Simply put, both a drum sander and a planer make surfaces smooth, but they do harbor some key differences. If you don’t understand the distinction, your workpiece won’t turn out right. I’ve drawn up a straightforward comparison between the two, so you can make an informed decision about which woodworking equipment best suits your needs.
Drum Sander or Planer?
• Quiet operation
• Adjustable speed control
• Cast iron and steel
• 3 reversible blades
• Planes 6-inch thick boards
• 30,000 cuts per minute
Features of Drum Sanders and Planers
Drawing from my expertise in woodworking, by just examining the names – drum sander and thickness planer – it’s evident that the drum sander sands while the thickness planer adjusts the size of wood pieces to your desired thickness.
A drum sander is essentially a machine that drives sandpaper on a sanding drum, ensuring you get a smoother finish on rough lumber. It’s on you to attach the sandpaper, so I always advise keeping a range of grits on hand in the workshop. From my experience, different grits yield the best results on various wood surfaces.
The lower the grit, the more abrasive it is and better for rougher surfaces. You can use drum sander to touch up and smoothen the surface of workpieces, but it can also take a bit off the thickness. The first pass is where users adjust the height, and it’s also where you can set it to thin out your piece in a single pass.
As for planers, it can do wonders on misshapen wood with its primary purpose to reshape and cut wood to a better thickness to work with. They usually run on a higher motor power compared to a drum sander, and they take off more wood with one pass.
There are benchtop, full-size, or handheld models of the planer machines. I suggest at least the benchtop option for beginners because it is more automated.
The drum sander vs planer operate differently, and a big reason for that is the difference in purpose. Drum sanders are ideal for sanding wood and smoothing out large areas, and typically remove less wood in one pass. On the other hand, planers are used to even out surfaces on your woodworking projects and remove more wood in one go.
As far as bigger jobs go such as building new furniture, planers are the ones I recommend. If you are looking to create a smoother finish when putting the finishing touches on new pieces, then I say the drum sander with excellent sandpaper is what you need.
So far, there has been no winner in the category of purpose and function because the two tools are meant for contrasting purposes.
Size and Build
When it comes to sizes, I’d give the title to the planer. They’re available in a wider variety of sizes, from benchtop planers to full-sized models, and even handheld options. Sanders, on the other hand, usually lean towards the larger side, either as benchtop or full-sized models. Handheld options are a rarity. If you’re in the market for a handheld model, I’d personally recommend considering the spindle sander.
Handheld options are infinitely easier for portability, and full-sized models require more space. It isn’t a problem if you work mainly out of your workshop, but if you’re a contractor on the job, then there is no question that you should go for the planer vs drum sander.
The planer is meant for taking the top off of your home reno or DIY projects to get to the desired depth and thickness while the sander is for sanding. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that the planer is a more powerful tool running on a higher horsepower  and faster speeds.
Speed and Efficiency
As said, sanders are used for fine surfacing and are generally sanding tools, which needs to be done at slow speeds. They require more patience to operate in comparison to planers. Planers go in on your workpiece in a heavier-handed manner to move large amounts of wood, which is why they are faster and more efficient because they take off more material. Also, you can find high-quality electric hand planers that are very efficient and accurate for the job.
As such, the drum sander vs planer are used for different purposes that require distinctive speeds.
I’ve observed that drum sanders tend to generate a significant amount of heat due to the friction they use to refine surfaces. The drums and sandpaper can indeed get quite hot. That’s why I always advise fellow woodworkers to wear protective gear, like gloves, when operating one. While drum sanders might not match the speed of planers, they’re still pretty fast, and that in itself is a safety aspect to always be mindful of.
Any machine going at high speeds in a rotating manner, such as saw blades as well, can wrap loose clothing, long hair, or hanging jewelry into it. Always make sure you wear tight clothing, secure your hair away from your face, and do not wear any jewelry when handling drum sanders.
Wearing protective eyewear is also a good idea because you don’t want to get anything in your eyes and since sanders sand wood, there will be lots of dust, which is why wearing a face mask is also another recommended safety precaution.
When you’re operating planers, you have to keep your body parts, loose clothing, and the hair on your head away from the machine. Aside from protecting yourself, you also have to make sure that the wood boards you’re using are free of nails, screws, or staples because the blade can catch and stick on them.
Compared to sanders, planers are much louder, which is why aside from protective eye gear you should also wear ear protection.
(For starters, check out the top-rated planers for beginners in this review!)
The planer and drum sander offer different levels of versatility. A planer excels in transforming old furniture into new wood pieces, allowing for creative improvements. On the other hand, sanders are primarily used to refine surfaces and remove smaller amounts of material, making them ideal for achieving smooth finishes and enhancing overall surface quality.
Planers are tools that don’t sand, but instead remove inches off boards to become an even thinner board and better suited for your projects. You can use board foot calculator to find the board size. Sanders have more precision compared to a planer, but planers are fast tools that get the job done much quicker. Also, there are various types of wood planers, so you can use which tool suits your project best.
There is more diversity in the machine options when we look at planers. There are different sizes, which results in many cost options. Of course, larger units cost more, and handheld ones can be as affordable as $20. As far as the sander machine goes, they are much higher in price. Not only is the tool itself pricier, but the replacement of sandpaper is also an additional expense.
Other Top-Rated Products
• Stable build
• Dust collection
• Tool-less adjustment
• Dual dust outlets
• 18,000 cuts per minute
• 9-amp motor
Can you use a drum sander as a planer?
No, you can’t use a drum sander as a planer. The drum sander is a tool to sand surfaces rather than remove larger amounts of wood off of your wood piece. It’s ideal for more refined and precise jobs rather than more rigorous and strenuous tasks such as thinning wood.
Speaking from experience, sanders and planers serve distinctive purposes in woodworking. In my professional opinion, there isn’t really a need to choose between the two; having both in your workspace is quite beneficial. After reshaping the wood with a planer, a sander becomes instrumental in applying those essential finishing touches to the project. Having both tools allows for a more versatile and efficient woodworking process.
Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.
Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.