Benchtop planer or a "thickness" sander: getting the laminate neck just right.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Basschair, Aug 20, 2005.

  1. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    Hi folks,

    Considering the purchase of one of these to make my life easier when getting the neck lam pieces ready for gluing. I want to be able to get strips down to 38"x2", about 1/8" to 1/4" thick. I don't have the cash for a full size industrial planer, and was considering one of the benchtop models (DeWalt, perhaps?). Then, I started wondering if the blades would knock hell out of the thin pieces.


    1. would the planer be okay with these thinner pieces?
    2. how are benchtop planers in general for neck lam strips (as opposed to body halves and such)?
    3. if you have and like a benchtop planer, what type is it?
    4. if I were better off with the sander, could any of you suggest a size/type/model?

    Thanks folks!

  2. Here's how I see it since I built my own thickness sander. It takes me longer but my finishes and gluing surfaces are much better than the planer. And all of the common problems with planers just don't happen with a thickness sander like:

    - planer snipe
    - grooving or beading
    - tearout

    I can't tell you how many time's I've saved boards that were sniped on the end by a planer only to have me sand them perfectly to thickness one pass at a time. And try to make a piece of veneer in a planer - no thanx! I've even sanded down a fretboard right on the neck on my sander. You can also make a jig to radius fretboard on a sander - something not even dreamable on a a planer. And when the blades get dull in a planer it's a few bucks for replacements and the time to get them set right. I just pop for some 1½" 80 grit cloth tape and wrap my drum and go. And I can do an entire 18" wide blank at one time or any size in between.

    A sander meets my criteria for the cognizant of not having any tool in the shop that can't at least do double duty. A thickness sander can do that and more. :D
  3. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    I've got a Mastercraft 12 1/2" planer that works like a champ. The specs say it can go as thin as 1/4", but I've had it down to nearly 1/8" before the piece blew apart. All the usual planer issues are there, but they can be minimized or elminated alltogether with some careful practice. I'll agree with Hambone in that a thickness sander would be a whole lot more versatile, but in my case the sander would have been three times as expensive, so I went with the planer.

    I'd say that my planer can do more than one task pretty nicely. Beyond just thicknessing boards I use mine extensively as a jointer, but you have to be a bit clever about mounting your part to be jointed. I've run fully shaped body wings through mounted on a sled to joint the gluing surface. I've also had success using my planer to level out angled cuts, again with a sled.

  4. andvari7


    Aug 28, 2004

    Are you one of those people who only has one unitasker in their shop - a fire extinguisher? It's exactly how I have my kitchen set up, and I hope to extend it to my shop someday.
  5. Nope, even that does double duty - I used it to kill a roach the other day! :D

    You watch "Good Eats" too?
  6. What about a Wagner Safe-T-Planer to mount to the drill press? I don't have one -- so don't know whether they pose the same problems Hambone described -- but Robert Benedetto uses/used them quite a bit to set the initial thickness of his necks.
  7. mahrous


    Aug 13, 2005
    did u attent RobertoVenn?

    do u know Benedetto? is his school any good? is he any good? any information about him is appreciated
  8. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    I'm curious to know how you built your sander, Ham. I'm thinking that I probably don't have the components required to build one, and am pricing drum sanders (yikes) right now...

  9. Tiny Tim

    Tiny Tim

    Jul 8, 2002
    Salem, Oregon
    Yes please share or point us to where, if you have already. I already have a motor. Thanks Tim
  10. No, I have never attended any luthiery schools, and I have never had the pleasure of meeting Benedetto. But to me, his book "Making an Archtop Guitar" is very instructive in general principles of luthiery -- even if you're not making an archtop.

    But that is for another thread; this one is about planing and thickness sanding!
  11. And that gives me another idea besides the Safe-T-Planer.

    My drill press also has a drum-sander attachment. By using a fence, I wonder how well it would do in getting small pieces to the proper thickness. (I wouldn't conceive of using it for big jobs.)
  12. andvari7


    Aug 28, 2004
    Why, yes. It's actually one of about three shows I DO watch. But is your use of multipurpose tools fueled by a Food Network cooking show, or out of a desire to do as much as possible while spending as little as possible? Or is there a different reason?
  13. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    It works quite well, actually, though it's pretty easy to launch your piece across the shop if you're not too careful. I've even tried it with a diamond burr and a brass plate for thicknessing a nut. That worked decent, too.

  14. Take a look at what StewMac has for the Drill Press. They've got that new Robosander thing with a neat thicknesser that shouldn't be too hard to make on your own.

    Andvari - my main motivation is the latter - doing as much as possible with as little as possible. However, I'm not a fool. I'll spend the money when it's needed. Since I can build a decent piece of equipment, I will. If I can't, I won't. Here's my thickness sander...


