Deciding on a drum sander vs planer when buying tools isn’t always an easy decision. Concerned you’ll be limited by the planers width? Or, not sure if a drum sander can remove enough material for your jobs? In this article learn the pros and cons of each and which tool best fits your workshop.
Personally, I use a drum sander for almost everything.
Usually it’s because I don’t like risking chipped wood in an expensive door or desktop.
But often its because I can fit a 44″ wide tabletop through the sander. And, using a very course 24-grit sandpaper, level the top after it’s glued up vs. trying to plane it in pieces, glue it perfect and then have to hand sand.
However, there are ARE times a planer makes for the best tool – and in this article we’ll cover:
- Pros and cons of a planer
- Pros and cons of a drum sander
- Drum sander vs planer head-to-head
- Best drum sanders available
- Best planers on the market
And, along the way, we’ll show you tools and tips and tricks to consider.
Pros and cons of a planer
There is no dispute that a planer is a workhorse for grinding down rough lumber to finished dimensions.
In fact, if you plan a steady routine of taking rough 4/4 or 6/4 lumber and dimensioning it then there is just no discussion to be had: 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 you’ll be tackling this unless you’re dealing with custom milled wood.
Features of a Wood Planer
If you’re not familiar with all the features of a planer it’s worth starting here.
And, even if you are familiar with planers, there are a few features not found in entry level planers you’ll want to consider. So, let’s take a look at planer features:
- 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.
- Spiral 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. More on this later.
- 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.
However, given the choice between a drum sander or planer I’d take the … well, we’ll wait for that.
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
As you likely noticed there are more Pros to a drum sander vs. a planer.
And, after using a 22″ drum sander for the better of the last 15 years I am biased (perhaps), but the capability does speak for itself.
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 Starter Drum Sander for Home Woodworking
My first drum sander was a JET 16-32 and I used it to build the cherry kitchen in the home I live in.
While I later upgraded to a JET 22-44 as I was tackling larger kitchens with 42″ upper cabinets (face frame sanding) this size worked perfectly for most jobs.
For example, here are where this size excels:
- Affordable price
- Smaller footprint for storage in your workshop
- Features similar belt adjustment and feed overload as larger versions.
If you think you’ll tackling larger jobs, then you could consider a 22-44. But, as time passes, this is one machine that has proven to raise (significantly) in price. So a trade-in later may net you a good deal.
Best Planer for Home Workshops
I’ll argue over and over that advertising a FAST feed rate isn’t a feature you want.
In fact, slower feed rates are my preference when using a planer as you have more control of the stock, aren’t forcing the knives into the wood at a rate the motor can’t handle. And, you guessed it, you end up with a better finished product.
Lastly, to emphasize control, you’ll want a slower speed to avoid “snipe” that occurs when the boards leave the planer. Slower feed rate = higher quality.
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 it’s tempting to spend a few hundred less and start with a planer, it’s often best if your long term ambitions are to do a lot of woodworking to do just the opposite and buy the drum sander first.
Because in a matchup of drum sander vs. planer I’ll take the sander any day. I can always buy hardwood in S3S and skip most needs of a planer.