woodworking for beginners: How to use a belt sander for woodworking?

It’s really important that you use your belt sander the right way when you are working on your woodworking project. Here we’ll see what might work best for you when you’re building your masterpiece. Unfortunately, the good old belt sander got a bad impression lately because most of the users actually don’t know how to use them well. So, if you are eager to know how to use belt sander, we have come up with some easy woodworking tips for beginners.

First the Basics

Of the different types of sanders available, belt sanders are great at flattening large surfaces by abrading a lot of the surface material very quickly. But that’s also a downside. So, when woodworking with a sander, it’s all about keeping the sander nice and flat on your work surface. It is also great when it comes with variable speeds to slow the speed down and control the abrasion rate if necessary.

This helps you provide more control over your work and makes you less likely to scotch your woodworking project. Keep one thing in mind though – don’t overuse it while sanding your project with these machines. Because it will take a lot of material off quickly. Besides, you can’t just depend only on a belt sander for final finishing, you need other intermediary sanders as well.

Woodworking for Beginners Tips

I know that a lot of woodworkers have belt sanders in their houses and shops. But new woodworkers usually don’t use them because they’re afraid of their high abrasive capabilities, making it a bit difficult to control. With this article, I would like to promote woodworking for beginners and help them tame their fears of the sander and teach them its right use. You’ll just need to master a couple of things with your belt sander and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about.

What Should You Consider Before Buying a Belt Sander?

  • The bigger the better. I’m using the Hitachi SB8V2 3×21 belt sander, which is of an average size. 3×21 implies that the belt is three inches wide and twenty one inches long. The three-inch wide platen will give you a lot of work surface to be exposed to your project. A bigger surface also helps the sander stay flat, so it’s less likely to totter then a narrower sander would be. That also makes it very easy to hold the sander flat.
  • The other thing you should be looking for is its variable speed on the machine. The speed is controlled by the dial that’ll allow you to fine-tune the speed of your machine. You may often slow the machine down because running the machine at a lower speed can help you take off the material less quickly. Lower speeds make your machine less aggressive, thus giving you less opportunities to take off more material than you need to.
  • Next, put a fine belt on your belt sander when you’re first getting the hang of the machine. For the purpose of woodworking for beginners, I’d suggest that you use a hundred and twenty, which is among the finer grit belts. If you use a coarser belt, of course, it’s going to take wood off faster. It will increase the margin of error since it’ll be taking off more wood in the same period of time. So, a finer grit belt is going to help you to be a little bit more conservative with the machine.
  • The other thing you should be looking for a good dust collection. You can take off possibly lots and lots of material from your project. If you don’t have a good way to collect and control the dust flow, it’s going to get airborne. To control the dust, I’ve actually got my sander connected to a vacuum with a tool that has actuated outlet. Whenever I switch on the belt sander, the vacuum cleaner also gets turn on and vice versa. This way, it does a great job of collecting the dust.

How to Use Your Belt Sander?

Pay attention to how you set up your project. For example, placing a large project on a workbench that might make some of the surface to be out of your reach and make it difficult for you to work properly. This makes woodworking for beginners a little difficult, as this might even put your arms in an awkward angle while working. Therefore, it’s better to keep your project on a lower stool if it is bigger in size. This way, your work will be nicer and will let you keep your body and shoulders right over the work. It is an ergonomic posture to keep the sander flat at the height of your hip while sanding.

When you start with the machine, there’s one thing I’d like you to remember: You should place half of the sander platen outside the working surface and gradually pull the sander on to the overall surface of your project. Don’t start too far away or too far in. And make sure that half of your platen is cantilevered off the end of your project.

Now lift the sander, turn it on and then just like landing an airplane, place it easily into your project. Then work your way backwards, working on the whole length of your project. When done the same way, take the sander off like a plane taking off at the end of the project.

Whatever the woodworking tool you use, you should make sure that you are able to watch what’s happening on to the surface of your project. Mark the surface with a pencil line to monitor the surface. As you make passes with the sander, make sure you’re taking an equal amount of pencil line off the whole surface. This means you are taking an equal amount of wood off the whole surface while sanding. This will make woodworking for beginners a lot easier.

When you make the passes, make sure to run it in along the grain. Make a pass with the width of your sander moved halfway towards the side and then come back up. Your goal should be that each of your passes overlaps the previous pass by about half the width of the plantain. So, with a little bit of practice and monitoring your pencil lines, you’ll get the hang of it soon.

The last thing is to make sure that your vacuum hose and the cord isn’t getting in your way. It’s better if you can sling the cord up over your shoulder, maybe even the vacuum hose as well. This way, your vacuum hose isn’t going to accidentally run over your project as you’re making your passes back and forth.

After making the passes, you’ll realize those pencil lines really paid off. However, if your project has two types of wooden surfaces attached together – namely soft and hard – you may have to do additional passes in order to get that hard surface to catch up with the softer one. The harder surface would always sand a bit more slowly. So, the pencil line is very beneficial. If you didn’t have the pencil line you might have taken too much off the soft surface by repeating the passes.

Lastly, I would like you to give a maintenance tip. While running the belt sander or a random orbit sander, you’re going to get sawdust in the belt. Because your project surface may have some glue residues that can mix with the sawdust and get stuck on the belt. Rubbing an abrasive cleaning stick against your sanding belt will keep your belt gunk-free.

Moreover, the abrasive cleaning sticks are way less expensive than the sanding belt itself. So, it’s better to keep your abrasive surface nice and clean in order to make sure that you get a lot of life out of your belt sander.

I believe that these tips are going to make it a lot easier for you to practice using the belt sander. Once you’re able to befriend this beastly machine, you’re going to be using it all the time.


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