Sanding Cabinet Doors Efficiently

Final sanding on cabinet doors can hold back productivity. Here, shop owners discuss means and methods for sanding door faces and profiles in a production environment. October 22, 2005

I produce between 200 and 300 solid wood doors per week, mainly maple and oak. Sanding is really getting me down, and it takes me forever just to sand the darn things. I need help. What do you guys do? Obviously I need a widebelt, but what about the profiles? Will a flap sander get the job done or will it round off too much? How about a profile sander? Can a widebelt do the whole job both before and after assembly? Any suggestions are appreciated as there's got to be a better way than all the manual sanding we are doing.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor O:
The door company that I buy my doors from uses a machine called a "shape and sand" for the panel profiles. It has a sanding head that is shaped just like the shaper. They use a 2 head wide belt and a giant random orbit sander for final sanding.

From the original questioner:
This shape and sand, is it a Unique or something like that? Does this only work on the raised panel portion of events? What do they do for the stick and edge profile? When you say “giant random orbital” do you mean a portable?

From contributor M:
What I do is to use a profile sander on the panels and on the stick and copes before assembly. I use a back-cutting cutter to keep the top of the panel at the same height as the frame. I then run the entire door after assembly through a wide belt sander and it works well.

From contributor G:
You need a widebelt. We make about the same number of doors as you. We use insert tooling that we keep sharp. We do not need to do hardly any profile sanding. Just a quick couple of hand strokes on the endgrain only. I was going to spend about $20,000 for a used orbital head sander then decided to look better at our widebelt sander. We tuned and trued up the machine and now sand to 220 grit instead of 180 grit. We now spend less than half the time orbital sanding with air sanders then we used to.

From the original questioner:
To contributor G: Do you sand at all before assembly or strictly afterwards? What about the panel? We get a pretty clean cut on our profiles, and we also use insert tooling. I guess the first step is a widebelt. Does anyone have any recommendations? Kundig looks good to me.

From contributor C:
Bardo makes a sanding wheel specifically designed for sanding raised panels. It's very easy to use, requires little setup time, and can be run in either direction. It's called the DEBB wheel.

From contributor W:
You build way more doors than I do and I have a widebelt. What has taken you so long (not intended to be critical just curious)? For that volume you may even do best with a multihead widebelt to do all sanding top and bottom, coarse to fine grit in one pass. I no longer sand sticking profiles but do use a profile sander on panel raisings.

From the original questioner:
To contributor W: To be fair to myself though, our door production has tripled in the last 2 1/2 months and I have to admit it caught me off-guard. At first I thought we could handle it but I now realize that was foolish.

From contributor W:
To the original questioner: Do you believe you will be maintaining that volume of work to justify the investment? Is your client base solid enough?

From the original questioner:
The growth feels good, it's what I've been waiting for but now that it's here I got a little panic happening. I hope I haven't left it too late. I feel fairly confident that this new business will be steady for the foreseeable future, although you never know. As soon as I can handle it I'll be looking for even more business. I'll be looking into a wide belt first. I don't think I want to spend $100K on a 3 or 4 head so I'll be looking at a 37" combo head.

From contributor R:
We start at the ripsaw and rip all of our stile and rail material. We try to leave a 2" or wider clear edging that we glue up full length 15/16" thick. We plane the glue ups and stile and rail material down to .820" thick, usually one pass each side. We then machine all parts, on Weaver shapers, quickly hand sand the endgrain only on the panels and assemble the door.

We have a double head AEM widebelt bought used that we sand with. One pass each side with 60-80 grit, 120-150, 180-220, 220 with platen down using 2nd head only. This is also a good time to quality control the doors. Our profile cuts are honestly very clean with no sanding except quickly on the end grain if we maintain sharp cutters. We also finish all of these doors so we see the finished product. There is no substitute for good equipment and sharp tooling.

From contributor T:
We us a "Sandya 20" 3 head wide belt-52" installed 70K including the 8K for 600 amp service that I needed anyway, insert tooling in the shapers for sure-cheaper in the long run-and a Voorwood shaper/sander for panel detail and outside door detail. Most doors get no hand sanding at all.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor L:
Hand sanding panel profile sounds barbaric when you should have a 5" random sander right there within arms reach, but it may take some practice. As far as rail or stile profile, I don't sand them. I do have to sand the occasional maple fuzz on R and S profiles. I’m still having to hand sand the edge detail a little or a lot depending on the sharpness of the knife.

Comment from contributor J:
I have worked in the cabinetry industry for nearly twenty years now, so I have the benefit of using the various sanding techniques that have already been discussed. I have also had the recent opportunity of having the man that rained me in our trade to let me become a partner in a cabinet door shop. It has been through my experience that the Lariks 410 shape and sand is a beneficial piece of equipment. It is kind of costly, so if you do not have the means to purchase one I would recommend the multidirectional sanding wheels.