Variable Speed Belt Sander Techniques

A variable speed belt sander is a highly effective power tool that is versatile and can be used for different types of projects. It is particularly useful for finishing and for large wooden surface areas, like doors. A belt sander works on a similar principle to the caterpillars on a tank. The motor powers the belt in a forward direction and as you hold the sander, it skims the surface of the wood. The effect it has on the wood is largely dependent on the grit level of sand paper used.

Holding the Belt Sander

Always hold the belt sander firmly with both hands. Power tools have a capacity to take off on their own direction if you mishandle them and they could cause damage to the surface or to you. When you hold the sander, always turn the power on before you touch the sander against the wood surface and when you do touch against it start moving it forward straight away. Do not let it sit still on the same area for more than a couple of seconds.


Always move the sander in a forward motion first, before bringing it backward, and then forward again. Keep the movement simple and straight and do not apply too much pressure onto the area. If you are sanding a surface for finishing, you should use an extremely fine sandpaper or wet and dry. If you are using your sander to remove a thin layer of paint or varnish, it is safe to say that you can use reasonable pressure to remove the layer without doing harm to the wood. However, be sure to remain in line with the grain. Circular movements with a belt sander are not advised.

Grain Techniques

If you are using a belt sander to flatten wood, you can safely cross grain. You would need to hold the sander flat down at a forty five degree angle to the grain, and then turn it forty five degrees in the other direction. After you have completed one angle, you can proceed to turn the belt sander to follow the grain.

This technique requires a grit sand paper of about 80-100 and it is more often to remove the top layer of the wood to create a less bowed effect in a flat, thin piece of lumber. After running the belt sander over the wood a few times, you might notice a dust build up on the sand paper. In this case, you should brush it off.

Prevent Gouging

Don’t make the mistake of leaving the sander on the same area or dipping it into the grain too hard. If you do this you could end up causing a gouge in the wood. There are gouge guides available that you can set around the rim of the belt sander. These guides will be set to a level that is parallel to the top of the wood and they will prevent you dipping the sander at the wrong angle into the wood.