Drum Sander - Is it worth it?

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Forum topic by Builder22 posted 06-20-2021 01:08 PM 760 views 0 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 2680 days

06-20-2021 01:08 PM

Topic tags/keywords: drum sander wide belt sander belt sander 16-32 supermax sanding production sanding planer sander hardwood softwood plywood furniture cabinets component sanding panel panels glued panels tabletops

Having a smaller size shop for custom cabinetry and creating high end custom furniture. I often look for creative ways to improve on time consuming or difficult tasks, in this case sanding hardwood glued up panels like for table tops. Not having space for a large belt sander I explored other options. In the past, sometimes I had hardwood vendors knock down large laid up tops on their large belt sanders. After much research, when I looked to take on the task internally, it came down to a drum sander, of which there are pros and cons, since I had no space for a belt sander. Keep in mind taking pride in my work means the work needs to come out perfect, no marks, lines or issues.

Well I took the plunge into a 16-32 drum sander, a SuperMax, not the least expensive nor the most expensive unit, but with solid reviews. I did physically check out the unit at my vendor. This size drum sander was to afford 32” wide laid up tops and possibly doors. I would have preferred the 18-36, but again space was at a premium. The unit developed an internal drum issue after a short time, but SuperMax was really great and replace the entire unit. To accommodate the fine dust I invested in a dedicated separate wall hung drum dust collector. Feeling I am embarking into making hardwood panel glue ups easier to finish internally, off I go.

First, let me say if you are not used to a drum sander, it does take some time to get the feel of how they work. I experimented with a variety of components from cabinet and furniture parts to panels, plywood to hardwood to softwood. One thing became apparent, the belts did not last very long, particularly with hardwoods. Glue joints are really bad on the sanding belts. Glue builds up quickly on the belt and cannot be removed, creating grooves in the surface being sanded. Even without the glue, the sanding belts can easy clog up (even with constant use of the gum stick) resulting in the worse case as burning the wood surface either by feeding at too high a rate or taking off too much material in one pass or both. Setting the unit to correctly remove material, maximizing material removal and extending belt life while shooting for a nicely finished surface can be challenging. I did find greater success was with coarser grits. Unfortunately, even intermediate grits, like 150, were much more difficult to work with. Even finer grits using a drum sander leave deeper scratches than using comparable grits with a power hand sanders. I never found the drum sander to provide a finished surface that I did not have to undertake significant hand power sanding to remove its scratches. Essentially, I found I was removing more material off a component section than I was in pre-drum sander use to get the same appearance. A bit of a waste of wood section not really saving time to prepare the components. Set up is cumbersome and time consuming at best due to setting and running multiple passes to confirm settings.

The worse was yet to come. Under close inspection, hardwood components were found to be sanded unevenly, even short 18” long pieces. The best way to describe the surface deviations mid board was not unlike planer snipe at the ends when planing on a surface planer. Keep in mind the drum sander settings and belt were confirmed adjusted multiple times. The snipes were mid board and not at the ends. I had invested in the infeed/outfeed tables to stabilize feeding components. Some would vary from a short dip to a longer 2” long surface impact. This was prevalent with hardwoods. Did not see this in softwoods or light plywood sanding. In an attempt to eliminate this sniping, the speed was fluctuated and the material removal became very small requiring many passes to finish the component. Too slow a feed only made it worse. Too fast and the auto slow down mechanism would kick in with the same result plus the sanding roll would clog up. Not a great outcome. The drum sander is really not a fast production unit, not like a large belt sander. Feeding and sanding is a slow and tedious operation if many components are required sanded. Setting the sander to the correct board thickness and setting the initial pass, required several trial by error approaches even though the drum sander boasts a board thickness preset lever. Never found the thickness digital gauge to be of much use. This process was always a time consuming experience. Too many tedious processes were added by using a drum sander compared to simply doing the work by hand. Of note, is the sander did operate adequately for narrow pieces, less than 1 1/2” wide. When wider pieces or panels were used, the performance was substantially reduces and finish quality deteriorated. The sanding load on the wider pieces and panel seemed to be too much for the sanding roll on the drum to handle..

