Belt Sander Vs Palm Sander [Key Differences]

Sanding is an essential part of many woodworking and home improvement projects. It helps to smooth out surfaces and prepare them for finishing. The two most common types of power sanders are belt sanders and palm sanders. But which one should you choose for your project?

There are pros and cons to both types of sanders. Here is a detailed comparison of belt sanders vs palm sanders to help you decide which is best for your needs.

Overview of Belt Sanders

Belt sanders are power sanders that utilize a continuous loop of sandpaper that moves at high speed to aggressively remove material. Here’s an overview of their key features:

  • Highly aggressive sanding action – The fast moving belt pulverizes wood quickly to flatten surfaces.
  • Large sanding area – The belt size ranges from 3 to 4 inches wide providing a large sanding surface to smooth sizable areas fast.
  • Adjustable speed – Most models allow you to vary belt speed from about 500 to 1500 ft/min. Slower for delicate materials.
  • Great for contour sanding – The flat belt can conform to shapes when moved skillfully by hand.
  • Dust collection ports – Have fittings to attach a vacuum to collect the large amounts of dust generated.

Advantages of Belt Sanders:

  • Remove stock aggressively and quickly
  • Smooth and flatten large surfaces efficiently
  • Contour softwoods and sand inside curves
  • Versatile for both coarse and fine sanding
  • Leaves a professional quality sanded finish fast

Limitations of Belt Sanders:

  • Steep learning curve for safe control
  • Not suitable for tight spaces
  • Lack finesse for detailed final sanding
  • Easy to oversand and create dips
  • Generate lots of dust requiring good dust collection

Types of Belt Sanders

There are a few variations of belt sanders made for specific uses:

  • Benchtop belt sanders – These are designed to be mounted on a workbench. Ideal for fabrication shops and industrial use. Allow you to work on large panels.
  • Handheld belt sanders – Compact and portable for sanding in any position. Great for general home use for sanding smaller workpieces.
  • Vertical belt sanders – The belt moves in a vertical orientation which is useful for certain specialized sanding operations.
  • Narrow belt sanders – These have a sanding belt under 1 inch wide and are good for detail work and sanding in tight spaces.

Overview of Palm Sanders

Palm sanders, also called sheet sanders, are compact handheld sanders designed to fit in your palm comfortably. Here are their key features:

  • Lightweight and compact – Weighing just 2 to 5 lbs, very easy to manipulate.
  • Comfortable grips – Contoured shape fits comfortably in hand even for extended use.
  • Orbital sanding motion – Smooth orbital action prevents leaving unsightly swirl marks.
  • Uses quarter sheets – The sandpaper sheets are easy to peel off and replace when worn out.
  • Minimal dust generation – The orbital movement results in lower dust creation.

Benefits of Palm Sanders:

  • Excellent for final smoothing and finishing
  • Handle detail sanding in tight spots well
  • Controlled sanding minimizes risk of surface damage
  • Comfortable for long durations of use
  • Cordless models allow unlimited mobility

Shortcomings of Palm Sanders:

  • Lack power for aggressive stock removal
  • Small sanding pad limits area covered at once
  • Sandpaper wears faster and needs frequent replacement
  • Can leave visible swirl marks if pressed too hard
  • Cheaper models tend to be very loud

Types of Palm Sanders

There are some design variations when it comes to palm sanders:

  • Electric palm sanders – The most common design powered by an electric motor. Can be corded or cordless. Good balance of power and runtime.
  • Pneumatic palm sanders – Uses compressed air power so no motor. Generates less friction and heat. Used mainly by professionals.
  • Detail palm sanders – Smaller and lighter ones optimized for finesse sanding in tight spaces. May also have interchangeable sanding pads.
  • Oscillating palm sanders – Uses a different oscillating head motion rather than orbital rotation. Claims to be more efficient in stock removal.

