Probably best to take a pass

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Review by Purrmaster posted 01-10-2013 08:53 AM 5628 views 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Probably best to take a pass No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I’ve had this for about a year and think I’ve spent enough time with it to give a review. This is Harbor Freight item number 97181.

Let me say first that, overall, I’ve been pretty pleased with the stuff I get from Harbor Freight. Both hand and power tools.

But not this time. I would not purchase this tool again.

First off, it’s underpowered. The belt and/or disc routinely bog down when I press wood into them. It happens less often with the disc than the belt. I often end up stopping the belt completely. The lack of power is probably the biggest problem with this tool.

Dust collection is pretty paltry. There’s a port for dust collection on the bottom of the belt but I can’t access it when the belt is tilted downwards. I’ve never even been able to get the “dust hood” onto the disc.

The table that comes with the sander doesn’t actually go on straight. If you tighten the bolt that holds in the table it tilts the table to the right. There is no way I have found to prevent this. Therefore the table is never flat to 90 degrees. This sucks like an Electrolux.

Even when you do tighten the bolt all the way, the table wobbles. The up and down tilt does stay in the position you put it at. But when the machine is on the table wobbles. This isn’t always a huge problem but it is always an annoyance.

The miter gauge it’s supplied with does fit into the slot but there is no way to hold the gauge down to the table. Therefore the miter gauge is relatively useless.

Do please note: I have largely used the table on the disc portion of the machine. It’s possible it works better on the belt portion.

Changing the belt is an unpleasant experience. You have to take half of the thing apart to get to the belt. For comparison, getting the belt on and off my handheld Harbor Freight belt sander takes about two seconds.

It’s not heavy enough to stay fully stationary when running so I had to bolt it to the table. To do this I needed to drill holes into the base. Bolting it down helped.

With all that criticism there are some good points. For one thing, it’s been reliable. For something that seems fairly flimsy it’s still running. Also, for relatively light belt and disc sanding it does get the job done. There have been several times where this thing has come in handy. Also, the belt portion can be angled up or down and it does stay firmly in place when the bolts are tightened.

And the price was good. I think I ended up getting it for less than $60 at the time.

The bottom line: I’d stay away from this thing. It needs a redesign and some reinforcement.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2861 days

23 comments so far

View RonInOhio's profile


721 posts in 3632 days

#1 posted 01-10-2013 10:47 AM

Sounds very similar to many of the issues I have with my Ryobi Belt/Disc sander. Which by the way, cost twice as much.

View Tedstor's profile


1690 posts in 3401 days

#2 posted 01-10-2013 01:22 PM

I have the same HF sander. It does indeed suck. I’ve been meaning to donate it to the local re-store.

View chrisstef's profile


18094 posts in 3774 days

#3 posted 01-10-2013 01:38 PM

Ill add my Craftsman belt / disc sander to the crap pile. Bogs down, belt wiggles all over, total garbo.

Ya win some ya lose some.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2861 days

#4 posted 01-10-2013 01:47 PM

I’m seeing a disturbing pattern of crappy belt sanders. It makes me wonder if the Ryobi/Craftsman/Harbor Freight machines are all the same design and made in the same factory. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of that.

I’ve never had a problem with the belt wiggling on mine. Once you set the tracking it stays set until you change the belt. I have had several instances of the sanding disc coming loose from the shaft even if I tightened it down hard.

If the table was straight and didn’t jiggle so much I could live with the lack of horsepower. But doing anything precise with this thing has been impossible.

I didn’t even bother using the belt and disc that came with it as I read they were universally terrible. I just bought some Diablo belts and discs as soon as I got it.

For what it’s worth I have heard good things about Harbor Freight’s larger, free standing belt/disc sander.

View Rex B's profile

Rex B

320 posts in 3019 days

#5 posted 01-10-2013 02:03 PM

Thanks for the very complete review. I have been considering their larger belt sander. Like you just mentioned, it does get better reviews from what I have seen (although they have the same rating on Harbor Freight’s site). It’s good to know to avoid the smaller one.

-- Rex

View b2rtch's profile


4920 posts in 3816 days

#6 posted 01-10-2013 02:31 PM

A guy on Youtube tweaks his to get better results.
How difficult would it be to replace the motor?
When on sale and with 20% off , you could get one for about $39.00.
I almost bought one last week but I do not have a real use for it.

