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A Planer vs. a Drum Sander
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jet 13 inch planerWhat's the difference between a thickness planer and a drum sander?  Which one would work best for your shop?  Below, Michael Dresdner and Lee Grindinger offer some advice on the subject to a Woodworker's Journal eZine reader:

Q. I am looking at adding a major item to my tool arsenal. I was planning on getting a planer, but then I saw a drum sander (Delta 18" X 36" Drum Sander). My main purpose will be to even up glued- up stock and sometimes cleaning up some rough cut. What do I choose? It will be one or the other.

A. Michael Dresdner: "It sounds like you need a planer. Let's put it in perspective by comparing the wood removal power of the two in equivalent measurements -- thousandths of an inch. The drum sander you described will remove about 0.005" to 0.007" (five to seven thousandths of an inch) per pass. Even a small 12" portable planer will remove 0.125" to .250" (one hundred twenty five thousands, or one eighth of an inch to one quarter of an inch) per pass. In other words, it would take 25 passes through the drum sander to remove as much wood as on one pass of a planer. Drum sanders are great for fine surfacing or sanding wood, especially figured woods that tear out under planer blades, but it is not the best tool for removing large amounts of wood, such as you would do when leveling glued up boards or surfacing stock."

A. Lee Grindinger: "A planer will remove stock much, much more quickly than a drum sander. A sander is built to sand. For surfacing you'd be using a very coarse grit and this means several grit changes to get to the smoothness you're looking for in a drum sander. A drum sander is not made for the rigors of abrasive planing. Get the planer, it's designed for the purpose you have in mind."

From the Woodworker's Journal eZine 2003 archives

Performax 10 20 drum sanderHistorically, thickness planers have been more of a standard for smaller shops than drum sanders. Only recently have tool manufacturers begun to offer drum sanders on a scale and at a price that suits the needs and budget of the hobbyist.  Rockler recently added a selection of Perfomax and Powermatic drum sanders that start out at around $700 to its list of power tools. Now, not only are drum sanders within reach of the weekend woodworker, both planers and drum sanders are available at prices that could tempt you to skip the choice anxiety and pick up one of each.

posted on October 19, 2006 by Rockler
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17 thoughts on “A Planer vs. a Drum Sander”

  • Michael

    I own a small shop and purchased both. If I could ever return one of<br />them it would be my Dewalt 3 blade Thickness Planer. I've used it three<br />times and use my Drum Sander (Performax 16-32) hundreds of times. The<br />real factor here is width and versatility. The drum sander is more<br />usefull due to the width of material that can be sanded.<br />


    Thank you for your comments today. I am faced with this decision to make soon and I could not find good information on which way to go. Your article has given me the information I need to go on. Thank you again. Mike Foster.

  • Jon

    I have a 15" Delta planer and a Preformax 22-44 drum sander. If I had to give one up, I would have to let the planer go. I have had the drum sander for about two years now and I dont really know what I would do without it. I use the drum sander every day and the planer probably a couple of times a month. I get about 90% of my lumber rough sawn and I still think I wound give up the planer before the sander. Get both if you can, if not, do a little more research, maybe check with some local shops. good luck its a though choice

  • I finally have both, I use the planer to get the wood to rough dimensions. Then a few passes though the sander to finish it off. I have a 13" Delta planer and just got the Performax 16-32 sander. This gives me the finish I want without tearout.

  • George Slama

    I have had my Makita thickness planer for<br />18 years and now i bought my x-mas gift to me the 18 x 36 Delta drum sander.<br />There is defietly lot more pases to do with the sander, but there is lot more width i can work with.Get both if you can, love them both.<br /><br /><br />

  • I have to agree with the two responders and not the initial writer. I have the performax drum sander and the deWalt planer. I got both when I setup my shop. If you want to take wood off quickly use the 60 grit paper. I have taken as much as 1/16 (.0625) inch off at a time with the belt set at about 20 for speed. If someone made me a good offer for the deWalt it would be gone in a second.

  • Richard Weil

    I also have both units and I agree with the the above responses as to which gets the most use - the drum sander! I have a Sears Craftsman 16/32 sander, which for info purposes is about 2/3 the price of a Perfomax. It does have a negative in that the Craftsman belt replacement cost is very high, perhaps because the roll width is different from others on the market, so I buy rolls of sanding belt material and make my own replacements.

  • Roger

    I've decided on getting a thickness planer, but I see that a big first choice is between the 2-blade models and the 3-blade models. Of course 2-blades are cheaper-- is is worth paying extra for a 3-blade model? Thanks.

  • Vern

    I too am in the market for a planer but am totally confused by all that I read. I have read several postings that say the Dewalt 3 blade goes threw blades like crazy. At over 50.00 every change I wonder if it isn't worth spending the extra money and getting one with the helical cutters. Some folks said they had to change blades after as little as 75 board feet. Any one have any recommendations?<br />Thanks

  • Cory

    I agree that if your looking to bring down the thickness of stock quickly, a planer is the way to go, however, I'm a guitar builder, and i deal with stock thats less than a quarter inch thick, i would have tooth picks made of exotic wood if i sent a guitar back, or a pair of sides or even the top through my planer. but do your homework before you buy either, its really a drag to get suck with a garbage planer or drum sander.

  • Alex

    I've also decided on getting a thickness planer, but I see that a big first choice is between the 2-blade models and the 3-blade models.

  • Bill h.

    I own both a ridged bench top planner and until yesterday a Delta 18-36 (?) drum sander. I have owned both over 6 years. I can say I use my sander on a weekly basis opposed to the planner maybe on a good month once. My only advise when shopping for a drum sander is don’t be cheap! The Delta I have finally bit the dust, I’ve diagnosed and repaired it too many times to count whereas the Jet 22-44 Plus I replaced it with runs flawlessly. I have two friend who have owned their machines for at least the same time as I have had my delta, they have never had a problem with it and they run at least double the amount of board feet that I do in any given month. Do your research before you buy. Good Luck.

  • Craig Raper

    I had ask this same question in some of the woodworking groups. Of course the answer I for is you have to have them both. I believe I can live without the planer if it dies tomorrow. If the drum sander died I would be praying that Jet has reasonable prices on repair parts. If not I would be in search of a new 16-32. Forgot to add I can do 90% of what I would be doing on planer with my bandsaw then finish it off with the sander.

  • Nancy Young

    I want to use some pallets to make a fence. Will a belt sander smooth it enough or should I be looking at something else?

  • J Griffith

    If the lumber you buy is already S2S, then clamping two pieces and avoiding large differences in joined edges would be the first step. Second, If you would normally do finish sanding with much finer grits using a hand held sander, you do want a course grit on the drum sander. Finally if you do any work with the grain that is running different directions, you should be planing at a very light setting to avoid rip out. All the lumber I use is S2S when I buy it. I opt for the planer as a coarse grit is rarely needed. A hand sander can still remove large amounts and the planer can follow up to true the surface. What nobody can tell you is how your work might require one too over the other. That is something you should determine.

  • Jonn Mero

    Ok, you guys! You've cost me the price of a Jet 10-20 drum sander. Was a bit in doubt, but got a very favourable price on the Jet. have already bought a Jet JWBS-16 band saw, also at a good price, so when this came up, I just had to get one. Live in Norway btw, and just happened upon this web page, - money-wise unfortunately, but desire-wise thankfully.

  • Greg Dawson

    I'm opening a guitar repair shop. Should I look for planers sander joiners. I will be building guitars as well.

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