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For any workshop a drum sander allows for bigger projects in less time with better quality. Period. But maybe you’re deciding if it’s worth the investment? Or trying to decide what size you really need? In this article we’ll show you all the brands and sizes and include some tips to help you choose what’s best for your projects.
You can’t make high quality cabinets or furniture with a belt sander.
I know. I’ve tried.
So what’s the alternative? While wide belt sanders are the undisputed king of sanding they are over $10,000. But the drum sander is a reasonably priced, garage friendly machine that’s in the reach of any woodworker.
In this article we’ll review all aspects of a drum sander:
- Tips & Tricks
- …and more
What Is a Drum Sander
A drum sander is a large, fixed base machine used to produce a smooth finish on wood. It typically features a single or dual drum that is mounted horizontally over a moving belt. Due to it’s design it is best for sanding and not removal of large amounts of wood.
When to Use a Drum Sander
So when do you know you’ll need a drum sander?
Sure, they’re expensive. So for most woodworkers or carpenters the decision will come down to doing frequent or large projects.
Here’s a few signs it’s time to take the plunge:
- Your woodworking involves making large furniture or cabinets
- Or, smaller projects that require excessive time with a belt sander to remove planer marks
- Projects require perfectly flat surfaces – like table tops to be finished with epoxy
- Thin stock sanding that require a precise thickness (3/16″
- Lastly, you’re a perfectionist and want the job done right
So What Types of Drum Sanders Are There?
There are two basic types of drum sanders:
- Closed drum sanders that are mounted on four pillars and stock must be smaller than the opening.
- Open drum sanders where the drum is suspended over the moving belt.
So why would you choose one over the other? Consider:
- An open drum sander allows you to double the width of stock you can sand. For example, a 16″ rated sander can sand a piece of stock just under 32″ wide.
- On the other hand, a closed stock sander lacks the ability to “reverse” the stock. Due to this, most closed drum sanders are larger in size and for industrial use (and over 25″ in capacity).
Bench top Drum Sander For Small, High Volume Projects
If your projects don’t require a wide width but still need precision than a bench top sander is a great place to start.
While typically half the price of larger drum sanders this size doesn’t sacrifice on quality:
- Typically start at 10″ in width like this Jet 1020*
- Standard features like infinite speed control and dust collection
- Stock thickness to 3″
Small Shop Sized Single Drum Sanders (up to 16")
For cabinets and furniture you’ll want a sander with at least a 32″ reversible capacity.
At this size you’ll be able to:
- Sand all end panels and cabinet door
- Tackle most base cabinet face frames (as most are 31-32″)
- Sand flat trim, base board and cabinet door rails and stiles during construction
But the only drawback is most upper cabinets are 42″. And that leaves this sander short (or narrow) of being the best drum sander for most cabinet jobs.
Cabinet Grade Drum Sanders (22"+)
Keeping in mind face frames are 42″ and a 22″ drum sander reverses to 44″ width you’ll understand why I upgraded my Jet Tools 16-32 to a Jet 22-44.
And after I did, I tackled a massive walnut kitchen with no regrets on the investment.
At this size, you’ll not only have a larger capacity but a few more features:
- Optional closed cabinets
- Overload protection to automatically slow the feed rate
- Larger motors for longer runtime
Double and Triple Drum Production Sanders
Last but not least are the drum sanders typically reserved for a professional cabinetry shop.
These dual drum sanders offer time-saving features with larger motors, heavy duty sanding, and dual drums to remove twice the material in a single pass.
The only con? Cost. But compared to a wide belt sander they are a viable production solution at a fraction of the cost.
Combination Drum and Brush Sanders
Ever wondered how to distress wood to create an antique look?
Well, SuperMax has figured this out and offers a consumer-friendly brush attachment* for their line of drum sanders. It’s as simple as smooth board in and distressed board out. Just make as many passes as you’d like to achieve an antique look in minutes.
The only downside? This drum is expensive and fits only a few of their models.
