Using a Widebelt Sander

Cabinetmakers explain the advantages of widebelt sanders, and explain how and why they hand-sand with the random orbital sander after belt-sanding. July 5, 2006

What do the bigger shops do - I have a General 25" dual drum and run 80 and 120 through. Does it make sense to get another machine that will do the finish sanding 150 and 180/220? I am a one man pro shop; I have the floor space, and with a lot of panels to finish sand with the random orbital sander, I thought this might save time.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I run 120 and 150 then 180 on the 1/3 sheet sanders. The higher grits on the drum sander seem to load up a lot faster. I cut up an old bias ply tire and use that to clean the drums. It seems to hold together better that the sticks or tennis shoes.

From contributor B:
You cannot avoid the ROS step as a drum sander will leave like a chatter or planer mark type finish from the curve of the drum. Widebelt sanders have a platen that allows you to go from sanding to finishing. The platen is graphite with a felt cushion and widebelts oscillate from side to side. So you cannot get away from random orbit sanding even if you have 3 sanders.

From contributor C:
I'm a one man shop and I use a 37 x 60 Timesaver. It takes 30 seconds to change out belts to what ever grit you need. Sell your drum sander and step up to a higher efficiency machine. You won't be sorry - I widebelt sand to 240 grit then sand everything back to 180 with the random orbital. It's very fast.

From contributor D:
Ditto the wide belt. I bought a used SCMI 60" x 37" wide belt sander for $6,000.00 on Ex-Factory. I never owned or used a drum sander but know lots of guys who have upgraded to a wide belt.

From contributor E:
There is a big difference between drum sanders and widebelts. Big shops will have multihead machines, with 2 or 3 head and a different grit on each one. There are even RO machines, or machines that have a RO station at the end. There are all kinds of configurations. It depends on your volume and budget. I have an Extrema and am well pleased. It does not take long to change a belt. I sand to 180 then RO with 150.

From contributor F:
I used to have a drum sander, and 4 years ago I purchased a 37 by 60 SpeedSander that was made by TimeSaver. The machine was around 6 years old. Paid $4,500 for it, and it has done a great job. It is easy to change belts. Best thing we have done to improve quality and save time.

From contributor G:
I have a question for contributor C and contributor E. Why would one sand to 180 or even 240 and then RO sand with a coarser grit? There must be a good reason for it but I'm not getting it.

From contributor C:
To contributor G: I find it takes much less time to sand to a consistent final sanded finish if you actually sand on the widebelt to a grit finer than your actual RO grit because it is simply quicker to sand out the scratches of a 220 or 240 grit than it is to sand out the scratches of 120 or 150. If you don't get all the scratches out in final sanding the worst you will have is cross grain scratches at 220 0r 240 instead of at 120 or 150.

From the original questioner:
A wide belt is a little over budget, but might be there in a year or so.

From contributor E:
To contributor G: When you sand 5 piece doors, you will be sanding cross grain on some parts. When I feed a door, I orient the panel so that it will be fed in the same direction as the belt. When this happens, the rails will be sanded cross grain. I sand this a grit higher so that the scratches will be easier to remove. When I sand to 180, then RO with 150, the 180 scratches are not noticeable. Sometimes it is difficult to remove 150 (or even 120) widebelt with 150 RO.

From contributor H:
Go for a widebelt - it is much better all around than a drum. There are lots of used ones on the market. They are simple machines easy to fix, and parts are available from many places other than the OEM.