Drum Sander or Wide Belt Sander?

Another discussion comparing and contrasting widebelt sanders and drum sanders (widebelts win).October 3, 2011

I have a small 1-2 man shop, and currently have no drum sander. I have needed one for a long time and it's looking as if an upcoming job may give me the nudge I need.

Should I stay away from an open end unit like a Jet 2244? I was looking at the Grizzly 24", but of course the occasional time we need to run something wider than 24", the Jet would be handy.

I realize neither of these are commercial units, but with the economy the way it is, we are trying to be spend conscious. General sanding after planing, and occasionally we make a run of cabinet doors and drawer boxes in house.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
I wouldn't buy a drum sander unless it was just a crazy amazing deal, too good to pass up, and will get you by until you can get a wide belt sander. Wide belt sanders are so much better. Wide belt sanders are faster, have a higher quality surface, and are really easy to change out grits on. Changing the paper is kind of a pain and when we had a drum sander, we left one grit on all the time. With the belt sander, in a minute we can switch belts and work up the grit cycle. There is also the whole platen thing. Drum sander is better than no sander, but a belt sander is way better than a drum sander.

From contributor R:
I would be seriously looking at the Timesaver listed on the Machinery Exchange for $2,700.00 before considering a drum sander.

From contributor C:

You could even look into a stroke sander. In my opinion that would be much better than a drum sander, and better than having to use a belt sander by hand. Grizzly sells one. I doubt there are a lot of stroke sanders on the used market, but it would be worth looking into.

From contributor M:
I agree with contributor B completely. All drum sanders suck, and the small ones suck a lot more. I do not have a wide belt (or a drum now). But I use them in other shops and compared to the nice dual drum I had before... the dual drum was a total waste of money. Better off with some good Dynabrade RO sanders.

From contributor F:
This question has been asked here many times. A couple of years ago I asked it myself and got the answers you are getting, which are not bad ones, but here is what I think. If all you had for transportation was a moped and you finally got the money to upgrade to a Ford Escort, you would think the moped sucked. If you then upgraded to a Cadillac, you would never go back to the Escort.

Simply put, the widebelt is better than the drum, but I didn't have the money for a widebelt and just couldn't justify it for a 2 man shop, so I ended up buying a new Shop Fox 26'' double drum for about $1600, and I am well satisfied. The paper will last a long time if you don't use it like a planer, and I put the rubber stick to mine to clean it from time to time.

If I had a widebelt, no doubt I would encourage you to get one, but I just really like my double drum. I will say that dust collection on mine is poor. I suspect it might be on all of them. I would definitely stay away from an open end, and I would get as wide as I could get. If I had it to do over, I would get a 37'' without hesitation.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input. I understand fully that the widebelt is the best way to go, however I am kind of in a tough spot all around with that option. First, at best it's twice and more like three times the money or more, which is simply out of the question, and that's not even including haul bill, wiring it up, and getting some abrasives in house.

Second, I am space limited in a fairly small shop. My building is 4k square, but it's broken up and the shop area is open but a bit congested. I would have to do a lot of shuffling.

Third, I am not sure I have the dust collection for a widebelt and the locations I would have for it would likely be too distant from our cyclone, which would either require more shuffling or an additional collector just for the widebelt (more money).

I was mainly looking for something to send parts through just to clean up planer/jointer marks rather than going the RO option (which is what we currently are doing) that was mentioned. Have plenty of that option and it's what I was hoping to get away from.

I often run a lot of flat trim in longish lengths and so on, which would be nice to just send through a sander rather than hand sanding every piece, which is brutally time consuming.

Will have to keep thinking, but contributor F's reply (while you can always find the answer you want) was more in keeping with what I was thinking. It's by far the best option, but then again, I could use a CNC too once in a while, but I don't have one.

From contributor O:
I had the regular 24" Grizzly sander and swore at it every time I used it... But a few years later I bought the 24" Grizzly Z series and it is a very good machine. You must have feed controls and an amp meter with a drum sander, and if you learn to put the hook and loop paper on correctly, they are actually very good machines.

