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Harbour Freight 1" x 30" belt sander: initial impressions and questions

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by KeithAM, Sep 3, 2007.

  1. KeithAM


    Dec 15, 2003
    A couple of weeks ago I reiceived my $40 Harbour Freight belt sander. I bought a variety of belts for it from Lee Valley: 180, 320, 500 & 1200, plus a leather belt and a chromium oxide stick.

    So far it's working very well. The first thing I did was try it out on old kitchen knives. Then I worked on all of the other kitchen knives in the house. After that, I went door to door and sharpened neighbors' kitchen knives. I got a lot of nice comments iin the days that followed about how muuch better they cut.

    It takes a few seconds to put a new edge bevel with this belt sander. It is fairly easy to control, although I've bungled a few tips with it.

    I put new edges on dozens of super dull kitchen knives. I suspect most of these knives never had a proper edge to begin with, and on top of that were abused and neglected for years on end. A lot of them were really bad. The worst ones took 2-3 passes per side and about a minute to fix with a 180 grit belt. Many of them were done in one pass per side.

    My method on the kitchen knives eventually progressed to thinning the edge down to about 30 degrees inclusive (I did a couple of cleavers and left their edges much thicker) with the 180, and then going straight to removing the burr with the Sharpmaker medium rods. It gave the knives what I felt was a good working edge that would shave with some pushing. So, I'm jumping grits big time, yet it seems to work. Comments? :confused:

    I've also just plain messed around with it on a couple of Moras. I reshaped, progressed through alll of the belts, etc.

    I was not about to subject my more expensive knives to lower grit belts. If I'm going to reprofile an expensive knive, it's going to be on the Edge Pro

    I did try the 500 and 1200 belts on some convex blades, starting with a couple of Opinels and then a couple of Bark Rivers I use fairly regularly. I slackened the belt, and gently pressed the blade into the belt, more or less straight up and down. I was able to get it to hit a lot of the side of the blade and the edge at the same time. It worked beautifully.

    I then loaded the leather belt with chromium oxide. The stuff Lee Valley sells comes in a large stick form, and goes on like a crayon. I found it a little diifficult to get an even coat. I fixed that problem, however, by dipping a finger in olive oil, and using it to spread the polish around, resulting in a nice even coat on the smooth side of the belt.

    I was disappointed in the performance of the leather belt. I had hoped it would be a magic bulllet of sorts. No dice. I used a very light touch, and I'm not sure whether its the belt or me, but here's my observation: the belt does not run smooth; rather, it vibrates a mm or so. My theory is that its not really just touching the edge -- it's slapping it. When it does that, I think it must be curling around the edge and rounding it. I went back to the 1200 belt and then used a regular wood-mounted leather strop using 5 light strokes per side, and got better results. I'd like to hear some suggestions from those of you who get the leather belt to work properly. :confused:

    My other question is about overheating the blade. When I sharpen, I'm almost always moving the blade at a rate of about 1" per second. It doesn't seem to be heating the blade much at all. The only time I felt uuncomfortable heat was on the tip of a very thin paring knife. Does 1" per second sound like a safe rate to avoid overheating using a 180 grit belt? :confused:

    Overall, the belt sander seems to be a great tool for bulk sharpening of kitchen knives, especially when you're faced with really thick, extremely dull edges. It also works well on convex edges with the higher grit belts. I'm disappointed with the performance of the leather belt, but look forward to hearing the solutions of other who've used it.
  2. Shann


    Sep 2, 2004
    Thanks for the review. I'm thinking of getting one and it seems like what I'm looking for.

    ttt for those with the experience to answer his question.

  3. desmobob


    May 5, 2003
    I'm also considering this belt sander.

    When I look at the Lee Valley site, I'm only able to find 1x30 belts up to 320 grit. I haven't located any finer grit anywhere else, either. This is holding me back from ordering.....

    Stay sharp,
  4. WhitleyStu


    Dec 8, 2006
    I use my HF 1"x30" with leather belt only. I sharpen on another device then use the 1"x30" just to strop. I think the leather belts vary in thickness at the point where the ends have the angle cut overlap and are glued. I have one leather belt that runs very smooth and one that has a slight "bump" in it. All in all is it is a low cost way to get a great edge and a lot faster than hand stropping. Have fun with your belt sander!!!
  5. KeithAM


    Dec 15, 2003
    Go to the site. Click on Woodworking. Click on sharpening. Click on Sanding Belts. Scroll down to "D". They sell 500 and 1200 grit belts.
  6. desmobob


    May 5, 2003
    Thanks Keith. :thumbup:

    I was searching in "sanding" not "sharpening." (But I also did a site search using 1" x 30" as the search term and only the wood sanding belts showed.)

    Looks like I'll go ahead and order the HF sander. It's kind of neat that you can order a 1x30 power belt sander and a good assortment of belts for the price of a Sharpmaker with the additional set of diamond rods....

    Thanks again,

    PS- Check out Klingspor for great prices on sanding belts ($1.75). It's a wholesale outfit but they do retail sales from their website.
  7. KeithAM


    Dec 15, 2003
    I'm not sure whether its the best solution, but since I started this thread I've been messing around with it and I adjusted the belt support so it actually touches the leather belt. It vibrates less now and I just used it on a Mora with good results. Not sure why I didn't think of that before. :eek:
  8. Cliff Stamp

    Cliff Stamp Banned BANNED

    Oct 5, 1998
    I usually go 80 with a ten degree bevel to 600 DMT on rods at about 15.

