Drum Sander vs. Planer: Which to Use?

Drum Sander vs. Planer: Which to Use?

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If you plan on being successful in the world of woodworking, and if you plan on your tasks going as efficiently and as quickly as possible, then you are going to need to have the right tools. Now two very common tools that you may encounter in woodworking include drum sanders and planers.

These two tools might seem relatively similar, but the fact of the matter is that they’re actually very different tools that serve extremely different purposes. Let’s figure out exactly what drum sanders and planers are, and then what they’re both designed for.

Drum Sander and Planer: The Basics

Before we start talking about the similarities between drum sanders and planers, as well as the differences between them, let’s take a quick look at what each of them actually is.

What Is a Drum Sander?

Drum Sander As you can probably tell from the name of it, a drum sander is a specific type of sanding tool designed to remove very small amounts of wood from a wooden surface at the time. As is the case with all types of sanders, a drum sander is designed to both remove small amounts of wood from a surface, as well as to make the surface of the wood extremely smooth. In some cases, a drum sander may also be used to cut curves into pieces of wood.

Now do keep in mind that here, when we are talking about a drum sander, we’re talking about a tabletop model. There are of course drum sanders out there designed to sand floors, but this is not what we’re talking about. A drum sander is a tabletop tool that features a large circular drum, kind of like a very large soda can, that is outfitted with abrasive sandpaper. This drum still spins at very high speeds and has the ability to sand down wood with great efficiency.

What Is a Planer?

Planer Next, we have the planer, which is a very specific type of woodworking tool that is designed for cutting boards down to even thicknesses. Although planers can sometimes come in small and portable models, these are generally extremely large tools. They look kind of like an extremely large table saw, but with a different cutting apparatus.

Unlike a table saw that has a vertical blade that sticks up through the table, a planer features a large drum that sits on top of the table that comes complete with a series of very sharp knives. The rollers are on the bottom (on the table’s surface) and the drum complete with the cutting knives is on top (suspended from a fixture).

Therefore, when you put a piece of wood on or in a planer, the rollers pull the wood through the machine from the bottom as the blades on top spin at very high speeds and remove a certain amount of the wood from the surface.

In other words, this is a tool that more or less shaves small pieces of wood off of a board, thus making it thinner. The main point of a planer is not just to make a board thinner, but also to make sure that it is of uniform thickness from one end to another.

Similarities of Drum Sanders and Planers

Now that we know what both planers and drum sanders are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

#1: Both Are Big and Stationary

The first similarity that both of these tools share is the fact that they are both quite large, heavy, and stationary. These are not tools that are designed to be used on the go or to be portable. Both really are not tools that you would take from one job site to another.

They’re really too big and heavy for that. They’re designed to be used in the shop. Yes, there are some smaller tabletop planers out there that are somewhat portable, but these are still fairly large and heavy nonetheless.

#2: Both Require Electricity

Yet another very basic similarity that both of these tools share is the fact that they both use electricity in order to function. Now what we need to say here is that both have to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Generally speaking, both planers and drum sanders do not come in battery-operated models. These tools are too large and require too much power to be battery operated. They would have to be some really massive batteries.

#3: Both Are Primarily Designed for Use with Wood

The other basic similarity that both of these tools share is that they are designed to be used for wood. Although drum sanders may be able to handle some other materials depending on the type of sandpaper they’re outfitted with, their primary purposes are both for working with wood.

Drum Sander with Stand

Differences Between Drum Sanders and Planers

Next, let’s take a look at the differences between the two tools. These will be the key things to consider when choosing to buy one or the other.

#1: Sandpaper vs. Blades

One of the most basic differences that planers and drum sanders have is that planers use a large drum that is outfitted with a series of extremely sharp knives or blades in order to shave off layers of wood. So while a planer does feature a drum in a certain sense, that drum has knives on it.

On the other hand, a drum sander does not use knives, but rather uses a very special kind of sandpaper. Of course, there are many different kinds of sandpaper, but the bottom line is that a drum sander uses sandpaper, not knives.

#2: The Scale of Use

Another big difference to take note of here is the fact that planers are designed to handle very large pieces of wood at once. They can make a piece of wood thinner and uniform in thickness from one side to another. They can handle extremely long and wide boards.

On the other hand, a drum sander, while it could technically handle large stock due to the way in which it has to be used, it really isn’t designed for very large pieces of wood. A drum sander is generally designed for working on smaller pieces of wood, especially when it comes to sanding curves into the wood and other such things. This difference actually has to do with the next difference that we are about to discuss.

#3: Your Movement

When we say that the movement of these machines is different, we mean that the way in which you have to use them is different.

A planer features a large table with rollers that literally pull the wood through the blades, thus meaning that you barely have to do any work. This is also a reason why planers can handle such large stock. On the other hand, a drum Sander does not have any such table and requires you to hold the piece of wood against the drum with your hands.

Seeing as you have to hold the wood with your hand, that means that a drum sander is not ideal for working with very large pieces of wood. Planers are designed to plane pieces of wood, whereas drum sanders are designed more for smaller detail work and for finishing projects off.

#4: Starting vs. Finishing

Related to the above point, what you also need to be aware of here is that both of these tools are used at very different stages of the woodworking process. A planer is a primary tool that you use at the beginning in order to straighten pieces of wood, and to make sure that they are of uniform thickness. This is something that you have to do before you start building anything out of those certain pieces of wood.

On the other hand, a drum sander is something that you would use more towards the end of the project. You would first plane a piece of wood, then you would cut it down to size, and then you would finally sand it off to make it really smooth and good looking.

Therefore, a drum sander is something that you would use at the end of your project, whereas a planer is something that you use at the beginning.

Thickness Planer in Use

Drum Sander vs. Planer: Which of the Two Should You Use?

What it really all comes down to here is that if you need to make sure that a piece of board is of a certain thickness and of uniform thickness from one side to another, then it is a planer that you want to use. However, if you need to sand wood down to make it very smooth or even to sand curves into wood, a drum sander is what you want to use.


As you can see, while both planers and drum sanders are extremely useful tools in the world of woodworking, they are indeed extremely different tools, and they do not at all serve the same purposes.