Homemade 36″ Drum Sander

I have been working on designing and building this one for some time. It’s 90% complete and in full production now, just needs paint and some wire looms which I probably will never get, so I figured pics are worth showing. I built this drum sander for three reasons:

1) Sick of using a hand sanders to smooth my end-grain cutting boards.
2) Needed to get consistent thicknesses on cabinet doors and face-frames.
3) I don’t really have a planer to speak of.

The 3rd will probably generate the most controversy, but my design allows me to bite into about 0.040-0.050 inches of wood with each pass without burning the paper. The primary ways I accomplish this is through a lot of power, a variable speed DC gear motor which allows me to creep the wood under the drum at a fixed rate, a large sanding drum to provide more abrasive surface area, and dust collection that prevents material from adhering to the drum. Although I am still considering buying a new lunchbox planer just to save some time and effort, I can feed through 4 or 5 boards at a time. The capacity makes up for the slower speed of sanding something down to size.

The basic design is an 8″ single drum suspended over a granite counter top. I went with a slab of granite that was broken in half at the local home store and talked the manager into letting it go for $20. I then chucked up a diamond wheel in my trusty 4.5″ angle grinder, clamped a steel straight edge to the granite where I wanted to cut it, ran the hose on it, and cut away. This was probably horribly unsafe, but it worked just fine for me. The granite then sits on a grid of 1.25″x1.25″x.1875″ steel square tubing that was welded and ground (relatively) flat.

The table itself is supported in the center by two 12v scissor jacks for motorized lift/lowering. I get about 10″ of travel, which allows me to throw larger things on the table (such as a completed drawer box, for example) and sand the edges all flush for edge banding or whatever. The table moves on 4 linear bearing rails (like you’d find in a CNC machine) to allow for very smooth adjustments up and down. In the end, I think a chained system with lead screws would have been better, even with a hand crank instead of a motorized lift mechanism, but if I ever built a second version, I’d design those in from the start. Anyway, this doesn’t have any specific disadvantages over a geared lead screw system, it’s just more expensive for no good reason. I designed in two digital readouts for the height so I can see where the table is relative to a previous sanding run. While one could get away with only one of them, they were relatively cheap and this allows me to see if the table is raising linearly or whether some micro adjustments are needed to bring it into the same plane as the drum.

The conveyor is a large sanding belt powered by a bodine DC gear motor hooked up to a minarik speed controller. It can move the wood anywhere from 0-20fpm. I frequently use intermediate speeds, depending on how much material I’m sanding off. The quick speed is nice because it allows me to just lightly scuff sand multiple boards in rapid succession. The slow speed is obviously nice because I can leave the table at a fixed distance from the drum and hog off more material by simply feeding the workpiece at a crawl. The belt has tracking adjustments welded to the non-drive side which are simply bolts that tension each side of the shaft. The mounting plates were CNC’d from aluminum to ensure a precise system.

The frame itself was built with recycled steel. I learned to weld on this thing, but my brother-in-law graciously welded most of the critical components since my welds were “too ugly” he said. The wheels are locking casters and definitely undersized now that I’ve added all the steel and granite. They work but I wouldn’t off-road with it.

The drum is a 1.25″ precision shaft. NOTE: if you’re thinking of building your own drum sander, don’t skimp on this part. A round rod will NOT be precise enough to minimize vibration. Get a precision ground rod. If you watch other videos on the internet of home-made drum sanders, a lot of the chattering noises are coming from the out-of-roundness of the drum, which even if you correct through truing the drum, you still have a weight imbalance that imparts vibration into the system). The MDF discs (over 50 of them) were cut with a router (ugh) and epoxied onto the shaft. The drum was then trued by simply raising the moving conveyor belt under the drum before applying the hook side of the Velcro material. The drum was shellac’d to provide better adhesion of the hook side of the Velcro material, then spirally wrapped with 120 grit paper.

The dust “hood” is designed to maximize air velocity through the various entry points. It was made with acrylic (Plexiglas) that was glued together. A scoop on the back comes within a few mils of the drum itself to ensure that all air is pulled from the front side of the drum. It rotates on an axis through the use of a round stainless steel shaft and a piece of DOM tubing welded to the top of the frame. It is easily removed to gain access to the drum bearing mounting plates or the drum itself.

The pressure rollers are indispensable. I got these for $3 each at a local metal recycler. They are conveyor rollers (ironically) and are held in place by a piece of 1/2″ tube welded to a tab. They can be adjusted and they hold the material onto the granite as it passes under the drum. I am thinking of adding a few more on the infeed and outfeed sides. Snipe is non-existent, but I’m sure misalignment might introduce it into the system if I’m not careful. My hope is that more pressure rollers will prevent this.

