We’ve come to an understanding

The dreaded belt sanderI’d like to take a moment to introduce you to the tool I love to love – and hate.  This is my belt sander.  A Black and Decker homeowner’s model I picked up at a local Wal Mart about six years ago.

Before I go any further, yes, I am quite aware that I advertise myself as a hand tool enthusiast.  It also obviously has a tail that plugs into an outlet.  Many of you are also thinking that there is no place in the fine woodworker’s shop for one of these crude instruments of sound and dust.  Besides, it’s not even made by a ‘serious’ woodworking tool manufacturer.

It’s all true.  This bright orange baby (by the way, I believe it might be bright orange so motorists can avoid it when it’s pitched into a road) uses some of the most diminutive belts out there – 3″ x 18″.  Even it’s lousy dust bag doesn’t work any more.  I used to take the time to put it on the sander, but it developed a hole near the top zipper that just blows dust straight up into the air.  And, it’s a very hungry machine.  I affectionately call it the belt saw, because if you leave it on the work for too long, it digs out one heck of a divot in the wood.

So, why keep it?

Even in its total nastiness, it’s another one of those shop essentials I can’t seem to do without.  Just recently, I was working on my Christmas presents, I had to reach for it several times.  First when I was making the end grain cutting boards.

In my last post, I alluded to the fact that my milling and gluing operations need to become a little more exacting.  So, when I pulled them from the clamps, they were pretty uneven. So, I had to mosey down the street to the local Home Depot, where, much to my surprise, I discovered that Norton actually makes a line of sanding belts in that tiny size.  There were three grits to choose from – 50, 80 and 120, and I bought the two packs of all three grits.

While it did take the better part of a Saturday afternoon to grind the unevenness out of the boards, I knew it was much safer than trying to run the end grain boards through the planer.  With my iPod on under my hearing, breathing and eye protection, I grooved while my errors were erased totally, leaving a perfectly smooth board.  No mean feat, given that end grain is very tough stuff – making it an excellent choice for end grain cutting boards!

I changed grits to the 80, then finally to the 120 for those last very light passes, leaving just enough for me to sand out with the random orbit sander.

Later, when I tried out the Kehoe jig for a set of the photo bookends, the belt sander came out again.  I trimmed the dovetail splines as close to the work as I dared, and then used the belt sander to take them down flush with the board.

Are there better ways to accomplish these tasks?  Sure. I could get out with a block plane and use that.  But, for some reason, I seem to get better results using the belt sander for the heavy lifting and the hand tools for the fine work.

So, I’ll keep my belt sander.  For now.  It does what it does, but it does what it does pretty well.

But, I’m definitely keeping a wary eye on that tool!

4 thoughts on “We’ve come to an understanding”

  1. This is one tool that I have to agree with you – in its total nastiness it’s another one of those shop essentials we can’t seem to do without. I have to admit though, your much braver than me. I have never put anything more than 120 grit in mine and usually have 220 grit. When that little machine takes off – you have better be prepared to have placed it in the right spot, right direction, a little above the starting spot and if possible above one of the highest ridge of the wood your sanding. The belt sander to me is like starting a 225 HP outboard motor on a bass boat – if your going to hot shot from your starting position – you better be well prepared to take full credit for your actions.
    Bye the Bye – Great post.

  2. Larry –

    Brace yourself – those coarser grits totally rule! I was not about to spend days on those cutting boards. The 50 grit really leveled those babies in nothing flat. By the time I was at 120, I was ready to break out a cabinet scraper and go to town on it.

    You are right – that thing is a 1968 GTO at the start line with its engine revving… Hit the gas and hold on for dear life!

  3. Bwahhh, I have the evil red twin of that little monster. Branded as Skill, but it looks identical and from the description matches the MO. I break it out on occasion, but can’t say that I ever injoy doing so. It is much more tolerable now that I have a legit dust mask 🙂

  4. Huge belt sander user, about a year ago, picked up the Onieda Dust Deputy, of course I still wear a mask, but I’m pleasantly surprised at how much dust gets sucked away. The belt sander has a very important place in a shop. Alot has to do with what you build. I like that 3×21 size, easy to handle, good results, and less physical fatigue. If you are laying your own veneer, a used 150 grit gives you a nice start by knocking off knife marks, less scraping.

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