Big Bang For Buck Belt Sharpener

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Review by HorizontalMike posted 01-13-2013 08:12 PM 19563 views 33 times favorited 79 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Big Bang For Buck Belt Sharpener Big Bang For Buck Belt Sharpener No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I had been toying with the idea of getting into Woodturning for some time and the opportunity presented itself, so I started some serious planning. One of the things that goes along with Woodturning is the ability to sharpen your own turning tools. At the time I did NOT own a mechanized sharpening machine/system and had to rely on manually sharpening all of my planes and chisels with the “Scary Sharp” sandpaper to stone methodology. Don’t get me wrong, that system works and works well. It is just that that system takes much more time than an automated machine based solution.

While thinking about all of those new turning skews and gouges that woodturning utilizes, I decided that I needed to step up to something better/faster than I currently had. In comes Harbor Freight and American Woodturner Journal (December 2012, Vol. 27, No.6, pp. 20-23) with an answer. I want to thank Gerry (AKA @TheDane) for pointing this out to me. I had noticed that many/most sharpening systems cost northwards of $600 and some double to nearly triple that price. Those solutions were way out of my price range and I could never justify spending that kind of money for my own little hobby shop. HOWEVER, the Harbor Freight 4×36 Belt Sander is/was on Sale for just $79. Using a 20% OFF coupon and spending another $40 or so, American Woodturner offered to put a fully functional belt sharpening system in my shop for a total of maybe $110-$120. All I had to do was gather/purchase the appropriate accessories and spend the time to put it together. Gee, I could do that! 8-)

OK, off to the review and conversion… Let’s get this out of the way early so that we can get on with it.

  • This belt sander is cheap and it is cheaply made.
  • It is under-powered for large and/or industrial use.
  • This belt sander is cheap, HOWEVER
  • This machine does work and work well as a belt “sharpening system”
  • Results are above average for what you are asking this machine to do, and that is to sharpen and hone metal bladed tools.
  • This machine will handle grits from 80 through 600 grit. I have used up to 180 grit thus far. BTW, 600 grit on a tool or blade that already has the appropriate bevel/angle, should clean up very well with very little metal loss.
  • The honing wheel conversion, from removing the sanding disc, truly makes this system shine IMO. The honing wheel turns a bit on the fast side (+1700rpms) but works well with “finer polish” sticks. No need for the coarser grits IMO, though one could readily have multiple honing wheels if they wanted. At $6-8 each, they are readily available.

Here is the leading page of the DIY article by Jim Echter:

Harbor Freight has corrected the machine for a common complaint of “rattling”. Below you can see where, with the belt removed, HF has dampened the tension rod noise with a bushing. It looks like over-sized heat-shrink, however the rod slides up and down into this and there is a small amount of lubricant there as well. Cheap but effective.

I followed the articles instructions for converting to the honing wheel, but I did make some modifications. Besides twisting the motor mount to relieve wear on the “now figure-8” drive belt (reverses direction of belt for safer operation), I also added a couple of washers under the far side of the motor to gain a bit more relief.

CORRECT REPLACEMENT BELT: # 3L220 V-belt that is 3/8in wide x 22in loop

Here you can see the 2in flat bar guard screwed to an over-sized bolt. This gives a good tool rest and protection from over-spray of polish.

For the main SKEW block/guide, I went double-wide and chose to surface mount the T-track in order to use it to keep the Skew block aligned with the belt. I routed the underside of the block instead. Dowel pins made a great and easy bracket for holding the base of your Skews and Scrapers.

Here is where I really diverged from the American WoodTurner article and went with an idea I got from Captain Eddie Castelin . Instead of using the spare HF parts to mount a vertical rod to hold your gouge jig/guide, I decided to use Capt. Eddies suggestion to extend the stock sanding guide and use it to hold the gouge jig.

I do NOT claim to be an expert at this, though I do firmly believe that this cheap little Harbor Freight Belt Sander HAS NEW LIFE as a “Belt Sharpening System” that is worthy of FIVE STARS. I did use this machine for sanding some smaller pieces of wood and found it adequate, though this machine never was designed for industrial use. Make this DIY ”Belt Sharpening System” and you too will find it worthy.

And FWIW, here is my first attempt at sharpening my gouge, using 180-grit. Note that I spent a bit too much time on the front of the gouge and have lost a bit of the profile. Live and learn. The edge came out much sharper than these tools came from the OEM.


-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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7803 posts in 3474 days

79 comments so far

View Bogeyguy's profile


548 posts in 2628 days

#1 posted 01-13-2013 08:25 PM

Ummmm, what is wrong with a bench grinder???

-- Art, Pittsburgh.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7803 posts in 3474 days

#2 posted 01-13-2013 08:43 PM

IT is much easier and much cheaper to change belt grits (80-600) than the expense of changing grinder stones.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View b2rtch's profile


4907 posts in 3609 days

#3 posted 01-13-2013 10:06 PM

A bench grinder turn to fast and overheat the tools.
Mike this is an excellent review and the pictures are also excellent.
The writing is also excellent.I have lathe that I did not touch in a long time but if someday I need t sharpen my turning tools I shall do the same thing you did,
Where did you by the buffing wheel?
Where did you buy the jig to hold the gouge?
Thank you.
Is this you on the bottom picture?

