Ok, folks, sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones, right? I don't know why I'd never thought of this before. I came across a crazy deal for a sweet little sander at Harbor Freight. After coupons, I paid less than $50 for this belt sander.
The thing about tools like this is that they often come with some small hand tools that are necessary for upkeep. If you want to change the angle of the belt, or if you want to remove parts, you need these small metal hand tools. Raise your hand if you've ever lost one of those... Me too.
Sure, you and I probably have some accommodation, where we've got an allen wrench set, and we've also probably got a socket wrench set. You can lose these tools and get by anyway. Sure. But isn't it sweet when a tool comes with some way to store them? That's my experience. I'd much rather have the tool right there and not have to go dig for it. Pricier tools often have such storage built in.
My tablesaw has a place for the miter gauge, for instance. My drill press has a spot for the chuck key. So what about this sander? Would it have killed the manufacturer to have planned for a slot into which I could have slid the wrench, and maybe a double hole of some kind to slide the allen wrench into?
Fortunately, for a few bucks and about two minutes, you can make your own solution.
Step 1: Rare Earth Magnet to the Rescue! Drill a Hole Smaller Than the Screw
I wondered whether I could find a rare earth magnet and use it somehow (maybe with glue?) to attach these little hand tools. It turns out, that even better, there are strong magnets used for some cabinet doors.
Your average cabinet magnet is probably not strong enough to hold a little metal piece while the tool is vibrating and sanding something. A rare earth magnet, though, cost me a few bucks - I could have shopped around for the cheapest, but this was a little over $5. If you're more frugal than I was, I bet you can find something like this for a lot cheaper. Or, when you buy more than one of these kinds of things you can often get them for much cheaper - might you not want to do this for a number of machines and tools?
I used some special cobalt drill bits that I already had - be sure to use something that's good to drill into metal - and I drilled a hole a bit smaller than my screw.
Don't try to screw it in just yet, or you might strip your screw and it won't hold well - only frustration.
Step 2: Tap the Hole
If you've got a set of taps, then you're all set to prep the hole for the screw. If you don't, here's your excuse for finally getting some! They're fantastic. I used a tap set for a workbench build and couldn't believe how well tapped holes worked for holding machine screws in hardwood. They're fantastic. You can tap wood, metal, plastic, etc. Just screwing into material, especially soft stuff, can end up stripping the inside.
Tapping needs to go very slowly and evenly. Don't apply pressure. Just start spinning slowly either with a drill or by hand, and let the teeth grip on their own and pull the tap in. Then, when you've gone in all the way, back out slowly, letting the tap move at its own pace so that you don't strip the screw hole.
Step 3: Screw It in and Test It Out
Once you've drilled, tapped, and screwed in the magnet, that sucker isn't going anywhere. See the round disk now attached to my sander? It's in a great spot, out of the way, and when the sander runs, these tools are firmly attached and aren't going anywhere. When I need them, they're ready to hand.
I know that this is super simple, but there are lot of super simple ideas that I haven't thought about until someone makes a video or an instructables to suggest for me. The nice thing about this is that once you've got the magnet, we're talking about 1-2 minutes and you're done. You don't have to worry about losing (or finding!) your little auxiliary hand tools for power tools like these.
Maybe more expensive tools have this sort of thing already included in the body of the tool, sure. But a brand-name equivalent to this sander that I saw recently costs over 3 times what I paid for this cheap one. So, mine needed a few bucks and a minute to attach these little tools. I still I saved a ton of money and found a great place and way to store and keep track of little tools like these. With that savings, I bought another cheap sander of a different kind... and still came out way ahead of (still $50 cheaper than) buying the one name brand version of the belt sander in this project.
I hope this saves a few hand tools and spares you some headaches too.