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While not an absolute staple item like a table saw or a cordless drill, a good bench sander is an excellent supplementation to any power tool arsenal, and is a great way to add a level of convenience and functionality to your DIY garage. And of course, if you plan on setting up a proper woodworking shop, making the investment in a quality one is a necessity.
Fortunately, even the best bench sanders on the market won’t pounce on your checking account all that hard – they’re far less inexpensive than other wood shop necessities such as, for instance, a good miter saw or a good band saw.
Our Top 3 Picks
In this article, we’ll take a look at the 10 best bench sanders currently available on the market, with our overall considerations based on key factors such as performance, durability/build quality, warranty, maintenance, and ease of use.
We know as well as anyone how difficult it can be to try and distinguish between options with so many different products out there to choose from, each with their own key features and unique specifications, but here at Contractor Culture, our never-ending goal is to help guide you through the process!
Weight (with most tools less weight is usually better, but not with bench sanders - the cast iron 6502 weighs in at a robust 44 lbs)
Super-simple belt tension/paper swapping mechanism
2-year manufacturer warranty (not the best on the market, but can’t expect anything more for a sub-$100 tool)
Not made for heavy work (it’ll bog down/stall out if you beat on it too hard with heavy pieces like deck posts or 4x4 fence posts)
A little under-powered for hardwoods like maple and walnut
Great miter gauge for sanding angles
Simple/well-engineered tensioning mechanism
Comes in three different sizes if you’re wanting a larger model
A little pricier than the WEN
Not as heavy at 38 lbs (prone to more vibration)
Best edge sander on the market
The miter gauge is far better than the one on either the POWERTEC or the WEN - perfect for notching angles
Spindle sander is the best of the best for smoothing curved boards
Practically zero vibration
Entire table inclines for angled edge sanding
High-quality ball bearing construction
Can’t rotate the belt sander into horizontal/inclined positions
Inclining disc sander table
Nice and heavy at just under 42 lbs
¾ HP motor is more powerful than the WEN
A little more expensive
Really well-built, even more so than the WEN
Great for craft/model/hobbyist projects on smaller pieces of material
Inclining belt sander table makes for perfect angled sanding on board edges
Not sufficient power for anything more than small material
Belt sander not wide enough for general woodworking (i.e. facing boards)
¾ HP motor is the most efficient, powerful one on the list aside from the Ridgid spindle sander - great for hardwoods or heavy duty materials
2” larger disc sander
51 lb cast iron base eliminates virtually all vibration
Great dust collection mechanism
Nearly double the price of our top pick
Takes up more space than the others
Nice large 2 ½ in vacuum hose for good dust collection
Lightweight at 25 lbs, easy to take on/off workbench (this can also be a con because it allows for more vibration)
Full horizontal beveling disc sanding table goes to 90-degrees
A little pricier for nothing more than the Skil name
Disc sander can get in the way when trying to sand the faces of boards
Top-grade, full-metal construction throughout
60 lb weight; zero vibration
¾ HP motor is powerful enough for just about anything
The price… that’s about it
Economical spindle sander
Great for edge sanding or sanding oddly-shaped pieces (i.e. in modeling/crafts/hobbies)
A heavy unit at right around 30 lbs
Can’t sand the faces of boards with it; spindle sanding only
Ultra-simple belt changing
Nice 41 lb cast iron frame
Dust collection is slightly better than the WEN
A little wobbly, doesn’t seem to sit as flush and squarely on the table as the WEN
Rigidity of disc table leaves some to be desired
The best bench sander should be a heavy sucker; if it’s under 30 lbs and/or made of anything other than cast iron, you don’t want it. That being said, weight and construction material was one of the first and most important criteria used in our evaluation of the market’s best bench sanders. Anything with a flimsy, light frame (i.e. made out of plastic or aluminum) will be light and prone to a lot of vibration. And vibration is the enemy when it comes to bench-top sanding, whether you’re using the belt or the disc.
Also, another thing we keep a keen eye out for is adjustability. The belt sander on any benchtop sander, no matter the size or brand, should be able to be fully adjustable and used in vertical and horizontal positions, or any inclined position in between. A lot of times when you’re using a bench sander you’ll find yourself in some really awkward/strange positions, and you’ll need to be able to adjust your belt accordingly in order to get to the surface or edge that needs sanding.
