When working with wood, you typically need to use a higher grade of sandpaper in the beginning and a lower grade later. The higher grade removes more with each movement but leaves behind a rough finish, while the lower grade paper creates a smoother finish. Using a belt sander helps you remove more of the finish from the wood in less time and saves on hand cramps and discomfort.
The 1SM from Kalamazoo Industries (Check Price on Amazon.com) took our number one spot because it weighs just 32 pounds, which makes it easy to carry, and because it features a four-inch contact wheel that reduces the number of passes it takes to sand down a piece of wood.
This model has a 1/3-horsepower motor that runs quieter than you might think and a maximum speed of more than 1,700 revolutions per minute. We included other top models on our list to help you find the right one for your workshop.
How to Choose the Perfect One
What is the Belt Width?
When using one of these tools, you want to limit the number of times you need to move across the wood to reduce the risk of damaging that surface. The wider the tool is, the fewer times you need to sand the same spot. The problem is that you may want to do some light finishing work, which is hard to do with a wider belt.
The best width is usually around two-inches wide, though you may find that a three-inch size is perfect for you. A width of two inches to 2.5 inches is best for armatures and hobbyists. Professionals may need a width of between three and four inches.
What is the Grit Number?
Anytime that you buy sandpaper, you need to pay attention to the grit number. Numbers start at around 20 and go up to over 1,000. While not all products will come with sandpaper, those that do should list the numbers associated with the paper.
A number of around 40 is suitable for most household projects like removing paint from a piece of furniture or removing old stain from a wood floor. The higher the number, the less the sandpaper will remove. Some companies include sandpaper with a grit number of 80 or less, which is good for home use.
Do You Need a Stationary or Hand-Held Model?
Stationary power tools are those that you set up and use in the same place every day. These models often come with features like a base that uses cast iron or another heavy material that keeps the tool from moving and reduces the vibrations that can make the cabinet shake. A stationary model is best for use in a workshop or a garage.
If you want to strip wood around your home and do other simple jobs, a hand-held product is a better option. These tools come with a power cord that plugs into an outlet, and some weigh as little as five pounds. You can actually take the tool with you and sand down a floor or anything else without renting an expensive floor model.
Is There a Dust Collection System?
The dust collection systems found on these models typically look like a small bag. The bag catches the dust and other particles that move off the wood or any other material that you use. It’s important that you look at the location of this bag and how it works.
Many come with a bag that sits on the back end, which is a good option because the bag catches the dust as it moves in the same direction that you sand. If you move in a straight line, the particles move straight back and into the bag.
Some models have a bag located on either the right or left side of the tool. This can get in your way and make the tool harder to use because you are right handed or left handed. Some models come with a collection unit that will work with a vacuum system for added collecting too.
Top Picks on the Market
1. Kalamazoo Industries 1SM
Not everyone buys tools that they use just at home or in their garages, which is why Kalamazoo Industries made the 1SM. This tool is highly portable because it weighs only 32 pounds, and you’ll find that you can easily carry it from one end of your house to the other or on your job site. It features a 1/3-horsepower motor that produces more than 1,700 revolutions per minute to help you sand faster.
This model comes with a tilting work table too that helps you use it in different ways and without the motor sticking, though some had issues with the motor getting in the way of the plate. Though designed for use on almost any material, the 1SM works better on wood than it does on metal. It comes with an eight-foot long power cord and a contact wheel that measures four-inches across.
Four-inch contact wheel covers more of your wood with each pass
Its 1/3-horsepower motor produces more than 1,00 revolutions in a minute
Is highly portable at just 32 pounds
Proximity of the plate to the motor may cause the motor to get in your way
Does not work well on metals and materials other than wood
2. Porter-Cable Variable Speed
Variable speed models like this one from Porter-Cable are a great option for those who need or want to switch between speeds quickly. It has a speed dial on the top that you can click and turn with just one hand, which adjusts the speed from a minimum of 1,000 up to a maximum speed of 1,500 surface feet per minute. This product also has a flush sanding design that lets you use it directly against a vertical surface.
Porter-Cable placed the motor on this one right on the plate to improve its balance and make using it easier. It comes with a belt that you can quickly change and a dust bag that you attach to the end. This bag helps grab some of the dust coming off your materials and keeps it away from you.
Has a 12-amp motor that delivers more power and increases its revolutions per minute rating
Variable speed design lets you adjust the speed via a dial on the top up to 1,500 surface feet per minute
Comes with a sanding belt as well as a dust bag that collects the waste produced
Dust bag can come loose and let some of the dust out
Hot air can blow right onto your hand and limit how long you can use it
3. Makita Variable Speed
Another variable speed option that will do you well is this model from Makita, which also has a variable speed dial in an easy to reach spot. This dial adjusts the speed from just 980 up to 5,600 surface feet per minute and allows you to change the speed while using the tool with the motor running. You can also track the belt with a knob on the tool itself to see where the belt will go.
