Widebelts, Drum Sanders, and the Budget

Widebelts are generally preferred among cabinetmakers, but there are votes (with reasons) for double drum sanders and stroke sanders. January 12, 2012

Due to hard economic times I had to get rid of my 37 inch wide belt sander to get out from under the lease payments. Now things are starting to pick back up so I have been looking around for another sander. Iím seeing a lot of drum sanders and widebelts at a good price but of course the drum sanders are still less expensive.

Would I be setting myself up for disappointment with a drum sander? Is the quality that much better with a widebelt? I know a lot of drum sanders Iím seeing have 5 to 71/2 motors vs. my widebelt that had a 30 hp motor. A machinery dealer told me buying the sander would be the fastest payback in the shop and Iím now finding that to be true. I didnít realize how much truth to that statement there was. Iím now using a pc belt sander to do the things I used to doing with the widebelt. Iím not building my doors anymore but would like to be able to do few at times.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
If you have had a belt sander a drum sander will drive you insane. What a widebelt does in one pass takes a drum several.

From contributor R:
It's all about how often the paper is in contact with the stock. A drum sander gets back around really quickly, so shorter abrasive life and more gumming of the paper since it gets hot quickly

From contributor Y:
We bought a drum sander we ended up dubbing a "non-perform max". We thought it would work fine for sanding stair treads and were very disappointed. If you can go wide belt do it. Powermatic has a relatively affordable line that really works well.

From contributor L:
You would do well to pick up a stroke sander. One of the best unknown tools out there. One shop I was in had a widebelt and three stroke sanders. Not surprised no one suggested one as there aren't many of us who have a lot of experience with stroke sanders. I put one in a custom metal shop who swore no machine could duplicate his hand metal finish method. He couldn't have been more wrong. The stroke sander is perfectly suited for sanding panels from table tops to doors. It overlaps a bit with a widebelt but can do other things a widebelt can't - sanding profiles and curves. Sanding dovetailed drawers and more than I can list.

Low power requirements, belts are not expensive, and because of the mistaken notion of being obsolete the machines are often very inexpensive. Iíve been working with sanding machines for 40 years and drum sanders are on the bottom of my list.

From contributor R:
I also have a very old stroke sander. It can handle a 4x8' panel but is mostly used for tapered leg sanding, fancy veneer sanding, etc. It does an excellent job but requires some practice. Mine is a Mattison 138D probably made about WW1. I also have a widebelt that gets a lot of use.

From contributor F:
Also as someone who previously owned the Powermatic double drum I can tell you without question it is not a true production machine. It cannot remove as much material per pass as a wide belt. It would take 4-5 passes through the drum sander to do what the wide belt does in one pass.

The sanding belts on the wide belt last a lot longer than the strips on a drum - that's pretty obvious if you just think about the surface area of paper.
Changing out grits on the wide belt is less necessary as you can skip grits - much easier than the drum sander. I normally leave 150 grit on the wide belt to handle 80% of my needs. If I make an extra two passes or so it's still much faster than swapping belts, which would be much faster than changing the paper on the drum sander.

Finally in my case the wide belt cost much less than the drum sander. I paid about $4k for my Powermatic roughly eight years ago or so. I paid less than $1k for my wide belt. It has paid for itself many times over and I'd never look back. Generally speaking a wide belt will cost more than a drum sander, but there's a lot of good used equipment on the market right now.
Drum sanders are a great way to get started out, and I made money with mine for a good six years or so before upgrading. You just can't compare them with wide belts, similar to comparing a router table to a shaper!

From contributor A:
Wide belt sanders are great pieces of kit, but are obviously priced higher than drum sanders which is what makes them a good alternative to those on more of a budget, and what makes them attractive. Even though a wide belt is better, thatís not to say there are not some decent drum sanders out there.