Belt Sander vs Palm Sander: Direct Comparison

Now that we have looked at their features and uses individually, here is a direct belt sander versus palm sander comparison:

CriteriaBelt SanderPalm Sander
Sanding ActionAggressive, high speedLess aggressive, lower speed
Sanding AbilityRapid stock removalSmoother finish sanding
Power500-1000 WattsAround 300 Watts
Sanding Surface3-4″ wide belt5-6″ round/rectangular pad
Typical Grits Used24 – 80 grit80 grit and higher
Depth of CutDeep, up to 1/8″Shallow, 1/32″ or less
HandlingMore difficult to controlEasier to control
Edge Sanding AbilityModerate, with precautionsExcellent
Swirl MarksMinimal with correct grit choiceNone due to random orbital motion
Dust CollectionChallenging due to exposed beltGood, less dust escapes
Noise LevelLouder due to high motor powerQuieter motor
VersatilitySome models convert to bench sandersEasier to sand tight spaces
WeightHeavier, 4-6 lbsLighter, 3-4 lbs

To summarize:

  • Belt sanders are more powerful and capable of removing more material faster. They are better for aggressive sanding of large surfaces.
  • Palm sanders provide more control and finesse for finish sanding work. Their random orbital action prevents swirl marks too.

Direct Comparison of Belt Sanders vs Palm Sanders

Now that we have an overview of each type of sander, let’s compare them directly on important criteria:

Sanding Aggressiveness

Belt sanders aggressively remove material much faster thanks to the high speed belt pulverizing the workpiece. Palm sanders have a gentle orbital action better suited for finishing than removing stock rapidly.

Power Rating

Belt sanders have powerful motors (10+ amps) to handle hardwood sanding duties efficiently. Palm sanders max out at 3-5 amps which is fine for light sanding but can’t handle heavy duty material removal.

Sanding Area Size

The long belt of belt sanders covers large surface areas much faster compared to palm sanders. Palm sanders use quarter sheets which limits the area you can sand simultaneously.


Belt sanders handle both coarse heavy stock removal as well as fine finishing equally well making them highly versatile. Palm sanders are mostly used just for lighter finishing work on softer materials due to their limited power.

Dust Generation

Belt sanders kick up copious amounts of fine dust during aggressive sanding needing very good dust collection. Palm sanders produce noticeably less dust thanks to their gentler orbital action.


Belt sanders require more skill and practice to use safely due to the exposed high speed abrasive belt. Palm sanders are safer for beginners thanks to their enclosed design preventing accidental damage.

User Comfort

Palm sanders win when it comes to user comfort thanks to their ergonomic grip shape and light weight. They are easy to use for extended periods without fatiguing the hands. Belt sanders tend to vibrate more during use making them tiring for long sanding sessions.

Sandpaper Costs

The sanding belt on belt sanders lasts a very long time before needing replacement compared to palm sanders. Palm sanders consume quarter sheets much faster that require frequent changes adding to long term costs.

Cordless Convenience

Both belt and palm sanders come in cordless models allowing unlimited mobility around the workspace without trip hazards. However, cordless palm sanders tend to have better battery life than cordless belt sanders allowing longer continuous runtime.


Basic palm sanders can be purchased very inexpensively – as low as $50. This makes them the budget friendly option for DIYers and hobbyists. Belt sanders are more heavy duty shop tools typically costing between $125 to $300 representing a bigger investment.

Learning Curve

Palm sanders are very easy and intuitive to use even for first-time operators. Just apply uniform pressure and move it steadily over the work surface. Belt sanders have a much steeper learning curve to master control and avoid oversanding which can quickly damage the workpiece.

How to Choose Between a Belt Sander vs Palm Sander

The typical uses and strengths of belt and palm sanders are quite distinct from each other. Here are some tips on choosing between the two for your specific sanding needs:

For fine finish sanding and detail work – Choose a palm sander

Palm sanders really excel at final smoothing and preparation for finishing. Their light sanding action prevents swirls while efficiently removing minor imperfections. For fine trim work, sanding corners, crevices and moldings, a palm sander gives you the best control.

For aggressive bulk-sanding – Go for a belt sander

Belt sanders make quick work of leveling uneven planks, smoothing rough construction lumber and stripping old finishes. If you need to rapidly remove stock to flatten or shape surfaces, the speed of a belt sander is hard to beat.

For versatility – Consider a model that converts to a bench sander

Some heavy-duty belt sanders allow conversion to bench sanders by mounting them to a work table. This gives you both aggressive belt sanding capabilities as well as a stable bench sander for sharpening and shaping smaller workpieces.

For sanding metal or plastic – Pick a sander suited for the material

Belt sanders work well on metal but some palm sanders lack the power and speed needed to effectively sand down hard materials. Check that the sander model can handle metal, plastic or other non-wood materials if needed.