Best Drum Sanders
|SuperMax 25-50||5.0||25-50″, 1.75HP 20 Amp, automatic speed control||Check Price|
|Jet 723544CSK||4.8||25-50″, 1.75HP, automated speed control||Check Price|
|SuperMax SUPMX-71938-D||4.7||19-38″, 5″ drum, 1.75HP, automatic speed control, advanced drum adjustment||Check Price|
|Powermatic PM2244||4.2||25-50″, 1.75HP||Check Price|
|Jet 16-32||4.2||16-32″, 1.5HP, automatic speed control||Check Price|
1. SuperMax 25-50 Drum Sander With Closed Stand
- 5×25″ extruded aluminum drum
- Single nut conveyor alignment
- Easy height adjustments, drum is directly attached to base to prevent mis-alignment
- Highly reviewed for excellent, three package shipping with no damage
2. Jet 723544CSK Jwds-2550 25" Drum Sander With Closed Stand
- Sandsmart control monitors the load on the drum motor and regulates the speed of the conveyor to maintain the feed rate without overload
- Conveyor bed-to-drum parallelism is easily adjusted without tools
- Parallelism adjust dial features a stop to quickly return the conveyor bed to a flat position
- Dust hood includes an integrated channel that mirrors the shape of the drum and directs chips and dust to the 4″ collection port
- Precision-machined and dynamically balanced extruded aluminum drum is designed to dissipate heat and protect the work surface from heat-damage
3. SUPERMAX TOOLS Drum Sander Model SUPMX-71938-D
- Intellisand to prevent burning or gouging of wood with automated speed control
- Extra-wide conveyor belt
- Cast iron frame
- Guaranteed flatness to less than 0.010″
- Also available in a 16-32 model for smaller project needs.
- Limited to 38″ of reversible width – excellent for all projects except taller upper cabinet face frames.
5. Jet 723520K JWDS-1632 16-32
- SmartSand to monitor feed rates and automatically adjust feed
- Tool-less conveyor adjustment
- 1.5HP motor
- 4″ dust collector connection
- Infinite conveyor speed adjustment
How to Use a Drum Sander
Installing the Sandpaper
I’ll admit it – I’ve worn my thumb pads off installing heavy grit sandpaper on my Jet drum sander.
But, that warning aside installing the sandpaper is the first and most common routine task you’ll do with your drum sander.
Installing paper can be done in five easy steps:
- Remove the existing paper and re-roll as you go
- Insert the end of the new sandpaper in the clip (3/4″-1″ on my sander)
- Evenly roll the sandpaper on the drum keeping it tight and ~1/16″ gap between the sheets
- Continually check for alignment and tautness as you complete rolling
- Insert the final piece of the sandpaper in the clip and make sure it’s tight
What happens if you install the sandpaper wrong?
The sandpaper will slip and “pile up” at best case or even break completely. And this can cause wreak havoc on your wood (I’ve wrecked a cabinet door once doing this…).
Choosing the Right Drum Sander Sandpaper Grit Sequence
For first time users of a drum sander one of the first questions is what grit should you start with?
Here’s my cheat sheet:
- 24 to 40 Grit – for bare wood or sanding panels (when a planer isn’t an option)
- 60 to 80 Grit – for removing planer marks or minor surface differences (eg. glued up cabinet doors)
- 100 to 120 Grit – as a second pass after all wood height differences have been removed with 60-80 grit.
- 150 to 180 Grit – as a third pass to progressively remove sanding marks of prior grits
- 200+ Grit – as a clean-up pass to make wood ready for finish palm sanding
I’ll skip a 150 or 180 grit in some hardwoods.
But a rule of thumb? The harder the wood the more grit changes to remove sanding marks from prior grits.
Adjusting the Drum Height to Remove the Right Amount of Wood
The first lesson in any tool is often important.
With a table saw you make sure the fence is locked in place and the blade adjusted to the right height. And with a router you do the same with a locked-in depth gauge and bit set to the right height.
So how about a drum sander? Here’s my method of making sure depth is correct:
- Adjust the drum high enough you can slip the panel into the sander
- Then set the conveyor to a slow feed rate and feed the wood
- Slowly crank the handle down until you hear contact between the drum sandpaper and the wood
- Using either your best judgement (experience) based on the sandpaper grit and results on the wood slowly apply pressure.