One of its other top features is its compact size, which lets you sand in areas that you otherwise could not, and it comes with a pivoting arm that you can adjust to fit the tool in even smaller spaces. Makita designed this one to work with other products too. It is compatible with different assembly sets that let you use different belt sizes.
Variable speed dial changes the speed from 980 to more than 5,000 surface feet per minute
Compatible with other assembly sets that change the width of the sanding area
Pivoting arm lets you reach harder and tighter spaces
Is pretty loud when compared to similar models
Does not work as well on all materials as it does on wood
4. Hitachi 9-Amp Variable Speed
Its ease of use and low price are just two reasons to invest in this Hitachi model, which is perfect for those who want something basic and simple for use at home. It comes with the same V-belt that expensive models feature, which limits the wear and tear done on the motor and increases the life of that motor. This model features a variable speed dial that adjusts the speed from a minimum of 820 to a maximum of 1,475 surface feet per minute.
The included dust bag fits on the left side of the tool and does a good job of removing the particles that you see in the air to keep your area clear. It also features a tracking window for clear viewing of the sanding belt and a grip surface on the handle for extra comfort.
Has a variable speed dial for adjusting the speed between 820 and 1,475 surface feet per minute
Specially designed surface on the grip lets you use less pressure and grip for more comfort
V-belt inside is resistant to wear and tear and helps the motor last longer
May need to frequently adjust the belt while using it
Does not have the stable balance found on other models
5. Astro Air
When searching for a tool with a more powerful motor, consider this model from Astro, which comes with a 1/2-horsepower motor that is significantly bigger than those found on other products. Designed for removing spot welds, this model will work on other materials, though you may find that it works better on some surfaces than others. You can experiment with this product though because it comes with three belts that include a 40 grit, 60 grit and 80 grit option.
A variable speed dial puts you in control of the motor speed and lets you pick the proper rotation based on the material in front of you. It also has a larger area around the pulley that expands the amount of space available for using this product with a larger or wider belt. This one also has a handy lever for adjusting the tension of the belt.
Comes with three belts with grits of between 40 and 80
Has a larger space around the pulley for using it with bigger belts
Features a 0.5-horsepower motor that is quite powerful
Breaks down more often and in less time than you might like
Does not work effectively on all surface and material types
6. WEN 6502
WEN helps you save money and still do work around your home with the 6502, which is a combination tool that works as both a disc and belt sander. It comes with a disc area on the front and a traditional belt on the top, but you’ll also find a tension lever that makes it easier to swap out the sandpaper that you need to use. The motor inside is a 4.3-amp motor that produces up to 3,600 revolutions per minute.
The belt on top stays flat to help you sand smaller boards, but it also lifts up to a 90 degree angle for sanding down larger boards or those of an unusual design. Though it works better on smaller boards than larger ones, the durable base uses cast iron to keep the tool from wobbling and to keep your boards straight. It even has a dust collection system that attracts sawdust and other particles.
Comes with both a belt and a disc for two different types of sanding
Features a dependable base made from cast iron to support the tool
Tension lever is easy to use and releases the belt to change the sandpaper used
Works better with smaller pieces of wood than it does larger pieces
Using too much pressure can make the belt stop moving
7. BLACK + DECKER Dragster
No two people use power tools in the same way, which is why manufacturers like BLACK + DECKER make tools like the Dragster. This model comes with an adjustable handle that you can use in three different positions to increase your comfort while still getting the smooth finish that you want. The manufacturer designed this product to feature a front roller, which changes its overall size and lets you use it in the tightest of compact spaces.
Weighing just 6.5 pounds, the Dragster is easy to both use and carry, and it comes with a long cord that works with a 120V outlet to supply the tool with the necessary power. You also get a cloth bag that you can use on the side of the tool. While this keeps the Dragster from working with a dust vacuum system, it allows the tool to remove more particles from the air to enhance your vision.
Highly affordable option for those with limited money to spend
Roller located on the front reduces its overall size to help it fit in more compact spaces
Handle retracts and works in three different positions to help you find the best one
Requires more adjustments when setting up and using the tool
Has a dust bag but is not compatible with a vacuum dust collection system
Kalamazoo Industries has a deep understanding of what professionals need while on the job, and the company added some great features to the 1SM, which we think is the top model around. While it does have some issues like a plate that can get in the way, it works very well on wood and will work on some other materials too. We also like the four-inch contact wheel that is larger than those found on other models because this helps you cover more of the wood as you sand.
Another feature we like is the 1/3-horsepower motor because it produces more than 1,700 revolutions. After comparing this model to some of the others on our list, we think that you’ll find it is the top choice too.