April 19, 2022

Alternative to a drum sander

Features and characteristics of a drum sander

Dust Collection 

Most bench-type drum sanders are on their stand for stable operation, with a dust containment attachment or some dust vacuum feature. That feature protects the operator from flying dust and other wood debris and helps reduce dust dirt from the machine. 

There are three factors to consider when buying a shop-style drum sander. Use a minimum of two feet around the sanding machine for a safe operation. That is the frequency to use the tool, the types of material you will sand, and where you plan to locate the machine. 

Serious mature carpenter putting wooden plank in drum sander for woodworking

Simple alignment feature

Just one nut adjusts the conveyor to parallel the sanding head, making aligning the conveyor to the sanding head fast and easy.

Indexed alignment setting

The fast lever is an indexed alignment setting for narrow and wide stock. When sanding stock wider than 19 inches, the index lever will adjust the conveyor for flawless wide sanding.

 Easy height adjustments

It features a thrust bearing below the handle, and a nut positioned above prevents the drum from moving out of the set position while sanding. There is no backlash or slop in the height adjustment mechanism, allowing easier and smoother height adjustments.

 Extra-wide conveyor

The conveyor table can be as comprehensive as 22 inches to support the stock. The drum sander will not go out of alignment. It has a carriage bolted to the base, preventing movement or alignment issues.

Drum 

Drum sanders consist of a single or dual drum mounted horizontally over a belt. The design makes it ideal for sanding surfaces but not cutting away large amounts of wood. Drum sanders are for smoothing out hardwood flooring, applying a flat surface to large pieces of furniture, like tabletops, and thin sanding jobs that require a precise degree of thickness and finishing.

Drum sanders have a drum on the head instead of a cutter head or blades. The drum is wrapped with abrasive strips that sand away surface roughness. Use the machine as a finishing tool. Removing stock will lead to heat build-up, burned abrasives, and a damaged workpiece.

What to look for in an alternative

Quality 

The frequency of use determines what quality machine you should buy. For an avid woodworker, a shop-styled drum sander is an invaluable tool. The percentage of your woodworking projects will employ the drum sander. 

If it is less than 20 percent, get one of the many high-quality home workshop models. If you plan to use the machine for more than 25 percent or more than 50 percent, consider a professional-level machine if it is for your garage workshop. 

The constant use, versatility, and durability of a professional-grade drum sander will not disappoint the woodworker who puts it to constant use. Check all components such as drums, feed belts, pressure rollers, and even housing for quality. If anything feels cheap or fragile, the sander will have a long working life.

Motor Power

Most drum sanders have a motor power of between 1 and 5HP. It is up to you how much power you need. Confirm any voltage limits in your shop, as you do not want to buy a 240V sander when the limit is 120V.

Capacity

Know the size pieces you will work on. If you want to sand floors, you will need an open drum sander. If you work on smaller items, like cupboards or chess boards, you might consider a closed drum sander to meet your needs.

Speed

The best drum sanders have a speed variance and feed rate. That allows the use of the sander for a range of woodworking projects. Some results require slower speeds, while others need to be quick.

Platen

Go for a sander with a platen about one inch wider than the drum. It should be durable enough to withstand the friction and vibration from regular use.

Dust Collection

You need a dust collection system to handle the wood dust being dispersed. The older 20-30 micron systems are insufficient, and the filter bags clog up quickly. 

Noise Reduction

Look for a machine with a noise reduction feature. Drum sanders issue high noise when operating, especially after a long time. Lower it to enable sustained use while avoiding ear damage.

Budget

Be aware of the amount you are willing to spend. Drum sanders range in price from a few hundred to over 1,000. The higher-end ones will have advanced features and capabilities, but make sure you need them before deciding.

Drum sander alternatives

Drill press

Set up a drum sanding bit in a drill press. Clamp a fence to the drill press table and pass thin strips between.

Band Sawn veneer

If the veneered piece is no wider than your thickness planer, you can glue the planed side of the band-sawn veneer onto the substrate. Pass the glued-up sandwich through the thickness planer to finish off the exposed sawn side and reduce the thickness of the veneer. The technique works well for veneered drawer faces.

You can attach the smooth side of the band-sawn veneer to a carrier board with double-sided tape and pass it through a planer.  If the tape lets go, the veneer can shatter inside of the planer, which can be dangerous. 

Thick veneer acts like solid wood, developing surface cracks when it shrinks during dry weather and developing enough stress to cup the substrate and tear the glue line.  To avoid this, bring your final thickness of the face veneer down to 1/16 to 3/32 inch maximum.

Saf-t-Planer in a drill press

Plane a board while holding it in your hands. A Saf-T-Planer fits into the drill press, and each rotating blade is 1/64 inch beyond the cutter head. Each revolution comes with removing 3/64 inches, and each bite is only 1/64 inch.  It cuts fast.  

Bench plane and an orbital sander

A bench plane is a hand tool that shapes wood by removing excess wood from a piece. Bench planes flatten and smooth broad wood surfaces and narrow edges (Thisoldhouse.com). Use them as a staple hand tool in woodworking shops until power tools usurped their place.

The old bench plane was for shaping wood, but nowadays, an orbital sander can smooth down rough edges in a short period. There are types of bench planes, both big and small each with an advantage for types of woodwork projects.

Planer

A planer shaves wood from the surface of boards. They are used to make a rough surface flat and smooth or reduce its thickness. It works like scraping a knife across the top of a block of butter. You might need a bit more muscle power.

Palm sander

Palm sanders work for many sanding jobs, and you can buy a decent one for less than 50. Although it is a power tool, a palm sander still requires manual movement and frequent paper switching. Use one for small- or medium-sized projects, such as resurfacing furniture or removing paint from plywood. Choose from multiple palm sander models (Bob Vila).

ROS floor sander

Random orbital sander comes with unmatched sanding properties through simultaneous rotation and oscillation of the sanding disc. The sander comes with a powerful variable speed motor that you can adjust and provides ideal sanding for all materials.

David D. Hughes
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