This article was inspired from a question by Rick. He writes:
I’m interested in how you utilize your drum sander in the shop. Do you use it for thicknessing or finish sanding? How does it fit into your work flow when making furniture. What grit do you leave on the drum and do you change grits or just stick with the one? Have you had any luck sanding larger table tops through the cantilevered sander in two passes? I’ve had the good fortune to acquire a drum sander and want to make the most of it’s capabilities. I understand how most woodworking machines fit into the work flow but this one is more of a mystery. Thanks for your insight.
When using a drum sander for the first time, its very tempting to think of it like a thickness planer. After all, the machine pretty much works exactly the same way. But its probably best if you only consider the drum sander as a finish sanding tool. Removing too much stock at one time will result in tremendous heat buildup, burnt sandpaper, blown fuses, and a screwed up piece of wood.
Most times, I have either 80 or 120 grit paper on the drum. This grit is perfect for removing milling marks from the planer. And although I recommend against heavy thicknessing, these lower grits will certainly allow you to sneak up on the exact thickness you are looking for. If you are a caliper woodworker, this is a dream come true! You can stop at these lower grits if you like, and move right to your random orbit sander for the final smoothing. But if you have a bunch of parts to prep, its well worth the time to change the paper to 180 or 220 and get a head start on the finish sanding. Just remember that the drum sander is pretty aggressive. So when I sand with 220 grit on the drum sander, I will drop back to 180 grit with my random orbit sander. The grooves created by the drum sander and deeper than you might think.
The other common use for the drum sander in my shop is making very thin stock (either for shims or edge banding). So any time I need to make something that is less than 1/4″ thick, the drum sander is vital. That also means I am able to make my own veneer. I take thin 1/8″ slices right off the bandsaw and run it through the drum sander to smooth out the roughness and bring it to 3/32″ thick.
As for running very wide pieces by making two passes, this is something I am not in the habit of doing. There is nearly always a ridge to deal with regardless of how well-calibrated the machine is. Of course this may just be a problem with me an my setup.
The drum sander is an incredibly useful tool that will have a huge impact in your workflow. It will also open up a bunch of doors for you, especially when it comes to the world of home-sawn veneer. Although they aren’t inexpensive, I do consider them to be a worthwhile investment.