In the last few months, we've started doing solid casework (dressers and sideboards, mostly). Some of the designs have mitered corners. Though maybe not strictly necessary, mitered casework is much easier for us to execute if we sand the panels that compose the sides, top, and bottom down to exactly the same thickness. It's hard to do this on our stroke sander (and near impossible to do this using a belt sander), so we've been gluing up the panels in our shop and then taking them to larger shops in the area so they can be sanded to uniform thickness using their wide-belt sanders. As orders for our dressers/sideboards have increased, so have the costs associated with outsourcing the sanding/thicknessing on these panels. We're now paying hundreds of dollars a week to get these panels thicknessed, and we're realizing it's time we invest in a planer or a wide-belt sander so we can thickness the panels ourselves in-house.
Which one is more appropriate? We have 10-20k we're prepared to spend, although we expect in the next 6-12 months to be able to invest in additional equipment (maybe something to complement whatever we purchase now). One of the outfits to whom we send our panels has a massive, 3-head wide-belt sander (Timesavers). They're telling us we should invest in something similar, but those things are at least 30k (new), if not significantly more. If absolutely the right decision in the long run, we can probably get the money together. But wouldn't it make more sense for us to buy a 24" wide planer with a helical cutter head? Something that will flatten the panels down to uniform thickness. And then, if necessary, we can get a smaller wide-belt sander with a higher grit belt for finishing sanding? (Though I doubt we'll be able to get both a planer and sander for <20k; maybe we just pad sand by hand after running the panels through the planer). Grizzly has a 24" wide planer (new) that looks promising, though I'd love to hear other brand/model recommendations. It's possible to use wide-belt sanders for thicknessing panels, obviously, but I would have thought it non-ideal, if only because you end up wearing through the belts quickly. Here's one more consideration: we're beginning to do solid dining tables. Would be great to be able to use the planer for table tops, as well, just so the table top surface is even to the touch. But most dining tables are too wide to fit in a 24" wide planer. Do we necessarily need a larger wide-belt sander for these tops?
Other relevant information: our glue-ups are usually pretty flat. Very rarely need to take off more than 1/8", and usually it's closer to 1/16". This is all 4/4 surfaced by our lumber supplier to 29/32". Panels are only ever 21-22" wide (since our casework is a standard 20" deep). With the way orders are coming in, we need something that can comfortably thickness 5-10 glued-up panels (again, ~22" wide x ~65" long, max) per day. Not especially interested in buying used. Rather spend more on something we won't have to dump time into repairing in the future.
I do very similar work with solid wood panels and mitered edges and I process the panels using a 24" planer and single head wide belt with platen. My setup is efficient and works well for me however, I do less volume and use my planer for dimensioning lumber as well.
If your sole purpose is flattening panels I would focus on a multiple head wide belt or possibly one with a planer/sander configuration. These are expensive machines, but not really...For example, if you're spending $500 a week outsourcing this task, that's ~$20k in one year! And that doesn't involve the time to transport the panels between shops. If you think about a purchase like this over a few years the machine will pay for itself very quickly.
Wouldn't be too concerned with belt life, if you follow a recommended sequence of grit to stock/scratch removal they will last a long time. Adam West of surf prep has written informative articles about this.
Btw, I used a conservative estimate at $500 for 40 weeks/year. If you plug your numbers in and add the transportation time/costs you may find your spending substantially more every year for outsourcing.
Thank you both (Pete D and Hen Bob) for the suggestions. Immensely helpful.
Pete D-- I think your calculus is correct, and that making the investment in a planer / sander combination will pay for itself pretty quickly given our needs. (Doesn't make it easier to cut the check, though! This will be the most expensive equipment purchase we've made in a long time.)
Hen Bob-- Is your reservation with the Grizzly brand related? Or you just don't think it can handle production-shop volume? I guess it makes sense to spend a little more and get something we can grow into, so to speak...Would you mind saying a little about how your Timesavers has paid for itself? (Don't know what sort of work you do, so may not be relevant, but I'm curious nonetheless. Want to see what sort of value a two-head wide-belt could add to our operation beyond thicknessing panels.)
As Pete D has mentioned your already spending the money to have another shop surface the panels and add the labor time to transport. Once you have it the uses for the machine are numerous , you will wonder why you didn't get one sooner
I have had quite a few Grizzly machines, they really don't compare with the true industrial versions. We have a 24" planer from the late 40's that will out run a Taiwan made one any day. That planer cost us less than grizzles 15" model.
I'm not discounting the value of a large planer, but if short term finances are a concern and you're contemplating a multi head wide belt vs compromising to add a planer and single head wide belt I think you're better off adding the multi head first, especially since you commented about adding dining tables.
If you look at the table in the article showing min/max stock removal per grit you'd be able to surface one panel down to 150 grit in one pass per side on a three head machine considering you need to remove 1/16"-1/8". The larger machine can keep up with your demands as you grow and can handle dining table widths as well.
I have no experience with the planer/sander wide belt configurations so I can't comment on the pros and cons vs a multi head sander.
My planer and single head setup works for me because 99% of what I do fits in the 24" planer and usually only takes one or two passes on the wide belt. I have the capacity to surface a 36" wide dining table top when necessary, but it's a lot slower with multiple passes and belt changes. Considering I rarely build dining tables it's not a big deal.
I would take a step back and fine tune your glue up process. I glue panels for doors 72 x 30 x 5/8" five to ten at a time that require minimal sanding after gluing. My process is long bed jointer planer then a saw tooth profile on the shaper that when set correctly will align boards within .005" . I stroke sand the excess glue. If you were to glue up with say .010" to come off each side then you could consider a single head sander. I wouldn't be without a big jointer though.
The biggest trick to planing with a wide belt sander is keeping heat to a minimum. You can do the surfacing you desire with a single head wide belt.....all it takes is time. I would suggest you invest in a 36 grit belt to take the parts down to flat using only the drum on a single combi-head machine. Once you arrive at a flat surface you can change to an 80 grit, then 120 using only the drum, then do a finishing pass with a 150 or 180 grit with the drum and the platen. Use the chart in the article mentioned above and you can achieve a very satisfactory result. You are talking about 8 passes through the machine per panel. Taking the correct amount of material off per pass/grit is critical.
Think carefully at this point. Each pass, done well, will take 30 seconds to 1 minute per grit per panel. If you do them all at once it will go faster, but make sure you are not robbing yourself by saddling your shop with enough labor to pay for a nice 3 head planer sander.
Good day, More than 30 years ago we started by paying to have our sanding done at a larger company also. Getting our first sander (used Sandingmaster 2 head) was a financial stretch at the time. In the first week we had it we wondered how we went so long without our own. I think any solid wood furniture shop is making a mistake not to have a sander. If you buy a quality brand even a used 2 head or single head combination one, will suit your purpose. you will find that you will put almost everything you make through the machine. I have a planer in my shop now but I did not have one for more than 25 years it was unnecessary. We purchased premilled lumber like you and edge glued it.
When I still lived in the states we could sand 150 tops a day with the old sandingmaster. If you can, purchase new for the warranty and service, but buy from one of the well known makers. but do not be afraid of an older good running machine after all a used sander is sanding your panels now. One of the most useful accessories you can get for your sander is a roller conveyor to return the sanded panels for another trip through the machine. Also do not forget you will need proper dust collection. I do understand a new machine can be optimized for your particular work but even one not 100% optimized for you is so much faster than any other method its still worth having. I seem to remember reading in one of the trade magazines years ago that one hour in a wide belt is worth 30 hours by hand. happy sanding
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