Some people consider a drum sander to be a tool they can do without. If you work with figured wood or lots of wide panels, though, you probably consider a good drum sander to be invaluable! If you’ve never had a drum sander available to you before, you’d be amazed at all of the different uses you can put it to.
We’ve taken a look at five different sanders that cost less than $1,200 in order to present you with a range of affordable options. Three of our models feature open ends that allow them to sand wider than their drums, while the other two are compact closed machines.
Fit You Drum Sander To The Jobs You Do
Our two closed machines are the Shop Fox W1740 and the G0459 by Grizzly. They have a twelve-inch limit to the width of the stock they can sand. What’s the advantage to a sander that can’t adapt to wider surfaces? It’s the fact that each end of the sanding drum on these models is held in place by a fixed bearing mount. That makes their drums inherently stable and resistant to vertical motion. End result: Flatter, more parallel surfaces.
The other three sanders we’re looking at — two models produced by Jet (the 10-20 Plus and the 16-32 Plus) and Delta’s 31-260X — have cantilevered drum designs. This leaves one end of the sanding surface exposed, allowing you to use them effectively on surfaces up to twice the width of the drum itself.
All you need to do is flip your workpiece over end-to-end and give it another pass. The 10-20 Plus from Jet, for instance, has a 10″ drum. That means this compact benchtop machine is nearly capable of sanding full 20″ panels. Based on our first-hand experience, we’ve found that full doubling isn’t usually possible; total width is usually short of the mark by up to a quarter inch.
There’s a risk involved with cantilevered designs, though: Cutting at them too aggressively may deform the free end of the drum. If the drum starts to sag it can gouge overlapped areas, and if it spreads out it may start leaving a crown in sanded panels.
Our testing process involved trying each of our sanders out with several different types of stock, including cherry, pine, poplar, and red oak. We pushed the sanders to remove up to 1/64″ with each pass, and yet deflection was minimal. (0.004″ over the entire workpiece was the maximum deflection we measured.) All five models we’re presenting here have adjustable alignment so that you can correct deformation if you see it.
Accuracy and durability weren’t the only qualities we were looking for. Finish quality was excellent all around. All the drum units produced surfaces ready for light finishing with an orbital sander. Low feed rates (e.g. less than 6 feet per minute) proved to be ideal.
Changing the belt on a sander seems to be an unavoidable hassle. Every model we used required wrapping narrow, tapered-end belts over the drums to re-wrap. Belts on the models produced by Shop Fox and Grizzly came with hook-and-loop belts that adhered to their drums. The others had a standard arrangement where the belt needs to be secured with spring clips both before and after wrapping it. The clips are tricky and it takes experience to figure out where to start.
Power is always important. With all five samples, we could achieve 3/64″ cuts on a 12″ workpiece while feeding them at 6 feet per minute and using a fresh 60 grit belt. This depth (which is greater than the manufacturers’ recommendations) proved to be impossible to achieve with finer grits.
Support is vital. These affordable benchtop models don’t have infeed or outfeed tables. (Jet does offer them as an optional extra.) Aside from the Jet units, our sanders had movable tables and fixed drums, making it very hard to add supports.
Dust is an issue. All of these sanders blast out tons of dust and debris. Dust collection must be addressed; we found that 2 1/2″ ports didn’t get the job done. 4″ ports managed the dust problem much better.
Best Tool: Jet’s 16-32 Plus
Best Value For Price: Jet’s 10-20 Plus
(Image above from RTMachine on flicker: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rtmachine/)