Sanding or Planing Edges

      Ways to get drawer and door edges smooth while keeping them straight and square. March 3, 2006

I will start working solid wood again soon (been doing a lot with plywood and MDF recently). I will be getting a drum sander, but I'm wondering what the best machine and/or technique for sanding edges is. Price range should be suitable for serious one man shop.

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor L:
The best machine to sand edges is an edge sander. The one I have is made by Delta. It has a 3HP motor and a 108" belt - the belt oscillates up and down. It also has a shaft to put drums on for sanding inside curves. Comes with 1.5", 2" and 3" drums. The drum on the belt is 4". I love mine, especially for sanding the door edges - makes it a breeze.

From contributor F:
For me, the best and most accurate way to prepare solid wood edges for finishing is to run the material through a planer gang style before assembly. If you have a decent planer and you pay heed to the grain direction, all that the planed edges will need before stain is two or three swipes with a 180 grit sanding block.

From contributor R:
Don't you get any clamp damage during assembly? If not actual impressions, at least a compressing of the wood fibre that would show up in finishing?

From contributor F:
Sometimes on rock maple, the 1/4" MDF protector pads that I stick to the clamp feet with double sided tape will suffice. On other woods that are softer, I place 3/4" wide strips of 1/4" thick MDF or whatever material the length of the door stile between the stile and the clamp feet and get no dents.

For the top and bottom of the door and also drawer front end grain, I build the doors and cut the drawer fronts 1/32" longer/taller than net size. Then I set my jointer at 1/64" deep cut to remove saw marks on the drawer fronts and clean the tops and bottoms of doors. I have a simple jig that holds narrow parts perpendicular to the jointer bed. I joint in about 2-1/2" from one edge and stop. Then I turn the door/drawer front around and joint to where I overlap the first cut slightly. Not for everyone, but I always disliked the rounded and out of square drawer front ends and door tops and bottoms that other methods would yield.

From the original questioner:
Interesting that you should say that about the rounding. It seems to me, when I look at belt edge sanders, that I don't see any way a door could be put on one of those and maintain a straight edge. Nevertheless, I know a lot of people use them, so maybe the rounding isn't too bad.

From contributor F:
If the platen is straight on an edge sander, you should be able to sand a straight line, however, they require practice and skill to sand the top or bottom of a door or, especially, a narrow drawer front end square to the sides. The rounding comes in when a vibrator sander is taken to the edges to remove the belt scratches.

From contributor L:
With my edge sander (Delta 31-396), I have a 6 x 40" platen. When I edge sand doors or drawer fronts, I use the sliding mitre that came with the unit. It does take practice to get a perfectly straight edge. You need to put more pressure in the center of the piece than the top or bottom. As for getting things square, my doors come out +- 64th" corner to corner as long as I am paying attention. I make my doors 1/16" taller and 1/32 wider than I need and sand it off. I use 150 grit paper and with the oscillation, scratching is down to a minimum. I will orbital sand with 220 for a minimum amount of time to get rid of the hairs that the straight sanding leaves. Nice machine.

From contributor W:
I've designed and built a box style jig to hold my 6" random orbital sander square to my sanding table. The center of the pad is 3 3/8" above the table to yield a 6" wide sanding surface. Cut doors to exact size and sand with 150 at 6"/second to remove approximately .01".

From contributor T:
I built my own edge sander and employed something I saw in another shop on their commercial sander. They did away with the straight fence and made a platen about 2 to 3 inches long. They made adjustable fences on the infeed and outfeed tables that act like a jointer fence, or to be more accurate, like you would set up on a shaper. The platen is set out from the line of the old fence so it comes to a point, so to speak. It may require a longer belt size, depending on the machine. It works incredibly well. I get consistent straight edges. Why manufactures haven't figured this out is beyond me, but this system beats the straight fence hands down. I use a graphite platen I got from one of the woodworking catalogs that is a replacement for belt sanders.

From contributor G:
We run face frame stock 4 or 5 at a time through the wide belt sander. Nail it to width at .800. Cut it a little over on the rip saw to make the blanks. Makes very nice smooth edges.

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