It’s easy to find belt sanders in most home improvement stores, but for many people, owning a DIY option is the far cheaper option. New belt sanders on a shelf can cost up to $2000, but you can make one at home with just a bit of technical know-how.
To build a homemade belt sander, gather the major parts, including a power source, the wheels, a frame, the tensioning mechanism, and the tracking mechanism. Cut a drive drum out of plywood and fit all the pieces together, including mounting the belt and pulley to your chosen power source.
The rest of the article will cover everything you need to know about designing and building your own belt sander at home. We’ll also discuss some alternatives if the full build seems too extreme.
DIY Belt Sander Kit: What Parts You’ll Need
When building a belt sander, your kit will need to contain the following components:
The frame on most belt sanders is usually made of steel, but you can also make a frame with some strong wood. If you choose to go with a metal frame, you may need to do a bit of welding. However, it’s also possible to bolt it together (source: Home Made Tools).
Not sure where to get materials for the frame? Consider getting a free weight bench on Craigslist (and other similar sites). You can then cut this pre-made frame to size.
You can buy premade wheels, but these can make your DIY belt sander a lot costlier. With some machining skills, you can make the wheels right at home. Skateboard wheels are commonly used, but you can also make wheels from multiple layers of MDF or from wood lumps.
Alternatively, you can pull idler wheels from engines. With the wheels sourced, you also need to work out the crowning to ensure proper tracking. Again, you can machine this part or just use masking tape.
This is your power source for the belt sander, and in most cases, this will be an electric motor. You can choose to buy a brand-new motor, or you can save money by removing a motor from any old appliance you’ve got lying around.
Try looking for treadmills with decent motors on classified sites. Look for an option that allows you to vary the speed of your belt sander. When you find a decent option, it’s time to wire the treadmill motor for use in your belt sander. Not sure how to achieve this? Here are a few videos that can guide you (source: YouTube):
Make sure the motor is sealed to keep it protected from dust and debris as you work. If you can’t find a motor that’s properly sealed, consider building the protective housing by yourself.
The belt sander has to be tracked properly to ensure it rides correctly on the wheels. Many newbies to this process think about tracking only when it has already become a headache following the first test run with the sander. The tracking process is straightforward, and you can achieve it using an eye bolt.
The belt on the sander won’t work if it’s not tensioned. Mount the motor on a hinged plate and use it as the tensioning device. Alternatively, you can use the incline motor from a treadmill as a tensioning motor. Either way, ensure that it is strong enough to handle consistent use.
Attachment and Mounts
You’ll need a few attachments and mounts to make your belt sander more efficient. This will include different types of grinding rests, wheel casters (to simplify portability), disc sanders or buffing wheels add-ons, and a bin.
With your belt sander built, these attachments and mounts can be easily constructed and customized. You don’t need to add all of them at the same time – just go for the basics. Once your belt sander is up and running, anything else is just nice to have.
Should You Buy Plans for a DIY Sander?
When building a DIY belt sander from scratch, you need to come up with a plan. This will typically cover everything ranging from dimensions to the list of materials you need to get the job done. You can make your own plans, but this only works if you have the technical skills and know everything you need.
On the other hand, buying a plan for the construction can save you a lot of time and also ensure you don’t waste money on inadequate or unnecessary components. Of course, many DIY experts charge for these plans, but the prices are typically affordable – unless you’re trying to avoid spending money on the project.
Still, getting a professionally made plan can end up saving you time and resources compared to the risk of flying blind on the project.
How To Build a Belt Sander From Scratch
Here are the steps to follow when building a homemade belt sander. The sander here is a 6×48″ variant (source: Wood Gears).
- Gather some matching shafts and bearings. You’ll also need a steel rod to use for the idler roller’s shaft.
- Use some rubber strips to line the roller. Use enough to ensure you have good tension.
- Cut out some layers of plywood for making the main drive drum. Sand all the layers to properly deburr the wood pieces and expose a fresh surface that would also allow better glue adhesion.
- Cut a keyway in the shaft using an angle grinder. This will allow you to lock the drive disk to it a bit more tightly.
- Glue the plywood layers on the shaft.
- Sand and spin the drum with a drill to get the right shape. You should ideally aim for a crowned shape to ensure you can easily track the belt in the center.
- With the drum and other base structures sorted, it’s time to mount the belt. You need a pulley with the right hole size to mount on the shaft.
- Connect the power source to the pulley, and your belt should work. Be careful on the first try and always wear a protective mask and gloves.
