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How It Works: 3M File Belt Tool

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HOW IT WORKS:

Bryce Anderson was one of the first technicians in the country to get his hands on the 3M File Belt Sander when the product was still in testing five years ago. Anderson, who’s been at Raymond Auto Body in St. Paul, Minn., for more than a dozen years, is a regular in-field consultant for 3M products. 

“You get some stuff that needs adjustments and tweaks, and some are instantly right,” he says. “This one was instantly right.”

Raymond Auto Body has Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Porsche certifications, among others, and the File Belt Sander is a pillar of the shop’s aluminum work. It is particularly helpful in disassembly, but its uses are across the board on all types of steels. It can grind out rivets and spot welds, and it can remove seam sealer, window urethane and hem flange. And it can clean up the areas around new welds.

The tool itself is small and light, and is designed to get into areas that other grinders and sanders can’t, Anderson says. The long arm, which cycles a file belt abrasive, can get inside the gutters on a quarter pane, for instance, says Gary LeMay, a 17-year tech at Raymond. 

“The thing I really like about it too is that it sands as well as grinds—is just effective as those other tools like a cutoff wheel—but has less sparks,” LeMay says. “You can get in there and clean things up really nice, and get at things you can’t normally with an angle grinder. And you’re not going to bother your neighbor with sparks flying everywhere.”

The abrasive belts don’t wear out easily, either, LeMay says. Anderson, for instance, removed an entire quarter panel and rear body panel off a Camry using just two belts on the day he was interviewed for this story.

“It’s definitely great for the aluminum work in the shop—it’s part of the Mercedes program—but it’s just great for the everyday things we need it for, too,” LeMay says.

THE RETURN:

After returning the original demos, Anderson says the shop picked up three of its own once the File Belt Sander came to market. At less than $500 apiece (depending on the retailer) and considering the low-wear abrasives used with them (each costing roughly $3–$4), Anderson says it doesn’t take long at all to recoup costs.

“You’re looking at it as a time savings,” he says. “You can cut minutes off little jobs, hours off big jobs by using this one tool to get into areas that might need to otherwise be disassembled to work on. I mean, it seemed like it just took a matter of weeks for it to pay off.

“With cars today, the sheet metal is so thin and you have to be very careful in taking it apart. So, this [tool] is great in helping with that rate of removal, and you can work quickly without the risk of damaging anything.”  

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