I enjoy having the chance to write up the new products I see, but what those reviews lack, is any kind of long term testing. I love having the chance to use a tool for a while, then write about it. This is the case with the Performax 22-44 Plus Drum Sander. I’ve had one in my shop for over five years. Keep in mind that I teach classes, so my machines see a lot of use. This machine has definitely been through long term testing and has taken it well.
Drum sanders aren’t cheap. The 22-44 retails for about $1,600, which is a chunk of change. In this article, I’ll first tell you why I like having a sander in my shop, then talk more specifically about the 22-44. Keep in mind that I’ve had the machine for a while so, while the machine is still basically the same, some features may have changed slightly. Also my older machine, a Perfomax, is the equivalent of what is today the Jet 22-44 Plus.
Why a Sander?
Capacity. Portable planers are typically around 13″ wide and stationary planers are commonly around 15″ wide, though bigger machines are available. Drum sanders, like the 22-44, typically exceed the capacity of commonly used planers. So, when I’ve got a large surface to flatten, my sander has the capacity to do the work, my planer doesn’t.
Sanding Versus Planing. Knives on a planer are, of course, cutting the surface away. On a drum sander, you’re sanding the surface away. This provides a hand full of pay offs. One is the ability to sand man-made material. Need to take a tiny bit off the face of a piece of mdf or particleboard? Send it through the sander. One trip through your planer and you’ve probably ruined the knives.
What about end grain? My wife and I have made a bunch of end grain cutting boards. I’m currently working on a walnut slab stool. You can’t send end grain through a planer without tearing up the surface, but the sander does an excellent job of leveling and smoothing.
Doors and Face Frames. When I make rails and stiles for doors and face frames, I send the parts, on edge, through my sander to guarantee that they’re all uniform in width and the edges are silky smooth. This is much safer than taking these narrow pieces to the jointer to remove the saw marks. I routinely edge sand parts 3/4″ thick up to 3″ wide. Over 3″ and they start to get tippy. If the pieces are thicker, you can edge sand wider boards.
After my doors and face frames are put together, I send the completed assembly through the sander. This does a great job of leveling any discrepancies between the faces of the rails and stiles and making the door or face frame, nice and flat.
I remove the cross grain sanding marks on the rails by setting up my random orbit sander with the same grit I ended with on the drum sander. It takes very little time to get the cross grain marks out.
Dust Collection. Dust collection, at least on my 22-44, is excellent. Although I also use good dust collection on my portable sander, my preference is to do as much sanding as possible at the drum sander to reduce the chance of getting airborne particulates.
Little Stuff. Sometimes I need to make tiny pieces. It could be that I need a spacer of some distinct dimension or maybe I screwed up and need a nearly paper thin piece to patch in on a project. Drum sanders are great for making skinny, skinny parts. Thickness control is nearly infinitely fine, so it’s easy to dial a piece in to a precise thickness.
Battling Tear Out. Sometimes the prettiest wood is the hardest stuff to work with. Highly figured woods are prone to chipping when you machine them with a planer or jointer. This is another great application for sanders.
The Downside. OK, there have to be a couple negatives. Sanding is definitely slower than planing. Even with the most aggressive paper you can find, you probably won’t remove wood as quickly with a drum sander (called abrasive planing), as you will with a planer.
Resinous woods, like pine, can wreak havoc on sand paper and this applies to drum sanders, too. Like having a chip in a planer or jointer knife, one bad spot can ruin an otherwise good abrasive. If you’ve got narrow stuff to sand you may be able to avoid the bad spot, but don’t plan on sanding anything that requires the entire width of the head. So, as a rule, you’ve got to avoid sanding resinous and oily woods, or risk eating up belts.
When I have a belt that’s still got good spots in it, I save it for my lathe work. This cloth-backed paper is wonderful for sanding parts on the lathe.
About the Performax 22-44 Plus. First, let’s cover capacity. Why 22-44? The length of the sanding drum is 22″, so that’s the largest piece that will fit under the head in one pass. The phrase, in one pass, is key. That’s where the 44 comes in. If you’ve got a part to sand that’s wider than the 22″ head, you can work it in two passes.
