Thickness-Sanding Small Pieces of Veneer

Thoughts on economical machinery and practical techniques for sanding small pieces of highly figured sawn veneer. November 11, 2008

I've started to do a bit more veneer work and need to speed up the process a bit. Currently I resaw to a little over 1/4" and plane and r/o sand down to about 3/16". I need to be able to reliably thickness and flatten to 3/16" quickly. The pieces are about 9"X12" and anywhere from curly and medium figured to quilted and some crotches and a few burls. I've considered a wide-belt, but think I'm going to hold off on that until the next year or so. Plus, I'm not sure that a piece that small would come out so well. A friend recommended a stroke sander but I've never used one for this and have very limited experience at all with one. I initially thought I'd just buy a drum sander, but wasn't sure if there would be a sniping problem.

I'm also wondering if I use some sort of sander, if I can pass the glued up framed veneered panel through it for smoothing without worrying about sniping. I'm sure that there are machines in the price range of Ferraris that would do this, but I ain't got that kind of jingle-jingle. If I could stay under $8,000 or so, that would keep the wife conscious.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor T:
Took some custom table leaves to a "top" millwork/cabinet shop for thickness sanding, and their 50' belt sniped front and back of stock. They knew that would be the result (I guess they had given up on tuning it). Their standard solution was to erase the snipes with their stroke sander!

To prevent snipe on those 12' portable thickness planers, the solution is to gang feed, letting the first and last be sacrificial panels of identical thickness as your product. Can also be done with narrower strips alongside your product with enough lead and tail extension to load the in/outfeed rollers and take the snipes). For thinner stock, a carriage bed to support the stock is advisable. I would guess similar approaches would work with a drum sander.

From contributor R:
I have been doing this same thing with my 38 inch Woodmaster drum sander, no snipe whatsoever. A whole lot less than $8000, and lots of other uses for it. This type of work takes time but the sander really helps. It is a good, well built machine.

From the original questioner:

With the drum sander, is it necessary to attach the piece to a backer board when going to 3/16"?

From contributor E:
I use a dual drum Powermatic sander to thickness sand resawn veneer. Sanding to 3/16" or 1/8" works fine without a carriage or backer. What's worked best for me is to resaw stock that's already been jointed. I'm then thickness sanding only one face. I tend to glue the sanded face when that's possible. I use 120 grit on one drum, and 150 on the second.

From contributor A:
I do a lot of veneer work at dimensions very similar to yours. My first recommendation is to tune your bandsaw and its resaw fence. There are a number of good books out there about minimizing saw drift.

Second, since you're sawing up to 12" thick pieces, you'll need at least 1 1/2 HP to get a clean cut. You can resaw with a smaller motor, but there will be more drift. The point is, the more the saw drifts, the more sanding you'll have to do. When the resawing process is optimized, you should have not much more than 1/32" to remove.

I'm assuming that your material is figured enough that planing the veneer, even if it is attached to a backing board, is a bad idea. I have a Performax 16/32, which is a poor man's Timesaver. It doesn't snipe, takes short (8") lengths, and does a great job on short, thin material. If the feed rollers come down too far, simply affix the veneer to a backing board with double face tape of hot-melt glue. Occasionally an inexpensive machine is a better solution than a top of the line machine.

Also, the previous point about having a planed surface is on the mark. You'll need to joint the original surface. Even if there're chip outs, you can always make that the glued side. Having a true, flat bottom surface is necessary to get good sanding results.

From the original questioner:
My bandsaw is more than up to the task and I always replane the face, although I'd prefer to sand flat, which is another reason I'm looking at the different sanders. I've gone from doing one or two of these types of things every other month or so to needing to do five-ten a month. So a faster method than handplaning, scraping or the r/o is really needed.

From contributor G:
I have a Proformax 24 X 2 that will easily do short pieces maybe down to 10" and will sand thinner than 1/16" probably down to 1/32" (by the way, if you are working with veneer for furniture to glue down to core, you should not go over 1/16" in order to have stability and no splitting problems). The Proformax is great for small, thin work that you are doing, but not a well made machine.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, contributor G - I'll add that to my list of things to check out.

From contributor I:
You can buy a good used Timesavers for well under 8 grand and it will whip the pants off a drum if you're doing any sort of quantity. I run thousands of feet through a three head
Ferrari that did cost more than a house, but used to do it on a single head 37" SCMI that did a great job. You could pick one up for 3-5k. I think the point of not going thicker than a 16th is a good one. 3/32 veneer is going to fall apart over time.