Porter-Cable 371 Specs
Belt size: 2 1/2 inches by 14 inches
Motor: 5 amps
Belt speed: 1,100 surface feet per minute
Weight: 5 pounds

There are few things more satisfying than scribing a piece of trim and having it fit perfectly on the first try. Porter-Cable's 371 belt sander should make such precision scribing a lot easier. Unlike most models, it can be controlled with one hand, making it the perfect tool for sanding to a line.

Performance. Thanks to its domed shape and a rubber grip, the tool is comfortable to hold. The on-off switch's slightly recessed position on the front of the tool protects it from bumps during operation. The front handle — also removable — offers increased control when sanding larger pieces; the strain relief on the rear-mounted cord doubles as a rear grip. The rear dust port — which can be removed — provides surprisingly good dust collection.

One feature I found especially useful when working next to vertical surfaces was the tool's ability to sand flush on the right side of the machine.

The 371 quickly earned its keep on the job. We used it for fitting scribed moldings and cabinets, sanding scarf joints, easing edges of stock, cleaning up saw marks, tapering plugs, and so on. We continue to find new uses for it weekly.

The Porter-Cable 371 can be operated with one hand, making it ideal for scribes and other small jobs. The rubber-wrapped housing provides a good grip.

Problems. I identified two drawbacks. First, during extended use, the tool has a tendency to become very warm. While not necessarily uncomfortable, this can be an annoyance. Moreover, I can't help but wonder whether the problem happens because the tool's 5-amp motor is being overtaxed — though we haven't found the tool to be underpowered.

Second, the 2 1/2-by-14-inch belts proved to be more difficult to find than more-common sizes. If you do manage to find them, it's probably a good idea to buy several in each grit. They weren't available at my local hardware stores, but I found them online and at a contractors' supply store.

Good buy. Aside from these quibbles, however, it seems to me that Porter-Cable has come up with a real winner for finish carpenters. Although the 371 is not a tool that will see everyday use, it certainly makes a lot of tasks easier. And at about $125 for the kit — which contains the sander, one belt, and a case — it's an easy purchase to justify.

Greg Burnet owns Manor Services in Chicago.

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