At this stage, you’ll know if the belt sander works. The next stage should be to build a solid base and any other relevant additions that can make the machine work better. Here’s a YouTube video you can follow for this tutorial:
Other Types of Homemade Belt Sanders
If the project above seems too large for your workspace, you’ll find a few other options for your DIY belt sander below.
Mini Belt Sander
Do you prefer to make a mini belt sander from scratch? Below you will find another good video to help with building something smaller:
Some of the items you’ll need for this one include a hydromassage pump and spare parts of 125 mm (4.92”) rotating wheels.
Build an adapter that will help you extend and host the wheel, and make the base frame using two pieces of 120 mm (4.72”) iron. The final step involves building flat patens and support tables, then creating a frame that can support the wheel-bearing part.
Small Belt Sander
This next video is another good one to guide you if you’re looking for a belt sander that can fit in your small workshop:
The construction emphasizes compactness, so you can move it around easily without worrying about space. The process is straightforward, using materials that are easy to find. With a ¼ hp motor, flat bar, tube, and some glue, you can have your belt sander completed in a short time.
Upcycled Material Belt Sander
An even more interesting method of making a belt sander is this option made from an old bicycle hub:
If you have a packed garage, you may complete this design without any major purchases. The one downside to this approach is that it can get hot when used for long periods (according to the tutor). However, for occasional use, you can count on it to work.
As you’ll find when you start your DIY belt sander project using any of the methods in this article, building one from scratch is a demanding option. So, you may be better off going with cheaper/easier alternatives.
Alternative Option 1: Build a DIY Belt Sander Stand or Table Mount
This involves building a belt-sander jig. It requires installing a store-bought or manufactured belt sander to a wooden frame. Here’s what you should do (source: A Concord Carpenter):
- Get three sets of 5/8″ (15.88 mm) ply to use as the bench cleat, table, and base.
- Lay down the sander on the base meant to be the jig, making sure that the side of the sander opposite of the belt is against the wood and that the front dowel goes between the belt housing and the pommel.
- Drill and glue the dowel into the base, placing it towards the base’s far side to make the jig look big.
- When the glue is dry, place your sander in the jig and slip the 3/4″ (19.05 mm) dowel assembly around the rear handle, making sure the assembly holds the sander as tightly as possible.
- Build up the base to the belt height using a scrap piece of plywood.
- The last step is to add a bench cleat to the bottom to ensure your jig is firmly planted while it’s in use.
Alternative Option 2: Convert a Bench Grinder Into a Belt Sander
This is another straightforward method of creating your own DIY belt sander. Here are the steps you should take (source: Instructables):
- Gather your supplies. This will include spray adhesive, metric hardware sets, steel plate, extension spring, reducing bushing, inch pulley set, and sanding belt pack.
- You need to ensure your grinder has enough power to carry the additional mass. You should ideally get a 1hp grinder with a stand that is powerful enough to carry all the elements of this construction. Otherwise, you may be disappointed to find that your sander is too weak to do any meaningful work when you’re done with your conversion.
- Check the current power of your grinder. Match the weight and size of the materials to it, or simply get a more powerful variant.
- Disassemble your grinder by removing the wheel and guards from a side of it. This process may vary from one grinder to another, but you should find some bolts to loosen to remove the guard and a nut that can allow you to disengage the grinding wheel.
- Start cutting out the shapes in your template. You can use the spray adhesive to stick the templates to a steel plate. Cut them out using a cut-off wheel and angle grinder. The bandsaw will work best for finer cuts.
- Drill out the holes on your drill press. You can get the holes for mounting by making a pilot with a small bit. Drill everything down again using a step bit – any other leftover material can be removed with a bandsaw.
- The next step is to set up the roller hinge. Make a tiny square and drill a hole in the middle of the bracket. With a bolt, link up the hole with the pivot’s arm and the nut as the spacer to weld your DIY hinge. The welding doesn’t need to be heavy and a couple of tacks are typically enough.
- Dry fit the pieces when you’re done. Use three bolts to secure the main body. Ensure the spacing is correct in your modeling, or you may need to make the holes longer and file them out.
- With everything bolted up, make the backing for the sander and the rest. You just need to cut out some square pieces for this. Align the backing, then hold it in place before positioning the rest. Make sure the latter is tacked in place perpendicular to the backing plate before welding.
- Once the setup has cooled from welding, you can spray some paint on the body for a clean finish. Mount everything on your belt grinder.
You now have a functional belt sander.
Here’s a video covering this process in a bit more detail:
Remember, just like other approaches we have looked at here, you’ll need to pay for the construction plan for this project if you want to replicate it.