Shopmade thickness sander

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Project by mileskimball posted 02-01-2016 03:19 PM 1849 views 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m gearing up to try making ukuleles. One of the challenges is getting the stock for the soundboard, back, and sides thin enough. My planer goes down to 1/8” (about 3mm) – the stock needs to be around 1.5-2mm (~3/64ths). I did a couple of test soundboards by hand, with planes, scrapers, and sandpaper. It takes longer than I’d like, my hands got sore, I pulled a muscle in my thumb…

I know now why luthiers use big drum/surface sanders!

However, those are cost-prohibitive, and I didn’t really want to invest the time in building my own shopmade drum sander, as some have done (

So instead, I figured I’d just build a frame for my old belt sander. The sander is held to the top of the frame with a couple of brackets, and a table mounted on opposing wedges adjusts the thickness. A crank and a 3/8” threaded rod pull or push the table up or down the wedges about 1/20th of 1/64th” per crank turn – pretty precise! The table is an old piece of laminated countertop I had lying around. This helps because it’s slippery.

To use the sander I just push the wood in under the belt against the direction of rotation – it spits it back out, then I just kind of go back and forth until it stops cutting. Then turn the crank and do some more until I get to the desired thickness, flipping the wood as necessary until everything is evenly thicknessed. It’s kind of like a metal worker’s planishing hammer or english wheel, but for woodworking. Of course, you don’t want to take too big of a bite at one time.

Dust collection (not shown) is through the sander’s integral dust port.

The cost: $0, since it was all built from scrap and an old tool I don’t use much anymore.

-- Miles

4 comments so far

View drbyte's profile


834 posts in 4571 days

#1 posted 02-01-2016 03:53 PM

Good idea, but just about as easy to make a drum for the full width of that box and it would be even better. Make a drum with PVC or MDF circles shoved on an axle. Sand down and trued up after drum installed with a flat sheet of sandpaper laying on the table. Wrap the drum with strip paper in a spiral and tape at both ends. I have two drums made like this and as long as you stay away from the electrical tape they work well. You could even use the old belt sander for power as long as you did not try to take too much off. Or you could add a motor for the drum and use the belt sander as a power feed! Another way to do this is to lay a carrier board on your planer and use double-sided tape to hold your uke top then plane it down to near final thickness then sand.

-- Dennis, WV

View mileskimball's profile


97 posts in 2523 days

#2 posted 02-01-2016 06:20 PM

Good suggestions, Dennis – no doubt that would make a better sander, and I’ve looked at youtube videos (such as Ron Walters’) for similar sanders. But I’m just building one or two instruments to see how it goes, and I didn’t want to spend any money. I also have a big drawer full of belts I bought on sale for this sander, which is small (3×18) and old (I have a couple of newer, bigger sanders – one stationary 4x-whatever, one 3×21).

I’ve considered the planer with carrier board/double-sided tape method, but I foresee a number of problems. First, consistency – you’d have to cover the entire piece of thin stock with tape, or you’d get thin spots where the tape was sandwiched below the stock. Second, removal – it seems like it would be hard to remove the tape from the stock and the carrier board without breaking the stock. Third (and this is just my situation) I’d need to get a new set of planer knives. I typically use the planer for initial smoothing and dimensioning, then finish up by hand with a smoothing plane. So my knives are all nicked up.

Besides, I like the challenge of making do with what I have on hand. And honestly, it works great!

If I build more instruments than just the couple I’ve planned – one prototype in spruce, and one fancier ukulele in sycamore and black walnut – then I’ll definitely go for the drum approach.

-- Miles

View McFly's profile


273 posts in 1536 days

#3 posted 02-01-2016 10:18 PM

One of my favorite things about woodworking is that there is always another way to do something and it may even be a better way; but if this works for you, then it works!

View Oldtool's profile


2788 posts in 2700 days

#4 posted 02-02-2016 02:23 AM

Two thumbs up, great solution to your needs.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

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