    It's made from scrap aluminum and melamine laminate I got from work. The main rails are 2" x 2" square tubing. The risers that the drum sets on are 2" x 6" aluminum channel welded to the 2 x 2's and the runners for the sliding table are 2" x 2" angle. The motor rides on a 3 point platform that is adjustable on 3/8" threaded rod supports. It's powered with a 1-1/2 hp motor turning the drum at around 800 RPM. The drive pulley is an adjustable diameter model available from Grainger. The sliding table elevates with a modified scissor jack pushing two rod supports up through a lower table and is adjusted by a wheel from the working side. I made my drum by screwing and gluing handcut MDF discs to a 5/8" steel shaft I pirated from an old photocopier. When the glue was dry, I did a clean up by turning it in my drill press vertically to get it somewhat trued and then mounted it on the machine for truing to the sliding table. I push my pieces by hand under the drum and pull them out the other side. I also work them backwards allowing the drum to pull them through after they've gone through the other way first. You would have to know the vagarities of this particular machine to understand how I can do that safely but it works. I've had this machine for almost 4 years now and I've used it for every project I've built except my first one. Total cost was about $80 including the first motor I bought but I've since replaced that motor at the cost of about $60 new from Harbor Freight. Best tool purchase to date. :D
  15. schuyler


    Aug 5, 2003
    Atlanta, GA
    a sander will do things a planer can't, but for the task at hand, it will take much longer to acheive the same results. there are some disadvantages to sanders as well as planers.

    i have a DeWalt 12" planer which has served me well. it will take off around 1/16" at a pass, which is pretty good for a tool that runs on 110v. the only sanders i know with that sort of power run at 440v, which is obviously not practical for a home shop.

    like all planers, it snipes the end of the board a little bit, though this can be minimized with a proper setup. the solution for snipe is simply to leave your board 2-4" long and trim off the snipe after planing.

    the knives last a reasonable while, and are pretty cheap to get sharpened. i haven't had to buy a second set yet, and i've run hundreds of board feet through the planer.

    some research has shown that a glue surface which is cut rather than sanded has better strength, but i take that with a LARGE grain of salt. outside a lab, i don't think it makes a difference.

    the big advantage i find in using a planer is that i avoid getting sanding grit in the wood. when you sand wood, little bits of the grit break off and lodge in the wood fibers. if you later take a chisel, spokeshave, plane, knife, etc. to the workpiece, all these minute bits of abrasive prematurely dull the edges of the blades. if you've spent the time to sharpen these edges properly, this can translate into hours of wasted time over the course of a few projects.

    my approach to woodworking saves all sanding until the last step of the process, partly to preserve the edges on my tools, and partly out of a sense of efficiency: it's always faster to cut wood than to abrade it. cutting also creates shavings or chips instead of dust, which means a cleaner, healthier shop. dust collection can reduce the airborne dust, but i've never seen a system which captures 100% of it.

    now for the trick of the day:

    using most any planer or a sander, you can create pieces as thin as you wish -- even to the point of veneer (.030") or paper (.010"). you will need a piece of MDF the size of your workpiece, and good quality double-sided tape. begin by planing/sanding the MDF to uniform thickness if it isn't already. for best results, keep it over 1/2" thick. take your workpiece and, using the tape, stick it to the MDF. now you can run the sandwich of MDF and wood through the planer/sander, taking it down as thin as you like. i've created veneers as thin as .020" myself, and watched others go down to .010". there is still a risk of shattering the piece, but not much greater than with any piece of wood.
  16. This machine is pretty powerful. I have taken almost 1/16" off of softer woods like poplar but never anything like that from maple or harder. That would be in 8" or narrower widths. You can easily stop the drum if you tried that size of bite on a full body blank. I imagine that there is something to be gained or lost by fooling with the size and weight of the drum but it would take more of a mathmetician than me to figger it out. For my diameter it's pretty heavy compared to some of the hollow aluminum versions. I don't know which would be better for 110v - large, small, light, or heavy.

    I've got to respect Schuyler's approach to this. He's an accomplished hand carver and has put in the time to learn the in's and out's of sharpening and using these tools in his trade. Since he makes his living with these tools you can pretty much bank on his advice. My approach is one born of impatience and laziness and the fact that my X-acto knife is the sharpest tool in my shop - not my plane, chisels, or my brain.

    My sander replaces a planer and a jointer in most cases so for the initial investment (and whatever I've spent since) it's been a good trade. I will eventually purchase these other tools when this begins to pay for itself in a bigger way. But I will always have a thickness sander handy. I can't do without one now. BTW - Though I've got a dust collector now, I will probably always just roll the sander out onto the shop porch for this process. It's amazing the amount of dust these things can make.

    A question for you Schuyler...How do you remove your veneers from the MDF. I've done exactly what you've described to make thin pieces. But when it came time to get the piece off of the board, I couldn't get it off or the tape off without splitting the veneer or just breaking it. Whazza your secret??
  17. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    A lot of great food for thought, guys. Thanks!

    Let me elaborate a bit. The planer and/or sander would be used mainly on neck laminate pieces to get good, clean, straight sides to glue. So, either tool would need to be able to straighten both harder and softer woods, 2 to 4 inches wide and 1/8" to 1" thicknesses.

    I know that I'll either have to look for a model which has roll bars, and extension platform, or something like that, or will have to fashion one myself to avoid snipe. I just keep going back and forth between the two...
  18. schuyler


    Aug 5, 2003
    Atlanta, GA
    hambone -- removal of the veneer can usually be done with a little patience, assuming the piece wasn't completely covered with tape. a thin knife helps to lever gently. for the really troublesome ones, i pour a little mineral spirits or acetone on the tape and let it eat away a little of the stickiness before proceeding.

    i forgot to mention that for the money, hambone's sander can't be beat! goes to show that ingenuity in the shop really pays off!

    the reality of the situation is that if you're a serious woodworker, you'll eventually want (need) both machines in a shop, as each has it's advantages. for instance, on an acoustic soundboard, a sander is really the practical choice, since you can get a 20" sander much cheaper than a 20" planer.

    in the end, you will tailor your working habits to the tools available and personal preference. hambone and i have different approaches, but neither one is more or less valid than the other. i tend to be more of a traditionalist, but some of that approach reflects how i enjoy working, not always what's best or most effective. at the end of the process, when you have a great bass you're happy with, the quality of the work justifies the methods chosen.