Drum Sander Options for a Small Shop

This thread wanders a little, but it sheds some light on the sander choices available for the owner of a one-man shop with space and budget limits. March 12, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
Does anyone have a particular reason I should not buy a new Oliver 25" oscillating dual drum sander? I cannot afford a full size belt sander, and I do not have the room. I would need a 3 hp motor and found a brand new one at well below list price. I am currently using a Performax 16-32 which does not do all what I want.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor U:
I have a 26" shop fox and it has paid for itself time and time again, however I wished that I had bought a 37". I think if you get the 26" you'll wish you had got the bigger one eventually. I'm not familiar with the particular machine that you are talking about.

From Contributor Y:
Years ago I had a 36 inch Woodmaster it worked well. I cannot personally speak of the Oliver but I'm with Contributor U on the idea of getting a bigger one than 26. I had the Woodmaster on a mobile base and was able to move it out-of-the-way. I think that Oliver makes excellent equipment.

From Contributor M:
We have a 26" dual drum (no oscillation) and you will hear nothing other than to go to a widebelt, and I would agree however at the point I was at I didnít have the space, the money, the power, or the dust collection (again the money). For me personally, in my shop, I have no regrets. I have not had any of the issues that everyone warned about other than depth of cut and understandably speed. I would agree that wider is better but that depends on your work. I had for a while wished I had a wider sander for face frames however I simply opt to tweak my process of assembly so feeding a faceframe through the sander isnít necessary. In my work I rarely have something where I am really looking for a larger machine but I know a large widebelt is in my future if I keep on my current path. Will I wish I did it years ago? Of course, Iíve done that on literally hundreds of purchases, but you have to move from where you are at the moment.

From contributor C:
We have no idea what kind of production you do. We only know that a tiny hobby machine does not meet your requirements. How can we advise you on a sander purchase? Any machine will work, but how expensive is your labor vs machine time? Losing three hours per day on a slow sander might mean you are throwing away $300 a day. You can buy a used wide belt really quickly on $300 a day.

From contributor R:
It will be a major step up from the Performax. I am a furniture maker (one man shop). I bought a Powermatic 2 drum sander a few years ago. It has been a good addition to my shop in spite of the fact it is very slow. You simply have to evaluate based on production needs.

From contributor L:
I'll bet you'd be happier with a stroke sander. I bought an old one that has two separate ends that can be spaced as far apart as you want. I was surprised how fast I could finish sand on it. It will take down material pretty quickly. It has a sliding table that raises and lowers to suite the work. We are running P150 belts that are relatively fast cutting and leave a mark free surface. No dubbing, fairly easy to learn and you can adapt the table to sand the sides of assembled dovetail drawers. If I was sanding a lot of veneers I'd go for a finer belt. We are running a 6" x 338" belt and can sand 8' long parts. With a table support jig we sand tapered legs.

From Contributor W:
I don't have a lot to add, but as a sanding specialist for our company I can say with authority that a quality sanding machine is the most important time saving machine in the shop. If you have one and it's not the heart of the shop then you really don't utilize it well and may not really understand it's potential. Drum sanders are a lot less expensive but a very decent single head wide belt is around $8000 now. If it can save you eight hours of sanding on a kitchen, how long is the payback?

From the original questioner:
I am a one man shop and produce perhaps two of the types of units you see on site every six-eight weeks. Sadly no one has addressed my question regarding the specific machine. I know that a wide belt sander is better in the long run and if one did more for sure itís a money saver. Space and money are factors. The Oliver is under $4K. I work at my own pace and would be used mostly for strips of wood and finished doors, none of which are ever over 22" wide. I did appreciate the comment that any machine up from my hobby one is good idea. Itís why I want the Oliver because it oscillates, like my size of a Buick Oakley belt sander. Best money I spent.

From contributor U:
My advice is to not buy something you will soon outgrow. I've done that many times. If the Oliver has the capacity that will serve you for years and will make you money then go for it. Oliver makes good machinery.

From contributor C:
New Oliver is nothing like vintage Oliver. They are out of Washington state, and all their machines are imports. I'm pretty sure the same machine is available from Jet. I've seen the Jet demoed, and the oscillation is better than not having it, but I still wouldn't buy a small drum sander for a business. Just too short of abrasive life!

From the original questioner:
Yes. This is not the old Oliver machinery. The Jet oscillating sander is nothing like the Oliver.

From Contributor S:
I have no firsthand experience with the Oliver, sorry I can't help there, but being in a very similar set of shoes as you, I decided to buy the General 15-245 . Itís not cheap, but I don't have the power to run a wide belt and this machine will just squeeze in on the panel without moving shop (23 amps, 240V). It cost me about $6,000. Some members here will call it crazy to spend that money on a drum sander, but it was as professional as I could go without moving, so I guess itís the best choice for my individual needs.

From contributor L:
To contributor S: What size electrical panel do you have? A small 20hp widebelt takes about 50 A at 220V 3 phase. A small dust collector for it 15 A, Some lights and you are still under 100A. Nothing else would need to be running at the same time.

From contributor O:
I agree with Contributor L, throw in a sub panel, you only need power for what you are running at any one time. I also agree with others about getting a wide belt. I don't understand why everyone wants to cheap out on equipment, but they have no problem with paying labor for someone to set up these cheap machines, stand by them all day because they are slow. Good machines are cheap and easy to justify, labor is usually the most expensive part of a business. I have seen a few nice 37" wide belts for around $8000 also. You will be miles ahead. I know this because I am speaking from experience, I bought a drum sander first.