For extended sanding periods – Choose an ergonomic sander

If your project involves long periods of hand sanding, an ergonomic palm sander causes less hand fatigue. Look for a light weight model with comfortable grip surfaces and vibration dampening.

For dust sensitivity – Pick a sander with good dust collection

Palm sanders trap dust better than belt sanders. Additionally, look for built-in micro filters and adapters to attach shop vacuums for superior dust extraction when required.

4 Recommended Belt Sanders

Now let’s look at some of the best belt sanders available and their key features:

1. Makita 9403 11 Amp Belt Sander

  • Powerful 11 amp motor drives belts at 1,640 ft/min
  • Weighs only 8.8 lbs for easier control during use
  • Labeled front grip helps maintain proper hand position
  • Dust bag can be rotated to accommodate vertical sanding

The Makita 9403 is a high performance belt sander suitable for frequent professional use thanks to its powerful motor.

2. WEN 6502T 4.3-Amp Belt Sander

  • Lower cost belt sander ideal for DIY enthusiasts
  • Front roller tilts for vertical sanding on edges
  • Compact and lightweight at just 6 pounds
  • Two finger clamps keep sandpaper locked in place

This 4.3-amp budget sander from WEN is a great choice for homeowners or hobbyists who don’t need professional-grade power.

3. PORTER-CABLE 352VS Variable-Speed Belt Sander

  • Adjustable conveyor speed from 820 – 1475 SFPM
  • Lock-in safety belt change lever
  • 8 amp motor and 8-inch wide belts
  • Optional dust bag or adapter for connecting shop vac

The variable speed control on the Porter-Cable 352VS allows adjusting the sanding intensity for different tasks and materials.

4. JET J-4002 Bench Belt and Disc Sander

  • Industrial-grade 1-HP motor and roomy work table
  • Quickly converts from vertical to horizontal sanding
  • Miter gauge, belt platen, and work stop included
  • 12-inch disc and 6-inch wide belt combinations

The JET J-4002 is the ultimate 2-in-1 model allowing both stationary and portable belt sanding for professional workshops.

4 Recommended Palm Sanders

These top-rated palm sanders offer the best features for detail sanding and finishing work:

1. Bosch ROS20VSC Random Orbit Sander

  • Innovative suspension system absorbs vibration
  • Variable speed dial enables 2,500-6,800 OPM
  • Dust-sealed switch protects motor and bearings
  • Lock-on button for continuous sanding operation

The Bosch ROS20VSC combines smooth performance with great handling making it comfortable to use for extended periods.

2. DEWALT DWE6421K Random Orbit Sander Kit

  • 5-inch round pad size with hook & loop system
  • Separate counterweight and platen for smooth sanding
  • Improved dust collection efficiency
  • Comfortable rubber overmolded grip

DEWALT is known for tough power tools and the DWE6421K sander continues that tradition with excellent dust extraction.

3. SKIL 7292-02 2.4 Amp Micro-Texture Random Orbital Sander

  • Ideally suited to finishing work
  • Micro-texture pattern prevents swirl marks
  • 2.4 amp motor with 2,800-12,000 OPM speed
  • Pressure control indicator warns against excess pressure

The micro-textured platen on this SKIL sander provides great grip while preventing surface swirls and imperfections.

4. Festool 571817 ETS EC 150/3 EQ Random Orbital Sander

  • Active vibration cancellation for fatigue-free use
  • Ideal for fine sanding with 150 grit and up
  • Electric brake stops pad instantly after shutting off
  • Versatile edge and narrow surface sanding

Festool’s innovative ETS EC 150/3 EQ sander is a premium option for flawless fine sanding even on edges.

Key Factors to Compare When Buying

To select the best sander for your projects, here are the key specifications and features to consider:

For belt sanders:

  • Power rating – Amperage of motor determines sanding speed and efficiency
  • Belt size – Common widths are 3 x 16 inches up to 4 x 24 inches
  • Speed range – Look for variable speed control up to 1400-1700 SFPM
  • Dust control – Check dust bag capacity and fittings for attaching shop vac
  • Belt tracking – Make sure it has a tracking adjustment mechanism
  • Design – Low profile models are easier to control for vertical sanding

For palm sanders:

  • Orbit diameter – Larger orbits from 1/8 to 5/16 inches enhance smoothness
  • OPM speed – Variable speed allows matching to workpiece and grit
  • Ergonomics – Lightweight, padded grip, and low vibration
  • Dust extraction – High filtration bags trap fine dust better
  • Disc attachment – Some models come with easy hook & loop discs
  • Size – Compact for detail work yet enough surface for efficiency

Additionally, look for useful features like lock-on buttons for continuous operation on both types of sanders. And models that convert a belt sander for benchtop use increases versatility.

