By Dave Sellers

Jim Morgans Wood Profits

Wood Profits by Jim Morgan

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Sanding is the bane of woodworkers. Oh. there might be a few individuals (with time on their hands) who enjoy smoothing wood with sandpaper, but I don't know any. That endless rubbing gets old fast. And sanding is a pretty crude operation—scratching and tearing the wood fibers, rather than severing them cleanly as, say. a hand plane would do.

Yet, sanding surely has its place. It's relatively easy, fast, and if done correctly by progressing from coarse grit to fine grit, sanding can produce a surface ready for finishing on the finest furniture. A variety of portable sanding machines helps, too. Disc sanders, pad sanders, belt sanders and random-orbit sanders (see AW, #22) all do a good job, but they're limited in a couple of areas. They smooth the surface, but can't get it perfectly flat. And on big jobs, the sheer volume of work—holding a noisy, vibrating sander—slows production and can drive you crazy with boredom.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it's time to consider a stationary drum-sanding machine. With this machine, you'll be able to automate many sanding jobs, surface and thickness-plane rough stock and free up your time to use your woodworking skills where they count. In this article, I'll explain how drum sanders work and describe some of the models currently on the market for less than $2,500.

A Look at Drum Sanders

A drum-sanding machine works a lot like a thickness planer. In fact, a drum sander is often called a thickness sander or an abrasive planer.

Where a planer has a rotating cutterhead with a set of knives, a drum sander has a metal cvlinder covered bv a strip of sandpaper wrapped around it in a spiral pattern. Wood passing underneath the rotating drum is sanded smooth and Hat instead of being cut with knives. The sanding drums are about 5 in. or 6 in. in diameter and from 12 in. to about 38 in. long, depending on the width of the machine.

So w hat are the advantages of a drum sander over a planer? There are several. A planer has trouble surfacing highly figured wood, burls, crotches and other wild grain patterns. The planer's knives can tear the grain and chip out little pieces of wood. In contrast, a sander simply grinds away the top surface of the wood regardless of the grain direction, putting a smooth surface on any type of wood with equal ease.

Also, on a drum sander you can change the paper to match the abrasive grit to the job at hand. The range of grits used on drum sanders commonly runs from about 36-grit for very rough stock removal up to 220-grit for fine finish sanding.

Planers usually leave a faint series of ridges on the wood surface called "mill marks," which are caused by the rotating planer knives. The wood may feel smooth and the mill marks may be invisible on freshly planed wood, but they'll show up when the wood is stained or finished. For this reason, planed wood has to be scraped or sanded before finishing. With fine-grit paper on a drum sander. the wood can be ready for finishing as it leaves the machine.

Drum sanders can handle foreign objects hidden in rough wood belter than a planer can handle them. Unseen nails, stones or other debris can render a planer blade useless. A sander will glide over theses objects— tearing a few dollars worth of sandpaper at worst.

Finally, a drum sander excels at surfacing flat assemblies such as face frames, door and window frames, picture frames and glued-up panels like tabletops and butcher-block tops (even end grain). Imagine trying to put a whole frame-and-panel door through your planer to even up the joints—it would likely be torn up pretty badly where the cross grain of the rails went under the cutterhead. In contrast, assemblies like this come out of the drum sander with all joints flush, the whole surface smooth and the whole assembly uniformly thick. The sanding will leave tiny cross-grain scratches on the rails of frames, but these can be sanded out by hand in a short time with fine sandpaper in a pad sander. Because a drum sander won't chip out and can be adjusted to take very thin cuts, it's also a natural for sanding delicate inlay work, marquetry and veneered panels.

