Troubleshooting Common Abrasive Tool Issues - Sanding Belts

Apr 28th 2023

Troubleshooting Common Abrasive Tool Issues - Sanding Belts

We wanted to create a resource for our customers to troubleshoot common abrasive product issues. Our team is available during normal office hours to talk to you on phone, email, or website chat, but this guide was created for those that like to troubleshoot on their own. This article will be the first in a series of abrasive tool troubleshooting posts, focusing on Sanding Belts.

In this post we will discuss common sanding belt issues, their causes, and arm you with troubleshooting tips to maintain your sanding belts and make sure you are creating the best finished product with them.

About Sanding Belts

Sanding belts are some of the most versatile abrasive products available. They are constructed with long strips of abrasive material, typically cloth or paper, coated with abrasive grains of various types, including aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, zirconia, and ceramic. They are designed to be mounted on belt sanders, which use the continuous motion of the belt to remove material, smooth surfaces, or create a desired finish.

Sanding belts are commonly used in woodworking, metalworking, automotive, and other industries and hobbies for applications such as shaping, material removal, deburring, finishing, and polishing. They can be used on a wide range of materials, including wood, metal, plastic, and composite materials.

Using sanding belts correctly is crucial for achieving your desired results, ensuring safety, and prolonging the life of the abrasive product. Proper usage includes selecting the appropriate grit size, maintaining the correct tension, and using appropriate techniques to avoid common issues such as uneven wear or belt tracking problems.

Common Sanding Belt Issues

  • Belt breakage
  • Uneven wear
  • Grit shedding
  • Belt tracking issues

Causes and Troubleshooting

1 - Tension Adjustment

Important of proper tension

Setting and maintaining the correct tension of your sanding belt is crucial for extending your belt life and getting optimal performance out of it. Too little or too much tension can lead to belt breakage, uneven wear, and overall reduced efficiency.

How to identify incorrect tension

Signs that you may notice from incorrect tension include belt slippage, poor sanding results, and/or excessive noise.

Adjusting the belt tension

Every belt sander is different, so the first thing you should do is refer to your tool’s manual which should have specific guidelines on setting proper tension. Gradually adjust the tension of the belt sander until you can tell it is running smoothly and securely without making excessive noise or slipping.

2 - Proper Belt Storage and Handling

Important of proper storage and handling

Sanding belts, and all coated abrasives, can degrade over time due to improper storage or handling. Exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, and/or direct sunlight can break down the adhesives holding the abrasives together and the belt itself.

Tips for Proper Sanding Belt Storage

  • Store belts away from direct sunlight, in a cool, dry place
  • Keep belts away from other heat or moisture sources (heaters, humidifiers, etc.)
  • Handle belts in a way that avoids kinking or creasing the belt
  • If possible, hang the belts rather than store them in a closed container

For more information - Coated Abrasives 101: How to Store and Maintain Them Properly

Coated Abrasives 101:  How to Store and Maintain Them Properly

3 - Choosing the Right Grit

Important of grit choice

The size of the grit (coarseness) is one of the most important factors in choosing an abrasive for most projects. Using the wrong grit size can damage surfaces, cause uneven wear, build up excessive heat, or lead to an unsatisfactory finish.

How to choose the right grit size

Choose a grit based on the material you are sanding and the stage you are up to in the grinding process. Coarser grits will remove material faster, but leave deeper cuts. Finer grits will be used for smoothing and finishing the surface.

For more information - Sandpaper Grit Explained

Sandpaper Grit Explained

4 - Choosing the Right Abrasive Grain

Important of abrasive grain differentiation

Aside from the grit size, choosing the right abrasive material is also crucial for getting the most out of your sanding belts.

Types of abrasive grains and their best uses

Aluminum Oxide:

  • General-purpose abrasive
  • Ideal for wood, metal, plastic, and composites
  • Long-lasting and cost-effective


  • Best for heavy-duty applications
  • Suitable for grinding hard metals, stainless steel, and alloys
  • Self-sharpening properties ensure consistent performance

Silicon Carbide:

  • Highly aggressive and sharp abrasive
  • Ideal for wet or dry applications, particularly on glass, stone, and non-ferrous metals
  • Excellent for fine finishing and polishing


  • Designed for high-pressure grinding and long-lasting performance
  • Ideal for hard-to-grind materials, including stainless steel, titanium, and superalloys
  • Cooler grinding operation reduces heat buildup


  • Perfect for surface preparation, cleaning, and finishing
  • Suitable for various materials, including metal, plastic, and wood
  • Reduces the risk of surface damage and provides a consistent finish

Choosing the right abrasive grains

Before starting a project, consider the material you are working with, the desired finish, and the specific application when selecting the appropriate abrasive grain. Match the grain type to the specific requirements of your project.

5 - Adjusting Belt Tracking

Causes of belt tracking issues

Improper tension (mentioned above), uneven wear, and/or misaligned rollers can lead to belt tracking problems.

How to Identify and troubleshoot tracking problems

This will occur when your belt is not centered on your rollers. Adjust the tracking mechanism on your belt sander. Keep making small adjustments until the belt is aligned and running correctly.

Tips for maintaining proper belt alignment

  • Always check to make sure the rollers are clean and free of debris
  • Check for damage or excessive wear, and replace if needed
  • Regularly inspect and maintain your belt grinder

Wrapping Things Up

This post covers a few of the most common issues found with sanding belts and some troubleshooting tips on how to fix them. If you have other questions about your Empire Abrasives sanding belts or can’t seem to fix something with the troubleshooting above, feel free to reach out to us and our abrasives experts are happy to help!

Make sure to check back for the rest of our "Troubleshooting Common Abrasive Tool Issues" series, where we will continue to provide guidance on maintaining the performance of various abrasive products.

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