Generally speaking after a year and a half working with a drum sander, I found the drum sander with dedicated dust collector was a waste of time and resources. I could be more efficient with a scraper, 1/2 sheet power pad sander (multiple grits) and hand sanding (which the hand sanding was still required with the drum sander) than by using the drum sander. The only positive use for the drum sander became standardized sizing splines for joints or sanding poplar hidden components. Never had a use for sizing boards since the planer was more efficient. The drum sander belts were much more costly (either precut or roll belts) than the sand paper I used by power and hand sanding. Using the planer provided much better results than by using the drum sander. The planer is a no brainer to use, faster and provides a really nice finish on its slower setting. However, the drum sander was to be employed on larger width components, but due to the drum sander poor quality of finish the unit mostly takes up valuable floor space. I also was never comfortable with the wider mid portion thickness resulting from sanding wider panels on a drum sander, something that does not occur on wide belt sanders.

Now I am sure there are fans and affectionados that swear by the drum sander and will criticize me for not using it correctly one way or another. I use and have used quite a variety of light and heavy millwork equipment, from many quality equipment manufacturers, successfully over many years. I avoid low end equipment since they typically do not work well, or become a one use and discard situation. Many sources were used during this endeavor with many different approaches applied to this drum sander experiment. But for my operation, the drum sander was wasted space, time, material and investment, plus much higher maintenance required than my previous process or other equipment.

That all said, I would recommend anyone looking at drum sanders to be cautious about a drum sander as an alternative to a wide belt sander. They are not! If you do have the space and resources, go with the wide belt sander instead or no drum sander at all. A drum sander may be more involved and costly than completing the same task by hand as I have learned and is certainly not a viable substitute for a wide belt sander. The drum sander will also not perform the fine grit sanding finishes well that you may require despite reviews and advertising to the contrary. Unfortunately, I still do not have space for a wide belt sander. Que sera.

25 replies so far

View Woodmaster1's profile


1787 posts in 3741 days

#1 posted 06-20-2021 02:21 PM

I use my drum sander primarily for two projects 1. Bands for my shaker oval boxes to get them to the right dimension. 2. End grain cutting boards and cheese cutters. I think the supermax 16/32 has been a great purchase for me. I use it often. I am not a production shop just a hobby shop which could effect how it functions for the user.

View Knockonit's profile


886 posts in 1356 days

#2 posted 06-20-2021 02:32 PM

everyones mileage is going to be different, in attitude, use and ideas. I have a couple drum sanders, and had a nice edge sander, (wished i’d kept it), they work fine for me on my simple projects, and if a value on another type sander shows up, hard to say what i would do, but being me, i’d maybe give it a go, and if doesn’t work out, pass it along to someone who may.
had a large sander in cabt shop almost 4 decades ago, not sure how we would have gotten along without it.
best for the day
rj in az

-- Living the dream

View Aj2's profile


3941 posts in 2952 days

#3 posted 06-20-2021 02:38 PM

I had a drum sander it did work me through the trouble I had with exotic woods. But once I became allergic to most anything out of South America I sold it.
I have a planer with a bryd head and my jointer has a 5 inch cutting circle. All the domestic woods I use are easily cleaned up with a hand plane. I also use the jointer to clean up the helical head marks.
Sanding is rare for me I haven’t bought sandpaper in over a year.
I’m just a amateur now take that into consideration.
Good Luck

-- Aj

View splintergroup's profile


5430 posts in 2376 days

#4 posted 06-20-2021 03:07 PM

“snipe” is a common issue with smaller drum sanders. Too much outfeed holddown roller pressure causes snipe about two inches from the leading edge and added infeed/outfeed table mis-adjustment can cause the same problem at a point equal to the distance between the drum and table gap.

These sanders require that the stock be perfectly flat before sanding or have the support (thickness or shims) to eliminate the hold down rollers bending the stock.

Having used a DS on virtually evey project I make, proper setup is complex, confusing, and necessary for proper operation.

As to the belt fouling, exposed glue blobs are the bane of sanding. Oily or sappy woods also will gum up a belt.
All these are easily removed from the belt with a soaking in ammonia or other cleaner. In my experience the rubber stick type cleaners are only useful for keeping a belt clean, not so good at removing fouling from a belt.