- Lastly, remove the board and run it through with an un-changed setting.
It’s better to go slow and have to do more passes as you learn your machine. After years of sanding wood I use sound and the Jet automated feed rate monitoring as a gauge.
Why is my Sander Burning the WOod?
This should never happen if you’re using the machine correctly.
And it’s pretty upsetting to see machines rated poorly over what I see as a user issue.
So what causes wood burn?
- Removing too much wood at one time (use more passes, remove less material)
- Excessive feed rates (slow down!)
- Tension rolls are mis-aligned and allowing uneven pressure (common larger pieces like 72″+ tables)
- Overlapped sandpaper – a stop the machine panic event!
- Pitch build-up from sappy woods followed by hardwood sanding (clean the belt!)
When your wood burns just take a few seconds to evaluate if you need to halt the machine. And then evaluate why it’s burning and what steps to take to remedy.
Unfortunately, if you’ve burned the wood you may have burned the sandpaper to the point it will need to replaced.
Drum Sander Accessories
What else will you need for your drum sander?
Beyond the obvious of having a stand – and choosing open or closed – you might be looking for a long list of accessories.
Here are 5 common add-ons to make with your purchase.
1. Have Extra Drum Sandpaper on Hand For All Grits
First, I like to have two types of grit on hand at all times.
Because I switch between hardwoods and softwoods (drawers) and tackle larger projects I’m always running the risk of damaging a roll of paper.
And since most sandpaper isn’t available at the local big box store it’s best to have backups.
2. Abrasive Cleaner to Remove Sap Build Up
So what happens when the sandpaper is clogged?
I’ve successfully cleaned out 80+ grits with an abrasive cleaner. But it’s a dangerous task that I’ll leave you to your own discretion and comfort.
In fact, I liken it to the first time you’ll plunge a chisel into a wood stick on a lathe. Once you get the hang of it a full length cleaner will do a great job. And there are multiple videos available online to demonstrate just how this works.
5. In-feed and Out-feed Tables
I’ll admit I haven’t invested in these yet. But it’s on my list.
What makes these tables handy? Consider:
- The wider the sander the more you can insert into the sander. But that means you’ll need to catch the pieces on the other side
- Larger and heavier pieces require support going in and coming out
- Avoiding “snipe” with out-feed support close to the sander
But what I do use is a stand (the same one I use on the table saw) to catch longer pieces 4-6′ out from the sander.
Drum Sander Setup & Care
So what else do you need to know about drum sanders?
In this section we’ll bounce around to the nuances of setting one up, trying out your first project and maintenance you’ll need to do.
Should I Invest in the Open Stand or Closed Stand?
While some models come with a stand others are sold as just the machine itself. So which do you choose?
The choice really comes down to budget and the style of your shop. For economy:
- Invest in in-feed or out-feed tables instead if you are on a budget
- Closed shelves keep your accessories contained, but it’s easy enough to build a shelf or peg system in an open stand
- But if budget isn’t an issue then a closed stand offers out-of-the-box storage and a clean look to the machine
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a drum sander used for?
Drum sanders are used for sanding larger pieces of wood perfectly flat. By using a fixed drum and conveyor system a drum sander can sand boards from 12″ long and any width perfectly flat. As a replacement for a belt sander, the drum sander will produce a higher quality finish.
How much is a drum sander?
Drum sanders cost between $700 for a bench top model up to $2500 and more for a professional cabinetmaker quality machine. While as costly as a table saw (for most woodworkers) they are just as important as they produce the final finish to wood projects.
Can a drum sander replace a planer?
A drum sander can replace many uses of a planer (but not all). While a drum sander is a chip-saving alternative to a planer for many uses it only lacks one thing: ability to remove large quantities of wood. However, if your projects don’t require large thickness changes a drum sander equipped with 24-grit sandpaper can be a great substitute.
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Hopefully this article exposed you to things about drum sanders you didn’t know.
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