The motor is a 6.5 HP compressor duty motor. I picked it up at the tractor supply house for just under $200. I was a little suspicious of the power rating but the ammeter confirms (assuming a reasonable efficiency) of up to 25 amp current draw at 220v when under full load. Even if it’s only 4 or 5 hp, it does the trick. I don’t run the sander long enough to need a continuous duty motor, or a TEFC. Originally, I was going to use a 2hp Taiwanese dust collector motor and I’m glad I didn’t. It takes a LOT of power to thickness sand, so more is better.

The “electronics box” is somewhat of a joke. It’s a 6″x6″x0.25″thick, 14″ long square tube with 1/4″ steel plate welded to the tops and bottom. It weighs, by itself, probably 25 lbs. It sort of tops off the whole design with a ridiculous overkill clamshell opening system, and a shipping container latch designed for aerospace. At any rate, it contains the power supplies, ammeter for determining the load on the motor, potentiometers for controlling the speed of the table’s up/down movement as well as the conveyor belt speed, some speed controller boards I soldered up, some switches, and some extraneous touches like power supplies to drive LEDs inside the switches (so I can tell if the motors are on or not).

Anyway, being able to build a full sized raised panel cabinet door or face frame and feed it through is amazing. The dust collection works perfectly when hooked up to a large enough cyclone and the time savings is incredible. I gave it a full commission of work and it didn’t even blink. I don’t know how I ever lived without it at this point. Oh, and for those wondering, my materials cost was just over $1000. The linear bearings and table lift jacks were almost $400 themselves, though, so I’m still convinced it could be done for cheaper. Either way, it’s not an easy undertaking for the non-metal-inclined (though I wouldn’t consider myself much of a metal worker). But if the shop-made wooden drum sanders have you thinking you could do better, I would agree. Enjoy!


  1. Glenn Folley October 19, 2010

    Great Job. How long did it take to build?

    • matt armstrong October 19, 2010

      Hey Glenn,

      I only worked on it on the weekends but it took about 7 long weekends to finish. I spent a lot of time during the week designing and planning the whole project, though, so I’m not sure how much that would equate to. Ultimately I probably should have just worked at the gas station and spent the money on a commercial unit, but the same could probably be said for a lot of the stuff we build ourselves :)

      • Don Lee December 7, 2012

        Please send me a copy of your drawings, plans, etc. and any other info you think pertinent to building this sander. Let me pay for it as I’m sure you’ve had many request for same. I know copies of paperwork and mail is expensive.
        Please reply via e-mail if this is not possible or if you wish to be paid in advance, as I know I would in your situation.


        Don Lee

  2. I like it. A beautiful piece of work. I started on an 18″ drum sander a few years ago and had some physical problems and had to put it aside and I never got back to it. It’s made with 3 layers of laminated plywood on each side and some 2″ by 4″ oak beams. I’ve got everything I need to finish it and now you’ve inspired me to get it finished…finally. It’s no where near what you did here. It’ll have an MDF drum similar to yours but it’s around 20 inches long. I have all the MDF discs cut out I just have to drill holes in some of them to lighten it before I glue it together. Yea, I’ll have t get that beast finished.

  3. Bryan Huot October 19, 2010

    that thing is a BEAST indeed! i dont even think i have room in my tiny shop for that thing…but i would sure try to make room. great job Matt…truly great job!

  4. Way too cool.

  5. Aaron B.(dalsaw) October 19, 2010

    Very cool project,and great job. If I tryed to build one it would fly apart when I turned it on for the first time.

  6. Brian October 19, 2010

    That thing is a hoss. Congratulations I know you will enjoy it.

  7. Hey Matt,
    Are you able to shoot a video of it in action? I’d love to see it and the speed ranges you can do. Just curious.

  8. I’ve seen how people make their own power tools and I am always very impressed. That includes this project. This is a project way beyond my abilities. Nice job.

  9. Renov8r October 20, 2010

    Congrats on that, Matt. I’m envious of your ambition, electronics, welding and CNC know-how. I’m in agreement with Larry above. I’d like to see video, we all love video! Kudos on overcoming the power, speed and dust collection issues riddled by the mainstream manufacturers! My hat’s off to you. Enjoy that monster!

