The Best (Portable) Belt Sander: Porter Cable 352 or Makita 9903?

Belt sanders are the workhorses of the sanding world. Multi-use, you can use a belt sander for a variety of jobs, such as scribing, sanding a very rough surface, leveling a surface, or freehand shaping and rounding. Unlike vibrating or orbital sanders, a belt sander has a linear action, which means that you are able to sand with the grain of the wood and get a good looking result.If you have projects where you need to remove a lot of wood fast, a belt sander might be your new best friend….provided it is powerful enough to take on those heavier jobs. With that power comes a certain amount of risk, because that same heavy duty capability that can whip right through a tough job can also wreck a project in nothing flat. Therefore, it pays to shop around and make sure you buy a good belt sander that operates with efficiency and accuracy.

Do you need a sander that can remove a lot of wood fast? Or have an old hardwood floor that needs to be smoothed? How about scribing? If you need to make a perfect curved line, as for a laminate counter top, a belt sander is the ideal power tool.When shopping for a great belt sander, there are certain features that will be important to its use.

In this review, I am going to compare two of the most popular portable belt sanders on the market today: the Porter Cable 352VS 8 Amp 3-inch-by-21-inch Variable Speed Belt Sander with Dust Bag and the Makita 9903 8.8 Amp 3-Inch-by-21-Inch Variable Speed Belt Sander with Cloth Dust Bag.

So, let’s get started with the Porter Cable 352VS vs the Makita 9903. Which one is really the best?

Why Do You Need a High Quality Hand Belt Sander?

Before we get started on the actual comparison of the two belt sanders, let’s talk about why it is important to purchase one that is of high quality. Does it really matter? Isn’t one belt sander basically as good as another?

In a nutshell: no.

Belt sanders are just like almost everything else in that you often get what you pay for. For instance, you might buy a low price mattress to save a few bucks, but your bargain might not seem like such a great deal after all when you spend your nights tossing and turning and wake up with an aching back due to sleeping on a poorly constructed and cheaply made mattress.

In the case of a belt sander, quality is even more important because we’re talking about a power tool. Whether you’re a seasoned pro that earns a living with his tools or a DIY enthusiast that thrives on Honey Do projects around the house; the worth of power tools is undisputed. But, these marvelous power tools that can help you accomplish a job faster and easier can be dangerous if they are shoddily constructed with major design flaws. Besides that, if they’re inferior they can deliver inaccurate results that could cost you a lot of time and money by ruining materials.

So, for safety’s sake and the sake of producing high quality work, you need a high quality belt sander.
Both the Porter Cable 352VS and the Makita 9903 belt sanders are high quality, manufactured by established leaders in the industry. They have very similar features, but there are some small differences.

This chart provides you with a comparison at a glance.


As you can see, these two belt sanders are much alike. That being said, it may help you to make a more informed buying decision if we examine each of the key features individually and compare them as we go.


In some ways, a power tool is only going to be as good as its motor. The more powerful the motor, the more power you have to work with, plus it adds to the durability and useful life of the product. The Porter Cable and the Makita are pretty evenly matched in this area, with the Makita having the advantage of an extra .8 of an amp. Not a huge difference…..but a difference, and a wee bit more power. This could prove significant over a period of time because the higher amped motor of the Makita could get your jobs done just a bit faster. This would be a boon as far as reducing operator fatigue, as well as possibly adding to its longevity.

So, when it comes to the motor, the advantage is very slightly with the Makita 9903.


Variable speed is something you definitely want in a belt sander. Why? Because it allows you to match the speed of the sander to the application. For example, if you want to take off a lot of wood in a hurry on a big, rough piece of wood, the faster the better and you would probably want to adjust the speed up to its highest setting. But, if you want to cut a piece of pricey laminate counter top to shape and round it; a lower speed would provide more control and incur less risk of damaging the material. As with the motor, the Porter Cable 352VS and the Makita 9903 are pretty evenly matched in variable speed settings. But, again, the Makita offers just a little more variability with a range of 690-1440 of sfpm, or Surface Feet Per Minute, as opposed to the Porter Cable with 850-1300 sfpm. Not a lot more range but enough that it might make a difference, depending on the application.

Comparing the variable speed settings, the Makita emerges the winner by a nose.


What is tracking and why does it matter when you’re buying a belt sander? Tracking refers to keeping the belt centered on the roller. Older or lower quality belt sanders might require manual adjustment of tracking, which can be a real pain. Higher quality belt sanders such as the Porter Cable and the Makita have automatic tracking. This simply means that the sander itself keeps the belt centered on the roller and you don’t have to worry about it or mess with it.

The makita offers great grip & tracking

In this aspect, both sanders are evenly matched, so we’ll have to call it a tie in the tracking department.

Dust Collection

Ask anyone who uses a sander a lot, belt or otherwise, and they’ll probably tell you that dust collection is a biggie. Old fashioned belt sanders had no dust collection and besides affecting your safety while using it due to poor visibility with dust flying around everywhere, it also made it more difficult to see your work piece. Both the Porter Cable 352VS and the Makita 9903 have a dust collection system that sucks up the dust as it is made and keeps it out of your way. The Porter Cable belt sander has a swiveling dust collector, which users seem to like. On the other hand, there are complaints that even though it swivels, the dust collector port comes right out of the top and makes it awkward while working. Another complaint about the Porter Cable dust collection system is that the port clogs and cleaning it out is time consuming.

The Makita comes out slightly ahead in the dust collection feature.


If you don’t plan on using your belt sander often or for extended work periods, its noise level might not be an issue for you. However, if you use a belt sander for many projects, or plan to use it for a big job such as a whole house full of hardwood flooring that needs rejuvenating—a loud, noisy sander could be a disadvantage. The Makita is said to be especially quiet. The Porter Cable is reported to be somewhat loud and noisy.

So, we have a hands down winner with the Makita, as far as a belt sander that runs reasonably quietly.

The Bottom Line

After taking a look at five key features of each belt sander, the Makita does score a few more points than the Porter Cable.

Makita vs Porter Cable

  • Slightly more powerful motor
  • A little more range in variable speed Tracking is about the same
  • Better dust collection although doesn’t swivel
  • Quieter

As far as price, there is not a huge difference. If money is tight, you may go for the lower priced Porter Cable and be blissfully happy with it. When all is said and done, these two belt sanders are pretty evenly matched. Either one should provide you with a superior quality power tool that will provide excellent service for many years of use. Both have great features and a lot of your purchase decision might be based on what is most important to you.

If you really like the idea of a swiveling dust collection system, you will prefer the Porter Cable 352VS belt sander. If you like the sound of having a tad more power in the motor, that extra .8 of an amp with the Makita —though a negligible difference— might be a selling point for you.

Pick the Porter Cable

A low priced Sander with a unique dust collection system!

Pick the Makita

A powerful belt sander, bound to make you feel manly! (Also a #1 bestseller!)

Whatever you do, you should know that the links above lead you straight to amazon, my favourite online shop where you can order right away. They’re trustworthy, have a good pricing policy and ship very quickly. I hope you’ve enjoyed this review – happy sanding!

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