Planer or Sander

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I J I'm a beginning woodworker just Y1 learning about tools and methods. I understand both drum scolders and thickness planers are used to size and smooth the surface of stock before finishing, hut what are the merits and shortcomings of each machine?

john critchfield Duenweg, MO

A Planers and drum sandcrs both • accomplish the same thing. They reduce a board's thickness and make the faces of the board smooth, flat and parallel. Planers cut the continued wood with rotating knives. Drum sanders sand wood awav. Because they work differently, each machine does some jobs belter than the other.

A thickness planer is best for surfacing rough-sawn boards or remov ing large amounts of stock quickly. Most planers can remove Vie in. or more in one pass. A planed surface feels smooth to the touch, but needs to be scraped or sanded before finishing. This is because most planers leave "mill marks"—faint ridges from the rotating planer knives. These marks may be nearly invisible, but can show up when the wood is stained or finished. Most planers run into trouble on highly figured wood or wild grain, often tearing out the wood surface where the grain changes direction.

In general, a drum sander is used more for final surfacing. With a fine-grit abrasive it can produce a surface that's ready for finishing. With coarse abrasive, and multiple passes, a drum sander can remove a significant amount of stock, but not as quickly or efficiently as a planer. The big advantage of a drum sander is its abilitv to surface anv wood (even r •

bird's-eye maple) without a problem. It can sand across the grain— even end grain—so you can sand a glued up assembly, such as end-grain butcher block or a small face frame, in one pass. In this way. a drum sander is more versatile than a planer.

Actually, the two machines complement each other well—one takes up where the other leaves off. Shops that have both machines will often bring stock close to final thickness on the planer, and then run it through the sander to remove the last fraction of an inch and produce a finished surface.

Prices for small planers start at about $400, and drum sanders cost around $500 and up. Wide-belt sanders are another type of thickness sander. but they're more expensive, and found mostly in production woodshops.

To sum up. if you're working with a lot of highly figured wood and can buv it close to the dimensions vou m tr need, a drum sander is a good choice. If you're surfacing rough-sawn boards or need to remove a lot of stock in a hum, go with a planer. If in doubt, try renting the use of a planer or drum sander for an hour or two at a local cabinet shop—then decide what's best for you.

DAVID SELLERS Editorial Assistant

Where To Find It

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Got a uxxxluvrking question for the experts? Send it to (J&A, AMERICAN WOODWORKER. 33 E. Minor St., Envnatts, PA 18098.



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