Usefulness of a 15-Inch Wide-Belt Sander

      For a small shop, will a 15-inch unit do? Cabinetmakers consider the pros and cons. November 12, 2005

I am seriously thinking about stepping up to a wide-belt sander. Due to cost, floor space availability, and somewhat limited need (my volume is not that high), I am looking at the small units. Specifically, I would like any feedback on the 15" open end variety. Sunhill, General International, Grizzly are a few manufacturers. Like many offshore machines, the physical similarity between these machines causes me to think they are all made in the same factory. However, I also realize that does not make them identical.

In general, I'm a bit leery of an open end design due to concern about accuracy of potential deflection. However, the small footprint, power requirements, and cost make these units very attractive. In particular, I can envision most of my requirements falling under the 15" width, and occasionally a double pass would give me 30" - assuming the overlap is not an issue because of the oscillating belt.

There are a couple of cab shops in my area with big units (42" or 52") that I can get to run the very occasional piece that is wider than 30", but largely for convenience I would like to have some basic wide-belt capability in my own shop.

Does anyone have any comments? Also, there seems to be two types of these machines - straight roller/drum type, and the kind with a roller and platen. What is the difference, and which is preferable?

A cheaper alternative would be drum - single, double, oscillating etc. Most of the opinions that favor drum come from people that have never owned or used wide-belt. I don't recall reading any opinions from people that have owned both saying that they prefer drum.
Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
The usefulness of a 15" wide sanding area depends on your normal needs. For me, 15" would not be practical as I routinely need to sand 18" wide doors. On the occasion that I need to sand wider than 24" I send the panel(s) out to another shop that has a 42" wide belt. Check your work orders for specs and see if 15" will do most of your work. If it won't, then buy a wider sander of either type.

From contributor B:
I assume that you are a relatively small shop since you are considering an open-end. I used a Sunhill exclusively in a 400k/year high end frameless shop, and loved it. I didnít design any cabinet with a door over 30", so the only thing we routinely had to worry about sanding was the applied back panels on an island, which we just cross-grained with 220 to flush it, then went back to 150 with an orbital. We had very few problems with the overlapping of the two passes.

From the original questioner:
To contributor A: This is going to be a bit of a compromise situation, based on available funds, available power, and floor space. As I have no one particular demand, and am not high production oriented, versatility is important. My best guess is 15" open end would be ok.

To contributor B: Thanks, that is good to know. (see additional comments below)

Hereís an update - I drove down to Bellingham and Seattle a couple days ago to look at the Sunhill and Grizzly in person.

The two are virtually identical except for a couple of features. After crawling through them for a couple of hours I would conclude they are the same Ė that is, same manufacturer and same specs. The Grizzly, however, had at least two important advantages - it is a combination head design (platen), with the emergency stop bar across the front, and it has the outrigger table extension for running panels wider than 15". With the marginal price difference ($3k for the Grizzly, $2800 for the Sunhill), I would go for the Grizzly.

From a lot of reading and talking to people, the idea of a platen is sounding significant for my purposes. Because of the varied nature of my needs, this will not be a thickness sander only, or a finishing sander only. It is my understanding that for veneered work - plywood for example - the platen is favored. The greatest single operation I do is solid wood edging on plywood - quite common in the boat interiors that I work on. The ability to flush the panel with a wide belt would be valuable. With an A type head (drum only), it's my understanding that you could cut through the ply veneer quite easily, given the increasing non-flat quality of plywood today.

The downside of the trip was I got quite entranced by the 24" model - with the digital controls. The idea of dialing in .250" and pushing a button is very cool. In fact, my only remaining concern about the 15 inchers is the fairly coarse adjustment wheel - one turn equals 4mm. Thatís very touchy, and I would plan to put a digital readout on it, similar to the one I put on my planer and shaper. But $7k is just too rich for my blood at this time.

So my conclusions are that the platen is a very good thing for my situation, and the Grizzly unit is a good solution. To put this in perspective: the Grizzly is US $3050, which is about Canadian $3700. The General International available here is Canadian $8700 for the platen model.

From contributor B:
I commend you for researching this so well, nice job. I'd like to add that I'm sure it would have been very easy on the sander that I used (drum only) to burn through plywood (we only ran solid through it), and it wasn't very difficult to raise the bed just a little bit. Typically we only raised the bed like 1/8th turn or less between passes.

From contributor C:
Assuming that you have purchased the open ended design with the platen can you give us a report on how it is working out?

From the original questioner:
I have not yet purchased. In doing my research, I was somewhat seduced by the 24" Grizzly. The direct setting and digital readout, and combination head look very inviting. However this comes at quite a cost difference - approx $7k vs $3k for the 15". So I'm just stepping back for a bit, and watching the used market - auction sites and so on.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: General

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2016 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article