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A Planer vs. a Drum Sander

What'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 to this common woodworking question.

jet 13 inch planer 

Question. 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.

Answer from 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."

Answer from 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."


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.