Harbor Freight 3x21" belt sander (short review)

I was down at HF last weekend to buy one of their (cough, cough...) "5-horsepower" (must be those short Chinese horses) electric motor for the home-made 2-stage Bill Pentz DC I'm going to make.
In line to check out, I looked at the sale flier.... 3x21" portable belt sander for $25 bucks!
I was finishing up building a workbench, and I needed something which could hog off a lot of material. I had been looking at reviews in FWW, et. al. where the editor's choice would be some $200 unit like the DeWalt or something. This thing was almost a TENTH of that price.
"Jeez," I said to myself, "even if it craps out after a couple of hours, it's still almost cheaper than renting one for that long".
So, I got it....
... and it crapped out after a couple of SECONDS!
One pull on the trigger and it started spinning and I saw a blue flash from inside the housing and the thing went dead.
The only thing that they package along with the sander (besides the instructions and dust bag) are replacement motor brushes... so I had a hunch about where to start looking for the problem. The brushes were easy (as in... trivial) to get to. Sure enough, the brushes had fractured and there were little brush fragments in there that I was able to shake out. I put in the replacement brushes and it worked like a charm.
After that initial hiccup, it ran pretty well. I was able to hog off a lot of material and I got it fairly hot (to the point where I figured that a tool this cheap would surely quit) but it kept going.
After about a 20-30 minutes worth of total sanding time, I started seeing some blue flashes again and the sander started sputtering. So, I stopped it, and noticed that the dust bag was about 1/4 - 1/3 full. So, I emptied the bag, pulled out the brushes (which were still intact this time), and blew it all out with the air compressor. I put the brushes back in and I was back in business.
So, all-in-all, this thing needs a little more care-n-feeding that I'd expect to have to put into a top-brand tool like DeWalt or PC. However, the top brands cost 4-8 times as much... and this thing, in my opinion is *way* better than 1/4 - 1/8 as good as they are. So, the bang-for-the-buck ratio is much higher with this HF sander, I'd say.
And, keep in mind that I'm one of thsoe who normally turns his nose up at HF as well as the rest of us. My bandsaw and jointer are Delta, my air cleaner is Jet, my biscuit joiner, jigsaw, and cordless drills are DeWalt and my router and sanders are PC. So, I usually lean toward the "good stuff". But I really can't find any way to convince myself that my money would have been better spent on a premier sander when compared to this one which costs me less than a tank of gas.
My two cents, anyway...
- Joe
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snipped-for-privacy@emenaker.com (Joe Emenaker) wrote:

Where do you buy your gas?
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Maybe he drives a moped. ;-)
Kevin
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I can't say I'm a big HF fan but a couple of years ago they ran an ad for a $99 mortiser. I ended up bringing one home and have been fairly pleased (I didn't say "delighted", "overjoyed" or "elated"). The machine has plenty of power, the chisels that came with it are decent, it cuts square holes and the hold down hardware sucks. While the lever is long enough, it has a small problem contacting the table or work at full extension.
I figure what the heck:
- It cost $99 - The hold down hardware can be improved - The handle can be improved by reshaping - It cuts square holes - If it smokes, I'l get a better one someday - If it doesn't smoke, I might get a better one anyway but this one works for now.
(Joe Emenaker) wrote:

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HF had a grand opening in Laurel MD today and I got a flyer for 10% off so I went. I am a firm believer that they have some things that are just a darn good deal and many things that are down right garbage. I don't think I'll ever get anything from them that plugs in but today I got:
The famous $14 brad nailer for $12 10,000 brads at 1" and 1&3/16" $12 An imitation workmate for $9. Yup it's shit but it will do what I need it to do for a long time and that is really what it's all about. Some pitt 6" clamps for less than 2 bucks a piece. There good to have laying around. Some tie down straps for the truck a 2 bucks a peice. A couple of cheap saw horses for 6 bucks a peice. Yup I can bang them together from 2X4 but I use these in my back yard to cut sheet goods before they go into the basement. The 2x4 horses warp like crazy outside under my deck where I keep them and these plastic ones will not.
10% off of those prices. with the coupon.
I got some other crap too. the bottom line is you may get what you pay for at HF but some things are well worth the little cash you shell out for it. Other stuff is not. Myself, I'm glad they are in town but I will still buy most tools elsewhere. The things I get there though are worth it.

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John wrote:

I knew one was opening but the HF web site didn't say when. I even drove through Laurel twice today, would have stopped if I'd known. ;-)
-- Mark
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The place was packed. They seemed to have everything thay advertised though and had all of the registers running so the only hassle was all the people clogging the ails.

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I bought one, about three months ago. Flawless operation. Second only to my chain saw in effectiveness. Been through four 80 grit belts sanding down twisted treated SYP. Never faltered. Be sure to pick up the sandpaper eraser that's about 30% the price of elsewhere, and it cleans the belts just fine.
OTOH, the 1/4 sheet finish sander, for $9.99, went back broken the next day. Full credit, no hassle, no questions.
My grown son wants a belt sander for his birthday after using mine to shape up some old warped dresser drawers. I'll buy him a Makita, that'll last his lifetime. But for me, the $25 HF is just fine. When you look at the deck rail that was twisted, you might think I used a $250 PC to grind it down.
--
Jim Murphy



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I'm there. I've got about six doors, in the basement that need planing. To keep the time investment down, I'm looking at a powered approach: a small power planer. I need to be done with all six in about an hour. Not skilled enough to use a plane. Don't want the fine dust from a belt sander hanging around.
Can't see how I'd ever use this machine after I'm done with the doors. No way I'll pop for the Makita, DeWalt, PC, etc. Black and Decker for $50 - mebbe. HF for $20 and I'm there. It's worth the gamble, to me.
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patrick conroy wrote:

You may find that a hand planer leaves a groove at the edge of the cut on one side or the other. Overlapping maynot remove the problem. A #7 or #8 will the job without the groove. YMMV Dave in Fairfax
--
Dave Leader
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I've bought several items from HF and had the same problems but after the initial crash, they kept on running and running. I have their cheapie drill press ( $49) which is fine for woodworking. Been running for two years. Had a 4x36 belt sander that died in the first few minutes also, replaced a bad switch and ran fine for a few years. Finally sold it for almost what I paid for it.
Sometimes you can get lucky at HF - as long as you don't expect top drawer quality.
Vic

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On 27 Jul 2004 19:11:58 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@emenaker.com (Joe Emenaker) wrote:

With what I drive I could practically buy the good one for less than a tank of gas.
Tim Douglass
http://www.DouglassClan.com
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Hear, hear. The 30-gallon tank on my pickup is quite a hit when I fill it up. The day I bought it (my first ever brand new vehicle--actually, the first vehicle that had less than 100k miles) I had to fill the tank. Dodge quit doing that for people, so I pull into the gas station and start filling. After a while, I looked under the truck to see where the gas was pouring out because the pump was still running. Turns out it was just a big friggin gas tank.
Long story short, a fillup costs me about $55.
-Phil Crow
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