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I own both a belt sander and random orbit sander. I've found that as I've worked on improving my finishing technique, I will oftentimes go for the random orbit sander over any other sanding implements.

I am curious if the belt sander has a specific use for which it excels, to the point where it is a more efficient tool than a random orbit sander for the job?

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I like a belt sander when I need to really remove some material like paint for example, I think it cuts better. an Orbital I like for finer sanding it offers a lot more control.

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    exactly. The belt sander ist best, if you really have to remove material. Not only paint, things like larger surface irregularities come to mind. – razong Mar 19 '15 at 8:46
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    Yup, using a belt sander for "finish" is like using napalm to get rid of ants on your terrace. – Damon Mar 19 '15 at 15:13
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I usually use my belt sander for large surface where I need to remove a lot of material, such as an uneven biscuit joint. To be honest, I also use it when my patience is running low and my orbital or 1/3 sheet sander is not fast enough...

Although, it's not really related to woodworking, I found a belt sander really useful to level an even sub-floor section when installing the flooring. (Such as sanding down an uneven joint between two plywood or OSB sheets.)

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  • Hardwood can sometimes shake off a ROS even at a lower grit. If you are doing any flooring, either with bare wood or to remove layers of protection a belt sander is the way to go. – treeNinja Mar 19 '15 at 13:04
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I find myself using my belt sander less and less. I really only use it when I need to remove a lot of material, whether that is a finish or if it is rough.

I find that for years I only use it if I need 60 or 80 grit work done, or I have a very large area, like a table top where the belt sander will get the job done much faster. But even there, if I go down to 100 grit, after that I use my random orbit.

I also find the orbit has a more control and I don't have to fight with it all the time.

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I find the belt sander is good for larger pieces, especially long one like planks and boards. I used it for cleaning boards from pallets that I disassemble. Hands down it is much faster. Just need to be extra careful not to stay in one place too long (Sanding in general is like that I suppose but the faster the tool the greater the risk.)

Orbital sanders, at least mine, generally cannot perform at the same speed. Ideally I use my orbital for small pieces that are not flat or have harder to reach places. Examples would be chairs and birdhouses. I also use it for cleaning the edges of wood all the time in an effort to create a soft curve as supposed to a hard angle that would be created after a 90 degree cut.

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90% of my finishing jobs I use the random orbital sander as well.

The only time I use the belt sander vs the orbital sander is when i need to either:

Remove a LOT of wood really quickly
Cleaning large pieces of wood or
Flattening large pieces

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