By Bob Goldstein
Working in any business, trade, craft, or even hobby, you are going to receive two things: accolades and complaints. It’s guaranteed, just like the sun is going to rise in the East. Compliments and complaints will range across a wide spectrum including you, your work, your products, the company you work for – the list goes on. On the complaint side, some are warranted, some are not, and many are just due to lack of experience or knowledge. There are even the ones that make you scratch your head and wonder.
I was traveling with an associate throughout the Midwest late last summer visiting distributors and contractors. We had received a call from one of our suppliers who had a customer who was repeatedly calling and complaining about our product (abrasives). The person insisted that our sandpaper was getting worse over time, that with each order he placed the quality was getting worse and worse.
“The big machine belts won’t track properly; the belts are coming apart on the edges; the belts are causing vibration that gets worse with each batch.” He even insisted that it was all a conspiracy of big companies intentionally making cheaper products every day and charging more. We called to make an appointment for the next afternoon to see what we could do to help.
For simplicity, I am going to refer to this gentleman as Jack. We arrived the next day in the late afternoon, and Jack was ready for us with samples of sanding belts featuring ragged torn edges and wear on one side. I started to ask a few questions to help determine what the issue could be. “Any problems with edger discs? What about screens or buffer paper?” Jack’s reply was, “Nothing lasts as long as it used to,” but indicated that there were no problems as with the belts. (Keep in mind that he insisted these issues were getting worse over time as the days and weeks went by.) We have had no systemic issues across the country with our products and quality control is paramount throughout the manufacturing process.
Next, I asked to look at Jack’s big machine. Our mission is always to try and solve problems, not to be accusatory or make anyone uncomfortable. An educated customer is a better customer. He was happy to get the machine out of the back of his van. By this time, we had built some rapport; Jack knew we were there to help.
The machine was a high-quality sander of European manufacture, one with which I am very familiar. After getting Jack’s permission, I took the machine apart to see why the sandpaper was getting shoddier every time.
I knew before I started what to look for as I have been using and working on sanding machines for a while now. First, the machine was covered with dust, and not just surface dust – hard, caked-on dust and dirt. The wheels were thick with resin and filler, and chunks were missing. The upper roller had portions of rubber missing, as did the drum. The guide roller bearings were frozen and worn out. Usually you see one beginning to seize and show signs of wear, but typically not all three are completely frozen. The rest of the machine needed some TLC, but there was nothing terminal.
I took apart each piece to show Jack how it works and why it was eating up sandpaper and in turn, his machine. We spoke about the importance of continuing maintenance and how it is very important. After taking it apart, we gave him a list of parts and where he could get them, making sure he was comfortable with everything. As we were preparing to leave, he asked me to put the machine back together because he had a floor to sand the next morning! I did as I was asked. He was able to get all the new parts soon, and with a little help, got the machine working as it should again.
Part of the NWFA’s education program is machine maintenance and repair along with personal safety while using sanding equipment. It is well worth the cost of attending any of the sand and finish schools just for this important part. Working with sanding machines since the late 1960s has taught me that sometimes the only thing wrong with the machine is the operator behind the handle.
The most serious problems can be avoided by following some simple rules:
1. Keep it clean. Take the time to keep the machine clean inside and out. A clean machine will run cooler and longer as well as make a better impression on
2. Check parts that get a lot of wear often. Bearings, rollers, drums, and belts get a lot of wear and tear. Be sure to replace any questionable parts before they become
3. Stay balanced. Check from time to time to make sure the drum is hitting the floor evenly, not canted to one side. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to make adjustments – like drum pressure and setting the tracking. Use a sharp scraper to remove any debris from the truck wheels and back wheels.
4. Employ a pro. If you can, bring the machine into a reputable shop that specializes in floor sanding equipment for an annual checkup.
5. Use quality materials. Poorly engineered sandpaper can cause vibrations, run hot, and not last nearly as long as quality, well-engineered sandpaper. It also will lose grain more easily, causing premature wear on moving parts including the vacuum fan, bearings, and more. The seams on sanding belts are also critical. Quality belts will have a seam that will not cause marks on the floor, create vibration, or come apart.
The adage that “you get what you pay for” is true. No manufacturer is going to stay in business by degrading the quality of its product intentionally. While issues do happen, we strive to continue to be responsive and listen to our customers with a mindset of cooperation and problem solving. So keep that equipment well maintained, stay in touch, and happy floor sanding.
Bob Goldstein is in Technical Services, Training & Sales, at Norton Abrasives/
Vermont Natural Coatings based in Hardwick, Vermont. He can be reached at