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Lately I've noticed some small dished out scoops on wood that I've belt sanded. Unfortunately I don't see these until after they are stained and sealed as they are very slight. I believe my belt sander is doing this. Anybody have this same problem please weigh in with solutions. Using a Porta Cable 3X24 ,then switching to my Festool orbital.
Learn to dance with the belt sander. It takes skill and is a learned technique. I do a double pump on the end of the stock and then move back and forth. It lets me dance near the end with quick deliberate movement, and not worry about falling off. Consider starting with a courser grit on the orbital to cut out the dish until you improve with the technique. My best move was to pick up a used stroke sander. No more issues with dishing since the belt was 8" wide. I still used the double pump technique with it.
You are probably not keeping it flat. The weight of the sander is more than enough pressure to get the job done. Start with a grit coarse enough to remove the worst defects or level a joint without requiring applied pressure. Keep it moving and concentrate on control.
I used belt sanders in the 70's since I was told that is the way it is done. And I always had problems developing the finesse required to not cause more damage than I was trying to clean up. It was a losing battle.
I used a PC 4x24, and it was easily the loudest tool in the shop. They coyly named it the "Whisper Series" since after a few hours of use, you would never hear a whisper again.
Currently, the beast resides on its side in a jig for quick sanding of small parts. It is occasionally taken out and used for cleaning up large curves or rough leveling, but never for finish work.
We have Festool dual action R/O sanders that are great at stock removal, leveling and finish work.
I don't know about the newer Porter Cable, but many hand belt sanders do not sand flat. Most do not have good balance. With a light (not controlling) grip on the rear handle, the sander should not dish or cut with the edge of the belt, but sand flat.
Our best sanders were a 1971 Black & Decker and an extremely heavy 1986 Porter Cable ("The Train," due to its locomotive-like shape). They would sand dead flat with perfect balance.
Worst were a Craftsman with a curved platen, and several that might have balanced as a 4 x 24 but had been chopped down to 3 x 24 with disastrous results.
I'm not sure what rich c. means by double pumping, but he's right about dancing with the sander. It's a gentle art, for all the noise. When you get a rapport with the sander you can do wonders. FWIW, I approached it as an opportunity to practice tai chi.
Stroke sanders are terrific for panel work. There''s actually nothing that does a better job, though widebelts are faster. Edges are best done with a stationary sander, though with finesse you can work them well with a hand belt sander, and bevel at the same time. Stroke sanders suck at leveling frames, as you can't see under the belt and it's easy to mash the corners.