It used to be that you had only one option for making stock
of consistent thickness: a power planer. But a planer can't
tidy up a misfit rail-and-stile joint, nor can it size wide
panels or face frames. And a planer doesn't leave the surface
smooth enough for finishing, so you still have to vigorously
sand the piece, no matter how large.
In recent years, though,
a new thicknessing tool has invaded the home shop: the drum
sander. With four models now on the
market for less than $1,000, the time has come to take a close
look at these smooth operator
s that can sand even wide panels
flat and fine.
Drum sander vs. planer: A head-to-head look
Look under the hood, and you'll see that a drum sander bears
many similarities to a planer. As a workpiece enters the machine,
tension rollers guide it beneath a spinning cylinder that
removes a thin layer of wood. A planer may have two, three,
four knives doing the cutting; a drum sander has, in effect,
thousands of knives-the grit on the abrasive that spirally
wraps the drum.
There are some key differences, though. For instance,
a planer can cut away lots of material quickly, removing 1/16" or
more in a single speedy pass. With a drum sander, you generally
remove no more than 1/64" (an
d often only half that) with
each pass, and then at only about half the feed rate of a portable
planer. However, this slower feed speed and shallow cut leaves
an exceptionally smooth surface on most woods.
A drum sander
has other advantages as well. Because it doesn't slice away
wood like a planer, you can sand end grain, and use
it safely with thin or fragile stock, such as veneer and burls.
And, you can abrade away a dirty or weathered surface, such
as the maple benchtop, shown above, without dulling your planer
To learn the results of our tests of the Delta 31-250,
Grizzly G1079, Performax 16-32 PLUS, and Ryobi WDS1600, check
2001 issue of WOOD magazine and turn to page 55.