Drum Sanders Versus Belt Sanders

Advice for a cabinetmaker on selecting some serious sanding equipment. November 30, 2009

Has anyone used a Powermatic 1791290 Dual Drum Sander that can give me some comments on it? I am thinking of purchasing a brand new one from a local machine supplier. It is a 25" x 6" diameter dual drum sander with a 5hp 1 phase motor. Would this be enough power for cabinet doors?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor W:
A drum sander will get you through a couple of kitchens. Much more than that and you will regret not buying a wide belt.

From contributor C:
Please, oh please - outsource the sanding at another shop, and then save for or finance a wide belt. Contributor W makes a strong argument on buying a tool that will become a boat anchor.

From contributor H:
I totally agree with what these guys are saying. I do have one, but I think the drums on mine are 5" diameter. It does a fair job but it is kind of touchy - you cannot push it or the sand belts will burn at the drop of a hat. I have learned the hard way, but too late now. I am a one man shop and figure it saves me a ton of hand belt sanding.

I run the plate parts just before assembly and yes, it can handle doors. 90% of what I do is soft maple for stain grade. Most times I have a 100 and a 150 grit belt and then random orbit first with a 100 grit to do most of the cleanup, then sand to whatever you like.

I am happy but wish I could have afforded the wide belt for sure! Who knows, in this economy you should be able to find a nice wide belt for the right price.

From contributor W:
Heat and tracking, the belt staying in position, I think is the main problem with drum sanders. The drum can't dissipate the heat like a wide-belt can.

From contributor I:
I have a boat anchor, also. It is called a Performax 25" drum sander. If you are sure you need one, I will make you an exceptional offer on this one.

From contributor N:
What about a 15" open ended wide belt - should be had for about the same as a drum sander.

From contributor R:
As drum sanders go it is a good machine for limited use in a one man shop. If you are doing any sort of production I would not recommend it. A quality used widebelt would be a good choice if you are on a budget.

From contributor J:
Mostly good responses above, but maybe a little overboard. I have the Powermatic DDS and have been using it for doors and much more for about 5 years now. It's not a widebelt, and certainly won't do anywhere near the speed or quality of a widebelt, but for my 1 man shop it gets the job done. A much better machine than the Performax in my opinion, and probably better than the majority of drum sanders on the market, at least the other ones I've looked at. I also use the 100/150 grit combination and usually have to do at least 2 passes per side for doors. As said you can't push the machine - let it work at its own pace.

I don't know exactly what contributor W was thinking when he posted, as drum sanders don't use belts or track!?

From contributor E:
I had a double drum Extrema that did a pretty decent job. It had a steel drum up front and a rubber drum in back. It was built like a widebelt - heavy with the same conveyor, just with drums instead of belt heads.

You really have to stay on top of grit condition because when it starts to load up and burn, it happens very quickly. As contributor W mentioned, the grit belts (or strips) stretch with heat and sometimes the edges overlap, causing burning and loading. We were running about 2-3 kitchens per week on it and having to change the abrasives weekly. Also, you have to keep the speed down and not remove too much.

There are an awful lot of nice used widebelts on the market right now. The only regret that I have with moving to a 44" 2-head widebelt is that I don't have the power capacity to have gotten a 3-head. It runs at twice the speed of the drum sander and only requires one pass per side

From contributor O:
A drum sander is a drum sander; not a very complicated machine at all. A Grizzly drum sander that is set up correctly will work as well as any drum sander. If you're hand sanding and move to a drum sander you'll be as pleased as a guy moving from a drum to a wide belt. A small shop in this end of the world economy buying a used drum sander may be better than a new one because you won't take a hit when you sell it.

From contributor J:
I'm curious about the overlapping issue you bring up. Did your machine have any mechanism for taking up slack in the paper? On the Powermatic the end is spring loaded so any slack is removed as the drum is working. I've never had a problem of the paper overlapping on mine. And the only time I burned the paper was operator error.

As far as the Grizzly drum sanders, I've just heard way too many dissatisfied users to ever recommend one. When there is an inherent lack of quality built into a machine, getting it set up properly and keeping it that way is not an easy task, if possible at all. That's why many of us avoid using lightweight box store machines - you get what you pay for. Maybe the newer ones are better? I don't know and wouldn't spend what little money I have to find out.

The Powermatic is a good heavily built machine that is fairly easy to adjust if needed. It has enough power to do what the OP asked and I think it's a worthwhile investment. It's not a widebelt, but I think we have that covered already. If it's in your budget and the widebelt isn't, then buy it, use it to make money, and move up when you can - that's my 2 cents.

From the original questioenr:
Thanks for all your responses. I forgot to mention that I was also looking at a used Shop Fox Wide belt sander for $6000. I can get the new drum sander for almost half of that for 3500, but since I'm making an investment in a sanding machine I want to make a wise investment. Any comments on a Shop Fox wide belt?

