Single or Two-Head Sander for Table Tops?

A discussion of whether a table-top maker should invest in a single-head belt sander, a two-head belt sander, or a stroke sander. February 15, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I am a small cabinet shop venturing into making tables. I will need to sand the table tops and was told to get a 43" wide belt sander. Do I need a two head sander or a single head?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor F:
The short answer is it depends! The two head will work much faster. You use a coarse grit on the first head to flatten the panel, followed by a finer grit to get the tops finished sanded all in one shot! Potential downsides for a small shop are higher up-front cost, higher power requirements, and higher dust collection requirements. So you need to decide what volume your producing and whether or not it's enough to justify the extra expense of the bigger machine. I'm a small shop and I get by with a single head sander. However I'm doing mostly one-off type work. If I was in a production setting I think my sander would probably come up short!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the info. I had someone tell me I need a single head, but he has two - probably with two different grits. He has a lot more space in his shop. So I think the dual one would be space saver for me.

From contributor L:
All you need is a single head sander for one offs. If you do your glue ups so you don't have a lot of boards shifting and only need to scrape off glue beads and remove planer mill marks I would set you up with a stroke sander. I definitely don't think you need a double head sander. You need a single head machine with a platen. A stroke sander is a fraction of the cost and has low power requirements while a single head widebelt can require a minimum of 10 hp, a double head twice that.

From Contributor U:
Another option is a 120" manual stroke sander. You can use a 180 grit belt to knock down solids, veneer seams, and glue beads from the solid. With the use of an adjustable, nevamar topped sawhorse you can sand in both directions. I used one while working at Stow Davis in Indiana, and we used a portable dust collector.

From Contributor L:
I agree with Contributor F. It depends on your need, though I would prefer a two head sander for fast working.

From Contributor O:
I also agree with Contributor F. It depends on your needs. Why make so much case about it? Why not buy a single head one, see if it works for you and, if not, just sell it to somebody else and buy a double one?

From Contributor W:
You can get by with a single head just fine. Just pull out the platen for the leveling work. Start with 80 to knock it down flat quickly. 120 on the drum to clean up the scratch removing just the scratch. Insert platen and run a 180 grit to finish taking around .004". It will be very flat and look great. Set up is super easy.