May 23, 2007

Porter-Cable 371K Compact Belt Sander - Review

371k_1.jpgWe were pretty intrigued when we first heard about Porter-Cable's 371K Compact Belt Sander. Could it be true that we could have the power of a belt sander but with the size of an orbital? Does this mean no more aching arms after stints of operating our large, way-too-powerful belt sander? Well, that's the intent behind the 371K, but the question is, did Porter-Cable succeed?

The 371K is certainly compact, weighing in at around the 5 lb mark. Considering that Porter-Cable's two larger belt sanders weigh 10 lbs and 14 lbs, the 371K is a huge advancement in this area. Because of its small dimensions, the 371K does not have any traditional handle to speak of, only a removable front pommel and a padded area that wraps around the sides and top for gripping. This style of handle (non-handle, really) makes it very easy to switch around your grip on the tool, and, because of the likelihood that it's going to be used in some tight spaces, this becomes an innovative and essential feature.

The sander also has flush sanding capabilities on one side. We tested this out and, although it's not perfect (to really sand flush to the tool, the sanding belt needs to be shifted beyond the side of the shoe, creating a situation where you can't apply any pressure to the edge of the belt), it's very close and a nice feature we haven't seen before in a belt sander.

As far as power goes, the 371K's 5 amp motor (most orbitals have 2 amps and larger belt sanders have around 8 and up), is very impressive. We had no problems chewing through a variety of hardwoods and softwoods, yet the motor is tame enough that we didn't have any trouble with maneuverability.

371k_2.jpgThe one thing that bothered us about the 371K is that it comes with a removable vacuum attachment but not a dust collection bag. At the feverish rate that this tool was eating through wood, if you don't have a vacuum available, your workshop will look like a sand storm in the Sahara. The least they could have done is thrown in an attachment for both sizes of vacuums, as opposed to just the smaller one.

We've also read some complaints about the lack of handle, saying that the tool is too wide which makes it difficult to grip. We didn't have any problems with this, but suppose it might be a concern for someone with smaller hands.

371k_3.jpgOverall, Porter-Cable's 371K is a great machine. It's a solid combination of size and power. If you work in the trades, it will come in handy in thousands of situations and if you're a DIYer, it's likely that you don't even need one of the larger models and can get everything done with this one. After using this tool for a few weeks, we won't be surprised if all the other big companies had a similar sanders out within the next year or so.

The 371K retails for about $120 and comes with a carrying case, a vacuum attachment and one 80 grit sanding belt. Sanding belts of varying grits are available in five packs for $11.00.

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at May 23, 2007 5:41 AM
Recent Comments

Having purchased one about two months ago, I agree about the problematic dust control/collection.

I use a 2 1/4" shop vac system and use a reducer to accommodate the dust port. Biggest gripe is that the smaller size sander coupled with the large hose causes some difficulties in managing the tool.

The belt movement dial is one of the best I've encountered.

Posted by: Getting Better at May 24, 2007 10:09 AM
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