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Small/Open End Wide Belt Sanders8/23
We don't run a lot of solid wood in our shop, but are starting to do a bit more, and see that likely continuing. We have a local supplier that has a 43" wide belt and is usually pretty quick to turn parts around and charges a fair price.
Were considering a small wide belt sander. It looks like theres really only two machines available, they just come in different colors depending on where you buy it.
Powermatic/North State 17"
We don't have three phase, or much amperage to spare, so options are a bit limited. I'm not too concerned about this being a permanent solution, at roughly $5000 it just need it to save me 100 hours of labor to justify the expense. I just don't want to get into a machine that ends up taking up all my time with maintenance and troubleshooting.
I've never used one of those Chinese sanders but I will comment on the design idea. Because of the open arm design they are very likely to not sand evenly from one side to the other. Depending on how wide & how dense the wood is there will be different forces trying to lift the belt. The variations my not be enough to matter to you. They may show up when you try to join two parts edge to edge.
I'd be really surprised if you can reverse the work and sand the other half and have a match. I see that claimed in the advertisements.
We have an old TimeSaver 37X60, not the best machine ever made by a long ways but we don't use it much and can't justify a good modern machine. With only 20hp it can't take much of a cut even with a slow feed rate. Trying to do that will cause the work to heat, not good. The shorter the belt the worse the heating problems on widebelts. The slow feed rates on under powered machines make you pay every time you use it.
Would one be worth it to you?? They are probably better than the cheap drum sanders. At least belt changes are much quicker. Speaking of belts, there is a big difference in quality, durability, splice marks, etc. The small size of the contact drums on the open arm machines probably stress the spices more and may result in more splice marking of the belt to the work. The durometer of the drum will affect the quality of finish also. Softer will give a finer finish but also dub the edges more. A platen is a better solution.
Talk to those who have gone the open arm route and see what they think.
The machines I linked to do have a platen.
I ran a dual drum machine at an old job, and it wasn't useless, but definitely isn't what I'm looking for. I don't see how a wide belt machine with just a drum offers much advantage over a drum sander.
A widebelt and a drum sander are barely the same idea.
A widebelt will have a much higher fpm on the abrasive than a drum sander. Usually from a larger drum turning at higher rpm. The longer the belt, the better. It gives more abrasive to wear, for not much more cost. With the longer travel time from contact to contact out gives the belt time to cool and release dust.
Comparing a drum sander to a widebelt is like comparing a formula one car to a subaru. They both have four wheels.
I wouldn't do an open end for the all the reasons Larry mentioned. My first widebelt was the little A frame Timesavers. It was a hunk of crap, but it was a really good value for what I spent on it, and an excellent stepping stone. Single phase 7½hp, 37". You couldn't get aggressive with it, but I ran thousands of doors and countless drawer parts through it.
Apex has an introductory model that a guy locally has. Seems to be a solid little sander, I don't know the price point though.
I actually have the powermatic open ended sander in 3 phase with 7 1/2 HP. It has served me very well, yes the open ended thing is really useless. It never comes out the way you want, the accuracy isn't quite there since not as much support as a fully supported quad post which we have a 43" single head Kundig. I am about to put that small powermatic back into production at a 2nd facility I'm about to open. If I could I would get a bigger sander but this will do the trick until then. I think for the money, get a wide belt any day over a drum sander. When you can afford a bigger sander , get it, then sell the smaller one or keep it as a backup if you have a place to store it.
When I had my business, I bought a Bridgewood open end wide belt sander. I left the platen down and used it to sand the knife marks out of planed faces of molded base, and for sanding S4S material to make it orbital sander ready. If you run material through the same spot on the sander, it has a very decent level of consistency from piece to piece.
As I was limited by space, amperage, phase, and price considerations, it was what I wound up buying. It served its purpose, and I still have it in my retirement play shop.
Whoever says that you can run wider boards and flip them through the open arm must have a very low standard for smoothness and precision. Anything that is cantilevered is going to sag, and be more subject to forces on the open arm end that would not be the case if the end were fixed. That flipping concept is more sales hype than reality; you are buying whatever width sander you are buying.
It really depends on what you are going to run through it. If I had it to do again, with the same restrictions, I would have spent a couple more grand and gotten a single phase 25" wide belt, a much sturdier machine with a higher degree of precision from side to side.
You may not be able to replicate the quality of what you are currently having done by your local supplier with an open end sander. Again, it depends on what you are running through it, and what you need.
I bought a very low hour Bridgewood 16" open end with platen / oscillation and have found it a valuable asset to my shop. I can maintain the sanding across the belt to within a couple thousands. While a larger unit would be the next step and more desirable I don't currently have the need or dust collection capability to handle one. No one except the Taiwanese seem to make these smaller wide belts. IMHO and experience they are far superior to the current offerings from the single and dual drum manufacturers.
I found a 37” Speedsaver for $4000 within driving distance. I think it’s a much better choice for us. It’s about ten years old, but looks almost new in photos. Seller said he thinks it’s only been run about an hour a week on average.
It’s about 6-7 hr drive so I want to find out as much as possible before I head out there. Anything specific I should ask for photos of?
One consideration often overlooked is belt length. The longer the belt, the better the heat dissipation and a longer life for the belt. That is 90% of the problem with drum sanders - they just can't get rid of the heat.
And glue -yellow glues in particular - will gum up a drum sander in seconds. The same can happen with a wide belt (or leas than wide belt) depending upon the belt length, aggression, etc.
I agree you would be better off with a full on wide belt, with a 70" or longer belt. Just like turning on the lights: easy to operate, no 'dancing' or special knowledge needed to operate, anyone in the shop can run it and get good product from it. As for the increased cost of the longer belts/machine design, it will be offset by the longer life.
The Speedsander will serve you much better than the open arm. Widebelt sanders are very simple machines. As long as there is no physical damage all else is easily fixed. You can resurface the feed belt and the contact drum yourself, if needed. Electrical & pneumatic parts are widely available from industrial supply companies.
I know you said that a drum sander isn't what you want, and I'm sure that's the case. But if your experience with a drum sander was with one of those "supermax/performax" varieties, I can assure you that they are not the best example of a good industrial drum sander.
We have one and I rarely use it because it's so ridiculously frustrating to keep the belt aligned and keep the drums square to the platen.
From 2006 to 2012 I worked at a company with a twin head 25" Powermatic cabinet style (ie, the same size as my current machine, just an enclosed cabinet instead of an open frame). We never had trouble with it. That Powermatic was far more aggressive and fast, and didn't need constant fiddling. One summer I ran several pallets of flat birch molding (base and frieze) through it, no problems. A few sandpaper changes here and there but less than I would have ever imagined.
I've used wide belts before so I definitely understand why you prefer one, I just wanted to point out that not all drum sanders are equal.