Drum Sander Versus Wide Belt

Shop owners discuss the differences and share experiences. October 8, 2005

We are looking at purchasing a sander and besides the initial cost differences between a drum sander and a wide belt sander, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages between the two?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor A
Get a widebelt with the platen and you can go right to finishing. A drum sander leaves ripples and will have to be finish sanded with a random orbit sander, so you are handling panels twice. You have faster belt changes on a widebelt and more powerful motor.

From contributor B
I have to firmly disagree with Contributor A. I have a drum sander and I do not know what "ripples" he is referring to. I have never experienced this. I have also used wide belt sanders and all things considered I really like my drum sander and it performs all that I ask it to do. When I use it all the way to 220 grit, the surface is flat and beautiful, even on highly figured woods. I also feel that it takes no longer to replace the belt on my sander than a wide belt. I will say that the finish on a wide belt can be better if it is properly tuned, but at what expense and size? My drum sander takes up considerably less room. Drum sanders are not planers though and many folks try to use them as such and always walk away disappointed. It is strictly a finish tool. Also many of the wide belts require more electricity than some shops have to offer. If money is no option and you have electricity to spare by all means buy the wide belt but I would give the drum sander a close look.

From contributor C
Try the Timesaver Speedsander with the 10hp. I had a drum sander before that and I found the wide belt beats it hands down. I do have to say that the drum sander I had was a 24" Grizzly so I don't know if the upper end drum sander are just as good. For a little more than the upper-end drum sanders you can have a 37" wide belt.

From contributor D
I have a drum sander. It is better then nothing but it is very slow. If you have the money and the need, get a widebelt.
I did some shopping and most widebelts are made in China, Timesavers included. I was leaning towards an SCMI. Don't forget the dust removal requirements for either.

From contributor E
To Contributor B: What brand drum are you running? I am looking at the Oliver 24" oscillating drum sander.

From contributor B
To Contributor E: I have the Performax 22/44 plus. I have not used the Oliver 24.

From Contributor G
To the original questioner: I've had both sanders. I would choose the widebelt 1,000 times over. I would say the biggest advantage is changing grits. I can change a belt from 80 to 120 or 150 in around 30 seconds and change back to a 36g if I need to in the same amount of time. It took me at least 15 minutes to change the paper on the drum sander, and yes they do run very slow, and mine was very prone to blowing fuses. The platen is another huge advantage as mentioned before. The Timesaver speedsander is considerably less money than the traditional widebelts and in my opinion would be a much better investment.

From Contributor H
If you go the drum sander route you have to get a drum sander with a large and heavy drum that oscillates and lots of cast iron frame. Otherwise, go with the belt sanders. I have used the Performax sanders and they work OK except they are too slow and changing belts is tedious. The belts in finer grits also clog up too fast. I think it's due to their small drum diameters. I have a shop built drum sander with a 12" diameter drum. It works well but a wide belt sander is still the way to travel.
As for the ripples, I agree with Contributor A. I once sanded a Bubinga table top on a DMC 3 head sander. I thought the results were beautiful until I put a coat of oil/varnish on it and then you can see the ripples if the lighting is just right.

From Contributor A
Been in the business for 35 years as a wood machinist, furniture maker and technician and if you run a panel through a widebelt with a without a platen you will clearly see the ripples I referred to. Best comparison is to planer marks. The platen is what separates the quality of a drum sander to a widebelt. Visit someone with a widebelt and see for yourself. I'm sure there is some shop near you that has one. You would learn a lot in just a few minutes.

From Contributor J
The easiest way to explain this is - drum sander bad, widebelt sander good! A drum sander is what you buy when you canít afford a widebelt, and I think I spent more time changing the paper on it than sanding.

From the original questioner
I want to thank all of you for your input! It's always nice to get more than one opinion, and the Woodweb certainly came through!

From Contributor A
A drum has a small contact point similar to a planer hence the ripples. A widebelt with the platen has a contact point of 1" to 2" and the sandpaper oscillates back and forth which minimizes lines from the sandpaper grit thus giving a surface that allows one to go right to finishing.

From Contributor K
It's possible the ripples being talked about are what typically called chatter marks. Usually caused by the belt splice on a widebelt, and can be then removed by platen. Washed belts will quite often swell 1 to 2 thousandths at the splice. Correct type of splice and/or dry cleaning of belts can eliminate problem. I personally have never used a drum sander.

From Contributor L
My drum sander leaves ripples. They are a type of snipe, very hard to eliminate. Never use the drum sander for anything but thin strips since I got a stroke sander. The stroke sander is amazing, but takes some practice. I just finished sanding a 48" round solid walnut table top. I started with 60 grit across the grain then went to 100 with grain and I am very happy with the results.

From Contributor K
While I know nothing about a drum sander, on a wide belt these marks are called chatter marks. They can be of equal distance apart if caused by swollen splice or incorrect splice, slippage in drive, or out of round drum. Other marks made, such as from hold-down slippage, will not be consistent. Sometimes marks from drive conveyor also will not be consistent. Measure the distance between the marks (using a crayon to mark piece from end to end will help display marks). There's nothing worse than a sander not doing as it should and having to sand out defect it leaves.

From Contributor E
To Contributor L: Have you used your homemade stroke for any raised panel doors? I am spending way too much time with a RO. I've been looking at the new Oliver oscillating drum sander. I do have an old Mattison stroke sander, but I'm not sure I want to give up that much floor space. I am looking for your comments on the stroke for finishing doors and panels. What grits are you using? Also what size belt are you running? I may have some extras.

From Contributor L
I had to take out a bank of tool shelves to fit the stroke sander against the wall, with enough space so a 52" table top can be sanded one half at a time. Then I built cupboards and drawers under it. I'm very happy about how much this machine has sped up my production on all kinds of sanding tasks. It takes a little practice at first, but less aggravation than a drum sander. Hardly any setup time! No, I haven't done any rail and stile doors yet, but I will be soon. I would start with 100 grit to level any proud joints and switch to 150 maybe. 60 grit is great for leveling solid table tops. I even have 36 grit, but 60 is aggressive enough so far. I'd still use my orbital just before finishing. My belt is 264" x 6". Polyester cloth backing is the best. Bear in mind that my machine is slower than most at 1850 fpm. Typically they run at 3000 - 4000 fpm. Since it is home-made I was worried about it flying apart! However it is solid and I'm happy enough with its performance. It's a block of steel with a handle, cork under graphite bottom.

From Contributor M
It sounds like the wide belt may be the way to go for my situation from what I've read in the forums. Does anyone know much about the Timesavers SpeedSander? It appears to be not too big and not too small and it rolls too. Is it less expensive than non-moveable models and is it as effective? I have not been able to find a good spec sheet on the web.

From Contributor C
We have the Speedsander in our shop and like any machine it takes just getting use to. I would get the 10hp 3ph as you will need all of that to sand. We use it for anything we can. For our doors we send them through with 100grit and then 150 with the platen. For belts we use Klingspor and get the belt that has the material remove at the seam.

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

Comment from contributor S:
The reason for your chatter marks is from the lap joint and stiff backing. Change to a butt joint in an X-weight cloth and it will be gone.