Proper Drum Sander Use

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.

A Drum Sander is NOT a Planer

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.

Putting on the Grits

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.

Other Uses

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.

Category: Tools


  1. Brad Nailor (http://) September 6, 2007

    Marcs’ answer is right on. I miss having a wide belt sander available to me. We would mill all stock 1/16 over and sand everything into final dimension, up to 120 grit. Cuts down on your hand sanding, and gives you consistant material thickness for all parts. Not to mention the ability to sand huge table tops was like a dream! At least even with an open end drum sander you could do everything short of sand the tabletops.

  2. David Caskey,MD September 7, 2007

    I have found that I use my drum sander more and more. To me, it is better for the average, casual woodworker than the planner as with the planner you have to start with one surface flat. If you are working with over size boards or glued up pannels, this is impossible in a small shop. The sander is slow but at least solves the problem of one flat side. If I try to use hand tools or smaller sanders, I almost always get a variety of thickness and often have valleys and ridges. With the drum sander if you pay attention to stock feed and drum pressure and take your time you really get a consistent result.

  3. Mike in St. Paul (http://) September 7, 2007


    Do you ever see yourself upgrading to a Timesaver (like Norm) or is the more portable drum sander the limit? I’m just curious how big an operation you need before you make the investment in a Timesaver. How much of a difference is there between a decent drum sander and a Timesaver?

    Mike in St. Paul

    P.S. I guess in all fairness, Norm probably got his Timesaver comped so maybe that’s not a fair comparison.


    Hey Mike. I could probably “get by” with my Performax sander forever. I doubt I would ever shell out the cash for one of the bigger units like the TimeSaver. But what a nice luxury to have, huh? So if you ever see a big drum sander in my shop, you can bet I didnt pay for it. :)

  5. Vic September 8, 2007

    My own little piece on a drum sander. Thoroughly think through the engineering before purchasing a drum sander. I have the Delta and the problem there is that the table(instead of the drum head) is what moves. Not a problem until you are sanding long pieces that need in-feed and out-feed support. Think about it, I didn’t. Anyone wanna buy a Delta drum sander so I can afford my new Performax?

  6. Dave T Pilot April 19, 2009

    I rarely disagree with Marc but this time…sorry Marc but I gotta do it. I just got a great buy on a barely used Jet 10-20 drum sander. After about 1/2 hour of reading the very thin manual and adjusting the setup I ran boards between 10 and 20 inches through, making two passes with absolutely no ridge.

    Having said that, I was getting a ridge at first but adjusted the outboard end of the drum a tiny bit at a time until it was slightly higher than the inboard end and voila!

    I have only had the drum sander for a couple of weeks but am wondering how I ever lived without it. When making my first end grain cutting board, for example, the board was not flat and “rocked” on a table after the final glue up. The drum sander and 80 grit paper solved the problem easily.

    The paper is easy to change so I moved up through the grits to finish the cutting board. It was the easiest and most enjoyable sanding experience I have ever had.

  7. J Alfsen February 9, 2010

    I’m having a problem with warping after drum sanding. I’m making panels 18″X36″ for a toy box out of brown maple that has been stored outdoors in a shed attached to my workshop. I glue up the panels and plane to just over 3/4″ then final sand with drum sander and 220 grit paper and the panels come out warped on the other end. You would think that warping from end to end would be the problem, but it is warping side to side so on the second pass it sands only the center and not the edges. Why? Is it because the wood is not dry enough? Is it because the drum sander is heating up the wood too much? Maybe a combination? I’ve never had this problem before and not sure how to fix it.

      thewoodwhisperer February 10, 2010

      Now that’s a first for me J. I never heard of that happening before. I agree that warped front to back is a little easier to understand. But what you describe almost sounds like the drum or the table is not completely flat. Have you dropped a straight edge on it to confirm that it is indeed dead flat?

      • J Alfsen February 19, 2010

        I think I may have a solution to my problem. There are 3 contributing factors. One, storing the wood in an outdoor shed raises the moisture content from 7% to aprox 12 – 14%. Also, you should bring your wood indoors and let stand for a day or two before working with it. 2nd, planing both sides and letting them stand for a day or 2 before gluing up also helps. The 3rd and most helpful tidbit is feed rate to sanding grit relationship. The finer the grit, the faster the feed rate needs to be on the table. It seems I was sanding with too fine a grit. I should have started out with 80 grit and worked my way up to 220. I started out with 220 and turned the feed rate down to avoid burning the paper. (lazy) This created heat build up in the wood and with the higher moisture content, caused the panels to cup. I took the same wood and applied these principles and ended up with dead flat panels. Live and learn.

  8. P. Harry November 26, 2011

    I have drum sander. Am I the only person frustrated and disappointed? I have had no success in wrapping the paper around the drum. The supplier tells me that it is tricky but is easily learnt. I cannot get it tight enough and it is constantly tearing. I fear that I have a ‘lemon’. What is the best method?


      Well a lot of this might be dependent on the brand of sander and paper you’re using. I have only worked with Jet/Performax and both have been easy to use. I have never ripped the paper because it is so thick and it is quite easy to attach the paper to the roller. What brand are you working with?

  9. Carl A. Carlson January 1, 2013

    I use my Ryobi drum sander as a thickness sander. The wood I use (guanacastle) always tears out when I use any kinds of planing device. As someone elsewhere on the web recommends, I stand behind the sander when attaching the paper using my thumb (on my left hand) to hold the paper in place while I catch the lever with my finger. Sometimes I use a piece of double sided tape to keep it from pulling out, then avoid that end of the sander.

  10. Don October 5, 2013

    I just bought a used Ryobi WDS 1600 and I need an O and M manual. Does anyone out there have one they could send me?

  11. Hello,

    I just purchased the jet drum sander with the smart technology where it solves the issue of unevenness on it’s own through the use of a computerized module. I paid $1100.00 for the unit. As everyone stated here…money well spent.


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