Pros: Inexpensive, easy to handle, dust collection
Cons: Plastic, unaggressive
About eleven years ago, my daughter was expecting her first child. I had just reactivated my woodworking hobby. She thought her new baby needed a cradle from Grampa.
Could there be a better excuse for getting a new tool? I was in the "not sure how long it would last" mode, I was buying cheap. This Skil fit the criteria.
Skil Classic Belt Sander w/ Dust Collection 731344
If you want this tool, you need to put a dash in the part number, 7313-44 is the correct number. This tool, still on the market today, unchanged as far as I can tell, is truly a "classic". It wasn't a new design even when I took it home from the local True Value store.
In the box is the belt sander with a belt installed and three extra 3" X 18" belts of various grits waiting for use. The dust collection bag is assembled and ready to snap onto the side-mounted dust port. There isn't much more to see except for a skimpy manual. The cord is relatively short for a portable tool, but an extension cord fixed that. In use the dust collection works surprisingly well for such an inexpensive tool. I rate it as good as the one on my Bosch 3" X 21".
The one on it now is the second one, however. The thin plastic of the connection port on the bag cracked early on. I don't know if this was a defect. Getting a replacement only took a call to the nearest Skil service center. I don't remember the price, but it was less than the postage. The replacement still works fine today.
One of the things I noticed was that the sanding wasn't as aggressive as I expected for a belt sander. The cradle was white pine, not a hard material, but the leveling seemed to take a while. Since I have gotten the Bosch, I notice two differences. The added weight of the Bosch seems to add to the aggressiveness and the Bosch belt spins at a higher speed.
The 4.5 amp motor of the Skil won't take much bearing down without further slowing, so adding aggressiveness by pushing down isn't an option. Another thing I really didn't notice was the effect of the smaller platen on the Skil. It is over an inch shorter than the one on the Bosch. This makes a difference when trying to level a large surface. It makes it more susceptible to following the hills and valleys instead of riding over the high spots. For the Skil, the impact isn't too great because the less aggressive sanding action compensates.
When changing belts, the "niceties" of a better belt sander come into play. The Skil is every bit as easy in this respect as the much more expensive Bosch. a simple flip of the lever releases the tension so the belt can slide off and the new one on. Flip it back again and the belt is tight. The Classic boasts a patented automatic tracking adjustment. It works. With most new belts, the tracking wheel has to be adjusted to center the belt over its platen. After a little stretching, it has to be adjusted again. With the Skil, set it once and forget it.
The Skil moved from my shop to my oldest son's last year, where it still does its thing. He is happy with it, even having used the Bosch and knowing the difference.
Except for the broken plastic, my Skil has provided trouble free service for eleven years. It is slower than a more powerful belt sander. It is less prone to ruin wood in the hands of a beginner because of that. Even after I got the Bosch, it still came out sometimes to do a little touch up where the less aggressive sanding was a benefit. Its lighter weight and smaller profile makes it actually easier to use on edges. Belts are easy to find and inexpensive, making it easier to justify more frequent replacement, another benefit.
All in all, at the price, this may be the best value in belt sanders on the market. If you plan to do a lot of heavy sanding and have the skill to handle an aggressive sander, get it. But you won't be disappointed if you start with the Classic Skil.