It’s very easy to become confused when looking at woodworking tools. For instance, did you know that an impact driver is different from a regular power drillOr how about orbital sanders and an angle grinder fitted with a sanding padAnd the most important question of all – which of the two should you choose?
One question that pops up every now and again is whether to purchase a drum sander or a planer. They’re two completely different-looking tools that serve a similar purpose: removing material from your wood boards. To answer this question and put your mind at ease, in this article, we’re going to discuss various aspects of each tool, how you can benefit from them, and which to purchase first.
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What is a Drum Sander?
A drum sander is a powerful tool that can be used to sand both wood and plastic. The result is a smooth, splinter-free surface for building furniture and frames.
A drum sander can either be a large piece of equipment with multiple drums (industry-grade) or a simple bench-top model with a single drum (home and garage workshop usage). Having several drums makes the sanding process go by much quicker since each drum is equipped with a different grit size. However, for most hobbyist woodworkers, swapping between sheets of sandpaper on a single-drum unit works just fine.
The purpose of a drum sander is to remove material quickly and cleanly. To accomplish this, you need to replace the drum’s sandpaper with increasingly higher grits of sandpaper. Many drum sander models come with mechanisms which clamp and unclamp the paper for easy swapping.
How does a Drum Sander Work?
Using a drum sander is pretty simple. You turn the machine on and wait for the rotating drum to reach its maximum speed. After it’s as fast as it can go, while holding onto your workpiece with your hands, you bring the piece toward the drum until it makes contact.
Many drum sanders come with a variable speed feature which increases and decreases the speed of the drum. Cranking the speed makes the drum remove more material per second.
Drum sanders produce a LOT of sawdust. That’s why it’s important to have a dust management system in your workshop if you decide to purchase a drum sander. In addition to owning a shop vac, you should always wear the proper PPE to prevent accidents. The most important of which are safety goggles, ear plugs or ear muffs, a respirator, and gloves.
Downsides of a Drum Sander
Even though the rotating drum on a drum sander can reach several hundreds of RPMs, it is by no means a quick way of dimensioning boards. For instance, if you’re trying to produce a flat surface with parallel surfaces, it’s completely possible to do, but it’s by no means the most efficient way of doing so.
This tool is great for removing very thin layers off of wood or plastic pieces. However, doing it across the entire surface of a large workpiece means having steady hands and applying even pressure from end to end. You’re not going to be able to achieve the smoothness you’d like on an entire board’s surface without a few bumps and/or valleys.
What is a Planer?
A planer, also known as a thickness planer or a thicknesser, is a large, woodworking tool. The purpose of a planer is to plane or reduce the thickness of your workpiece by shaving off thin layers per pass.
There are two main types of planers – freestanding and benchtop. Freestanding planers require a bit of floor space and a ton of clearance at both the front and back ends of the machine. Benchtop models can either be placed on the floor or on a table. They have smaller metal infeed and outfeed tables, so they support smaller boards, thus not requiring as much clearance space as a freestanding model.
How does a Planer Work?
A planer shaves thin layers off the surface of a board with the help of multiple cutter heads. You feed a board horizontally through the machine, and rollers grasp the work piece and send it through to the other side. As it moves, the cutterheads repeatedly cut the board, reducing the thickness of the board by less than a fraction of an inch with each pass. As the board reaches the end, the machine should have shaved a thin layer off of the board evenly.
Many large woodworking projects call for the use of a planer, especially to dimension boards that are more than a foot wide and several inches thick.
Downsides of a Planer
The biggest downside of a planer is that it produces sniped ends – i.e., the head and tail ends of the board will have a few extra millimeters shaved off. This means that you could potentially waste an entire board simply by removing a little too much off of the ends. There are several ways to prevent snipe such as lifting the board ever-so-gently as it enters and exits the planer and adding sacrificial pieces to ends of the board.
The cost of a high-quality portable planer can also be considered a downside. If you’re not planning on spending upwards of $800 on a tool, then a planer is definitely out of the question. All we can say is that the price is justified if you’re a serious woodworker.
Drum Sander vs. Planer – Which to Get First
Now comes the difficult part – choosing one over the other. It’d be great if you could get them both, but if that’s not possible, then we have a few things to consider.
If you’re planning on milling your own boards, then you’re going to need a planer. There’s really no way around this one; a planer will make all the faces of the board parallel to each other. The board will then be ready for use in furniture or for sale. You can sand the board using a sheet of regular sandpaper. It’s slow, but it’ll get the job done.
A drum sander would take forever to make all of the faces parallel to the opposite side. If you need a tool to do some light sanding or to remove a few millimeters off of a few parts of your work piece, then a drum sander would be the better tool to have. A planer is simply overkill in this scenario. It also doesn’t give you the freedom to remove only certain parts of one surface. A drum sander also sands the surface of a board to make it splinter-free and smooth to the touch – another thing that a planer can’t do.
There you have it – the major differences between drum sanders and planers. As you can see, they are two completely different tools that serve similar material-removing purposes. However, they are by no means interchangeable so you can’t use a planer to sand, and you shouldn’t use a drum sander to reduce the thickness of a board (at least not efficiently).