Blade smithing may be a niche hobby, but it’s a rite of passage in some cultures. It’s an art form that requires the right tools and materials, and a belt grinder can ensure that you have the time to make your own knives.
These machines make the process quicker and more efficient while still giving you the craftsmanship of the old days. If you’re a knife enthusiast who has always dreamed of making your own knives, it might be time to invest in your own belt grinder.
That being said, you can’t just choose any machine. The right belt grinder will make it so you can unleash your creativity, control the aesthetics of the knife, and make a unique piece. In addition, you’ll stay safe while improving your metal-working skills, which can translate to other projects.
Top 5 Belt Grinders for Knife Making in September, 2019
Grizzly H6070 Belt and 5-Inch Disc Sander – Best Portable Option
The Grizzly H6070 belt is a versatile portable belt grinder that does an excellent job with contour sanding.
Weighing in at just 20.1 pounds, Grizzly’s mobile model brings together a benchtop sander and 1” x 30” belt sander that doesn’t have to be attached to a work table.
This 2-in-1 unit combines the 30” belt sander and 5” disc sander to help you get more done, such as intricate part sanding, dry sharpening, and smooth sanding. The machine also comes with a one-year warranty, including parts and labor.
Design and Materials
Some of the key features of the Grizzly H6070 include a removable belt platen, an idle roller guard, and dual 1.75” dust ports. The disc sanding table and grinding belt tilt 45 degrees to allow for a wide range of motion and easier working. Contour sanding is simpler with the removable belt platen, which measures 1” x 3”.
The grinding belt is a standard 1” x 30”, and the entire machine measures 12.5” x 16.7” x 11.5”. The direct-drive motor is reliable, although the clamp lever is a bit flimsy. Measurements for the belt sander are 5” x 5”, while the disc sander table measures 7 5/16” x 4”.
At under $200, it’s not the most expensive model out there, but it’s also not as budget-friendly for beginner knife makers.
It’s easy to switch out the belts by just easing off on the tension, taking out the old grinding belt, and placing the new one in the same position. It’s something simple enough for a beginner to handle. The PSA discs are a bit harder to replace because of their abrasive backing, although a veteran won’t have any trouble.
Overall, this is a good machine for beginners, and its quiet and space-saving features make it extra convenient. The Grizzly H6070 doesn’t slow down, even with extended usage or placing high pressure on the belt. It also has a pretty powerful motor for its portable size: ⅓ horsepower motor, 3450 revolutions per minute at 100 volts, which is faster than most competitors.
Do We Recommend It?
Yes. If your budget can handle it, the Grizzly H6070 is a good choice for its low noise levels, decent run time, and its moderate power.
Kalamazoo 1SM 1” Belt Sander – Best All-Around Grinder
The Kalamazoo 1SM 1” belt sander is a sleek machine that sharpens blades in minutes. It can also be used for deburring, sharpening, sizing, sanding, smoothing, and shaping metal, wood, and plastic.
The 1” belt surface works with a variety of tools and materials, and you can bolt the Kalamazoo to any working table or surface for added stability.
Parts and Design
This model comes with a 4” contact wheel, and the 100-grit grinding belt is included with the purchase. The adjustable tilting rest table measures 3” x 3”, and the entire unit weighs 32 pounds with the belt. This makes it a stable yet portable device. In addition, the belt can be switched out in about 30 seconds for ease of use.
We also like that the motor is sealed off from dust, and it’s fan-cooled to minimize clogging and inefficiencies. The machine measures 12.5” x 16.7” x 11.5” with a 1” x 3” platen and 3” x 3” belt sander. It comes with an 8-foot cord.
Performance and Uses
The Kalamazoos ⅓ horsepower, 115-volt,1,725 RPM motor is reversible and a top choice for heavy-duty blade-smithing. The spring-tension rollers help with consistency and tracking, as well as polishing and smoothing wood. This grinder also works well on composite materials, wood, and even plastic, although its belt is not quite wide enough for larger tools like swords.
Budget and Reputation
This Kalamazoo belt grinder will cost you more than $300, but it is one of the fastest options out there. In addition, it comes with a one-year warranty with parts and labor included, and it is entirely manufactured in the United States. If you’re after something with a great reputation, this grinder has one of the highest ratings on the market.
Do We Recommend It?
Yes, although this is an expensive model. If you can swing it, you’ll end up with a high-performing, durable belt grinder that will do just about any job for you.
JET J-4002 1” x 42” – Overall Best 1” Belt Grinder
The JET J-4002 belt and disc sander is common in workshops and machine shops around the country and for good reason.