Musts on drum sanders:
No open ends (had one once)
AMP meter
feed rate knob
hook and loop paper

From contributor J:
I agree with a lot of what's been said already, and fully understand where you're coming from. I like contributor M's point because it's so true. Everyone recommends buying the best and top of the line, but sometimes you really do have to grow into your machinery.

I looked at several of the drum sanders out there and went with the Powermatic dual drum. I found it to be very well built for an Asian import. If you go slow and don't try to push the machine, it will get you there. An amp meter would be nice, but if you know what you're doing, it's not really necessary. You'll know by the sound of the machine how you're doing. I also would not recommend the hook and loop. I have not used it myself, but have heard from others about problems due to the give of the hook and loop. I had smooth rubber coated drums and they work very well.

I also would not recommend an open end sander. You're better off getting a wider drum. I started out with a Performax 16/32 and hated everything about it. Had it less than a year before buying the Powermatic. Now I have a basic widebelt and it's like night and day. Like you, I had to reorganize half of my shop, move a lot of equipment, and of course do the wiring and dust collection setup. In the end it was worth it though, and the time it saves will quickly pay for itself.

From contributor D:
Regarding sanding and shipping with a drum sander, every drum sander I have seen leaves a pretty obvious mill mark of its own. Depending on the finish you need, it may not help you any in that you will still have to R/O every piece.

A wide belt with a combo head and the right paper will allow you to sand and ship. They are a bargain now with so many on the market - they will never be cheaper.

From contributor F:
I'll ditto contributor O's response on the amp meter, and feed rate. Mine also has hook and loop paper on it and I've not had any problems with it.

From contributor P:
I looked into this question 5 years ago as well. We had a drum sander at the school I was teaching at, and the job I was taking did not have a sander and I said they would need one for me to take the job. I got on here looking for a good brand of drum sander, but what I found was that the belt sander is the way to go. At the time I had problems with the drum sander but it was a heck of a lot better than disk sanding. I ended up getting a used Timesaver and it has been great. So much better than the drum sander. Contributor F is right though, until I had the belt sander, I didn't know how bad the drum sander was. When I buy a sander for my own shop, I will wait until I can afford the wide belt sander, and I agree on the 37" minimum.

From contributor U:
If you're spending more than an hour or two a day sanding solid wood parts by hand, you're costing yourself more money by not buying a wide belt (especially a used one). What's your time worth? At $50 an hour, your payback would only be 50 hours to get a $3 - $4000 sander, $1000 for a decent dust collector, and a few hundred for wiring. Once you have that machine, you'll have the capability to extend your range of work. You'll also be able to do sanding for other under-equipped shops. The sanding I do for local contractors alone has paid for my sander many times over. Bottom line: scrape up the extra money and get the widebelt. You won't regret it.

From contributor I:
I have a Woodmaster 37" single drum in my shop, and shops that I have worked in have had wide belt sanders. No comparison. Widebelt hands down, but widebelts aren't the end all, be all either.

I have found with the Woodmaster you can get very good results - just as good as a widebelt (probably going to catch it for that one). That said, it is a lot slower than a widebelt and you cannot horse the stock through it. But progressing through the grits from 80 on up, it will do a great job. I would run far away from the open ended ones though. There is flex and you can't have that and achieve satisfactory results. You need a closed end model.

Either way, though, you still need to finish with an RO sander to get rid of the scratches left by either. Another problem inherent with both of them is roller marks and other artifacts that you don't always see until the finish is applied.

If a drum is in the budget and a widebelt is not, by all means go with a good drum.

From contributor Q:
The reason to have a drum sander vs hand sanders is to get surfaces level and cleaned up, and get thickness uniform. So you are asking a valid question.

I didn't like the open ended drum sander I had when first starting out. It was very slow and usually burned a door in every run when the paper stretched and overlapped. Trying to do wide parts in two passes was always rolling the dice. I then had a dual drum 37" Extrema for a few years until I could afford a wide belt. The heavy duty dual drum did a pretty nice job kept loaded with 120/180. No chattermarks to speak of. I have heard good things about the Velcro drum Woodmasters.