-- Bert

View mbs's profile


1662 posts in 3500 days

#4 posted 01-13-2013 10:44 PM

Good review, Mike.

Would you use this to sharpen your plane irons too?

-- Sorry the reply is so long. I didn't have time to write a short reply.

View a1Jim's profile


117784 posts in 4137 days

#5 posted 01-13-2013 10:57 PM

thanks Mike very interesting.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7803 posts in 3474 days

#6 posted 01-13-2013 11:03 PM

mbs, already have used to sharpen HP irons 8-) Beyond anything I could had accomplished before.

Bert, buffing wheel = amazon
gouge jig = Tru-Grind (way too much, but did not want to keep making new platforms/do-the-math etc.) Geez, it was like $70 or something ridiculous like that. If I had more experience, I probably could/should have gotten away with less.
Speed of honing wheel, bakes some wax on but not too much of any “real” problem. All wipes off with clothe. Some thought it would turn too slow…

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Druid's profile


2152 posts in 3356 days

#7 posted 01-13-2013 11:18 PM

Hi Mike, Glad to see that you mentioned that the belt direction is reversed for this type of use. Ryobi makes an almost identical unit, and on the outside of the box they show a photo of someone sharpening a hatchet with the blade up and the belt running downwards. As soon as the blade becomes sharp enough to cut into the belt, the sharpened hatchet is going to be flung right at the operator. Talk about an accident just waiting to happen!!!
With the conversion that you are mentioning, this hazard is eliminated.
One benefit of using this type of system is that the bevel will be flat, and it will match the angle that you have set up to grind. A bench grinder will produce a concave bevel matching the curve of the stone, and with smaller angled bevels, the result is a more fragile edge as compared to a flat grind. Your belt sharpener will also enable you to more easily add a “micro-bevel” to the tool edge if required, and it will be far easier to match it to the main bevel.
You also mentioned that the honing wheel was a bit fast. Have you tried using a smaller diameter buffing wheel so that the speed of the rim (in ft/sec) will be slower?
Anyhow, I looks like you are set up to keep those edges sharp. Great job.
Your last photo proves that this is a bright idea. ;)

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

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4907 posts in 3609 days

#8 posted 01-13-2013 11:30 PM

Could you reverse the motor rotation instead of twisting the belt?
If you could take the rotor out and install it back in 180 degrees and still install the pulley back on,and then install the motor 180 degrees from original, this should reverse the rotation.

-- Bert

View HorizontalMike's profile


7803 posts in 3474 days

#9 posted 01-13-2013 11:41 PM

At this point Bert, I do not know if that is possible or not. This works as I have it, and I will explore buying a backup belt for that inevitable time it will need replacing. IMO, bang-for-the-buck means that at some point, enough is good enough. This was quick and cheap. Too much “more” effort and then the advantage starts to fade, if you know what I mean.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3403 days

#10 posted 01-14-2013 12:08 AM

I am going to have to check into this one Mike. I think I may like this better than the bench grinder I’ve been using.

And I have a newfound respect for you after seeing you being brave enough to post that last photo.


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4907 posts in 3609 days

#11 posted 01-14-2013 12:39 AM

I understand Mike

-- Bert

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1676 posts in 3323 days

#12 posted 01-14-2013 01:33 AM

Hey Mike – Is that really you ?! Excellent idea for a cheep investment.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected ! RIP 09/08/2018

View runswithscissors's profile


3081 posts in 2585 days

#13 posted 01-14-2013 04:34 AM

I made a jig for sharpening planer knives based on similar principles. This consisted of a V shaped trough (piece of 1” angle iron) welded to a piece of 1/4” plate that bolts onto the sander in place of the fence. Adjustment for bevel angle is by tilting the jig toward or away from the platen. I also run mine in a vertical orientation. I did not consider reversing belt direction. As long as you maintain the bevel on the tool flat against the platen/sanding belt, I see no danger of the edge digging in and ruining the belt (or worse). The trough prevents the bottom edge from kicking out and tilting the knife into the belt. I also made a blade holder out of 1/4” aluminum plate I happened to have. This rides in the trough instead of the bare knife. Freehanding a hatchet might be a different matter. I have sharpened a lot of planer blades on mine with zero problems.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View shelly_b's profile


850 posts in 2678 days

#14 posted 01-14-2013 07:27 AM

wow this is an awesome idea!! i have been turning more too, but am getting sooo frustrated with the sharpening! mainly the gouges are the problem. i have a craftsman bench grinder that was a hand me down, took the stones off b/c they were way too aggresive and new ones were expensive. bought the scary sharp system for it…it works…in a way. it is fine grit so it takes for ever unless you are just touching up, and i can’t get it to quit getting too hot and blueing my tools. even if i just barely touch it! as soon as it gets to where it is ground enough that the wheel is touching the bevel it starts to burn. and having to resand the wheel gets really old! i am def. going to have to give this a try! i cannot justify spending the money on the expensive systems since i don’t see it bringing any money in anytime soon. i am just tired of the tear out when i turn! i just remade a stretcher for a chair for a family member and wish i had seen this this lol. thank you for the idea:)

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850 posts in 2678 days

#15 posted 01-14-2013 07:29 AM

btw, i love the pic lol. i didn’t notice the light the first time i looked at it:)

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