A planer and drum sander complement each other in the preparation of lumber for use in woodworking and carpentry projects. You could conceivably use a drum sander to prepare a piece of lumber in terms of making it smooth. This process would however take much longer than with a planer and would most likely cost you a lot of time and sanding belts while doing so.
A planer is used for milling down lumber into the desired thickness by removing relatively large shavings of wood from lumber. The drum sander is mainly used to reduce the thickness of thin wood stock, lumber with tricky grain structures, and end-grain cutting boards.
The drum sander can also be used after the planer in order to sand the planed surface of the lumber into a smooth finish, ready for processing.
A drum sander and planer are both valuable tools when starting on bigger woodworking jobs. Both machines reduce the thickness of wood into desired dimensions in preparation for your woodworking project.
Let’s see how the planer and drum sander complement each other.
How Is a Drum Sander Different From a Planer?
A drum sander is a woodworking machine that is used to sand a piece of lumber.
The drum sander basically consists of a horizontal drum, covered in sandpaper that spins parallel to the feed table. The drum sanding machine has either a manual feed or an automated feed that forces the lumber through a channel that holds the lumber up against the rotating sanding drum.
As the lumber feeds through the drum sanding machine, the side of the lumber facing the roller is sanded smooth. A four-sided piece of lumber would need to be fed through the sander four times if all the sides require sanding.
Drum Sander Pros
The major advantage of a drum sander is its ability to reduce the thickness of stock thinner than 1/8 -inch. Hence a drum sander is also called the thickness sander.
You are able to use it on workpieces with complex grain structures. The sanded surface also has a better finish compared to planed surface.
Drum sanders are mostly used in industrial woodworking and joinery applications such as furniture factories where large pieces of lumber need to be given a smooth finish.
How Is a Planer Different from a Drum Sander?
A bench planer is a wood milling machine that is similar in operation to a drum sander. Instead of a sanding drum, the planer has a spindle or cutter head, fitted with two or more very sharp metal blades. As the cutter head rotates the blades shave pieces of wood off the surface of the lumber.
A bench planer is also often called a thicknesser or a thickness planer As the name implies, the blades carve the wood into the desired thickness.
The planer generally has an automated feed that draws the lumber through a channel in the machine while the blade shaves wood off the side facing the blade.
Some smaller models of planers do not have a feed but rely on the plank to be fed manually over the rotating blades. As you can imagine, extreme care needs to be taken not to touch the blade with any body part or piece of clothing as this could be disastrous in terms of personal injury.
Thickness Planer vs Drum Sander Comparison
|Thickness Planer||Drum Sander|
|Working||Shaves material using carbide or steel blades||Sand wood with an abrasive drum|
|Type||Wood milling machine.||Wood sander|
Make the thickness of a jointed board parallel
Smooth the surface
|Advantages||Faster material removal rate.
Shavings are easy to clean and have lower health risks.
Can straighten cupping with the help of jigs.
|Ability to sand thin stock.
Reduce the thickness of end grain Cutting boards.
The resulting surface has a smoother finish.
|Cons||Not suitable for end grain boards.
Can’t work with very thin workpieces.
Occurrence of tear-outs when the grain direction is wrong or tricky.
|Low material removal rate. Require several passes.
Softwood may gum-up sandpaper making it less effective.
Fine sanding dust is unhealthy compared to shavings.
Best Drum Sander
Can a Drum Sander Replace a Planer?
Drum sanders and a planer do effectively perform very similar tasks by removing wood from the surface of a piece of lumber.
The difference between the drum sander and planer lies in their very specific uses.
The planer is used to reduce a piece of lumber down to the desired thickness.
When buying raw timber for a project, you may not get the exact thickness you need. In addition to that, marks such as tooth marks from the sawmill may still be evident on the lumber. In some cases, the finish of the wood may still be downright rough. The planer is then used to remove fairly large sections of wood from the lumber creating a smooth surface to work with.
Jointer and Planer
Rough sawn wood stock may be twisted and cupped due to internal stress and moisture absorption. A jointer helps to remove cupping and get one flat face (thickness) and an edge square to the face.
The jointed board is then taken to a thickness planer to get the desired thickness by milling the opposite surface of the jointed face. You can learn more about jointer and planer here.
Disadvantages of Thickness Planer
Most planers can only reduce the thickness down to 3/16-inches or 1/8th inch; beyond that, your workpiece may get spoiled.
If your grain direction is wrong, the spinning blades on the thickness planer can shatter the thin wood panels. You should always feed the stock in such a way that the planer knives cut downhill.
The thickness sander (drum sander) has no such restrictions.
The planer removes shavings but does not leave a super smooth surface.
The sandpaper attached to the drum of the sander is a lot finer than what the spinning blades of the planer are. Hence the material removal rate is considered slow when compared to a thickness planer. However, a drum sander is ideal for reducing the thickness of wood below 1/8″ thickness.
This is also the right tool for reducing the thickness and flattening your end-grain cutting board work.
When working with regular lumber, the drum sanders are generally used after the lumber has been trimmed down by the planer. The drum sander is designed to smooth off fairly wide pieces of lumber, thanks to the open-end design, to a smooth finish.
In short, a planer does the rough shaping of the lumber while the drum sander reduces the thickness of thin stock and finishes the surface into a very smooth surface.
It is slow! You may have to make several passes to remove the same amount of stock that the planer can remove in a single pass.
Although the machine produces a smooth sanded surface, you may still need to finish it with a random orbital sander to remove sanding lines and better finish.
Drum Sander or Planer, Which Do You Need?
This decision comes down to what you intend to do with the tools. If you are a hobby woodworker or DIY carpenter but only do one or two projects a year, you’d probably get away with purchasing a handheld planer and a belt sander. The projects would take longer to complete but are perfectly doable.
If you must choose between a thickness planer and a drum sander, get the thickness planer first since it will be much more useful for most people.
A drum sander is more of a specialty tool that will be useful for reducing the thickness of end-grain boards and thinner wood pieces.
Should you require the tools for your woodworking shop that you make a living from, I’d strongly recommend you have both the drum sander and an industrial planer.
Initially, the financial outlay may be high when buying a drum sander and planer but the benefits in terms of time saved and the high quality of the lumber being churned out quickly justify the expense.
A planer undoubtedly makes the biggest difference in time and effort saving as shaving a thick piece of lumber into a useable piece takes a lot of effort and time if you don’t have a planer.
Custom-sized projects are also much harder to make when excessive time is spent on trying to shape odd-sized pieces into the desired dimensions without the assistance of a good planer.
Sanding can be done by hand if needed but a drum sander sure makes life a lot easier. Wide and long pieces requiring sanding take a lot of time and effort. Drum sanders accomplish this task easily and with a higher degree of accuracy than what a human being is capable of.
A drum sander uses a belt lined with abrasive grit to sand a piece of a wood surface into a smooth finish. The finer the grit the smoother the finish on the wood surface will be.
Prior to sanding the wood needs to timber needs to be brought down to the required size. Planers are built to perform this task accurately, quickly, and efficiently in preparation for sanding.
As such the planer and drum sander work in unison to prepare wood for a woodworking project. The planer does the major shaping of the raw lumber into a correctly sized piece, while the drum sander finished off the surface of the wood to a smooth finish, ready for final working.