OK, if they're so great, why haven't drum sanders replaced planers entirely? First, drum sanders can't handle the large cuts that a planer can. A thickness planer can take off '/i6 in. or more (depending on size and motor power) in one pass, which makes it a better choice for surfacing rough-sawn boards or for removing large amounts of stock quickly. A drum sander can surface rough stock, too, with very coarse abrasive paper. But since it requires light cuts and multiple passes, it's not nearly as efficient as a planer. If you take too big a cut with a drum sander, youll end up with burned wood and torn paper. And, though each type of machine makes a lot of debris, the fine dust from a drum sander is more bothersome to clean up and more hazardous to your lungs than the larger shavings from a planer. For this reason, a dust-collection svstem is a must with a drum sander.

Actually, thickness planers and drum sanders complement each other. In shops lucky enough to have both machines, you can bring stock close to final thickness on the planer and run it through the drum sander to remove the last %4 in. or so to produce a finished surface.

Drum Sanders Today

Drum sanders were developed in the 1920s and used extensively in large production shops until the 1950s when a newer, more efficient type of machine—a wide-belt sander—began to replace them. On a wide-belt sander a sanding belt is stretched between two rollers,

"7o set the thickness of the cut, adjust the height of the conveyor belt so the wood misses the drum by an eighth of an inch or so. Start the wood through and turn the crank to raise the belt until the wood just touches the drum... you'll hear the drum make contact.

That rs the setting you want."

JERRY GRAHAM Custom cabinetmaker and furniture maker Clearfield, PA Woodmaster drum sander

NovfwerR/DecE\'6[R a 37

Ross Cutting Boards

The Ross 12-in. drum sander is just right for surfacing 1 x 12 or narrower boards. Notice how a light pass begins to smooth the surface of the rough-cut board.

Ross Super Sander Drum Sander

The Woodmaster #2675 26-in. drum sander has a sheet-steel stand. Turn the crank on top to set the height of the poYrer-feetl conveyor belt, which adjusts the thickness of the cut fHSf9C0l«IDTCI»Wt»US1f»

so the paper runs cooler, lasts longer and is easier to change. Today, there are many makes of wide-belt sanders with prices stalling around $5,000 for the most basic machine.

Drum sanders arc less expensive because they have fewer pails and are easier to manufacture. There arc several dmm-sander models available in the $ 1.000 to $2,500 price range that make them attractive to small-shop owners or any woodworker who wants to automate sanding chores. Design improvements have made it easier to replace the paper on drum sanders, and a paper change on a drum sander costs much less than on a wide-belt sander. Enough new paper to cover one 25-in. wide dmm should cost about S7 to $10. Bulk purchases of sanding paper arc the most economical way to go.

If you're tired of spending hours going over your projects with hand-held portable sanders. but you can't justify the expense of a wide-belt sander, take a look at some of these dmm sanders.

Drum Sanders for Different Needs

Dmm sanders arc available in different sizes and configurations to meet different needs. Though larger dmm sanders arc available, we've focused on several smaller models for less than $2,500. Within this price range, more money buys you wider capacity and added features like power-feed conveyor belts (instead of having to hand feed the stock) and two sanding drums, which allow you to have coarse-grit on the first drum and finer-grit on the second—thus doing the work of two sanders in one pass.

Woodmaster sells a 26-in. capacity dmm sander with a 5-HP motor and a power-feed conveyor with variable-speed feed rates from 0 to 16 feet per minute. This model #2675 single-drum sander sells for $2,199 and has a heavy-gauge sheet-steel stand that covers the mechanical parts of the machine as shown in the photo (above). One innovation on the Woodmaster sander is the paper-attachment system—there's Velcro on the dmm and felt-backed sandpaper, which is wrapped in a spiral around the dmm. Built-in dust chutes enable a powerful shop vac to extract sanding dust from the bottom of the dmm, which helps prevent loading of the abrasive and gives longer abrasive life.

The Excalibur Machine Co. makes a small Ross #SS-12,12-in. wide dmm sander priced at $1,054, which is just right for smoothing 1x12 boards. (See photo below.) This machine has an enclosed sheet-steel stand, with a 1-HP motor and a power-feed conveyor belt with fixed speed. The spiral-wrapped sanding strip is held in place with reinforced filament wrapping tape. Excalibur will be introducing a 20-in. wide, single-drum sander with a 3-IIP motor for less than $2,000 in December.

