Most woodworkers, at whatever level, usually use a variety of machines and power tools as they offer a number of advantages which, as most users would agree, are highly desirable. Much depends on the nature of the work being produced, but drawing up a prospective list of basic machinery for a new trade (or hobbyist’s) workshop would probably include a table or panel saw, planer/thicknesser, bandsaw, pillar drill, spindle moulder and router table, with the possible inclusion of other more specialised equipment. Machines of whatever sort serve a number of functions, one of which is that they reduce the effort of many applications and at the same time, speed up the work flow. Provided they’re set up and used correctly, machines will also work to a much greater level of precision.
On the other side of the coin, good quality, accurate machinery is expensive and takes up a considerable amount of space in a workshop, so planning the layout becomes vital. Machines also have the capacity to generate a huge amount sawdust and other waste which makes it essential that a considerable amount of the budget is allocated to an efficient dust extraction system. In addition, the running costs as well as the depreciation should be taken into account and last but not least is it’s important to adhere to all pertinent H&S regulations and provide staff with the relevant PPE where required.
Having discussed the basic machinery requirement for a trade or well equipped hobbyist’s workshop, quite a convincing argument could be made for including a drum sander on the list, though firstly it’s useful to describe how the machine works and what it does. As the name suggests, the machine consists of abrasive material (the ‘loading’) which is spirally wound onto a rotating drum which can be moved precisely up and down by means of a handwheel. The work is placed on a variable speed conveyor so that it’s slowly fed underneath the rotating drum and passes through to the other side having been perfectly sanded to correspond with the loading grit wound onto the drum.
The initial outlay is quite high, especially when it’s considered that it must be connected to an extraction system that will handle fine dust. That said, once installed and working, the machine will very soon start to recoup its outlay. Just a few of its many uses might be:
- Solid boards with difficult grain can be sanded to a precise, accurate and smooth thickness
- Once glued together, panels can be passed through the machine to sand the face frame, leaving it true and level
- Larger machines will accept the width of a standard door (veneered or solid) in one pass
- Smaller machines are ‘open ended’, meaning that a workpiece which is twice the width of the conveyor can be sanded in two passes
- Drawer sides and other small components can be pre-sanded to thickness before use
- When thick 2 or 3mm veneers are cut on the bandsaw, the drum sander is ideal for sanding the sawn surface
Planer /Thicknesser or Sander?
On first inspection, a drum sander could be thought of as a thicknessing device to remove 2 or 3mm and bring a rough sawn surface to a finished dimension, but nothing is further from the truth. Only a very light pass is required to sand a piece of sawn veneer (or similar) whereas attempting to remove too much material in one go will cause the loading to clog and leave a burnt surface on the workpiece as well as placing too much of a strain on the open-ended cantilever arm.
Profile & Wire Brush Sanding
One option which the Axminster ST-480 drum sander offers is to replace the complete drum with one containing optional silicon carbide sanding brushes, which are available in a wide range of grits. The brush head is simple to fit in place of the sanding drum and is very effective for sanding profiles and preparing mouldings for finishing. A wire brush attachment can also be fitted which can be used to leave a distressed finish on new timber, or for a brushed effect finish on a metal surface.
Oscillating Drum Sanders
The Jet 22-44 OSC is the largest of their open-ended sanders and has the unique feature of having an oscillating drum. This guarantees a very smooth surface and at the same time, prolongs the life of the sanding belt as it moves from side to side as the work passes underneath.
Dual Drum Sanders
At the top end of the range are the Industrial series of drum sanders and one of their many enhanced features which make them rather special are their twin drums. This means that the first drum can be loaded with coarser abrasive and and the second with finer finishing grit. The twin drums are fitted with digital read-outs or scales which show the overall sanding height but more importantly, the difference in height between the two drums, which allows the rear drum to be easily re-set when changing the abrasive to a different grit.
In the initial stages of planning a trade or furniture making workshop, it’s our view that it’s very worthwhile considering the inclusion of a drum sander, but it may not be an automatic ‘first choice’. It’s a machine that some might ponder about at a later stage, where finding the space and connecting the dust extraction system may be problematic. Trade workshops aside, the smaller Jet drum sanders come supplied with a stand and castors, meaning that they can be easily moved around a much smaller hobbyist’s workshop. If space can be found (always at a premium) then one of these machines is without doubt one of the best that can be added to any workshop.