In Shop Blog, Techniques

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Q & A: Planer or Small Drum Sander?


I’d like to try using more rough lumber, but I’m not sure whether to
choose a portable planer at around four bills, or a drum belt sander at
around eight.What insight can you offer to help me make up my mind?


Like most tool purchases, this decision depends on what kind of work you
plan to do. For almost all woodworkers, the tool to buy first, the one that’s most
useful for general woodworking, is the planer.

The advantages of the planer are speed, economy and compact size.With a
$300 machine you can quickly bring a pile of material down to final thickness,
then pick up the planer and store it on a shelf. The disadvantages are the relatively
narrow bed (12 to 13 in.), compared to a drum sander (24 to 32 in.), the
tendency of most small planers to snipe the boards (make a slightly deeper cut
at the ends) and their inclination to tear out the grain on highly figured wood.
Without a wide jointer, it’s a little tricky to plane rough lumber so it’s dead flat;
the planer squashes a cupped board as it goes through,making it thinner, but
most of the cup returns when the board exits the machine.

Good, affordable drum sanders are a new addition to the woodworker’s arsenal.
The ‘open’ style drum sander,where the drum is supported only on one end,
allows users to sand from both edges, effectively doubling the sanding width.
They’re great for wide, glued-up panels.
Drum sanders are also perfect for
figured wood,because there is no tearout,
and for small and thin pieces,
which get torn up in planers. Prices
start at around $800.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker Tool Buyer's Guide 2002.

Tool Buyer's Guide 2002

Purchase this back issue.


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