A DS is not a high speed tool. For production speeds, a large, muiti-horsepower machine is what the big shops rely on.

View Madmark2's profile


2955 posts in 1742 days

#5 posted 06-20-2021 06:11 PM

First you don’t sand major glue mess, you scrape it. This is true for any sander.

My old shop buddy had one of those small, micromark 6” model makers drum sanders (they have a newer model now) and it worked well enough for him as he was using my resaw offcuts that were running under 1/4” to down to nothing.

He made good use of it for “thinnessing” and would hand sand from there. I thought for an expensive little tool that it should have had a power feeder.

My old planer ran out at 1/4” so the sub-1/4” thickness realm was out of reach. My new planer goes down to 1/8” so this is less of an issue.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View tomsteve's profile


1175 posts in 2373 days

#6 posted 06-20-2021 07:59 PM

what grit ya runnin?

View CWWoodworking's profile


2018 posts in 1333 days

#7 posted 06-21-2021 12:35 AM

I can only speak for my woodmaster 26”. It has been a fantastic addition for glued up panels.

The paper is the cheapest paper in the shop. I spend more on discs. I use jepuflex from mirka. 100grit.

There is simply zero chance of being faster with a scraper/hand sander. You might get lucky on a panel or 2, but overall the drum sander is way faster.

A trick to extend your paper and eliminate glue build up is to angle your panels when you send them through. Go in opposite direction next pass. This makes a super flat panel and also all but eliminates snipe.

View Loren's profile


11226 posts in 4802 days

#8 posted 06-21-2021 12:48 AM

For making guitars, totally worth it. For cabinet work the drum sanders I’ve had were too slow for my liking.

I’d want a Woodmaster if I got another one.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4715 posts in 4263 days

#9 posted 06-21-2021 03:21 AM

I have a Jet 10-20. I don’t have room for infeed and outfeed tables, so there is some snipe in my parts. I tried feeding larger-than-10-inch planks through the thing, once. That line at the different thickness was quite annoying, and tough to get rid of. I made a 24” X 48” router sled to shave a panel into submission, but I don’t really make big panels, so I’m OK with the labor.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4715 posts in 4263 days

#10 posted 06-21-2021 03:23 AM

I have a Jet 10-20. I don t have room for infeed and outfeed tables, so there is some snipe in my parts. I tried feeding larger-than-10-inch planks through the thing, once. That line at the different thickness was quite annoying, and tough to get rid of. I made a 24” X 48” router sled to shave a panel into submission, but I don t really make big panels, so I m OK with the labor.

I’ve used it a lot for narrower parts and am quite happy with the results.
- Dark_Lightning

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Madmark2's profile


2955 posts in 1742 days

#11 posted 06-21-2021 03:29 AM

Whats the point of having a wide drum sander if all you run thru is narrow pieces?

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View Rich's profile


7060 posts in 1743 days

#12 posted 06-21-2021 04:00 AM

Now I am sure there are fans and affectionados that swear by the drum sander and will criticize me for not using it correctly one way or another.

- Builder22


-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View gdaveg's profile


233 posts in 356 days

#13 posted 06-21-2021 04:32 AM

Drum sanders are a wonderful tool if working right. But in community shops like I belong to they are a source of discontent. Someone will inevitably run panels through with lots of glue, sneak boards with finish on them or oily woods and ruin the belt.

Have had this problem in both the AZ and Portland shops, both have some very experienced woodworkers. But both have some novices too.

Drum sanders have some built in difficulties, the drum creates hot spots on high points on wood that is not totally flat.

But for me I love having them available to sand. My arthritis in my hands is much better the less the hand sanding I do.

-- Dave, Vancouver, WA & Tucson, AZ

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4715 posts in 4263 days

#14 posted 06-21-2021 05:56 PM

Whats the point of having a wide drum sander if all you run thru is narrow pieces?

- Madmark2

Indeed. Had I known how finicky it was going to be, I wouldn’t have bought it.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View pottz's profile (online now)


18609 posts in 2138 days

#15 posted 06-21-2021 06:05 PM

well i gotta say i love mine i use it with heavy grits 80-120 to do the grunt work then do the finish sanding with a ros.ill be keeping mine.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

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