Drum Sander vs Square Buff Sander [Key Differences!]

Woodworkers have access to a variety of power sanders to smooth and finish wood surfaces. Two of the most common types are drum sanders and square buff sanders. Both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the needs of the woodworking project. This comprehensive guide will compare drum sanders and square buff sanders to help you determine which is better for your needs.

What is a Drum Sander?

A drum sander consists of a rotating cylindrical drum covered in replaceable sandpaper. The drum rotates at high speeds while the wood is fed through the machine, sanding down the wood surface.

The key features of drum sanders include:

  • Cylindrical drum with sandpaper that rotates during operation
  • Drum sits on a table and wood is fed through machine
  • Dust collection system to collect wood dust
  • Adjustable feed rate and conveyor speed
  • Drum raised or lowered to control depth of cut
  • Used stationary for consistent, even sanding

Drum sanders are available as standalone machines or combined with a planer in one machine. They are ideal for flattening, thicknessing, and smoothing larger pieces of wood efficiently. The width of the drum determines the maximum wood width that can be sanded. Popular models have drums ranging from 12 to 24 inches wide.

Check this article to know either A Drum Sander Worth It Or Not?

What is a Square Buff Sander?

A square buff sander, sometimes called a pad sander, is a handheld sander with a square sanding pad on the bottom. The pad holds a piece of sandpaper and oscillates in a random orbital motion when powered on.

Key features of square buff sanders include:

  • Square or rectangular sanding pad that holds sandpaper
  • Pad oscillates in random orbital pattern
  • Used for finishing and smoothing by hand
  • Good for sanding contoured or detailed pieces
  • Various grip designs for comfort and control
  • Dust collection holes to reduce dust
  • Pad often can pivot to different angles

Square buff sanders are very versatile for finishing wood by hand. The random orbital action helps avoid sanding marks while removing a consistent amount of material. The pad size typically ranges from 5 to 7 inches.

Drum Sanders vs. Square Buff Sanders: Key Differences

Now that we’ve covered the basics of each sander type, let’s compare their key differences:

  • Operation: Drum sanders are stationary tools that wood is fed into, while square buff sanders are handheld and moved over the workpiece.
  • Stock removal: Drum sanders excel at removing significant stock efficiently from large boards. Square buff sanders have limited stock removal capabilities best for light sanding.
  • Surface finish: Both can produce very smooth finishes in the right circumstances. Drum sanders leave more consistent surfaces with less chance of swirl marks.
  • Sanding marks: Drum sanders leave thin lined sanding marks along wood grain that require additional sanding to remove. Square buff sanders produce random marks that are easily eliminated.
  • Versatility: Square buff sanders can sand flat surfaces as well as profiles, contours, edges, and detail work. Drum sanders are limited to broad flat surfaces.
  • Automation: Drum sanders produce consistent finishes efficiently with automated power feed. Square buff sanders rely solely on the operator’s manual skill and technique.
  • Dust collection: Built-in dust collection is standard on most drum sanders. Square buff sanders require a separate vacuum system to manage dust.
  • Cost: Quality drum sanders cost over $1000 while square buff sanders start under $100.

With these key differences in mind, let’s compare the pros and cons of each sander type.

Pros and Cons of Drum Sanders


  • Flattens and smooths boards very efficiently
  • Leaves a consistent, even surface finish
  • Automated power feed saves time and effort
  • Integrated dust collection built-in
  • Width of drum allows sanding of large boards
  • Ideal for thicknessing lumber and removing saw marks


  • Requires feeding wood through; can’t sand pieces by hand
  • Leaves noticeable sanding marks along wood grain
  • Major stock removal can damage wood if not careful
  • Large footprint takes up shop space
  • High cost of quality drum sanding machines

Pros and Cons of Square Buff Sanders


  • Extremely versatile for sanding profiles, edges, and detailed work
  • Pivoting pad conforms to contours and odd angles
  • Random orbital action leaves no sanding marks
  • Lower cost makes acquiring multiple sizes affordable
  • Small size is highly portable and takes up little space


  • Not practical for removing significant stock
  • Requires more manual work by operator
  • Increased chance of uneven sanding with less experienced users
  • Can leave swirl marks if used improperly
  • Handheld operation generates more airborne dust

Now that we’ve explored the pros and cons, let’s see how these sanders compare for some common woodworking applications.

Drum Sanders vs. Square Buff Sanders for Common Woodworking Jobs

The ideal sander choice depends heavily on the type of work being done. Here’s a comparison of how drum sanders and square buff sanders perform for several common woodworking jobs:

Flattening Rough Lumber

For flattening and removing saw marks from rough lumber, a drum sander is by far the fastest and most efficient choice. The powerful feed rate and wide drum make quick work of milling lumber to consistent thickness. Square buff sanders lack the power and width needed for surfacing large boards.

Sanding Table Tops

Drum sanders excel at bringing table tops to a perfectly smooth and flat finish ready for final hand sanding. The automated feed results in a consistent surface, while the width handles most table tops in one pass. Square buff sanders could be used but require significantly more manual work.

Shaping and Contouring

When sanding shaped pieces, curved edges, contours, and detailed profiles, the square buff sander is the clear winner. The pivoting random orbital pad can handle any contour while avoiding sanding marks. Drum sanders are limited to broad flat surfaces only.