    The rate of overheating will depend on the size of the blade as you noted because the rest of the blade will soak the heat away from the edge very quickly. I have burned the tips and edges of blades that were very thin even grinding very light, so you need to take care on very thin blades, as in < 0.010/10 degrees.

    Just get a couple of cheap carbon steel blades (opinel, mora) and burn them intentionally (turn them yellow/straw) to see just how slow you have to move them or how hard you have to press. The carbon steel blades will discolor at the lowest temperature and have no heat resistance so everything else is harder to damage.

  9. thombrogan


    Nov 16, 2002

    When I had a leather belt for the HF 1x30 (overstretched it going back and forth between buffing compound and diamond paste :eek: ), it'd flap and flop on the edge and when I used it with the platen, I lost the very tip of a Yojimbo (quickly ground in a new one). What worked for me was to still use the flap-happy leather belt without the platen and then make two or four super light passes on leather strop loaded with the same compound to remove any residual burr. Wash with Windex to remove the green stuff and it tree tops hairs.

    Not having the e-cajones to order a new belt, I took a very used one of Lee Valley's 15 micron SiC belts loaded up with the same compound. No flapping out of control and a very nice finish.

    Hope that helps.
  10. LedSled


    Jul 16, 2007
    My experience was like your's until I made these changes:
    1) I switched to paste polishing compounds for a more even coat.
    2) I now drop the platen and use heavier pressure, but let the knife move with belt's spring. The slapping stops and the contact becomes uniform.
    3) To prevent edge rounding, just use a shallower angle than you used when grinding.

    I've compared the finished result with that from a strop charged with 0.5 micron chromic oxide powder. The strop is lots more work, but the edges are quite equal in sharpness, both in hanging hair tests, and under a microscope.
  11. 65535


    Mar 14, 2007
    Definitely be careful, you can easily overheat the edge without noticing it in the blade.it's much thinner.
  12. DrThunder88


    Apr 26, 2007
    Cool. I just took my HF 1x30 out of the box tonight to work on reshaping the ogive on a piece of molding. I might have to switch a belt or two and sharpen one of my mom's cheap, unsharpenable knives.
  13. Blue Sky

    Blue Sky Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 16, 2002
    Does anyone know of a way to regulate belt speed on one of these? Would running through something like a dimmer switch (rated to carry the current of course) work well enough?
  14. thombrogan


    Nov 16, 2002
    There's barely enough pony power for the things to hog large amounts of steel. Perhaps popping the motor off the base to use a longer drive belt and pulleys?
  15. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 6, 2000
    Belt length won't do it. Pulley sizes are what changes speed.
    Blue sky- A dimmer MIGHT work, but torque would be low. Try it, and let us know if it works.
  16. STR

    STR Knifemaker/Moderator Moderator

    Aug 27, 2004
    Being a single phase motor it will likely heat up and just kick off on you using a dimmer. I'm sure it will run for a while but I've talked at length with Baldor about this in the past on my other grinder that has one speed. Fast!

    Changing the motor is about the best bet I think. You could theoretically just remount it with a pully set up and a different motor or maybe reuse the same one so the shaft that runs the belt was controlled by a two or three speed pully set up by changing the belt to different diameter pully wheels like in a typical drill press.

    Overall these little machines are not half bad at all as they come from HF. I use one all the time for Wave mods when someone sends me a knife to do. Its the sole reason I bought that machine. I use ceramic belts from A&H abrasive on it and they cut pretty good if you let the belt do the work and don't lean into it too much.

    I actually made a lockback knife and all parts for it using that little grinder and a dremmel and nothing else just to show that it could be done if one wanted to or had to because thats all you had available to you. I carry that knife and use it quite a bit too. Actually I submitted it to Sal as a prototype at one time after cleaning it up a tad and then when it was rejected :( I went ahead and mailed it to Bob Dozier and he heat treated the blade and the lockbar for me since both were D2. Ever since then I've made it a great everyday beater for my left pocket.

  17. LedSled


    Jul 16, 2007
    Some months ago, Steve Bottorff was working on a variable speed system for the HF belt sander. I know that he already had a 12VDC motor conversion, and was working on one for 110VAC. You might check out his web site at:
    You'll find contact information there.
  18. Broos


    Jan 10, 2005
    If you do try it, don't use a dimmer - use a motor control or fan speed control. A dimmer shouldn't be used for motor control.
  19. popcornpicker


    Apr 3, 2007
    The speed of an AC motor is determined by the number of poles in the motor and the electrical frequency. A two pole motor at 60 cycles per second gives you 3600 rpm with slippage this is 3450, a four pole motor- 1725 rpm. Varying the frequency will change the speed, but this is quite expensive. Play with pulleys but don't start a fire or blow anything up. There's a big difference between the motor on your ceiling fan and the one on a sander or grinder.
  20. Blue Sky

    Blue Sky Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 16, 2002
    I've been looking further into it and PCP has it right I think. Those kinds of motors can be safely regulated by adjusting the frequency, not the voltage. Dimmer switches are variable resistors which regulate voltage, so that's out.

    Changeable pulleys would work if there were room and a way to mount them properly, but all in all it would make more sense to buy one with variable speed built in. Thanks everyone.

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