Belt Sander vs a Drum (thickness) Sander

Ken Close

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Can you folks comment on the relative tradeoffs of thicknessing stock with a belt sander vs a thickness sander.

Now, it is obvious that the thickness sander will be superior but in making the tradeoff of cost vs results, can a belt sander be made to work? I have heard that belt sanders are nearly impossible to control and not put a crease in the piece. OTOH, I just learned about a belt sander "sled" that controls the sander and keeps it from tilting, so you seem to just walk the sander around the piece.

Thickness sander is ideal but for the money can a belt sander (with a sled) be made to work? What is your experience? What sander is "best" for this purpose?

Thanks.
Ken
 

Ian Barley

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562
Ken

I am assuming that by a belt sander you mean a handheld power tool rather than a wide belt sander. If that is the case then the answer is that while you undoubtedly could achieve a reduction in the thickness of stockl with a belt sander it would take a very great deal of skill to do this in any uniform fashion and the time involved would be excessive. Even with a sanding frame a belt sander is a fairly tough tool to manage with any finesse.

Outside of very large (several tons) industrial wide belt sanders, sanding equipment ought to be thought of as finishing rather than "working" timber. You technically could use a drum sander to reduce the thickness of stock but you are going to be lucky to remove as much a 1/32" in a pass so you could take a long time to get rid of enough material to make it worthwhile. If you need to reduce the thickness of stock then you need a metal blade, a planer of some sort. The drum sander can then be used to put the finish on the stock but in my experience you can do that easier with a random orbit sander.
 

Ken Close

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Ian: thanks, and I should have been more clear. I did indeed mean a portable belt sander.

I am working on a chest in a very well equipped shop (not my own) and it has a 27" wide thickness sander. After glueing up and then scraping a large piece like the top, there are still slight steps in the glue joints (even with biscuits) and the thickness sander takes these right down with x number of passes.

For future projects that I will try, I will not have this $3000 piece of equipment and am thinking ahead to what I might do. Is it your experience that you can "finish" a glued up table top just fine with a ROS?

Thanks.
 

Vaughn McMillan

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Ken, I've used a handheld belt sander quite a bit for flattening cutting board glue-ups (similar to the top of a chest, but smaller with more glue joints). It works, and with practice you can get consistent results. The big stationary (widebelt or drum) sander will do it quite a bit better and faster, though.

I did learn that 5 minutes of extra work during the glue-up to make sure things are aligned as closely as possible saved me 30 or more minutes of extra sanding later.
 

Ken Close

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Are there any other comments regarding using a "frame" or "sled" with a portable belt sander? Come on, some of you guys must have these and use them or have used them in the past...and stopped for one reason or another. I would like to hear some experience in order to guide me on whether to purchase on or not.

Thanks for taking a few moments to share your experience.

Ken
 

Stuart Ablett

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Ken do you have any more info about this "Sled", I'm intrigued, I've not seen one before. I would assume that it is like a router leveling sled, with guide rails on two sides of the piece of wood to be leveled and then a flat sled on the router.........?? :dunno:
 
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I'm trying to figure out how you would attach a belt sander to a sled as it seems a hard thing to do.

Regarding your glue up, you did use cauls?
 

Ian Barley

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562
The "sled" is really a frame. It fits around the outside of the sander and basically just stops the belt digging in too far. Affectively if the belt digs a hole for itself the frame comes into contact with the wood surface and prevents the belt going any further. It has always struck me as a disaster prevention tool rather than an added quality item. I have never met anybody who has used one. That tells me all I need to know about its capabilities.

Ken - If you have used/seen the results from a wide belt sander the only way you are going to get results that satisfy you is to own one of your own or stay friendly with the owner of that one. I would recommend the latter.
 
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I have a 1/4 sheet palm sander, 5" ROS, 21" belt sander, 12" disc sander, and a Jet 10-22 drum sander. I use the 10-22 drum sander almost every time I am in the shop, the 12" disc quite a bit, the ROS a few times, rarely use the 1/4 sheet palm sander, and I am not sure where the belt sander is. :huh: Just my take on things.
 

Ken Close

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69
Stuart: this link seems to describe the belt-sander frame pretty good.

http://www.taunton.com/finehomebuilding/how-to/use-a-belt-sander-frame.aspx?

I am coming off of four hours of finish sanding most of the parts for my baby dresser project. As background, I am building this in the shop of a Master woodworker (http://clermontwoodworking.com/) which has every tool you could want. The machined parts were run through a drum thickness sander (100 grit) and I took them home to finish with a ROS at 120 and 150.

(Boy, do I have to improve my home shop dust control, but that is another subject.).

The drum sander takes off material and levels the surface pretty well, leaving parallel grooves from the 100 grit. The ROS effectively takes these away (slow but sure).

I am trying to antiticipate my future projects in my own shop, where I do not have a drum sander and right now have no plans to get one. Keith Neer, the guy guiding me, says he used to use a ROS to flatten glueups, and proved he could not use a belt sander because of edge damage. This was in the day before he got this dream shop.

When I came upon the frame guide accessory, I thought this might be a way to control the belt sander and get better wood removal (faster than a ROS and with no edge damage). Thus my message here to check experience. Hard to believe no one here has used one or tried one. Maybe I will have to buy one (and perhaps the belt sander to go with it), but I am hoping someone can describe results for me.

The glues ups were fine, did not use cauls but in several pieces used biscuits. Alignment was good, but the drum sander takes everything down even. Besides eliminating minor steps between boards, the drum sander serves what seems to be a more important purpose of making all boards of uniform thickness, that need to be the same.

Thanks for coming back with some responses.
Ken
 

Frank Fusco

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A big belt sander would be nice. But for many (most?) home based shops such a thing is so impractical that they usually aren't even on the 'want' list. Meaning, improvisation is necessary. A planer is designed to reduce wood to uniform thickness. Then hand, or hand held power sanders, can finish the project. Nice thing with the hand sanding method is there are no size restrictions. e.g. trying to put a 48" piece of work through a 43" belt sander. ;)
 

larry merlau

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Delton, Michigan
stay friendly

with the shop owner, first the drum sanders need to have good DC or your gonna have trouble..and for the ridges you mentioned in the shop owners sander, you help that out by taking lighter cuts and and running it threw the sander at the last cut a couple times and move it in relation to the belt position so you dont get the ridges in the same place each time.. but the lighter cuts help out the most.
 
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