Belt sanders are used in projects from finishing model railroad layouts and smoothing furniture to finishing large wood pieces in heavy industrial factories. Whenever you need to smooth a large, flat surface with a grain, such as plywood sheets, tabletops, walls or floors, a belt sander will accomplish the task faster than hand sanding. There are hobby, hand-held, commercial horizontal and industrial vertical/horizontal belt sanders.
Hobby Shop Sanders
Hobby shop belt sanders generally come with belts that are 1 inch by 42 inches or 2 inches by 42 inches. Vertical belt hobby shop sanders are used for profiling parts and other fine detail work when making models. The other type is a horizontal belt sander, which is primarily used for making surfaces flat and smooth, such as miniature tabletops for dollhouses.
Hand-held belt sanders are used to smooth and flatten surfaces in the field, such as small portions of floors about the size of an area rug, molding and anywhere that a fine finish is needed. They are best for medium-sized areas such as dresser fronts, footboards and doors. Dust masks and eye protection are essential when using hand-held sanders.
Commercial Horizontal Belt Sanders
Commercial horizontal belt sanders are used in professional woodworking shops. Their main use is flattening and smoothing wood and other materials, from cabinets and doors to planks for the hulls of wooden boats. They are a better choice for areas larger than the average tabletop. Eye protection and dust masks are essential when using these sanders. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirator is essential if you are removing paint, varnish, lacquer or shellac.
Industrial Vertical and Horizontal Sanders
Industrial vertical and horizontal belt sanders are used to smooth sheet metal surfaces. They work well when you need to flatten the bottoms of large items or to mate surfaces of parts. They are also used to grind the bevels of knives and shears.
Matching Sizes to Jobs
The size of the surface to be finished determines which belt sander will serve your purpose best. Anything smaller than a chessboard can be finished with a hobby sander. Between chessboard size and dining tabletop size, a hand-held belt sander should be sufficient. Anything that is room size or larger requires a commercial or industrial sander. You can use a smaller sander for a larger job, but the cost of the number of belts you will use will more than offset any savings you might gain by purchasing or renting a smaller sander.