  10. MitchellM October 20, 2010

    wow man. been thinking of atempting to build my own lathe.. was worried that i wouldnt have the skills needed.But after seeing this masterpiece… i am now confident that if i just take my time and pay attention to detail, i should be able to do it. though this guy is obviously more experinced and crafty than i, i still feel encouraged. Besides, a lathe is much simpler than THIS beauty.. lol

  11. Dukegijoe October 20, 2010

    Forget the video, I want the sketch-up plans, with the improvments mentioned! That thing is ridiculous!


  12. matt armstrong October 20, 2010

    Hi Everyone – I’ll try to grab a video – that’s a good point – seeing it in action is another story altogether. I am willing to share the sketchup-plans with anyone interested as well – but they incorporate the design as-is, not “how it should be.” – Also, you really need to just design around what you have on hand, since we usually don’t have the luxury of spec’ing everything, right? So I recommend anyone interested in building something similar to just start ordering parts, then designing accordingly…

    And yes, it’s time consuming to build but a lot easier than you’d think. Find someone who knows how to work metal though!

  13. James Gillespie, Jr, October 20, 2010

    Very nice piece of machinery you have there. And they say manufacturing is dead in the USA.

  14. Jeremy Bridges October 20, 2010

    WOW! Nice work. I hereby infringe upon Marks creative moniker, and dub thee ‘The Metal Whisperer’ (and perhaps also the Earl of Granite).

  15. What a great machine!!! I’m very impressed. I’ve had the thought of making my own drumsander, but have had no idea where to start. Now I guess I have somewhat of an idea of what it takes. Thanks for sharing, and I’m also interesting in seeing this BEAST in action!

  16. Donnie Gaskin October 20, 2010

    Matt, A job very well done. Having a long machining background myself I am very impressed with the construction of your sander. I am glad you decided to make it, sure you could have bought one but we would not be reading your proud write up at this time. I agree about seeing a video. Great project.

  17. Gary October 20, 2010

    That is really awesome. Great job!

  18. Ben October 20, 2010

    My favorite is the spent sheet of MDF in the background. Did you just use a big hole saw to cut out all those discs?

  19. Justin October 21, 2010

    That is crazy! I am sure you will really enjoy it! Great Job!

  20. chris k October 21, 2010

    Wow am I impressed. You did a great job, enjoy!

  21. Sam October 22, 2010




  22. Brandon October 22, 2010

    Tremendous job on such an incredible undertaking. Don’t forget your consulting fee for helping the rest of build our own.

  23. Danny Hellyar October 22, 2010

    I was having that same problem with my face frames also for a long time. I have a wide belt sander, so I sand all my stiles and rails to the same thickness. Then I make sure that when I screw them together with the pocket hole screws that they are clamped very tightly so there is no shifting of the joint. This way you never have to run a whole face frame through a wide sander. it saves time and the cost of having to have a really wide belt sander. Mine is an 18″ grizzly and I love it. It works great and saves me a lot of hand sanding. I almost don’t even use my planer any more. If i do it’s to get my stock down close to where I want it and then I do a final on the wide belt. So the secret is to mill everything to the same thickness then be sure to clamp tightly before securing joint.

  24. Mike M (http://mmader.com) October 22, 2010

    Excellent work! You should be proud of what you accomplished with this. May it bring you years of good service!

  25. Todd October 22, 2010

    Matt, amazing enginuity. I like the setup and would also like to see a video in action.

  26. George Allchin October 22, 2010


    Great job and excellant explanation!!!!!

    One question though……

    What rpm do you run the drum at or is it variable speed also?



  27. Devin October 22, 2010

    This is the coolest homemade shop tool that I have ever seen. Very innovative.

  28. Dan M October 24, 2010

    You are the man when it comes to homemade tools. I’ve built 2 of these (nowhere near your caliber though) and there are too many bugs to work out that I get frustrated. So i put it aside. Someday I’ll get it working right. Maybe……..

  29. Dave October 25, 2010

    Call Powermatic I think they have a job for you.

  30. Paul Stine October 25, 2010

    Oh, hell yes!

    Great idea using the granite countertop for a platten.

  31. Dave H October 25, 2010


    I am in the middle of a 24″ wood frame drum sander build.

    Your machine is making me seriously reconsider a LOT of my design ideas… I just wish my metalworking skills were up to par with yours. It looks fantastic…

    One suggestion though. You may want to prime and paint the raw metals to keep them from rusting…

  32. Eric F October 26, 2010

    That is cool. Wish I had the time to attempt a project like this.

  33. Thomas Tieffenbacher/Doc Savage 45 October 26, 2010

    Impressive work! And a few hors? Have you considered what it might cost if it didn’t happen this way? Many skills and creative thought went into the machine. Looks like a fun ride!

