Considering the Cross-Belt Option on a Wide-Belt Sander

A cabinetmaker shopping for a widebelt to sand veneer ponders whether he should get a machine that incorporates a cross-belt sanding step. March 26, 2009

We want to sand cabinet doors, face frames and veneer panels to 180g on a widebelt sander. I want to remove about .030" overall from our face frames and cabinet doors. Veneers are only about 10% of our production. Heeseman suggests a 3 head machine with a 100g steel drum followed by a 150g crossbelt with segmented platen and finally a longitudinal 180g head with a segmented platen. They claim that the crossbelt should be used on the frames and doors as well as the veneers, since the 150g crossbelt will do a better job of cleaning up the 100g scratch marks left by the first head because it is running "across" the 100g scratch pattern. Then the 180g segmented platen would finish the job.

I'm nervous about the crossbelt doing a consistently good job on the face frames and the ability of the 180g to clean up all the crossgrain scratches left behind by the crossbelt. Timesaver says a crossbelt should be used only for veneers and suggests a 3 head machine with a 100g rubber drum, 150g drum followed by a combination head 180g with a segmented platen. Heeseman says no one else recommends a crossbelt because only they have the accuracy to sand everything with a crossbelt due to their patented CSD (magnetic segmented platen) system.

I've sent samples to both companies to run and the only difference I can see is that the Heeseman samples seem to stain a little lighter than the Timesaver samples. Does anyone have experience with Heeseman vs. Timesaver and what about crossbelt sanding on face frames and cabinet doors?

Forum Respones
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
In my opinion, Heesman in general is a much better machine than Timesaver, but here, Timesaver has the right configuration. With only 10% veneer you don't need the extra expense and headache of a crossbelt. You should also check out Biesse's machine with the chevron belt on the third head.

From contributor G:
You're still going to have to finish sand coming out of either machine. I assume the Heeseman is a lot more money for the crossbelt option than the three head Timesaver. If the third head on the Heeseman is essentially a widebelt, segmented or not, what is the advantage when sanding solid wood doors? For the price difference is an orbitalhead sander after the less expensive widebelt an option?

If you can afford the time, be patient and watch the used tool market - that may be a good option. Today I purchased a 2005 Timesaver 43" double head orbital sander with low hours for less than one third of its original cost. It will follow our doublehead widebelt and eliminate many hours of hand sanding.

From contributor P:
Sounds like they are trying to sell you a machine configured for veneers, specifically tape removal (that's what the crossbelt is for). I don't know why they are pushing this. Heesemans are very nice machines, but it sounds like the wrong setup for the job.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the advice. Heeseman says I should still use a crossbelt even though I am not removing tape. They say it will give a better surface on both veneers and hardwoods since it is cutting the fibers across the grain, making them shorter and the final 180g sanding will still raise the fibers, but not as much as if there were no crossbelt before it. However, I like the idea of putting the extra money to an orbital. There's about an $80K price difference.

Anyone out there have a recommendation on what type of orbital machine would be required behind a widebelt finishing at 180g? I'm thinking a machine with a 220g widebelt followed by two orbital pads. Does an orbital machine really do a good job of cleaning up 100% of the crossgrain scratch?

From contributor M:
Orbital machines are a maintenance nightmare. They are only as good as the widebelt in front of them, in which you would not use a platen. A platen is accurate only to several thousandths, and to make an orbital machine perform well, you need to be accurate to .001, otherwise it won't sand or it will sand too hard. With a properly set up 3 head machine, the only sanding needed is a little crossgrain removal, 10 seconds per door.

From contributor G:
I agree that the widebelt has to be accurate. I have fine tuned my widebelt to within .002" on its 37" width. I have not heard of maintenance nightmares except in the '90s when Timesaver used their own in-house built heads. They switched to Hainy (sp?) brand heads and the problems went away. DMC seems to be the machine all other orbital heads are compared to. I am no expert, just passing on what I have learned.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor C:
Heeseman offers a valid point about cross sanding but it really boils down to what you need your final product to look like. It's a lot of extra money (and headache) for that crossbelt. As long as you sequence your grit selection properly, you should have no problem using a conventional widebelt sander (no cross-head) to achieve your desired results.

You say you want your final finish to be 180 grit and remove .030". You will need a three head sander (with a combination head on the third head.) 180 grit is good for removing .005" with the drum and a couple thousandths more with the platen - depending on the backing. I would recommend a 150 grit for the second head. It has the ability to remove approximately .010". If you're starting with product without glue build-up, you can put a 120 grit on the first head - it's good for removing approximately .015".

As for who makes the better machine, they both have their quirks. I used to work for Timesavers as a technician. I now have a company and I work on them all. Heeseman sanders tend to require more time (translation: $$ labor) to repair due to their extremely compact design. Replacing a drum is a lot more work. The newest Timesavers have come a long way when it comes to stability, meaning they rarely need to be readjusted.

As for orbital sanders, both the DMC and Timesavers will perform about the same. The main difference is the pad design and abrasive mounting mechanisms. However, following a 180 grit scratch will be a difficult task. At the minimum, you will need a two head orbital sander. The first head removes the cross grain, but will leave swirl marks because it needs to be coarse enough to remove the widebelt crossgrain. The second head needs to remove any remaining cross grain scratch and the swirl marks left by the first head.
I typically recommend customers to finish the widebelt with 240 grit before putting it through the orbital sander. I know people question that because of concerns of the stain not taking, but the orbital sander will be putting the last scratch in anyway - typically 180 or 220 grit - and that's what the stain sees.

If the widebelt provides a consistent final grit at a consistent thickness, the orbital sander will remove all the crossgrain. It's inconsistency that creates the problems for the orbital sander. Incidentally, I don't normally recommend buying an orbital sander until you hit the 100 doors/day mark due to the price, but with the glut in used machinery, that's not always the case anymore.