A couple things are key to making this work. One is that the sanding head is cantilevered. I admit I was skeptical when I first saw this. How, I wondered, could it possibly maintain accuracy with so much sanding head sticking out, unsupported, from the frame? We’ll it’s a beefy system and does a great job.
On initial set up, you don’t make the head parallel to the bed, you make it slightly higher on the open side. I found it very easy to dial this setting in and, although I frequently roll the machine around my shop, I haven’t had to readjust it. So, yes, you’re sanding a slight crown (a couple thousandths) into large surfaces, but it’s negligible.
Maximum thickness for the 22-44 is 4″, where on my benchtop planer it’s 6″. I haven’t found the 4″ max to be a limiting problem. The parts I’m sanding for furniture and cabinets rarely exceed 3″.
SandSmart. This may be my favorite part of the 22-44. Here’s the deal. The conveyor that feeds the material under the sanding drum is variable speed, and has its own motor. So you set the height of the drum and the conveyor speed. What if you’ve set it too aggressively, feeding too fast or taking too much off (or both)? That’s when the SandSmart technology kicks in. It monitors the electrical load on the system and will automatically slow down the conveyor to a manageable speed if you’re working the machine too hard.
Conveyor Adjustment. Like tracking the belt on a belt sander, the conveyor belt that feeds material has to be set to track correctly. Knowing how fussy belt sanders can be I figured this would be a constant concern, but it wasn’t.
Putting Paper On. On drum sanders, the abrasive is wrapped around the sanding head in a slow spiral. In order to do this, the end of the strip has to be cut at the right angle and the strip has to be just the right length.
It took a little practice to get wrapping just right. One end of the paper goes into the retaining clip, then you start wrapping. You can have a small gap between each spiral, but you can’t allow any overlap. You’ve got to slowly turn the head with one hand while pulling the paper tight and wrapping with the other hand. Then, grab the paper in the spring loaded clip at the opposite end and you’re good to go.
Since the paper is cloth backed, it stretches a little. I’ve taken to getting the paper on the machine, doing just a few minutes of sanding, then checking the tension on the paper. If it gets loose and overlaps itself, you’re likely to burn your material and maybe put a bad spot in the sandpaper.
When it comes to buying abrasive, you’ve got options. One option is to buy pre-cut pieces of sandpaper that are specifically sized for the machine, called Ready To Wrap. This is extremely convenient, but the most expensive way to buy abrasive.
An alternative is to buy a long roll of Performax abrasive with color-coded lines on the back, called Ready To Cut. Each color is for a different size drum sander. You’ll have to cut each piece as you need it, but as long as you cut on the right color lines, you’ll be fine.
A final alternative, and the least expensive way to go, is to simply buy rolls of sandpaper, not pre-cut and not pre-marked. This is what I do. I made a plywood template that gives me the correct angle for the ends of the strip, so just have to make sure I cut them to the correct length. Works great, and you can’t beat the economics of it.
My Final Thoughts. Although the initial investment on my Performax 22-44 Plus was a significant chunk of change, I’m glad I made it. I use the sander all the time, typically sanding every piece of each project to 220-grit before assembly, leaving very little post-assembly sanding. I absolutely love having my project parts well sanded before assembly.
I recommend adding the infeed and outfeed tables to the machine, which sets you back another $140, but they’ll really help on long pieces. They’re on my soon-to-purchase list. I haven’t had to service or replace any parts on my machine and I’ve been amazed at how well the head holds its setting relative to the table.
The 1-3/4-hp motor has plenty of oomph for me. The only time sanding seems to be going very slowly is when I get to finer grits, 180 and 220. At that point, I’m generally only doing a pass or two, so a slower speed isn’t a big deal.
I think the 22-44 fills a great niche for those of use who need a surface sander, but don’t have the space or budget for a larger machine. Sometimes I wish it could sand as fast as a machine with a larger motor (I mostly feel this when I’m sanding large panels) but for the most part, I’m happy with what the 22-44 provides. Jet’s latest innovation on the 22-44 is an oscillating head. When this function is turned on, the sanding drum oscillates back and forth while it spins. I’ve watched demos of the machine at shows and have been impressed with the minimal scratches left behind, even when more aggressive belts are being used. If you’re considering buying a 22-44, the oscillating version, though more expensive, is worth a look.
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