Miter gauges are also a must-have on any combination belt/disc benchtop sander. Sanding angles into the edges of boards is one of the most common uses for bench sanders, and without a properly functioning miter gauge (some of the ones we’ve used on disc sanders in the past are absolutely worthless), it can be borderline impossible to get consistent (and perfect) results.
Ease-of-use is another key criteria used in the evaluation of any belt sander, although this one is a bit harder to quantify. The engineering of some tools, bench sanders included, is just not good and not well-thought out. That is, we’ve used plenty of tools in the past that are just uncomfortable, awkward, or downright painful to operate. Thus, we always make it a point to incorporate “user friendliness” and general ease of use into the consideration of whatever tool we’re operating or reviewing. In the instance of each of the top-10 picks above for the best bench sanders, we found that all of them were simple to use, comfortable, and convenient to operate.
And of course, the user-friendliness of the adjusting/paper-changing mechanisms fall into this same category of ease-of-use. Some products out there are just an absolute nightmare to do even the simplest of things like swapping out your belt or disc paper. Thus we made it a point to only pick products with smart engineering in terms of the tension release mechanism to do routine tasks like sandpaper changing.
Power is of course another thing that you want to look at when considering your benchtop sander options. For typical DIY choices, we look for something with a 110-volt power supply. Larger commercial or industrial sanders might have a 220-volt source (like the plug on your air conditioner unit, refrigerator, etc), but more often than not an additional 220-volt wall plug would have to be professionally installed in a typical garage or workshop – inconvenient and unnecessarily costly. A 4” x 36” belt sander can obtain plenty of power from a standard 100-volt outlet.
And speaking of power, with any good bench sander you’re going to want at least a belt that turns over at about 3,000+ rpm. Most good standard size home bench sanders will have a motor that produces about 3.5 amps, or about ⅓ hp. Our top-rated WEN 6502 for example, has a 4.3 amp motor that turns over at about 3,600 rpm. More than enough juice for it to do the types of things you’ll need it to, and that you’d expect it to.
Warranty is another factor that you have to take into consideration. The best bench sanders are relatively simply-made tools, and thus you would expect a good one to last a very, very long time. Anything with less than a 2-year manufacturer warranty is likely not worth wasting your money on, though really good products (like this Porter-Cable) will have a 3+ year limited warranty.
Also, you certainly don’t want to look over dust collection. We made sure that each pick on our selection of the 10 best had at least some sort of dust port or collection mechanism. Naturally, benchtop sanding is a mess that produces a ton of sawdust, so unless you prefer being covered head to toe, you’re going to want something with a functional (a lot of the ones we’ve seen in the past are borderline useless) collection mechanism.
And lastly, nowadays with the immense amount of online resources, the obvious thing not to forget about is the general customer reviews and feedback. These are the people actually out there, spending their hard-earned money on these tools and getting their hands dirty using them, so you can expect that they’re going to be the ones that provide the best, most accurate overall information as to whether a sander is or is not a good performer and a good value price-wise. In addition to looking over actual manufacturer specifications, consumer feedback was one of our most important criteria used when compiling the Top 10 list – every sander included has been very well-received by the general consumer market.
Bench sanders are a woodworker’s tool, plain and simple; if a woodworking shop doesn’t have a benchtop sander in it that’s used well and used often, it’s likely no woodworking shop at all.
In terms of what they’re used for, bench sanders are typically used after the jointer/planer, wherein edges and faces on roughly milled lumber stuck need to be touched up prior to being worked with. Or, they can be used to sand down a board to a particular thickness, round edges, smooth surfaces, etc – there’s really no end to what you can do with a good bench sander, hence their criticalness to the woodworking shop.
Scribing is actually a really popular use for bench sanders, wherein you might need to, for example, sand out some oddly-shaped outlines on a cabinet edge in order for it to fit up flushly against a bumpy brick (or other non-flat surfaced) wall.
Also, bench sanders are great for sanding angles into the edges of boards, and most will come with a miter gauge that allows you to set the exact angle you need for efficient, matching results on multiple pieces.
Compared to portable hand sanders, bench sanders are much more powerful and can rip through a lot more material at a time.