Fine Finishing

For applying the final fine sanding and finishing touches by hand, square buff sanders offer the best control and feel. The light touch prevents over-sanding, while the randomness avoids circular marks. Drum sanders lack handheld finesse.

Sanding Small Parts

Square buff sanders allow sanding hand-sized parts efficiently. Their small size and portability makes them ideal for working on pieces directly at a bench. Drum sanders require feeding parts through making them impractical for small or intricate items.

Thicknessing Boards

When precise thicknessing of boards is needed, a drum sander provides unmatched precision and productivity. The integrated thicknessing capability removes just the right amount for a perfect fit. Doing this by hand with a square buff sander would be extremely time consuming.

Recommendations for Drum Sanders

For shops looking to add drum sanding capabilities, here are some recommended features and models to consider:

  • A 15-20 inch wide drum provides a good balance of compact size with ability to flatten larger boards. 12 inch models can feel limited for many tasks.
  • Look for 1.5 HP or larger motor for sufficient power. Underpowered drums struggle when thicker stock is loaded.
  • Conveyor speed around 10 feet per minute provides a good feed rate balance. Faster risks burning while slower reduces productivity.
  • Include dust collection or budget for adding it. Dust control is a necessity for drum sanders.
  • Built-in thickness planer allows switching seamlessly between thicknessing and sanding.

Some good drum sander brands and models to consider in the $1500-$4000 range include:

  • Powermatic PM2244 – 22” drum, 1.75 HP motor
  • Jet 22-44 – 22” drum, 1.75 HP motor
  • Laguna 14SUV – 14” drum, 1.5 HP motor
  • Grizzly G1066Z – 20” drum, 2 HP motor
  • SuperMax 19-38 – 19” drum, 1.75 HP motor

For a quality drum sander expect to invest $1500 to $4000 depending on size and features.

Recommendations for Square Buff Sanders

For those looking to add square buff sanders to their woodworking toolkit, here are some recommended features and models:

  • A 6 inch pad size is a versatile starter size that can handle a variety of tasks. 5” is good for smaller work. Larger 7-8” pads are ideal for big surfaces.
  • Choose a model with variable speed control for managing aggressiveness. Speeds around 1400-2000 RPM work well.
  • Look for dust collection holes in the pad to reduce airborne dust. Compatible shop vacs help further.
  • The pad should have rotational freedom to pivot for angled surfaces. Some pads lock at 90 degrees.
  • Select sander models with variable hand grips for increased comfort during extended use.

Quality square buff sander brands and models that are popular include:

  • Bosch ROS65VC-6 – 6” pad, 6 variable speeds
  • Festool RTS 400 – 6” pad, rotatable gear grip design
  • Makita BO5041K – 5” pad, thin body design
  • DeWalt DWE6421K – 5” pad, separate counterweight reduces vibrations
  • Porter Cable 7424XP – 6” pad, 4-position control handle

Square buff sanders range from $100 to $300+ depending on size, power, features and quality. Start with a 6” model then add smaller and larger sizes to meet all your hand sanding needs.

Features to Look for in Each Sander Type

When evaluating options for purchasing a drum sander or square buff sander, look for these key features:

Drum Sanders

  • Wide drum (15”+) to handle larger boards
  • Powerful motor (1.5+ HP) for fast stock removal
  • Adjustable conveyor speed and thickness controls
  • Integrated or external dust collection
  • Quality bearings and alignment for smooth operation

Square Buff Sanders

  • Pivoting pad that rotates for contours
  • Variable speed control with high max speed
  • Dust collection holes and compatibility
  • Additional gripping positions for comfort
  • Lightweight and ergonomic design for long use
  • Pad brake to prevent quick spinning down

Prioritizing these performance, convenience, and safety features will help you select quality sander models that meet your woodworking needs.

Safety Tips for Drum Sanders and Square Buff Sanders

While providing excellent efficiency for woodworking, power sanders also introduce possible safety risks. Here are important safety tips for both types:

Drum Sanders

  • Keep fingers away from feed rollers and drum
  • Avoid wearing gloves which can catch in machinery
  • Feed boards evenly; don’t force or rush them
  • Allow machine to fully stop before clearing jams
  • Use push sticks for thinner boards
  • Wear eye and hearing protection

Square Buff Sanders

  • Maintain firm two-handed grip during use
  • Avoid excessive pressure which can cause gouges
  • Don’t use if pad is torn, loose or vibrating excessively
  • Use sandpaper with correct backing attachment
  • Frequently check condition of dust collection bag/filter
  • Unplug before doing any pad maintenance
  • Wear eye and hearing protection

With proper safety practices, both sanders can improve productivity while minimizing risks. Always read the owner’s manual thoroughly for additional safety tips.


Determining if a drum sander or square buff sander is the right choice depends on your specific woodworking needs. Drum sanders excel at efficient stock removal and flattening boards, while square buff sanders offer versatile hand sanding of contours and fine detailed finishing.

For a small shop on a budget, a single drum sander may provide the most benefit by accelerating the milling and prep of rough lumber. Larger production shops may want to invest in both options to combine efficient stock removal with detailed hand sanding capabilities.

Whether you’re flattening table tops, smoothing curves, removing saw marks, finish sanding, or just improving overall woodworking productivity, one of these sander types is likely to meet your needs. Evaluate your usage, projects, and budget to decide if a drum sander, square buff sander, or both will be the most valuable addition to your woodworking power tool arsenal.