-- Bert

View Cliff De Witt 's profile

Cliff De Witt

130 posts in 3461 days

#7 posted 01-10-2013 02:38 PM

I have one and modified it to sharpen my lathe tools, for that I love it.

yes I have it stripped down so I can easily change the belt and braced everything to keep it at 90* but for what I use it for it is great.

-- Trying to find an answer to my son’s question: “…and forming organic cellulose by spinning it on its axis is interesting, why?”

View Cole Tallerman's profile

Cole Tallerman

392 posts in 2953 days

#8 posted 01-10-2013 04:02 PM

I have found that the 4×36 belt sanders are very light duty machines. There are almost no great reviews on them. I have seen pretty good reviews on the harbor freight 6×48. maybe you should give that a try

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3332 posts in 4206 days

#9 posted 01-10-2013 06:05 PM

I have this unit from about 20 yrs ago but it’s the 6”x48” model. I also have the craftsman one. Both haven’t changed much since then and they’ve both given good service. Consider the larger one.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Brandon's profile


4234 posts in 3720 days

#10 posted 01-10-2013 06:12 PM

I have the Ryobi machine and boy is it heavy. I generally think all Ryobi stuff is crap, but I actually found the sander to be quite proficient. I’ve thrown a lot toward it but have never had issues with it bogging down. I also got it for half-price because it was opened. I don’t really have any complaints with it.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View a1Jim's profile


118065 posts in 4345 days

#11 posted 01-10-2013 06:18 PM

thanks for the review.


View Fallon's profile


96 posts in 3896 days

#12 posted 01-10-2013 06:35 PM

I have the smaller one. I’m lucky if I can get the belt to not run into the sides for more than 60 seconds. That is by far the worst part and enough reason not to buy it. Way under powered, crappy miter gauge, poor dust collection would be enough reason to hate it on their own, but pale in comparison to the inability to keep the belt from falling off or tearing itself to shreds on the side.

My brother inherited my grandfathers bigger Craftsman unit from decades ago… 6×48 probably. No pretense of dust collection, but it runs straight as an arrow with power for days. That ancient machine puts my harbor freight unit to shame in every way.

My replacement will probably be a 6×48 unit hoping it will not have the faults of the cheap small units. Maybe dig up an old Craftsman or something on Craigslist.

View MT_Stringer's profile


3183 posts in 3999 days

#13 posted 01-10-2013 08:10 PM

I have this same HF model. The review says it all. I can’t figure out how to connect to the dust port so I handhold a hose connected to a Lowe’s BucketMax as I sand with one hand.

For the price, it works OK for me. I have it sitting on a bench not bolted down. An option might be to mount it on a piece of plywood that can be clamped or screwed to the bench, then store away when not needed. At least, that is my plan.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View SawdustSeamhead's profile


19 posts in 2742 days

#14 posted 01-10-2013 11:46 PM

Thanks for the review. I also have the same unit, and you’re right on with its faults. I found it underpowered, but have learned to get by using a lighter touch. The miter gauge is incredibly light-weight and flimsy-I don’t even use it. That being said, like many HF items, if you catch it on sale, and don’t have sky-high expectations, it’ll get you by. I have no plans to upgrade mine…

-- Jarred K.

View Robert Brown's profile

Robert Brown

152 posts in 3460 days

#15 posted 01-11-2013 02:31 AM

I have the same item # but mine looks a little different. It is used mostly on metal (chisels & plane blades). It works good for this. Sanding wood on the belt has caused it to bog down when I pressed hard but never on the disk. The machine is stable and is not bolted down. There is no wobbling or shaking. The angle of the belt support housing is easy to adjust and has not slipped. No problems with belt tracking. The alignment of the table to the disk did take some doing. Dust collection – A dust mask is necessary even with the shop vac hooked up to it.

I bought this about 3-4 years ago for $49. I use it occasionally. It has performed well for me. Dust collection would be an issue if I used it more often. Under those circumstances I would try to improve dust collection but for now that is a low priority. Would I buy it again, knowing what I know now – Yes.

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