Safety Tips for Using Belt Sanders and Palm Sanders

While sanding machines help finish projects faster, they must be used with care to avoid injuries or damage. Follow these tips for safe operation of belt sanders and palm sanders:

  • Wear eye protection to guard against flying debris. Use a face mask too for maximum protection from dust.
  • Apply light and consistent pressure – don’t force the sander as that can leave deeper scratches.
  • Maintain proper hand positioning – don’t cover vents or obstruct belt/pad movement.
  • Turn off power before changing sandpaper and avoid accidental startup.
  • Use rated speeds for discs and belts – improper sizes can break apart.
  • Let the tool stop fully before putting it down to avoid accidental movement.
  • Ensure workpiece is secured in place and power cable is unobstructed.
  • Unplug tool and let it cool before changing or adjusting belts/pads.
  • Keep motor ventilation slots open and clean for airflow. Don’t overload motor.
  • Regularly empty dust collection bags to maximize suction efficiency.
  • Check for frayed or cracked belts/sanding discs and replace damaged parts.

Following safe practices during setup, operation and maintenance will help you get the best performance from your sander while avoiding mishaps or injuries.


In summary:

  • Belt sanders are designed for aggressive heavy-duty sanding whether it’s fast stock removal, smoothing large panels or sanding contours. More versatile but requires skill.
  • Palm sanders are made for controlled light finishing work whether it’s final smoothing, detail sanding or surface prep prior to staining. Very easy to use safely.

Picking the right sander for your particular project, whether it’s a powerful belt sander or a finesse palm sander, ensures you can achieve professional quality results efficiently. Check your specific sanding needs to decide which type is best suited for the job. Both these sanders have their place in a well-equipped workshop.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which sander leaves the smoothest finish – belt or palm sander?

Palm sanders leave a smoother finish compared to belt sanders. The random orbital action of palm sanders prevents swirl marks leading to very smooth sanded surfaces ideal for paint and stain.

Can a belt sander be used for fine sanding or finishing work?

Belt sanders lack the finesse and precision for detail fine sanding on softer woods. Their aggressive cutting action is more suited for bulk material removal. Use 80 grit or higher paper for light finishing passes.

What safety precautions should I take when using these sanders?

Use eye and lung protection. Ensure workpiece is secured, power cord unobstructed and no accidental startup. Maintain proper grip, light pressure and don’t obstruct vents. Turn off before changing belts/pads.

How does dust collection on palm sanders compare to belt sanders?

Palm sander dust ports capture more dust from the sanding surface compared to belt sanders. Many palm sanders even have microfilter bags that trap fine dust efficiently.

Can I convert my handheld belt sander for use as a stationary bench sander?

Some heavy-duty belt sander models allow mounting them on a work table or bench grinder stand to convert into a stationary disc or belt sander. Check your individual sander for this capability.

Which sander can remove more material quicker – belt or palm sander?

Belt sanders are designed for rapid stock removal and can grind away material much faster than a palm sander due to their more powerful motors and coarser abrasives.

What motor ratings should I look for in each type of sander?

Look for at least 10 amps for full size stationary belt sanders, and around 5-8 amps for portable handheld belt sanders. Palm sanders only require 2 to 3 amp motors due to their lighter sanding loads.

Can I use a palm sander for sanding metal, plastic or painted surfaces?

Most standard palm sanders are designed for wood sanding. Models made for metal and composites have more powerful motors and specialized dust collection. Make sure your palm sander is rated for the material.

Which sander is better for corner and edge sanding?

Palm sanders are ideal for sanding into corners thanks to their small rounded sanding pad. Many models allow edge sanding attachments too. Belt sanders require more care on edges.

I hope this detailed guide has helped highlight the important differences between belt sanders and palm sanders. Understanding the strengths of each will allow you to choose the best sander for your particular woodworking or sanding project.