Machinery for Sanding Wood Veneer Doors

Drum sanders aren't precise enough for finish sanding veneer instead, choose a high-quality random orbit sander. April 20, 2007

I am starting to do more wood veneer doors for kitchens, as the flat modern look is very popular here in South Florida. Cherry, wenge, birdseye maple, etc. After banding, the sanding at 150 grit takes a lot of valuable time. I cannot afford a 5-7k machine and am wondering if anything in the 2k range would do the job - drum sander with one or two drums or Performax sander? Widest width would be 24" for end panels, although I do a lot of 36"x12" drawer faces and guess that I have to run them with the grain.

P.S. I just saw a Performax 37" double roller sander on the Machinery Exchange at 2,200.00. Will this type of machine do the job?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor P:
We use a small pneumatic D/A with 180-grit paper (Mirka) and fly through them quickly. I don't think a Performax (or even a $7k machine) is going to give you the results you want.

Usually our work is all grain-matched, so sanding through the veneer of one drawer face wrecks the entire stack, plus, more often than not, the faces of the adjacent cases. This isn't a place to try for speed, at least in our operation.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your response. I also match my drawers and doors and wondered if this machine is accurate enough for this work. I work mostly on my own and would like to save time, but not at a risk of damaging the doors. Have you had experience with this type of machine in the past?

From contributor L:

Forget the drum sanders - at your level of production, the best bet is a couple of Dynabrade orbitals if you have the air to handle them. A downdraft table and a deft touch can do a good job with little risk of sand through.

From contributor P:
No. I've got a nice little SCMI 25" widebelt with a platen - does a great job with solid material, but the idea of sanding a veneer door with it makes my skin crawl! The Performax machines I've seen have been pretty basic, and I would doubt that anything open-ended would have anything like the stability and repeatability that you'd require. A drum sander by nature is going to contact the work only at a point, as opposed to flat across a platen, and I'd think it'd be prone to corrugating the surface. Best case, you'd end up putting crossgrain scratches on your banding edges that run perpendicular to the veneer face, requiring more hand sanding against an already-thinned veneer.

Try the Mirka paper - I've used nothing else for the last 7-8 years. Seems to cut quickly and last pretty well. The Dynorbital Spirit is really controllable, economical with air (we have a 5hp compressor), and does a great job.

Seems like a kitchen full of faces takes 4-5 hours to finish sand, and it's one of the reasons that 3mm banded veneer doors cost more than solid raised panel doors that I can outsource.

I'd rather spend the extra time than deal with the aggravation and disgust of a sand-through. Seems to always work out that it's the next-to-last face, there's no matching material in the shop, and we're already behind time and money-wise on the job.

For what it's worth, I've made a point of buying one extra sheet of material from the sequence I'm using and just keeping it as insurance. It's saved my butt on several occasions...

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Contributor L, when you say "at your level of production," are you trying to save me money or problems? If a 2000.00 37" two drum sander is affordable to me and I cannot keep up with orders and reliable workers are hard to find, would your opinion still be the same? I had a 4 man shop in Canada before moving down here and would like to build back up to that level quickly. I am interested in working smarter, not harder, but if the drum sander won't do that, than I will stick to the Dynabrades which I have for now.

From the original questioner:
Thanks contributor P. The Performax machine I am contemplating is listed in the Machinery Exchange. It lists at around 5k and is a closed machine, not the open ended cheaper models that are sold under the JET name. I have a Cehisa 3mm bander and all my doors are edged with 3mm banding. I also have always ordered extra sheets in case of emergency, as you do.

Although I usually have my veneers laid up on MDF for stability, some clients demand plywood against my advice because they are convinced it's better. This is where I am being cautious and asking advice as the ply is not as flat as the MDF.

From contributor P:
I work occasionally on Pro-Core or Classic-Core (MDF crossbanding with veneer interior plies) and it's been fine, but like you, prefer MDF core. Veneer-crossbanded panels are uneven, and feel spongy to me when sanding - seems like the material gives a little as pressure is applied. I've gotten to where I won't guarantee a ply panel door - they just don't want to stay flat, and the mills and distributors are worthless when you have a problem.

A closed-end machine is a better bet, but it's still drum-based. As someone smarter than me put it, "nobody sells a good horse." Save up for a decent widebelt - mine was about $4500.

From contributor K:
If you have room, I would recommend a stroke sander. It will leave a finished surface, much faster than orbitals. It won't replace a wide belt, but unless you can spend in the range of $100k for a unit with electronically controlled segmented platen, the wide belt is a big gamble on sequenced veneered panels. Stroke sanders can be found used for low dollars - there is a MiniMax 8' L55 on the Machinery Exchange of this website for $1500 right now.

From contributor L:
I meant that I don't think a drum sander would do the job and that a widebelt that can do it is way too expensive for you ($100K+ electronic platen machine). I'd love to have one too, but too much money for my level!

The suggestion of a stroke sander is a good one. Again, a deft touch is required, but they are faster than an orbital and can do a great job. We have an old Mattison that I got for a song but not every employee is a candidate for an operator!

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone for your advice. I will look into the stroke sander, as I do have the space; otherwise it's back to orbital sanding.

From contributor J:
I agree with contributor K's response. I've used one of those very expensive widebelts with electronically controlled platen made up of individual fingers. And even with that, it was tricky getting it set just right so as not to sand through veneers.

Now in my own shop I have the Powermatic dual drum and wouldn't even try it, especially on veneer core. Had a Performax before it and was not happy with it at all, but it was an open ended model. I have not used a stroke sander but from what I've seen, it may be the best bet for your budget.

From contributor V:
I would not recommend a drum sander of any kind, and second or third the stroke sander. The drum sanders - even when perfectly set up - are flimsy and wiggly, and will always put a pretty regular mill mark of its own on the panel. This is then hard to sand off with R/O sanders, increasing the likelihood of a sand-through. We now have a single head Butfering that can sand veneers for demonstration, but it is rare we use it for sanding veneers unless we can calibrate everything.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone for your help. The day of the Superbowl seems to be the best time to get fast advice on WOODWEB!