From Contributor S:

I have 100A 220V 1ph. Two things that I have to run that weren't listed are an air compressor for the widebelt and my shop is on electric heat. I had an electrician come in and give me some options. There was no easy way (it would be over $10,000) to add more power to my shop and overloading my panel and switching off breakers not needed while running the sander would have voided my fire insurance. Sometimes we have to make these steps up in machinery in stages.

From contributor F:
I am also a one man shop. Several years ago I went looking for a sander, I wanted a wide belt but didn't find anything used in my budget. I found a new Powermatic 2 drum 24" on amazon for just over $2200 delivered. I looked at several brands and felt the Powermatic was a good bet. One issue was ease of changing belts, and I felt the Powermatic had the best design there.

About four years later I have not been disappointed. The tracking is fine, the feed belt fine, the accuracy is dead on. I use it for dimensioning, after jointing on a 1950's Oliver 16", then a Powermatic 16"Planer (American cast iron), it goes through the sander for final dimension. Would it be appropriate if I had any employees or depended on it to run hours on end - not in this life. For me where milling a parts list is not an overwhelming part of any given project, it works fine. I would still want a wide belt and will probably end up with one at some point. For now the drum sander has served me well and I don't regret the purchase. In short, in your shoes I would try to find a good used wide belt but if that doesn't work I would recommend ignoring the all or nothing catcalls here, and, after taking a long objective look at your operation and expectations, a drum sander may be the answer. As for the Oliver, I can't offer any first hand advice here, but my sense is they are charging a premium for the name, I also think the oscillation is more of a marketing ploy than a practical advantage on a drum sander, not to mention something else to wear out. One caveat, I have not kept up with prices, but I paid just over $2000 for my sander. If you are considering several thousand plus dollars for a drum sander, you are probably in the territory for a good used wide belt, so consider this purchase well. I know this post is a little schizophrenic but maybe it will help.

From contributor L:
"Overloading my panel and switching off breakers not needed while running the sander would have voided my fire insurance." Switching off breakers will not overload your panel. In fact, you can't overload your panel because the main breaker will trip. Has nothing to do with your fire insurance - just a way of using what power you have available to do what needs to be done. I don't think a wide belt is needed for what you do. I also think buying a new drum sander is a waste of money. Have you ever used a stroke sander? They are old technology but pretty darned effective. They will give a finish sanding, the drum won't.

From Contributor S:
To contributor L: Let me try this again. I'm not an electrician so my information is limited and my terminology is probably haphazard. The electrician came in, used a meter to measure start-up and inrush currents of the machines, and looked in the panel, looked at the wiring, looked in a giant book, etc. His conclusions were that with everything shut off except for the essentials: electric shop heat, lights and air scrubber, air compressor, dust collector, and the wide belt I was looking at, I would be drawing a steady 113 amps. He could not simply increase the size of the main 100A breaker because that would overload the system (interpret that terminology how you wish) and would be a code violation, and would void my fire insurance (so he says, I'm inclined to believe him being the professional he is). My 100A panel is a sub panel on a 150' run. His solutions to me were:

1. $8,900 will replace lines from pole to main to distribution center to my panel, etc.
2. $13,000 ballpark to run a dedicated 3 phase and redo panels, etc.
3. Find a smaller sander.

Guess which one I chose.

From contributor L:
I'll bet the electric heat was the deal breaker. Switch it off for the 30 minutes a day you'll run a wide belt, system then not overloaded. That said the electric heat will only be in use a small percentage of the time so won't normally require any action on your part. That is unless you heat your shop four seasons a year.

From contributor W:
If I was building doors I wouldn't get a stroke sander, but I do a lot of solid wood furniture. It's fine for that. I've even used it for abrasive carving at times - way too much dust, but otherwise good. It can also be used for sanding moldings and irregular linear shapes, with practice and some caveats. I prefer a hand belt sander for face frames, it's easier to see around the belt and flush the joints more precisely. I have used it for sanding veneer with extra fine belts. After the first time I've only used it for extra thick veneers (like 1/16" plus) or for sanding veneers off of substrates. It just works too fast to avoid sand-throughs. I have no experience with widebelts or drum sanders, though I must say that after about 1978 I found the whole idea of spending good money on a drum sander unbelievable.

From Contributor S:
Just an update. I've been running the General 15-245 in my shop for the past week and am thoroughly impressed with it. I find I'm running a feed speed of 8-11 fpm, depending on what's going through it. At 11fpm it keeps me busy catching and feeding in door pieces at a steady rate. In terms of quality of sanding it is impressive in this regard considering itís a drum machine. I've even made some veneer at 22 thousandthís thick, and the thickness was consistent within 1 and a half of a thousandth. It performs must closer to a small two head calibrating wide-belt sander than one of the hobbyist style drum sanders I had previously been exposed to. I am still learning the ropes of this machine, at the 8-11 fpm feed rate I'm pulling about 75% of the machine's rated amps, so there may be some further room for improvement but I don't want to oversell the machine until I really get to know it. Also, I'm aware that the nature of a drum sander means that the paper will run hotter than in a widebelt, so my paper life will be shorter and thus paper costs increased. For now, I can say that it is a very good match for a small 1-2 man shop like mine that is oriented to high-end residential cabinet production.