Porter-Cable Compact Belt Sander


The 371K belt sander tackles small jobs and tight spaces with ease.

Unpacking the Porter-Cable "compact belt sander," my first thought was to make a bumper sticker for it saying, "My other belt sander is a tank." My old model is a chain-driven 3x24 sander that needs its oil changed every year and weighs almost 15 pounds. Sometimes I'm tempted to drive it to work. The little Porter-Cable 371K compact belt sander is the exact opposite. At just under 5 pounds, with a 2-1/2x14 belt, it's small, light, and easy to handle.

A small tool is made for small work. The 371 is made for shaping and scribing, not for flattening large surfaces, and it does its job well. I especially liked being able to work close up against the side of the sander in tight places. It won't truly sand flush against its side, but it gets pretty close. Its flat sides also make it a good tool to chuck into a vise for stationary work.


Credit: Photo: Michael Springer

The tool is well made; it has high-quality castings with a good finish. It has plenty of power for the belt's working surface; in fact, I practically had to sit on it to get it to bog down.

The top rubber grip surface and front handle are excellently placed. Gripping over the body allows for great control. This grip/handle arrangement, when compared to a traditional belt sander, reminds me of the difference between a barrel-grip jigsaw and a D-handled one. (To give you a hint where I stand, I haven't owned a D-handle in more than 20 years.) The front handle was easy to remove to sand closer into corners.

Looking at the tool, I was tempted to try one-handed use. It wasn't pretty; I couldn't control it well. My hands are too small and the dust collection hose coming off the back interfered. By the way, this tool needs a supplemental dust collection system; there is no bag supplied.

Changing and adjusting the belt couldn't be easier. Although they're an uncommon size, the belts seem to be readily available where the tool is sold, and large sandpaper suppliers are already making belts in this new size for it also.



Credit: Photo: Michael Springer

Over the years I've reached for this tool several times. The problem was it didn't exist. Now it's here: a small sander that's more aggressive than a random orbital and does the tasks I want a belt sander to do–directional sanding, aggressive removal of wood, and flattening surfaces. The 371K does all of this well–in a small way. A nice tool with good power, I'll certainly keep one ready under my bench. As for the larger work, there's always "The Tank."

Porter-Cable 371K compact belt sander: $119. 800-487-8665. www.porter-cable.com.

–Joe Youcha runs the Alexandria Seaport Foundation in Alexandria, Va., which helps train apprentices for the Carpenters Union. He is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.