From contributor X:
I have a Burlington 36" drum sander. It's nothing like the small 5" drum sanders. It has one piece of sandpaper 44" long around the drum, and the drum oscillates like wide belt sanders. It's close to a wide belt performance for solid wood. It just takes 10 minutes to change paper.

From contributor O:
Shopfox is the retail line of Grizzly - same company, same machines, just different color paint and an additional year of warranty and 2 year commercial use warranty is the longest I know of, but I would think you could get a Shopfox new with the 2 year warranty for about 6K. As for the overlapping paper on a drum sander, everyone that I know of that uses one regularly has switched to Velcro that can still overlap. What sucks on the spring loaded ends is when it rips the end off and now your paper is 1'' too short and you have wasted 8ft of paper, but if contact cemented on you just cheat over an inch and have 24'' of sanding width instead of 25''. I contact cement the paper to the drum and expect to use a lot of sandpaper cleaning sticks and only run things through the drum sander that I have to. I would think you could find a used 36'' Timesaver for around 5K during this sagging economy. It's really determined by the work you do. I know shops with Thermawoods that still don't own a wide belt but are toughing it out with an old drum sander and dreaming of the wide belt.

By all means get any used wide belt before any new drum sander. I have heard good and bad on the open ended sanders. I would think that anything that would run through the open ended wide belt in one pass would be 1 piece of lumber that would be fine in the drum. With all the drawbacks of a drum sander it's the cross grain scratches that suck the most. There are 60'' drum sanders that cost 20K. They must be used by plywood manufacturers that don't have cross grain problems. Just think how sloppy your work could be if you had a wide belt sander to smooth it out and even it up.

From contributor E:
The Extrema had spring loaded ends to take up slack, but maybe they were not strong enough. My old Performax that I had many years ago also had overlap issues. This was not an all the time occurrence, but I found that checking and adjusting was needed for reliability.

From contributor J:
After reading this thread I think I made a good choice with the Powermatic. I haven't experienced any of the problems other sanders seem to have. Never had the end of the paper rip off, or had to deal with overlapping or anything like that. My machine has (IIRC) 6" aluminum drums with a rubber coating. The rubber keeps the paper from slipping I believe. The spring loaded ends keep the paper snug. I've heard of the Velcro drums but seems like it might be a bit spongy, no? Contact cement seems like an awful messy way to go.

I had a Performax also, the 16/32. So far that's one of the biggest letdowns I've ever purchased.

Those Grizzly widebelts are pretty reasonably priced. For a one man shop may be a good machine. I just haven't heard any feedback on them.

From contributor B:
I have that same anchor, Performax 22-44, but have no boat. A wide belt at any cost is better than a drum. I wish was on here then. We bought an old Mini-Max 36'' wide belt and we love it.

From contributor S:
I don't know about the drum sanders but I do know that I had my suspicions when I thought about getting a Performax. I instead bought a 15" Bridgewood open ended belt sander. It's a great little machine. I've sanded 25" wide boards that needed a little hand sanding where the end of the belt stopped in the center of the board as you can imagine. But sanding a face frame puts a gouge in the middle that is unacceptable. Apparently the pressure on the solid board keeps the sanding head flat, but the areas on the face frame, between the rails and stiles, allow the sanding plenum to sag and gouge in the center much more.

So I guess what I'm saying is a $3000 open ended belt sander is not going to get you where you want to be. I eventually picked up a used 36" dual head belt sander. Now that's another story.

That's what you need but it takes a lot of juice to run that thing and if you haven't the room or 3ph capability you may have no other choice than a 25" drum. If you don't get in a hurry it may work for you.

From contributor Q:
Contributor S, I have the same open end sander that you have (15" Bridgewood). It sands face frames leaving no witness lines. Your sander must not be adjusted properly. Are you supporting the portion of the frame that's hanging out of the sander?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all your responses. I just saw the other day a new Shop Fox 26" 5hp single phase dual drum sander on special for $1800. They also got wide belt sanders starting at $5000 for a 20" sander. I'm leaning more to the drum sander side mainly because of the money. For $5000 I could get the drum sander and a 12" jointer that they have on sale. Plus, I really don't do production.

Is 5hp enough power for cabinet doors? Will I be able to remove enough material quickly (or at least faster than with an orbital hand sander)?

From contributor Z:
I have a 3hp 25" dual drum from General which I run in my small basement shop. 5hp should be good. I could certainly use more HP on my sander, but have found the variable speed feed belt and an amp meter are sufficient to control the load on motor. Anyway you cut it much faster than hand sanding (even with a 6" ROS and 4x24 belt). That said, I'll be looking for a used wide belt as soon as I have a shop and enough power to run one. Benefits that I can see are quicker and less frequent belt changes, but that could be pointless if I go from a double drum to single belt and need two passes instead of one (which I currently only do 1 pass now).