P-C Belt Sander Questions

Vaughn McMillan

Staff member
I'm considering retiring my tired two-year-old B&D belt sander. (Don't laugh, it's paid for itself several times over.) It still runs, but the squeal and squawk from the bearings is about to drive me nuts. (It's screetched and hollered since the first time I used it, but no matter how hard I've tried, I can't kill it.) Also, the dust collection is worthless, and I want something better.

I use my belt sander quite a bit, since it's a relatively fast way to flatten a cutting board glue-up, and I'm still making cutting boards on a fairly regular basis. Even if I use the planer or router bridge to do the majority of the flattening, I generally start with the belt sander to knock off the high spots.

I've been looking at the 3" x 21" Porter-Cable with the variable speed. I'd like to stay with the 3x21 format since I already have a fair number of belts on hand, and the cost difference between the 3x21 belts and the 4x24 belts seems prohibitive for my needs. Also, my projects are comparatively small, so the smaller size seems it'd be easier to handle. I realize dust collection with any belt sander is iffy, but I'd plan to attach a shop vac hose to reduce the dust as much as possible.

Do any of you folks have any experience with this sander, or have any recommendations for a different one?

I started with a Craftsman and went to the Porter Cable 3 X 21, night and day difference, the P.G. tracks the belt with out continuous adjustment, is not near as loud and much stronger.

You will not be disappointed, sounds like a good Christmas present to yourself.
I've had one for a decade or more - very stout machine - though the dust collection bag is near useless IMHO. I recently refinished 15 12' long church pews and took all the parts down to bare wood (40 years of dirt and varnish) using my PC. Never skipped a beat.
Hi Vaughn. Last year I bought a Bosch 3x21 variable speed belt sander. It does a good job for a butcher like me. I expect it will be the last such sander I will need to buy. I bought I mainly because of multiple postive comments about it over on SMC.
Ken, I hadn't really looked at the Bosch, but you're right...it seems to be well-liked by those who have one (and I've been very pleased with my other Bosch power tools). I like the idea of the lower center of gravity (seems less likely to tip and gouge). I also find I use my current sander upside down clamped to the Workmate, so the flat top on the Bosch would allow me to continue that practice. Is the dust port round or rectangular? If it's round, I'm guessing I could find a way to connect a vac hose to it.
Hey Vaughn, I don't own a beltsander, I'd like to, but I don't right now, I have used a number at different jobs over the years.

I have found that they way the fit your hand really matters, when you get to the good quality of the PC, Boschs, or say Makita, the fit in the hand, and the deal you can get comes into play.

I'd head down to your local Borg and test fit them in you hands first.

I've heard some good things about the Bosch too, but I've also heard some say they HATED the way it fit their hands.

Food for thought.

Unfortunately, none of my local Borgs stock the Bosch 3x21 for a hands-on test. I've handled the P-C (and used one eons ago) and they're built like a tank, but feel top-heavy to me. I'm sure it'd hog off the material real well, but I'm concerned about controllability. Keep in mind I'm used to a little lightweight B&D Dragster, but as noisy as the thing is, it's very controllable and I don't mess things up with it. It's a bit odd to think of belt sanders and finesse in the same room, but the B&D can be finessed and I can get good end results. I did notice the rear handle angle on the Bosch is pretty close to that on the B&D. so at least my right hand would probably feel at home. ;)

If I get one, it'll be through Amazon, so returning it unused shouldn't be a problem.
I can only speak of mine Vaughn, but I have a ( Ryobi RE321 ? ) It is variable speed. My wife bought it for me about 15 years ago for my birthday. I use it a bunch not to mention I've loaned it out a few times too. Still running strong and I was surprised to see it listed a short time ago in FWW magazine as one of the tools they would buy if setting up a shop.
vaughn, don`t buy nuthin` till i get back to the shop! i might be convinced to get off a spare 504 p/c..........might...talk to you monday;) tod
I have a personal dislike of most things PC, and particularly the 3x21 belt sander. Never could keep it flat, and like 9 out of 10 PC tools I've got or used over the years, the switch/and or cord has had problems. I bought the RIDGID heavy duty 3x21 a few months ago. I don't like the soft start, but the rest of it is fine.

I have a personal dislike of most things PC, and particularly the 3x21 belt sander. Never could keep it flat, and like 9 out of 10 PC tools I've got or used over the years, the switch/and or cord has had problems. I bought the RIDGID heavy duty 3x21 a few months ago. I don't like the soft start, but the rest of it is fine.


KC, I can remember all your mishaps with PC tools over the years. You should give up woodworking and turn your shop into a test facility for power tool design and durability :D . Just joking, KC, before I would buy a tool anymore, I always would like to hear of your experiences with it.

I have had the PC 3x21 sander for years and like it fine, but I can't compare it to anything else, as it is the only one I have ever used. I have from time to time put it to hard use. However, I'm sure what I would term hard use is not in a league how some others would use it.
Hi All,

I thought I would introduce myself, and weigh in on the PC sander issue.

I've been woodworking in some form or another for a good 25 years. I started off building speaker enclosures, and in the last 10 years, have been building mission-style furniture and a few other items for around our home. In the past year, I bought a midi lathe and have started turning pens. Quite addictive, and nice short-time projects that fit into my busy schedule.

I am an attorney, living and working in the Twin Cities area. My practice areas are focused on intellectual property (patents, copyright, software licensing, etc.), and other areas of technology law. I am currently working under contract for a local financial services corporation. Prior to law school, I had worked several years as an electrical engineer in the electronics manufacturing industry.

Now my thoughts on the PC sander... I own a 352VS 3x21 variable-speed belt sander. It's kind of a mixed-bag for me.

The pros: It's built like a tank and can endure long periods of use. Variable speed is a nice feature.

The cons: It's very loud, but in all fairness, most belt sanders are. It has a high center of gravity, requiring a very firm grip to hold it flat. This can be very fatiguing after a while. The dust-collection bag is practically useless. Better dust-extraction can be accomplished by attaching a shop vacuum.

In all, not a bad choice, though there may be better models out there, depending on your preferences.

I am considering moving up to a 4x24 sander. I have been leaning toward the Makita 9404. It is less noisy, and has a lower profile for better balance. It has received good reviews. Does anyone have any experience with this model?

I look forward to contributing and learning from this forum. I was referred here by Rick Doyle.


PC 3x21 VS

Hi Vaughn,
I'm very happy with my PC. Bought it refurbed from Amazon. It's powerful, and connected to the PC shop vac, it puts out fairly little dust.

I recommend it without reservations. Now if Tod has something else for you....

Hey Kevin

Snuck right in here didn't you? Hope you didn't think we'd notice but we did! :D

Seriously, welocome to the forum, you get the award for the coolest avatar.

Well, to update y'all on the sander saga...I got a PM from Rob Bodenschatz yesterday offering to send me a new PC 352VS sander that he had spare. (And at a great price...free.) After taking about a millisecond thinking about it, I gladly took him up on his offer. ;)

Rob, I've thanked you privately, but I wanted to also say thanks and give you a big :thumb: here in public. You've made my month!

- Vaughn