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Stroke Sander: Good for finish sanding?

Joshua Johnson Member


I'm thinking of getting a stroke sander. Does anyone use one for full finish sanding or are they mostly used like an over sized belt sander?

12/23/13       #2: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
joiner Member

I am a big fan of stroke sanders for both heavy removal sanding and finish work. You will find however that many woodworkers are not so enthusiastic. Drum and widebelt machines have become the new rule for sanding, despite the higher expense.
The down side to stroke sanding is the high level of skill required to use it well. I had to teach myself how to apply the right pad pressure along with the right table movement to feather out the effect of the small pad without leaving obvious ruts, dips, and streaks. It took years of practice, but it is possible to quickly remove a consistent layer of surface leaving a uniform finished look. So, it's very labor intensive compared to poking it into a feed table.
Stroke sanding is also slower for production runs, as well as length restricted compared to the big machines.
Still, if you can get a bargain on a stroker, and like a challenge, it's a very satisfying and cost effective way to smooth a panel.

12/23/13       #3: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Joshua Johnson Member

Thanks joiner. I think I'm going to give it a try.

12/23/13       #4: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Adam West  Member


The stroke sander is a very fine art form. Keeping the contact pad moving is an absolute must to avoid damaging the product.

Stroke sanders are capable of some of the best finish sanding possible. The wide contact surfaces really make for a nice long, shallow scratch pattern.

If you want to go that route you will need lots of patience and practice. Wide belts need a lot less practice and patience.

12/25/13       #5: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Joshua Johnson Member

Thanks for the feedback guys. I really appreciate it.

12/25/13       #6: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
joiner Member

Since you're interested, there are some points worth mentioning. Many stroke sanders are equipped with a pad attached to a mechanical control arm. I have never been able to use these with success.
The only way I know to really control the pad is with a handheld unit. Frankly, I think the mechanical pad is a failure of design. Probably the manufacturers offered it as an upgrade e$tra option. Also it keeps the hands away from the danger, and the danger is real. A fast moving, free floating sanding belt edge will severe digits like a knife.
The pressure pad I prefer is a shop made hardwood block with arched handle, centered lengthwise. The width should be about an inch shy of belt width, and length of around eight inches. Pad surface is graphite impregnated canvas, stretched both ways, and thoroughly tacked around all edges.
This pad gives the mechanic total physical control of the applied pressure pattern. As the belt rapidly passes at the work point, it will cup in a way that forms a long moving canoe like trough. This can seem like an annoyance at first, but is a real asset to the operator. Table movement pushes material perpendicular to the belt/ pad contact area. If the pad is held to the belt so as the upturned edge of belt is on the leading contact of the wood, the belt will ride smoothly over the surface, even on a frame and panel door.
Sometimes when starting a fresh graphite pad, the belt back will overload with new graphite to a degree that the drive wheel will begin to slip, and too much pad pressure will stall out the belt. This is just a part of breaking in a new pad. Simply get out the lacquer thinner, load up a rag, and wipe down the back of the moving belt against a waste piece of wood. Watch those fingers!
As for technique. It's the old patting ones head while rubbing the tummy, and you have to rub the tummy in a very certain way. Once it's grasped, it really is like riding a bike. except for the amputation part.

12/27/13       #7: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Bruce H

I have several pads for my stroke sander. a finish pad with some dense foam and graphite glued to it and a rough pad made out of 1/2" steel with graphite glued to it. depending on the product you can do things with a stroke sander that you can not with a widebelt. check out you tube and the making of coffered lids for caskets using an automated stroke sander to sand the curved lid. something not possible with a widebelt.

12/29/13       #8: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
B.H. Davis Member

Years ago I had a Boice-Crane metal working stroke sander in the shop. There really isn't much difference between a metal working and wood working sander. I think it was more a matter of work surface size and max. height limitations.

I sanded hundreds of cabinet doors with that sander and didn't stop using it until I got my wide belt. It was enjoyable to use and I miss having it around as it didn't make the trip to a new shop somewhere along the way.

A couple cautions:

1) As mentioned above stroke sanders can be dangerous. There is really no way I know of to guard the belt edge and so it is exposed as it flys by your hands. Be very careful and don't become complacent as you become more competent with the machine.

2) When sanding cabinet doors it is very east to drop the belt edge off the door stile and into the panel recess. When you pull or push the table back in the opposite direction the belt edge can carve a slot in the inside edge of the style. Repairable but a pain.

BH Davis

1/1/14       #9: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Joe Calhoon

I acquired a lever pad Samco stroke sander when starting out over 35 years ago. I would disagree the lever action is poor design. It is just a different skill set from the hand pad and a lot safer.

Not everyone can run one and takes a very light touch to not destroy work. As BH says they are a pleasant machine to operate. We used to sand batches of interior, exterior and cabinet doors on the machine.

No doubt the wide belt is better for most work and the downside is the huge amount of real estate they take. We ended up selling ours because of this.

Early on we had PVC dust collection pipe (not recommended) When sanding a large batch of doors your hair would stand straight up when walking under the pipe extracting the sander.


2/24/14       #10: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Rick L  Member

Stroke sanders are the least appreciated and the most misunderstood machines. Very fine finishes can be achieved with them. One time we sanded a veneered panel 4 times because the finishers couldn't get the stain right and still salvaged the panel.
The lever type are called fulcrum pad stroke sanders and are perfectly designed as such, They definitely are more efficient then hand block sanding if spending 8 hours at a time on the machine.

I consider myself and expert on the machine having worked with them for over 40 years in metal and woodshops. One shop we had 3 stroke sanders and 1 widebelt. One stroke sander had flexible "J" weight belts and we used a graphite glove for sanding contours. This is the go to source for graphite...

The other sander had a pneumatic platen that was lever operated and the third stroke sander was a double belt through feed model.

Few people know how to properly make a handblock pad. You can somewhat teach yourself to use a stroke sander but you will never master the subtle details. I learned from a 40 year veteran of the stroke sander. The best handblock is a hollowed out and the hollow is filled with lead or steel. Underneath the graphite canvas is a piece of 1/4" firm felt carefully manicured with a 1/16" taper on the edges. The same holds true for a handblock or fulcrum pad sander.

It takes a lot of practice to master it and it's especially true of the fulcrum pad sander. I know pf one high end shop that had a stroke sander and could never figure it out and finally got rid of it. Because they are so minunderstood they are often priced at scrap metal prices. I brought a stoke sander in a custom metal shop that thought there was no machine that could duplicate their hand sanded finish. Boy were they wrong. There's a place nearby that does bronze plaques and uses a stroke sander to smooth the face of the plaques.

The ultimate graphite source

6/7/14       #11: Stroke Sander: Good for finish sand ...
Gary B.

I second everything Rick says above, he's spot on. I've used four of them in my career, including a double belt machine. Used on high end conference tables. Once you get the skill, you can sand any veneered panel with confidence.

I wish we still had one. One thing I will say is think "OLD IRON"; the bigger or older the machine, the better. I'm not impressed with any of them from the '80s on

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