It lasts through extended, repetitive use and maintains a quiet noise volume. This belt and disc sander is great for precision angle handling and working with odd angles and shapes, it can also be easily transported to other locations, thanks to its easy set-up and take-down.
With a professional-grade lockable miter gauge, the ability to tilt 45 degrees to the left and right, and its two-year warranty that includes parts and labor, it’s a prime choice.
Design and Materials
The thinner, 1” belt allows you to get into smaller spaces, and you can mount a flex shaft to use the grinder as a carver, drum sander, or deburring machine. The highly-abrasive grinder has a top belt speed of 3,000 feet per minute and comes with an 8” contact wheel.
Most users appreciate the multi-functionality of this sander, as they can use it as a coping saw, jig saw, and hand file as well. It does weigh 62 pounds without the belt, so it’s a bit on the hefty side. Its measurements come to 21” x 22” x 14” with a phase-one 1⁄3 horsepower, 115-volt, 1,725 RPM motor.
The belt sander table measures 6” x 6”, and the belt includes a 15” grinding section. The cord length is 10 feet.
We love that this JET grinder creates an excellent finish and that it makes smaller openings more accessible. It’s a solid choice if you find yourself working with odd angles and shapes regularly. The belt provides professional sanding, grinding, and finishing that you’ll come to rely on.
You can easily tilt the table 45 degrees to the left or right for ease of use when handling small and large pieces and removing excess materials. It’s also good for putting finishing touches on blades and other tools.
One potential downside is that this JET grinder is very expensive, coming in at over $450. You do get what you pay for though, and this durable, quality-tested sander is sure to out-perform your expectations.
Do We Recommend It?
Yes, especially if you tend to work with a lot of stock removal and intricate shapes and contouring.
Grizzly G1015 Knife Belt Sander/Buffer – Best Splurge Sander
Another Grizzly model, the G1015 knife belt sander offers many metal and woodworking uses, a quick-release belt mechanism, 90-degree full-tilt belt arms.
It comes with an included 2” belt, making it a powerful although expensive sander.
The Grizzly G1015 also comes with a 5-foot cord, push/pull switch, and a one-year warranty.
Parts and Construction
The grinder is made of a cast-iron frame and construction, including a graphite coated platen measuring 9¼” x 1⅞“. The device weighs in at 105 pounds and measures 38.75” x 39” x 29.5”.
The ball-bearing construction is sturdy and dependable, although the buffing wheel is not included.
For those who aren’t thrown off by the price, they will enjoy the grinder’s belt speed of 3,600 feet per minute. Also, the auxiliary arbor accepts flap wheels, buffing wheels, sanding drums, making this a versatile machine. Other features include direct drive power transfer, 8” standing wheel, and cast iron body.
The TEFC Capacitor Start Induction single-phase motor boasts 1HP, 110 volts, and 1,725 revolutions per minute. The belt size is 2” wide with lengths ranging from 72” to 76”.
Do We Recommend It?
Yes, even though the price is sky-high at nearly $650. This isn’t for beginners, but it will satisfy die-hard knife makers.
Central Machinery Belt Sander 1” x 30” – Best Bargain Belt Grinder
This 1” x 30” belt sander from Central Machinery is a bench-top belt sander with a 5” x 5” table that produces smooth, even finishing quickly and precisely.
It is one of the most affordable options out there, offering decent power specs and weighing in at just 13.2 pounds for greater portability. The unit measures 11⅛“ x 13½“ x 9”.
Design and Materials
This belt sander has a 120-volt motor with ⅓ horsepower and 3,400 RPMs as well as a belt speed that can reach 3,260 feet per minute. The device has rubber feet for minimal vibration, as well as a convenient dust collection chute. The adjustable belt tracing and tilting table (up to 45 degrees) are two other key features.
Moreover, the die-cast aluminum construction adds more reliability, while the removable backplate makes it easier to sand curves and odd angles. The sanding belt opens up a bit when it goes around the drive wheel to prevent clogging.
Benefits and Performance
This Central Machinery belt sander shines with its fast stock removal and ability to get a smooth finish. You can add a fine-grit belt to it for even smoother finishes.
You get what you pay for, and at under $60, you can’t expect optimal performance from this model. Its basic, lightweight design is best for beginner projects. Even though it’s not as durable or powerful as the competitors, it’s one of the most affordable belt sanders on the market.
Do We Recommend It?
Yes, especially for those who are just getting their feet wet with at-home blade-smithing. The price can’t be beat, and the power is pretty good for the price range.
Best Belt Grinder for Knife Making – Buyer’s Guide
The abrasive machining process of blade-smithing is often used as a finishing process on metals and other materials. The versatility of it makes it useful in many industries and processes, hence the variety of belt grinders out there.