A multiple head wide belt is the right tool for the job, but the right dual drum can get you by in the mean time. Two drums work pretty well once you get the second drum aligned to barely remove the scratches left by the first with your chosen grits. You want a design that will take up slack as the abrasives stretch as they heat up. I would pick two grits and stick with them. Get to know the limits of the machine and it can make you money.

From contributor K:
I would throw in another vote for the Woodmaster. I found a used one for less than a grand and it has been wonderful. Velcro makes changing grits fast and after running 220 grit, not much RO sanding will have it ready to go.

A shop I sometimes buy doors at has huge widebelts, and they RO sand before shipping as well.

From contributor I:
I got mine used as well, and have needed various parts to put it back in shape, and the folks at Woodmaster have been excellent to deal with, both with their technical assistance and with the speed they ship parts and accessories. Also, they are quite reasonable price wise.

Klingspore also has the rolls of paper at a good cost. Having that Velcro covered drum makes it very fast to change paper, and it allows the paper to flex when it tightens on the drum, unlike the clip systems, and if you are sanding small pieces you can do half the drum in one grit and the other half in the next grit, saving even more time.

From contributor V:
As others have said, you still need to use a RO because the drum sander leaves linear lines. My shop is very small and I just wanted something to clean up stock. I don't do solid wood glue-ups, e.g. raised panel doors, and my flat panel doors fit well enough that a RO is all I need (using drum sanded stock). The 12" Grizzly was a minimal investment and does what I need.

Initially an amp meter would have been handy because I was tripping the breaker. Once I figured out what I could and couldn't do with the machine (and got it properly set up), I quit tripping the breaker. Mine now has a fixed feed of ~11FPM and I don't miss the adjustable feed rate that the machine came with. The give of the hook and loop can make wrapping the drum tightly/evenly a bit of a challenge, but in usage it's only an issue if you force feed the machine.

From contributor N:
I have a 50" Woodmaster, and while it is not a wide belt, it is far superior to not having anything. Flattening glue ups and sanding stock after planing is where these things do their best. No, they are not finish sanders, nor were they ever intended to be. The right grit at the right feed rate produces a pretty nice finish. Nice enough to be finished easily with a R/O sander. If you are not a high volume shop, it will do all you need it to do. Yes, a stroke sander will be more versatile, but they are slow as well and take a good bit of shop space to operate.

From contributor H:
I've got a Performax (now Jet) 22-44 that I've been using for about 6 years now. Other than it frying two variable speed feed belt controller cards, it has been a great machine. With a roll of 36 grit, I can really eat some wood with it. The down side is the time it takes to change belts. But on most wood when I get to 150 grit, I have a pretty good surface that only needs a little ROS work. Dust collection is excellent. It has become the workhorse of my shop to get panels nice and flat so I can put them on the CNC to carve and machine.

I heard Jet came out with a version that has an oscillating drum to reduce the inline scratches left from the straight line sanding. It would be interesting to see the results from that machine.

From contributor W:
Supermax built the original Performax before Jet bought them out. I bought a 37/2 model in 1998. I have used it for thousands of doors and face frames. I have had minimal trouble with the machine mechanically. It does take some getting used to to get the best results. I would love to have a widebelt, but my drum sander is more than capable of turning out excellent products.

From contributor C:
I have an older 24" Grizzly. It's about 12 years old. I hated this machine and it was never used until we got the hook and loop sandpaper and the kit that goes along with it. Couldn't be happier with the machine, and would not buy a 37" belt sander unless the machine was really nice and the price was really cheap. You will be pleased with a well running drum sander. Never buy the open end drum sander - it will make more work than if you never used it to begin with. I have used single and double head wide belt sanders and have had just as good product coming out. I actually wouldn't buy a double headed belt sander over a single head.

I also came up with an invention for my drum sander. I hooked up an air supply with a valve on it to a piece of copper tube. The valve was to supply just a little air pressure. I drilled small holes in the copper on one side and aimed it down towards the wood coming out of the sander and blew the sawdust back into the machine. It works great and I have no more dust problems. The pieces come out with absolutely no dust on them, but be careful to not overdo the pressure or it will blow back out the front.