Lobo offers two different dmm sanders—a I5-in., 3-HP model (#SK-15DS) for $ 1.995 and a 20-in. 5-HP model (#SK-20DS) for $2,450. Both have double sanding dmms for mounting a different grit on each drum, and power-feed conveyor belts running at a fixed speed of 12 feet per minute.

Performax Products offers several dmm sanders in different configurations. At the top of the Performax line is the Super Max 25, a single-drum machine priced at

$2,195, and the Super Max 25 x 2, a double-drum machine at $2,595. These sanders stand firmly on two posts, are powered by a 5-1 IP motor and come standard with power-feed convevor belt with w variable speed of 0 to 20 feet per minute. The 25 x 2 model has a secondary sending dmm that can be fitted with finer paper than the primary drum. All the Performax dmm sanders feature a spring-loaded take-up mechanism in the dmm that automatically takes up the slack in the spirally wrapped sanding belt as it stretches during use.

The Ross 12-in. drum sander is just right for surfacing 1 x 12 or narrower boards. Notice how a light pass begins to smooth the surface of the rough-cut board.

"With hand sanding, each piece might stain differently, sometimes blotchy, which caused a lot of trouble. Noxv after running my stock through the dmm sitt teler, it takes stam more evenly."

BOB SMAJSTRLA Garden Acres Country Woodworking Burleson, TX Ross dmm sander

38 a amfiican woodworker

Conversion Kits

You can get set up for drum sanding for as little as $300 with an acccssory kit from Performax Products that converts a radial arm saw into a drum sander. (See photo below.) The Performax model ST kit relies on the saw's mount the drum mechanism, and it uses the saw's motor to power the drum. The 22-in. wide drum is suspended in a rigid cast-aluminum frame that hangs— cantilever fashion—out over the saw's work table. You might think the outboard end of the drum would be too flexible to sand a consistent thickness, but it works fine if you take light cuts with reasonable feed speeds. One advantage of this open-sided design is the ability to sand panels up to 44 in. wide by running them through the sander one side at a time. Once you get used to it, mounting or removing the sander from the radial arm saw takes about 10 minutes.

For woodworkers without a radial arm saw, Performax offers an auxiliary' stand ($350) on which to mount the model ST drum sander, and a separate 1 V4-HP motor to power it. Also available is an optional power-feed attachment ($330) that feeds the stock under the drum on a flat conveyor belt at a variable speed of 0 to 10 feet per minute. (It also can be used with the model ST below) You can buy a package deal called the Performax Pro Max II, which consists of the model ST, auxiliary stand, power-feed attachment, and 1 Vi-HP motor for a price of $1,495.

If you already own a Woodmaster or RBIndustries

The Performax ST is the least expensive way to get drum-sanding capability in your shop. The sander mounts on a radial arm saw column and uses the saw's motor ror power, i nts setup also shows

Performax power feed accessory.


Drum Sander

planer, both companies offer an acccssory kit to convert their planers to a drum sander. The conversion kit for the Woodmaster's 12-in. planer costs $99, $ 169 for the 18-in. wide planer and $199 for the RBIndustries 12 XA -in. wide planer.

The Belsaw Co. (formerly Foley Belsaw) also has a kit available to convert its planer to a drum sander for $89. The kit, called the Tri-Sand System, makes use of the planer's cutterhead by providing the parts necessary to mount pieces of sandpaper in each of the cutterhead's three knife slots.

Dove Sellers is an assistant editor of AMERICAN WOODWORKER


BELSAW CO. (formerly Folev Belsaw) 4111 Central Ave. NE Minneapolis, MN 55421 (800) 468-4449


Anderson, MO 64831

(800) 368-7677

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  • mentha
    Can planer knives cut paper?
    9 years ago

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