The history of floor sanders
To begin to understand the differences between belt and drum sanders, we have to take a look back at the history of floor sanders in general. The earliest floor sanders were drum sanders. In the early 1900s, Clarke American Sanders built the first recorded sanding machine which, at the time, was primarily used for sanding bar tops. By 1925, a handle was added to the machine to aid in the process of sanding hardwood floors. Drum sanders began to dominate the industry.
According to Wood Floor Business, the shift towards belt sanders came several decades later: “In the late ’60s, big machines on wood flooring job sites were all drum sanders, which were prone to chatter and had to have sheets of sandpaper carefully inserted just so into the slots on their drums. Belt sanding machines existed at the time, but only in large-scale industrial applications. The belt sander was invented by Eugen Laegler in 1969 in Germany.”
The belt floor sander truly revolutionized the process of sanding floors and thus the flooring industry itself. Fast forward to today, and that machine––the Lagler Hummel belt sander––is one of our best-selling pieces of equipment.
Hardwood floor belt sanders vs. drum sanders
So now comes the question of why most contractors prefer to work with belt sanders. For one, it’s fairly difficult to change the paper on a drum sander. Changing the paper on a drum sander requires quite a bit of work, especially compared to the process of changing the abrasive on a belt sander, and if the abrasive on a drum sander is not fitted properly, it can cause chatter and other issues. You have to wrap the abrasive sheet precisely around the drum itself, whereas to change the paper on a belt sander, you oftentimes just have to slip the abrasive on and off.
Belt sanders also require less energy to run than drum sanders. Typically, a drum sander runs on 220 volts while a belt sander only needs 110 volts to run.
So why are drum sanders still available for sale if they’re more difficult to deal with? In short, they have a much more aggressive sanding style which is needed for certain projects. In cases such as getting older finishes like shellac and wax off of a floor, additional power and torque is sometimes necessary, which is where the need for a drum sander comes in.
Belt vs. drum sander: Which should you choose?
Which sander to use will really come down to the individual needs of each project but in most instances, a belt sander will be able to handle what you’re facing on most jobsites. However, it’s good to have a drum sander in your repertoire as well for those projects which require more aggressive sanding.