The debate over a drum sander vs planer is one many woodworkers grapple with. Concerned you’ll be limited by the planers width? Or, not sure if a drum sander can remove enough material for your jobs?
While budget is usually the consideration there are factors like shop space, noise and even the types of projects you’re using that might solve the debate.
Personally, after using both for over two decades, I’d always opt for a 22-inch drum sander with a low 24-grit sandpaper if I had to choose between the two.
In this guide we’ll help you understand the features of each machine and how to make an informed decision on picking a planer vs. a drum sander.
Top Planers and Drum Sanders
Best value drum sander:
Best bench top planer:
Helical planer upgrade:
Highest capacity drum sander:
Simplified: Drum Sander vs. PLaner
Woodworkers like to get to the point, and in the debate over these machines there are three options:
- Choose a drum sander if your top priority is material over 13″, you sand wood panels to finish quality (eg. breadboards) AND you won’t be using much rough lumber
- Choose a planer if your main use is rough dimensions of wood up to 13″ wide AND polishing wood panels to a stain-finish quality isn’t a priority.
- Chose both if you are trying to make money woodworking as a planer and drum sander combination is faster.
While I frequently use my Jet-2244 with an aggressive 24-grit sandpaper it takes more time and I’ll head to the planer if its an option.
Pros and cons of a planer
There is no dispute that a planer is a workhorse for grinding rough lumber to a finished thickness.
In fact, if you plan a steady routine of taking rough 4/4 or 6/4 lumber and dimensioning it then the decision is simple: you need a quality planer.
However, with most lumbermills offering lumber in finished dimensions with a straight-line edge (S3S is a common term) it’s increasingly rare for woodworkers to need to surface plane their lumber.
Features of a Wood Planer
First, understanding the features of a planer :
- Adjustable feed rate – this is by far the #1 feature overlooked, and which causes the most issues with damaged wood later. You NEED to have adjustable feed rates in a planer. Period.
- Helical head – along with adjustable feed rate, a spiral head will dramatically improve the planers quality as it only removes a sliver of wood at a time.
- Maximum width – easily the most frustrating feature of planers, the maximum width usually starts around 13″ and to move past 20″ will cost thousands of dollars.
- Motor size – if you plan on hours of use, you’ll want a larger motor for durability.
- Dust collection – this is all standard but worth noting the location and suction requirements. You can find more in our guide to dust collection on what size and CFM are best for your setup.
Pros and Cons of a Wood Planer vs. Drum Sander
While the pros and cons seem unbalanced it’s mostly because a planer is a one-dimensional tool when compared to a drum sander. In fact, a planer is good at primarily on thing: taking narrower rough or glued up stock and quickly making them a finished dimension.
But does that mean you should skip a planer? Absolutely not. While I own a smaller version for occasional jobs it’s a big timesaver if used properly.
Pros and cons of a Drum Sander
I started out my woodworking career using a 37×80″ Timesaver wide belt sander.
And, using it’s massive 37″ width, we made everything from kitchens to full size interior and exterior doors.
While this massive sander was parked next to a 20″ planer, which we used for rough stock and panel finishing, it was easily the #1 time saver (hence it’s name) in the shop.
So, when I started my own home woodworking shop, the third major tool I invested in (table saws and dust collection first) was a 16″ drum sander.
Features of a Drum Sander
Similar to the wood planer, understanding the key features of a drum sander is a must. And, with a drum sander, there are a few features that are standard that subtly give this tool an edge in use:
- Adjustable feed rate – this feature is standard and one of the most used adjustments on a drum sander. From a relatively fast rate for light sanding to a snail’s pace for heavy stock removal you’ll appreciate this feature.
- Load sensing – paired with the adjustable feed rate, a quality drum sander will automatically slow the input feed to avoid burning the wood (or motor).
- Open vs. closed drum – it’s common to find lower-end drum sanders with a closed end. For that reason, it’s best to choose a drum sander with an open end as you’ll DOUBLE the width of the material you can sand.
- Conveyor adjustment – surprisingly, the conveyor of a drum sander is really a course sand paper. And, during hours of use it will come off track. In fact, with my 22-44 it happens a little too often so I look for quick adjusting conveyor belts.
Pros and Cons of a Wood Planer vs. Drum Sander
While from just the pros and cons a drum sander is better vs. a planer the decision always comes down to your projects. Most woodworkers
Drum Sander vs Planer: Final Verdict
Every woodworkers budget is different.
But, I’m a firm believer in two things:
- Don’t upgrade tools on a short timeline
- And if you’re going to do a job, do it right.
So that leaves the debate between these tools down to two arguments:
- If you plan on buying pre-planed and edged lumber, choose the drum sander over the planer as you’ll enjoy the benefits of a machine that can sand rough panels, wider surfaces and product a professional quality sanded finish.
- But, if you plan on using rough cut lumber buy the drum sander AND an inexpensive planer.
Why not choose just a planer? Because woodworking requires a smooth finished surface and very few woodworkers have the time, skill and patience to use the alternative to a drum sander: the belt sander.
Best Drum Sander for Home Woodworking
So do I really need a drum sander? The short answer is any woodworker that makes flat paneled projects like breadboards, shaker cabinet doors, face frames or any furniture needs a belt sander.
The real question is what size drum sander is best? While a 16″ is good, a 22″ for a few dollars more is better because it can handle larger panels, tall face frames and not leave you wanting for that extra 12″ of total capacity later.
Best Bench Top Planer for Home Workshops
Shown: Dewalt Two-Speed Planer
While even the top of the line bench top planer is good, they won’t compete with the thousand pound floor models that handle wide panels.
But, for most woodworkers, they work fine and the trick is to maximize the use of both your planer and drum sander for the optimal project speed.
Here’s a few features to make sure you look for when buying a bench top planer:
- Invest in a quality, moveable base
- Choose a planer with two speed rates. Most single speed planers go too fast
- If your budget allows, a helical head planer is best
- Use outfeed tables to reduce snipe
- Pair your planer with a quality dust collector
Lastly, while a budget planer is tempting remember that this is a tool you should own for decades. Invest in a brand name with a warranty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a planer the same as a sander?
A planer is not the same as a sander. While a sander uses a grit to remove the wood using an abrasive force, a planer uses steel knives that “rip” slices of wood from the surface.
Do you have to sand after using a planer?
In almost all cases it is required to sand after using a planer on wood. Due to a planers knives slicing wood away it will leave a smooth surface, but marks will be left behind that will need to be sanded to not be seen when the wood is finished. Even a clear wood finish will show marks and nicks left by a planer, which makes a drum sander important for quickly sanding wood to a finish-ready sheen.
Can a drum sander be used to produce a finished surfaced?
One of the advantages of a drum sander is you can create a surface that is finished and ready to be stained or finished.
While debating planer vs. drum sander remember that eventually you’ll need both tools.
So which to buy first? Unless you buy a lot of rough wood, most woodworkers will opt for a drum sander because it can quickly cut material to thickness with low grit sandpaper. And, with an open drum end, can be used for wood starting at 20-inches wide on even the base models.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.