A portable planer with planed lumber and extra blades

Which tool is better for cleaning stock - a planer or drum sander?

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. 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.

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.

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.

Planer vs. Drum Sander

We’ve heard the two experts, Dresdner and Grindinger, weigh in on an answer to the question. Let’s take this opportunity to explore in depth what a planer and a drum sander do. We can also consider the different types of both devices.

Drum Sanders

The term drum sander refers to a machine used for sanding long planks of wood. Sanding the wood flattens it, thins it, and makes it smoother. Although a drum sander looks similar to a planer, it does a different job. We say drum sanders because many types of drum sanders proliferate in woodworking. Let’s explore the many types of these devices.

First, let’s mow through the other types of sanders that don’t qualify as a drum sander even though they sometimes do the same job. You can use an upright orbital sander to sand a hardwood floor, but it will take longer than using a drum sander. To sand baseboards, you’ll need an edge sander. In a room with a radiator, you’ll need an under-radiator sander. This type of floor sander uses a specialty tool that extends a flat sanding pad in front of the device, allowing it to fit under an iron radiator or a similarly sized heater bolted to the floor.

Now, let’s move on to the various types of drum sanders.

Close-End Drum Sander

The close-end drum sander earned its name from its closed-ended pressure rollers. This type of sander sits in a housing that feeds the wood via a belt into and through the sanding drum. The main downfall of this design comes from the device’s inability to sand boards wider than the drum. The main benefit comes from its superior dust containment. A close-end drum device offers more stable operation than an open-end drum sander does because the roller can’t flex apart or open.

Open-End Drum Sander

The open-ended drum sander features pressure rollers open on one end. The design of these sanders houses the pressure rollers, sanding drums, and conveyor belts. Using an open-ended drum sander lets you sand boards larger than the drum’s width, but it creates more uncontained dust. Its open end offers closer access to the board and added maneuverability. An open-end drum sander sometimes produces uneven sanding if the open-end flexes during use.

Single Drum Sander

As its name implies, a single drum sander features just one sanding drum, and that means you use one sandpaper grit. Using one of these means needing to change out the sandpaper regularly if your project requires more than one grit. These cost less than multiple drum sanders, though, and they offer an easy-to-learn machine.

Double Drum Sander

The term double drum sander or two-drum sander refers to a mechanical sander with dual sanding drums. One drum sits behind the other, and each can use a different grade or grit of sandpaper. Use a rough grit on the front drum and a finer grit on the second drum to sand wood more efficiently. These machines cost more and prove a little tougher to learn to use effectively.

Rotating Drum Sander/Rotating Sanding Drum

The term rotating drum sander refers to a table or bench-mounted sanding device with a rotary drum covered in abrasive material. A lower platen supports the workpiece on this large shop tool used to sand tabletops, cutting boards, cabinet doors, and other large wood pieces, including musical instruments such as guitars.

Upright Drum Sander

The term upright drum sander refers to a sander that stands upright like a vacuum cleaner. Use this type of sander to finish wood floors or salvage old hardwood floors. Also, use an upright drum sander for creating thin stock.


Your planer choices include electric planers and manual planers. These devices efficiently smooth wood and prove handy when smoothing a door or its frame. The planer uses a blade mounted to a cutting head or rotating drum.

Using a planer saves you money and time since you can purchase rough lumber and smooth it easily. Using one of these devices enables you to recycle lumber by working with it to get its grain.

Using a planer lets you avoid wood tearout, the wood splintering that occurs when a timber piece undergoes a poor cut. Tearout renders a board useless. Let’s consider the many types of planers.

Hydraulic Planer

The hydraulic planer features a worktable that sits on a bed that moves back and forth underneath a cutter head. The hydraulic system handles the movement and excels at cutting slots and developing precise flat wood pieces. Unlike a hand planer, a hydraulic planer is referred to as a stationary planer.

Benchtop Planers

They are also called bench planers; a few types of these exist, but they all have one thing in common—you use them on a woodworking bench. Use long bench planers for straightening wood; use short bench planers to smooth wood. Bench planers also reduce or cut to length a board or wood piece.

Hand Planer

The term hand planer refers to a manual planer that the woodworker can handle using one hand. That leaves the other hand free to maneuver the workpiece. Use a hand planer in situations where you can’t move the wood piece into a vise or place it on a workbench. Use the hand planer in the location of the wood piece. On a hand planer, a wood body with a hand grip features a sharp metal plate that shaves off the wood’s surface as the woodworker moves it across the wood piece.

Industrial Planer Machine

Professional woodworkers and carpenters use industrial planer machines, heavy-duty planers featuring multiple motors to provide power for large jobs like brushing large boards.

Planer Assembler/Thicknesser

The planer assembler combines the features of a planer joiner and planer assembler, placing the joiner underneath and the assembler on the upper planer surface. The housing looks like a square box with a cutting mechanism on the top face. Use the thicknesser to smooth irregular or old wood.

Two-Handed Planer/Spokeshave

This manual planer requires both hands to use. Expect to put some power behind a spokeshave. Crafted of metal, this lightweight two-handed planer comes in handy for shaping corners quickly and efficiently. To achieve a deeper cut, just adjust the blade.

Combination RASP/Surform Planer

A surface-forming planer (surform planer) shaves the surface of the lumber layer by layer. Picture a cheese grater slicing off slivers of cheese. This planer works the same way. Use this type of planer on wood, plastic, soft metal, fiberglass, and rubber.

Flat Plane Bottom-Edged Wood Hand Planer

Use a flat plane bottom-edged hand planer when you need to plane a small piece of wood. As this planer is the smallest of the manual planers, its size makes it ideal for a tiny bit of wood or when you need to view your progress as it occurs.

Molding Planer

This does double duty as a woodworking tool since it planes and molds. Since the molding planer is used mostly in heavy-duty planing and industrial settings, you probably won’t need it unless you launch a career as a professional woodworker.

Drum Sander vs. Planer: Which Do You Need?

Our customer who asked what to buy to even up glued-up stock and clean up a rough cut needs a planer. Which does it turn out you need? Which tool won your drum sander vs. planer fight? Regardless of your answer, Rockler offers either product. Shop our selection of sanders and planers to shape and smooth your wood.