Sanding and Stock Removal for Large Burl Slabs

Advice on equipment and techniques to dress large burls before sale as raw material for table-tops. June 9, 2007

I import slabs of burl from Australia. These slabs are provided to me bush cut (i.e. chainsaw cut). In order to provide table slabs to my customers, I would like to sand them down to be ready for use in their furniture making needs. I have read about belt sanders vs. drum sanders and am looking for some advice on what is the best tool, although I think the drum is out for me. Can someone help with the stroke sander? What do table manufacturers use? Most of the slabs are less than 37" wide, but many are over 4 feet.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor K:
I have an Oakley double belt sander, and think that it may be pretty good for this, but I think a better first step would be to start with a handheld power plane. Makita makes a 6" and 12" model. I have had the 6" for over 20 years, and would get another tomorrow if this one were to quit or break. The front handle is also the depth adjustment, with a 2mm maximum cut, so you can change it on the fly, which makes it handy for working down high humps. Ask for some carbide knives if there is any dirt.

From contributor C:
A heavily built wide belt sander with a large diameter contact roller will do the best at stock removal and still hold up for some finish passes. We start with a sled and rails and a heavy router to flatten the first side of the rough slabs. It cuts way down on the number of passes. We have a 25 x 75 wide belt sander and the good belts are not cheap. A 37" or 52" would have a lot of potential, but be gentle on those 80 dollar belts.

From contributor H:
Have you seen the slab surfacer at It could be what you're looking for.

From contributor R:
Bring over the Wood Wizz next time you get a load. A simple carriage and router will do the same thing. Forget the drum sander entirely. They make router cutters for doing spoil boards on CNC and are good sized so it will rout quicker.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone. Actually the Woodwiz is the same as what Bailey's offers. Baileys is the US distributor. It is a purpose built tool that does exactly what I am looking for. It is essentially an overhead router with a fly cutter that can surface large slabs in a fairly quick amount of time. I still would like to find a way to generate enough to get a really nice 50" wide belt!

From contributor R:
You might consider a Wood Wizz and a stroke sander. As long as the surface is flat, a stoke sander will easily clean up any marks. Another reason I recommend a stroke sander is they are almost nothing in cost compared to a widebelt, low power requirements, 2 hp versus 20 hp for a 50" widebelt... some run on less. Belts are a lot cheaper for a stroke sander and easily changed in a minute. I'd go for a stroke sander over a drum sander any day.

From contributor K:
I would like to say again that I have a stroke sander with a 7.5 hp motor, and I have this Makita 1803 power plane, and I use it a lot for cleaning up burls and rough cut wood, and this is what you need first. I have 4 big routers with big bits also, and I know how fast they can cut, but that is not going to be as efficient as this tool. It is easy to use.