Belt sander or random orbital sander for slabs?

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Forum topic by driftwoodhunter posted 02-19-2011 04:24 AM 10299 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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273 posts in 2858 days

02-19-2011 04:24 AM

Topic tags/keywords: sander sanding walnut

Hi there – I have a table top belt sander that I can use for smaller boards, but I’ve been buying large slabs (mostly walnut) that need to have the lumps & bumps of the planer taken down. Would I be better off with an obital sander, or a hand held belt sander? I can only afford one or the other right now. I know I could make pigtails if I use an orbital wrong, any downside to the belt sander? Should I be looking at a minimun amp motor, and are there any brand recommendations? I’m tossing around the idea of getting an open ended drum sander in time for slabs. Good idea or bad? Many thanks! Cindy

8 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3820 days

#1 posted 02-19-2011 04:36 AM

Drum sander: bad idea for leveling slabs.

Belt sanders are fast but hard to control. They are noisy and messy too. Some
have dust collection and a “sanding frame” can help you level surfaces better.
Frames are, to my knowledge, only available on higher-end belt sanders.

Orbital sanders are much easier to control and not as aggressive as belt sanders.
I recommend a 6”. Festool makes a nice one but it’s super spendy. Bosch makes
one similar to the Festool and much cheaper. Both are dual-mode for
super-aggressive removal.

Belt sanders may have their fans. I am not a fan but also not a skilled user, so
my opinion is not so informed. I use orbital for just about everything. I have
a drum sander. Such a sander is a very slow way to knock off high spots on

View cabmaker's profile


1740 posts in 2981 days

#2 posted 02-19-2011 04:44 AM

Cindy, a handheld belt sander is a must have in most woodworking situations. Because you mentioned an openend sander I am presuming your slabs may not be gigantic. But even if you have some big bumps you may consider handplaning to a managable condition before beltsanding. Beltsanders can be very aggressive until you get in the zone with it. Problem here is that a ROS is a staple too. For rough slabs a ROS may not achieve what you want. I personally use porter cable 3X24 as well as a miller falls 4 inch wide(which is rarely used anymore). The porter cables I use are 25 and 15 years old. The new one looks pretty much the same.

View 8iowa's profile


1586 posts in 3933 days

#3 posted 02-19-2011 05:02 AM

Funny you should mention it…............Just this afternoon I got out an old Sears 3”x21” belt sander to sand the old finish off a 36”x72” table top. I have not used this belt sander in many years, and almost gave it away, but I can’t think of a better tool to tackle this project. If I had tried to use my orbital sander to remove the old finish it would have taken a week at least. I got the “crud” off with a 40 grit belt and then used my orbital sander starting with 80 grit and eventually ending up with 120.

The comments regarding caution using the belt sander are true. You can get deep gouges if not careful. However sometimes, and this was one of those times, when a belt sander is the best tool for the job.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View driftwoodhunter's profile


273 posts in 2858 days

#4 posted 02-19-2011 05:04 AM

Thanks for the info – I should have given more detail about the slabs I suppose. You may not think they’re big, but they look huge to me! lol The first two I bought are 72” x 22”, but only 5/8” thick. The rest are smaller. I have a catalpa coming in soon that’s 62” x 18” x 3/4”. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m brand new to woodworking, and I only just learned about a drum sander in a magazine this month. I’d never heard of one before. I thought it might be useful for the slabs, but I didn’t realize it would be slow going like using a planer – thanks for that info Loren. I can get one sander this pay period, and the other in two weeks when I get paid again, then I could experiment with them. So far the slabs are coming in really, really smooth, just not level. I don’t have a hand planer, and I’ve no clue how to use one, but I really want some. I want to learn to use hand tools as much as possible. Planers are shockingly expensive! I went looking at Lie-Nielson’s web site and had a shock, although I see the big box stores have some for as little as $20.00. Maybe I should learn on a cheap one. I wish they came with instructions – lol. Maybe I can see how to use them on YouTube…right now I’d be afraid I’ve carve huge chunks out of the wood.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3820 days

#5 posted 02-19-2011 05:11 AM

Skip the $20 specials AND the Lie-Nielsen. Get a used Stanley/Bailey #4 and
a #5. You should be able to get a pair of decent working planes for under
$50 on Ebay. These two are among the the most common sizes and some
of the most useful tools any woodworker can own.

View driftwoodhunter's profile


273 posts in 2858 days

#6 posted 02-19-2011 09:02 AM

Is it easy to get replacement blades for planes? I’ve been hesitant to buy used ones, though I’ve seen several on eBay as you said, since I don’t know what to look for as to condition (or what/how to repair them). I’m pretty excited to start gathering up hand tools. I’m looking at planes, scrapers, and I’d like to get a Japanese saw to cut dowels and tenons flat. There are several books on planes on, I should pick one up. I think I’m off to eBay now to browse!

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 3132 days

#7 posted 02-19-2011 10:01 AM

i regularely need to flatten thick glued up hardwood boards for tabletops, a drum sander would be ideal but i don’t have one and plan on building one.
but so far i do it with a Bosch belt sander, there is no way my Bosch random orbital sander could tackle this.
i tried with a handplane, but if youre not an expert you will mess it up by making gouges and marks everywhere. so i gave that up.

if you buy a belt sander, don’t get a cheap one though! evening out hardwood is tough and the tool will be running for long periods and get verry warm. a cheap one won’t last in these conditions.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3820 days

#8 posted 02-19-2011 06:49 PM

Try to buy planes on ebay from sellers who seem to know about them and
have a history of selling them. These sellers know how to look for cracked
castings and missing parts and won’t sell you a messed-up plane without
saying so.

There’s enough of a glut of hand planes on ebay that if you’re inexperienced
you can avoid the rock-bottom bargains (dirty planes with cracked handles
and such) and just pay a little more for the good user planes. A lot of planes
never really got used much by their owners.

You can also put an ad on craigslist or whatever saying you want to buy some
planes. A lot of us plane people buy them whenever we see them so
we often have more of the common ones than we need.

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