  34. ecrusch October 26, 2010

    That looks like an awful lot of work to build, but worth it!

  35. Drew October 28, 2010

    A little too complicated for me. I’ll stick to my #4 smoother.

  36. You are right that made me drool! Hahaha It’s simply beautiful! :-D Nice job!!

  37. robert lee October 29, 2010

    stuff like this is what makes my wishlist get longer and longer :/

  38. Philippe November 3, 2010

    Fantastic job ! What’s next, a homemade space shuttle ?

  39. Jared_the_n00b November 9, 2010

    Hey, I love your ingenuity! Building the thing doesn’t intimidate me, it’s the electronics. No experience, but I’m now studying it. Well done!

    I saw you said you wouldn’t mind sending out the plans. Would you be so kind as to send them to me?

    If you like building your own tools, checkout this home made band-saw: http://woodgears.ca/bandsaw/homemade.html

  40. tom December 24, 2010

    nice work, it looks better built than performax

  41. Ray L Lindsey March 21, 2011

    Good Afternoon Matt

    Is there a link to the latest plans and video?

    Thank You Very Much for Your Kind Consideration



    cell 713-446-0124

  42. James Cain June 23, 2011

    Hello Matt,
    Great job! I’ve got some tubing, bearings, shaft material and even a conveyor belt laying around and I’m ready to build! If you’d be so kind as to send the plans, I’ll use them as a go-by and build around what I’ve got on hand. Thanks for the share and again…great job!


  43. James Cain June 23, 2011

    Matt, not sure if my email gets posted to you but it’s jimcain4545@yahoo.com

  44. can i buy a set of plans from you??please and a list of parts thank you for your time john streetermy e mail is jtstreeter43@gmail.com

  45. lsmith254 January 8, 2012

    This workhorse has me drooling…I just joined, and am learning to weld, as well. Fine job. General question…if you were to use a hole saw on the discs, say, three holes per disc, and then glue them up, would it affect the performance of the drum? Thanks.

  46. doug March 11, 2013

    can the drum be made out of aluminum?

  47. Wally April 7, 2013

    I was undertaking building a homemade thickness sander some time back. I couldn’t shell out thousands for one. The project got put on the backburner and I ended up using a friends sander (what a concept). I have alot of parts if anyone is interested, I can make you a deal. Shipping to West Coast shouldn’t be to bad. (I am in WA staste). There is another gentleman on youtube that made one based upon Grizzly’s design 24″(lead screw moves conveyor feed table up and down). That is what my design was going to use.
    That is what I bought parts for. Parts as follows
    Conveyor rollers (bought from Grizzly)
    COnveyor roller bracket assembly (purchased from grizzly to save time fabricating)
    Conveyor belt ( sandpaper belt)
    lead screws and nuts (for vertical movement of conveyor table
    sanding drum paper wrap
    pillow blocks for sanding drum
    ammeter for monitoring drum load
    Industrial emergency safety stop switch
    Industrial “on” button
    keyed shaft for sanding drum
    motor pulleys
    I also have a 3hp AC motor, may be able to fit in a large flat rate box
    DC motor conveyor control
    Let me know I will make you a sweet deal

    • Ian April 15, 2013

      Hi Wally,

      I am interested in the parts you have acquired.

      Send me an email at ian.verm1@gmail.com if you get a chance.


  48. Rich pogue May 27, 2013

    Nice job on the build it looks proffesionaly done, i also would like a copy of your plans if possible i wont build mine exactly the same but it would be nice to have something to go by. Thanks ricpog@aol.com

  49. Danny F. July 19, 2013

    Matt, you should really be proud of your sender. Very clever use of the conveyor for mobility by the way.

  50. Mike November 13, 2013

    Matt are you interested in selling these. If so get in touch with me at mdmilioni@live.com

  51. Drew W. December 21, 2013

    Excellent work. That is a great project. I would love to get a set of plans for this as well if you wouldn’t mind sending them to me. junior363@gmail.com. If you would like i will pay for it as well. Thanks.

  52. Javier Canedo December 23, 2013

    Nice Job! , I’ve been planning for a while building me one of thos (I build guitars). I still need to design it, etc.

    If you let me suggest one thing, that I have in mind for mine and it seems it could pefectly adapt to your: add a “disc sander” to one of the ends, put a baseplate, etc. Also, this could be excessive, but on the other end a vertical belt sander. Depend on your needs…


  53. Mike B. January 18, 2014

    Liked your design on the 36″ drum sander. Do you have a set of working plans?

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