MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

True Grit

Tool photo.

I paid CDN$79 for my Delta 5" disk/1" belt sander two years ago, and I use it every day. Yeah, 5" isn't much — I'd be the first to admit to serious disc envy over the Professional 10" model-maker's sanders, and the 1" belt would be absolutely laughable, were it not for one exceptionally cool feature: unlike your regular-type, bench-mount belt sander, which has the belt running horizontally over a steel backplate, this wee beastie has the belt running on a vertical plane with a removable backplate.

It's absolutely brilliant. Imagine having a freestanding, abrasive waterfall with a 4" deep throat. (The throat is how deep into the material you can go before you run into another part of the tool.) As with all tools, developing finesse requires scaling a learning curve — with the backplate removed and a 50-grit belt you can find yourself removing large quantities of material seemingly at random. Caution is the watchword. Once you achieve sander Zen, though, you'll have at your command a freeform shaper-smoother-former of uncommon flexibility. You'll be reaching for the Dremel a lot less frequently when confronted with complex geometry, and it does normal, bench-sander type stuff, too. I've cobbled together jigs for tool sharpening and other, more-specialized tasks.

Caveat: The power switch is prone to intermittency in the presence of dust. Seriously. After the third failure, I dropped a properly sealed Switchcraft toggle into the case and in-lined a footswitch for hands-free activation.