My Belt Sander Can Beat Your Circular Saw

Friday, August 8th, 2008

An electric drag racer is just a cordless drill with wheels, enthusiasts joke. Now some have taken the metaphor a bit too literally. My Belt Sander Can Beat Your Circular Saw:

In the six years since a pair of San Francisco Bay area artists held the first power tool drag races, technophiles have exported the tradition to three continents, holding similar competitions in Sacramento, Seattle, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Israel. They’ve raced everything from power drills and grinders to upright vacuum cleaners, leaf blowers, chain saws and even the occasional fire extinguisher.
Take the simplest racing tool of all: the humble belt sander. Out of the box, it’s a ready-made racer. Put it on a flat surface with the belt facing down, lock the trigger into the on position, and your tool will automatically propel itself forward like a tiny tank. (For belt sanders that don’t have trigger locks, you could make MacGyver proud by cinching down the trigger with a zip tie.)

Need more traction? Try a belt with a coarser grade of sandpaper.

Other power tools take more patience to convert. Since they’re intended for hand-held use, most tools aren’t race-ready off the shelf. For example, if you plunk a circular saw down on a wooden racetrack, you might manage to saw the track in half, but your tool won’t go anywhere.

The solution? Build a chassis. Some folks like angle iron, while others prefer welded steel, wood scraps or PVC piping. Bolt on some wheels — skateboard and in-line skate wheels are cheap and popular — and mount the saw on the frame so it bites into the track. Instead of slicing downwards, your contraption will zoom full force ahead.

If this kind of tinkering sounds tricky, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel, or the saw blade, for that matter. A detailed tutorial at (!) gives step-by-step directions for converting a circular saw into a racer, courtesy of Jeremy Franklin-Ross, co-founder of the Hazard Factory artists’ collective in Seattle.

Hazard Factory has a trove of online building resources, including a chat forum, at Make magazine, the guide for tinkerers who want to make rodent-powered nightlights or jam-jar jets, has an instructional podcast on the subject of power tool drag racers on its site,; the host, Bre Pettis, offers a valuable reminder: “Power tools are very dangerous. … it’s just a good idea in general to keep your hands away from anything that could cut them off.”

Beginner builders can also find plenty of racing videos on YouTube and dozens of photographs at Some regional racing groups hold build days, where novices learn skills alongside veteran tool freaks. Information on race schedules is at and

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