Safety Tips to Follow When Using a Belt Sander

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There are a lot of qualities we value in power tools: versatility, innovative design, and cutting edge technology. 

A belt sander has none of these things. They’ve been designed and built in more or less the same way for decades. 

What we do get from the belt sander, however, is reliability. When you want to smooth or flatten small wooden surfaces, this handheld tool is the go to.

Many of us have been using belt sanders for years, but it pays to go back to basics every once in a while. So whether you’re new to the world of woodworking or you’ve been around the proverbial wooden block, here’s a quick guide to help you stay safe while using a belt sander:

Use the right PPE

The first step to any safety course is getting your equipment in order. We’ll start with the obvious. Belt sanders can kick up a lot of dust – you should use a basic dust mask, even though most belt sanders have a built in dust ventilation system. You can never be too careful when it comes to your lungs.

Next, you should wear eye protection. While it’s somewhat rare to have any sizable pieces of wood fly up while belt sanding, it is possible. Goggles can also keep you from getting dust in your eyes. Again – better safe than sorry.

In the same no-such-thing-as-too-cautious vein, you should wear long pants and gloves – maybe even a long-sleeve shirt. If you follow all of the other safety tips we lay out, you shouldn’t have too many problems with wood or the belt sander flying at you, but if you do end up catching a 2 x 4 in the leg, you’ll be glad to have a bit of extra padding. 

Finally, you’ll want hearing protection. Most belt sanders aren’t that loud, but if you’re at the point in your woodworking journey that you need a belt sander, you should get in the habit of wearing hearing protection regularly anyway. 

Now that we’ve taken a look at PPE, let’s move on to some of the things you should look at before you fire up your belt sander.

Preparing to use your belt sander

We mentioned that most belt sanders have built in dust ventilation systems – the key word there is most. High-quality devices, like Festool sanders, will be equipped with powerful dust ventilation. 

You may find that your device is not. 

If it isn’t, you can often attach a shop vac to your belt sander. Don’t have a shop vac or a belter sander with dust ventilation? You’ll need to get one. Don’t use a belt sander with no dust ventilation.

Next, you’ll want to inspect the sanding belts you’re going to be using. If they’re frayed or torn, you’ll have to discard them – otherwise, they can catch, fly off the belt sander, or make your life difficult in any number of other ways.

On the subject of sanding belts, you’ll want to make sure they’re the same width as the pulley drums. You’ll also want to make sure that the arrows for the sanding belts and the belt sander are facing the same way, and that the sanding belt is held tightly against the pulley drums. All of this will ensure nothing starts flying in the wrong direction.

Check the motor and dust vents for dust – clear out any that you find, so that you’re starting with a clean machine. 

Make sure that the wood you’re going to work on is securely clamped. You’ll also want to take this opportunity to ensure your workspace is clear of cords or other obstructions that could damage or be damaged by the belt sander. 

We’re almost at the point that we can plug in the belt sander – just be sure the switch is in the “Off” position before you do.

Once the belt sander is plugged in, you’ll want to take it for a dry run to ensure that everything is positioned properly. Before beginning your woodworking, run the belt sander in the air so you can check that the sanding belt is properly aligned to the pulley drums. If it’s not, use the knob to adjust appropriately. You don’t want the sanding belt to go too far away or toward the pulley drums. 

Operating the belt sander

Finally, we can get to work. There are a few key safety tips to remember when operating your belt sander.

First, your grip. You want to keep one hand on the trigger switch, and one hand on the knob at the front of the sander. This grip gives you control while keeping your hands away from the sanding belt – which you should absolutely never touch while the belt sander is plugged in.

Next, your stance. Position yourself so that you’re steady and balanced. You should be able to move your arms the entire length of the surface you’re working without having to adjust your stance. In other words – don’t overreach. Don’t lean towards the wood you’re working on. Both feet planted firmly on the ground.

Pressure. When you’re sanding, you don’t need to apply any pressure – the belt sander is heavy enough. Just keep the belt sander moving at all times – too much pressure could destroy your project, and could even damage your belt sander.

Air vents. Keep the air vents for your belt sander uncovered at all times. If the project you’re working on is pretty big, you’ll want to turn off and unplug your sander regularly to check for obstruction in the dust ventilation system. Remember, dust isn’t just hazardous for your lungs – an overfilled dust collector can be a fire and explosion hazard. 

While you’re doing that, you’ll also want to check your sanding belt for wear, tear, or an excess of dust and grit. If you see any problems, replace the sanding belt.

One last piece of safety advice

While belt sanders aren’t the most advanced or complicated piece of technology in the woodworking world, they’re generally not for beginners. To use a belt sander properly, you need to have some idea of how to work the wood you’re using. If you apply too much pressure or don’t secure the wood carefully enough, you may end up botching your project – or worse yet, hurting yourself!

That’s it for today’s belt sander safety tips. Have a tip you’d like to share? Want more woodworking tool safety tips? Bored on the internet and looking to start a conversation? Let us know in the comments below! 

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