When preparing to purchase a new belt grinder, consider what you’ll be using it for. Finishing jobs deal with surface roughness, removing micro burrs, as well as polishing. Deburring involves radiusing, burr removal, and edge breaking. Finally, stock removal is when you clean off corrosion and get rid of mill and tool marks.
What to Look for in a Belt Grinder
You want to make sure you get the right-sized machine for your uses, as well as a matching disc sander. Think about the types of knives you want and the materials you’ll be using. A decent belt grinder will also be able to sharpen other tools, including axes, circular saw blades, and trowels.
1” Versus 2” Belts
Many standard configurations use a 2” x 72” belt size. The 2” belts are more common, and, therefore, more people are used to them. This doesn’t mean you have to choose 2” belts, though. It just means that they’re convenient and readily available.
There’s also competition from the 1”x 42” belt, which is the next most popular size. The 1” belt is great for detail work and sharpening, but it only has 42 square inches of surface area compared to the 144 square inches on a 2” belt. Moreover, the 2” belts tend to cost a bit more, but they’re better for bevel grinding, profiling, and initial knife developing. A lot of professionals have both 2” and 1” belts in their shops.
Belt Size and Speed
Most professionals choose a 2” x 72” belt, while beginners do well with 1” x 30”. You don’t want to go too wide, as it could make your work harder.
Also, look on the back of the belt to see the directional indication. Many belts are intended to only move in one direction, so be careful. If there is no arrow on the back, then the belt is bi-directional and can go either way.
In terms of speed, fast is good for coarse belts, while finer grit belts will require a slower speed. Some machines have one speed while others have variable speeds. Beginners do better with variable speed, as they can get a bit more control. On the other hand, variable speed machines cost more and can take more getting used to.
The backing is what the abrasive material of the belt is bonded to, and, therefore, the backing needs to have some give to it. Different strengths and thickness will be used for a variety of sanding projects. Backing might be made of cotton, paper, or polyester.
There are also different kinds of weights for the backing. Three common weights include J weight (light), X weight (moderate), and Y weight (heavy). A Y weight backing is heavy enough for working with steel, but it won’t work around curves as well as a J weight.
In general, the more power, the better. For reference, ⅓ or ½ is not that powerful, but it’s affordable. Professional-grade belt sanders tend to have 1 to 1½ HP.
Of course, other variables come into consideration, so even a less powerful grinder could still be great quality. For instance, maybe the motor is reversible.
Of course, the price is at the top of everyone’s list. You want something affordable, but you get what you pay for. What are you willing to compromise on so you can stay within your budget?
In terms of tracking, you want a robust mechanism. The same thing with the frame construction, as it’ll make your machine more reliable. Fortunately, there are many different frames available.
Be sure to get a machine with ample dust collection so that you can prevent clogs and inefficiencies. You’ll also want something that’s easy to use, especially when it comes to switching out the belt.
Be aware that you’ll want something that will fit in your garage, and if you’re a beginner, something that doesn’t require specialized skills or training. Know your needs and what you want to produce, and learn which specifications you need to make that happen.
Reliability, ease of use, and efficiency are top qualities, but they take on many different forms; for example, they may be quick-working belts, heavy-duty grinders, and the ability to shape and smooth with minimal effort.
Consider the types of knives you will be using, as well as how often you’ll use the knives so that you can make a better decision regarding belt size, framing, speed, tracking, dust collection, gripping, ease of operation, the power of the motor, and price.
Are There Belts Specifically Made for Knives?
Yes. The materials vary, but in general, you will want an abrasive belt with a hardness that is higher than 7 on the Mohs scale. For reference, hardened steel is about a 7 on the Mohs scale, and since many knives are made of steel, your belt will need to be harder so that you can adequately sharpen it.
Some good choices include aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, and zirconia alumina. One choice that has a particularly high level of hardness is ceramic, which boasts a 10 on the Mohs scale. Ceramic belts last a very long time and are abrasive enough to work on hardened steel, stone, and titanium.
You might see leather belts while you’re shopping around. These stropping belts are meant for very fine edge work and can be used dry or with an abrasive compound. There are also specific polishing belts that will add shine to a knife.
In summary, the basic elements to be aware of in a belt grinding machine are the sanding table, the disc sander, and the belt itself. Beginners and veterans alike will appreciate not having to make huge adjustments to the machine to use it.
These days, belt grinders are smaller, lighter, and more portable, while still offering up great power and performance. With the variety out there, there is an option for everyone. All of these details can be a bit overwhelming, so for now, just deal with the basics. For those who are new to belt grinders, focus on power, belt size, and price to narrow down your options and find something that fits within your budget requirements.