Make sure that you can use the belt sander in both a vertical and horizontal position (99% of them out there are easily adjustable). Also, even though the belt sander will be used probably 9 times out of 10, it’s always good to look for a combination belt/disc sanders – that disc isn’t used often, but when you need it, it sure comes in handy.
Also, you’ll want to keep an obvious eye on size; 4” x 36” belt w/ 6” disc is by far the most common combination bench sander size for DIY applications, but if you’re into more high-volume work (like cabinet or large furniture making), you might seriously want to consider jumping up to something like a 6” x 48” belt w/ a 10” disc.
That’s all depending on what you want your finished product to be. Benchtop belt sanders are very commonly used for refinishing projects, where old paint or varnish needs to be sanded of boards. In this case it’s common to use a coarse grit paper like a 36-grit.
As far as finer grits, bench sanders aren’t really used much for finish work, so rarely will you be putting a paper on them that’s finer than about a 220-grit. That being said, a 220-grit sanding will produce a beautifully smooth, finished product in a lot of different situations.
Sometimes you’ll see combination bench sanders with a belt sander and a spindle sander. The spindle sander is a small-ish cylindrical sander that’s most often used for smoothing edges on curved boards. If you have a use for it, it’s irreplaceable as you can’t sand a curved edge with a flat belt sander.
However, they’re kind of an oddball item that most people won’t really get much (if any) use out of. In the vast majority of cases, a combination belt/disc sander will be the more appropriate choice.
Again, this all depends on the size bench sander you’ve got. Some industrial behemoths are large enough to sand the entire surface of doors or standard 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood all at once, though the typical 4” x 36” bench sander is obviously used for more commonly-sized items like small-ish boards and 2 x 4’s.
That being said though, standard 4” x 36” belt sanders are actually commonly used to fix the old “stuck door” problem, wherein you might have to shave a fraction of an inch off the corner of a door to get it to open/close smoothly. You’ll have to take the door off the frame, of course, but once it’s off you just pop the faulty edge on the belt and shave off material until it works right.
And truth be told, when it comes to flat surfaces of boards, there’s really no size limit (in terms of width or length) as to what you can or cannot sand with a bench sander. As long as you’ve got the space, you could potentially sand the entire surface of a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood with a small 4 x 36 belt sander.
You certainly can, but you might not get great results. Softer metals like copper or aluminum you could easily touch up with a belt (or disc) sander, but for heavier duty stuff like hardened steel you’ll likely need to use a grinding wheel.
Also, plastics such as PVC are easily sandable with a bench sander, just beware that they’ll clog up your paper really quickly – much more so than wood.
Like we said earlier, not particularly, unless you consider a about a 220-grit sand as a “finish” job.
That being said, though, there are plenty of folks out there who have no problem using a fine-grit paper with either their benchtop belt or disc, and are able to produce good results.
For the sake of relativity, let’s just say, for example, that a professional furniture maker probably wouldn’t be using a 4” x 36” belt as his finish sander.
There are portable (handheld) belt sanders and their are benchtop belt sanders – a belt sander is just any sander that uses, well, a belt. So generally speaking, yes, when someone refers to a “bench sander”, they’re referring to a benchtop-mounted belt sander.
We touched on this briefly earlier; the main difference between a benchtop belt sander and a hand held belt sanders is that the benchtop will rip through material easier and quicker than the handheld one.
Any kind of belt sander is known as a tool that takes a lot of material off at a time, but the benchtop belts are even more powerful than the handheld ones.
Like we’ve said time and time again throughout this buying guide and when delving into the reviews of the best bench sanders, the main things you’re going to want to look for when selecting the best one for your needs (other than price, of course) is weight (a steel or cast iron frame), ease of use (simple adjusting, belt-tensioning/paper-changing mechanisms), reliability (warranty details) and performance (does the thing actually work well?).
Taking all of this into consideration, it was easy to give the cast iron WEN 6502 our #1 top pick for the best bench sander. Though there are certainly better products performance-wise on the market, you will not find a better, more reliable, more functional one than this one for the price.
The vast majority of DIY’ers aren’t going to need a tool that costs as much as their mortgage payment, and this little gem has proven over and over again to be the best product currently out there in terms of the overall best benchtop sander for price and value. Pick one up, pop it on your workbench, and start putting her to use.