Ever switched from driving a large SUV to a sporty compact coupe? That’s kind of how it feels to switch from a brutish 4x24 belt sander to a lithe 3x21 model. Although you might miss the power and wide “road coverage” of a 4x24, you’ll delight at the 3x21’s maneuverability and handiness — and their slightly lower price tag. To provide you with a better idea of what’s happening in the world of 3x21 belt sanders, Woodworker’s Journal made sure I had eight of the top models currently available. While half of these models are conventional in overall form, a couple sport innovative designs and features. I was anxious to see how these compared, and whether the newer designs bested the classics. I spent about a week running each sander through a bevy of common woodshop belt sanding tasks: flattening large panels, smoothing smaller parts, evening up solid-wood cabinet face frames with plywood cabinet sides, and more.
DeWalt's Unique DW433 Power Sander
Black & Decker DS321 Portable Sander
Bosch's 3x21 1274DVS Belt Sander
Makita 9903 Belt Sander
Hitachi SB 8V2 Power Sander
Porter-Cable 352VS Power Sander
Sears Craftsman 11726 Power Sander
RIDGID R2720 Power Sander
Picking a Winner
Now that the dust has settled, and I’m left contemplating the eight 3x21 belt sanders I’ve just tested, I’m reminded that statistical numbers, such as motor amperage and belt speed, don’t necessarily provide the truest measure of a good belt sander. In this case, the chart topping RIDGID didn’t seem to sand as aggressively as models with lower motor amp and belt speed ratings. Nor did Bosch turn in a bad performance, despite its lowest-in-class motor amp rating.
My two top picks in this review are the DeWALT DW433 and the Porter-Cable 352VS. I’d happily choose either of these impressive machines as my “daily driver,” for tackling any of the milieu of different beltsanding tasks that regularly crop up in my shop. Both sanders display an excellent build quality, too, so I’d expect them to survive an occasional crash and last for years without need of costly repairs. But since there’s only one “Best Bet” award, I’ll have to give it to the Porter-Cable. I like the 352VS’s controls and dust collection just a bit better than the DeWALT’s, plus it’s more than a pound and a half lighter. And that means a lot to me, especially since I don’t have forearms like a WWE wrestler, but I often do have miles of cabinet face frames to belt sand.