend less than a hundred dollars and haven’t used a belt sander before, then, you’re in luck with this option from SKIL. It’s solid, but the lower power compared to our favorites makes it unsuitable for some super heavy tasks.
That said, it’s easy to use and might be a good option for those scared of the heavier sanders. That said, it’s not a professional quality tool, so you’ll want to adjust your expectations accordingly.
For a shop tool for the home? It’s excellent. The light weight makes it easy to mount for a bench sander, and the dust collection actually works surprisingly well, given the cost of the tool.
Is it flawed? A bit. It feels a bit cheap in the hand and it’s really not meant for daily use.
Awesome Belt Sander With Flaws
At a Glance:
- Power: 6.5A
- Belt Size: 3”x18”
- Weight: 8lbs
Okay, this is an awesome tool, but there are two problems. First off, it can be hard to find a seller online who will honor the lifetime warranty. The second is a problematic location for the belt lever; if you’re not careful, you’ll get bit.
Ridgid can be a hit-or-miss brand for many people. This one is a miss for those who lack care, either in their purchasing choices or when using their tools.
Once you get past that, however, you have a solid, small-sized belt sander that works great for leveling out material. Indeed, the lever issue was only brought up after testing, but it may not be a good choice for a first belt sander.
That said, it’s an excellent way to get smaller jobs done. Just take care and be picky when choosing who you buy it from, only authorized dealers will honor the warranty.
Best Cordless Belt Sander
Ryobi P450 One+ 18V Lithium-Ion 3 x 18 inch Brushless Belt Sander
At a Glance:
- Power: 18V
- Belt Size: 3”x18”
- Weight: 6lbs
If you really need a cordless belt sander, then this option from Ryobi is the way to go. It’s fairly powerful, but we’d hesitate to recommend it for serious work. The main reason it made our list is that some people demand cordless tools, and this is the way to go.
The lightweight frame means a bit more pressure has to be applied by the operator, making it more laborious than heavier sanders.
Still, it does remove stock material quickly, and it’s easy to control. It’s also super portable due to the lower overall weight. It’s just lower-powered as well.
You can also use 18V Ryobi batteries in it, which is a big plus if you’ve already got several of them around.
Using Your Belt Sander
Belt sanders are powerful tools, and they take some special care to use.
First up… no loose clothing. Long hair should be tied back securely. The amount of torque a high-end belt sander puts down can seriously injure you in just a few minutes. While we wouldn’t recommend running an orbital sander on your leg, the truth is that belt sanders are the only handheld sanders that can make a mess of your hand or arm in a hurry.
You’ll notice quickly that they tend to drive themselves. This is doubly true on wood, where a belt can grab the grain and pull along. Always work with the grain of the wood if you can since going across will cause gouging.
And, oddly enough, despite their heavy weight, we found that they tend to require less pressure than most tools. The models under ~8lbs might take a bit of pressure, but using a belt sander is best done in small increments.
Keep it moving, check progress frequently, and don’t let anything get caught in the sander, and you’re on the right track. The rest is just going to be practice.
When you’re working with a new material, our tester recommended using a few scrap pieces to really get the process down before moving to the final workpiece.
Belt Sander FAQ
What grit should I use in my belt sander?
A: 80-grit is right for hardwood removal in our estimation, although 120-grit can also work. We were told anything above this was unnecessary for wood. 60-grit to 80-grit is good for stock removal of metal, while 220-grit is an excellent way to get an initial polish on metal before switching to another tool. 40-grit is ideal for concrete.
Is a belt sander better than an orbital sander?
A: For stock removal? Absolutely. For fine sanding? Absolutely not. Belt sanders should be used primarily for materials where things really need to get mowed down.
Are belt sanders dangerous?
A: They can be, but really it’s only compared to other power hand sanders. They have a tendency to drive themselves, and the feeding mechanism can cause problems with loose clothing or hair. If you’re comparing them to virtually any power saw, they’re relatively safe. Just take care not to get anything caught in the belt.
Can I use a belt sander on metal?
A: Yes, as we noted above. Care must be taken not to overheat the metal; however, as thin aluminum or steel will warp if you attempt to run things in place for too long.
Should I get a belt sander or a random orbital sander?
A: If you’re looking for a versatile sander… you’re not looking for a belt sander. Go with a random orbital, especially if you don’t already have one. That said, there’s no quicker way to level a surface than a belt sander, so they’re a great tool to have around.
Getting Things Level
When it comes down to it, there’s no sander around, which is quite as good for stock removal as a belt sander. And the best handheld belt sander will make future smoothing and polishing jobs much easier. They’re not for everyone, but for the right person, they’re an excellent part of the arsenal.
So, why not get yours today?