Axminster Senior Drum Sander archive

Thursday 16 February 2012


Alan Holtham is impressed by the quality of the results produced by the Senior Drum Sander from Axminster

Unless you've used a drum sander, it's difficult to describe how efficient they are in producing perfectly flat and smooth panels. Many seasoned cabinetmakers still rely on laboriously planing and scraping panels and doors, when a quick pass through a sander like the Axminster Senior will accurately thickness them in seconds, saving hours of work and probably producing a better result.

I know that the purists will now be throwing up their hands in horror as anything less than a hand scraped finish is not 'proper' cabinetmaking. In which case why not do the bulk of the flattening work on the sander and then finish off by scraping? From a commercial point of view, if you have a lot of panel work to do, a drum sander is a no-brainer; I just wish I had room for one in my workshop.

I think the reason why they aren't more widely used is a hangover from the past when they were massive and horrendously expensive machines only seen in industrial workshops. Thankfully things have changed and they're now more readily available; you can get drum sanders for less than £500, although for anything other than occasional use on narrow pieces you'll need to open your wallet a bit wider.

The Axminster Senior Drum Sander sits in the middle of their trade range and reading the spec it looked as if this was a machine suitable for some serious work but not at a bank busting price. I couldn't wait to put it through its paces.

Ready assembled

The machine is supplied ready assembled on a pallet and the first impression is the sheer size of it; this is a lot of machine for the money. The bed is 630mm wide, covered by a rubberised feed belt, so you can comfortably accommodate kitchen doors and the like without any risk of marking them. The machine is fabricated from sheet steel and alloy with a healthy sprinkling of cast iron and weighs in at a substantial 210kg so you won't want to move it around too much.

One problem I've experienced before on these sanders is getting the feed belt to track correctly, but this is no problem on the Senior with two simple adjustments for tracking mounted either side of the table.

Power for the feed is provided via a small DC drive motor which proved to be more than competent, though I felt its position sticking out to the side of the machine left it rather vulnerable. But then perhaps not everyone is as clumsy moving big planks about the workshop as me.

A simple selector dial on the control panel allows you to vary this feed although I'm still not quite sure exactly what the speed range is.

The graduations on the dial go from 3 to 20 but the handbook states 150mm to 9.5m/min, which I'm pretty sure is wrong, the top speed is normally about 3m/min. Whatever it is, the range is from very slow to a bit quicker, and you'll soon find a speed to suit the job in hand. If you are a first time user to drum sanders you will initially be taken aback by the slow feed speed, but this is how they work; they are considerably slower than a conventional thicknesser.

Height adjustment

The rise and fall for the bed is achieved with a large handle on the top of the machine, and this was remarkably smooth considering the weight it has to lift. If you delve into the inner workings, the reason for this ease of movement soon becomes apparent with heavy duty spindles and bevel gears on either side providing the smooth and accurate lift.

The maximum thickness is a healthy 125mm, so you are not restricted to thin panels. Quite a bit of standard joinery work, such as sashes, will pass through as well so long as it's not too wide. Minimum thickness is 6.4mm though you could probably make up spacers if you need to go thinner.

Changing belts

The twin aluminium sanding drums are accessed by lifting the hinged top cover, though in today's crazy world of health and safety I was surprised that there was no electrical interlock on this and you could open the cover with the machine running. The drums themselves are 125mm in diameter so are pretty substantial, and having two of them gives you options for the loading (abrasive) you fit. You can either fit the same grit to both drums for heavy sanding where the finish isn't too critical, or fit a coarse loading on the in-feed drum and a finer one on the out-feed one where the final surface is more critical. Ready cut loadings are quite expensive at £11 each, so I think I would buy standard rolls of abrasive and cut my own using the original as a template.

Tuning the drums

The in-feed drum is factory set to be parallel to the bed but the out-feed one can be tuned at either end via a scaled adjuster, should you ever find that panels are not even across their width.

Drive to the drums is provided by twin V-belts that look pretty chunky, but the main motor is 3hp so you need this sort of strength to maintain the speed when you start feeding through 600mm wide panels. By its very nature the sanding process is a power hungry business. The motor is 2.2kW running at 1600rpm so you'll need a 16amp electrical connection.

The loadings simply wind diagonally around the drums, with very simple-to-operate clamps at either end. These are self-tightening as well so the whole changeover process is toolless, calm and easy.


Dust extraction is well catered for with twin 100mm outlets on the top casing, but you'll need a pretty powerful extractor with fine filtration to suck efficiently over the full width, a small cloth bag model will just not do. You'll also have to route the pipes carefully to stop them fouling on the moving bed.

Switching the machine on I was surprised at the low level of noise. I registered 77.1dB at the loudest point, pretty impressive for a machine of this size and capacity, no doubt helped a lot by the deadening effect of the heavy construction.

Woodworkers Institute

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Alan Holtham , Axminster Senior Drum Sander

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F&c Verdict

In use, the sander performs well. My only real criticism is that it took some time getting the hang of the rise and fall; even a tiny movement of the handle moves the bed significantly so you have to take care if you only want to take a very light skim. The depth scale is not a lot of help for very fine adjustment; you are better measuring the finished result.
For one of my tests of the machine I fed through a 600mm veneered panel that wasn't over-flat, taking off the veneer on both sides, and measuring the finished thickness with a vernier. Amazingly the difference across the width was just 0.07mm which is good enough for me. Narrower solid timber stock finished to within 0.02mm, again mightily impressive.
This is a very competent machine, well suited for some serious trade use but not at a price that will make your eyes water. Some minor niggles, and that feed motor sticking out still worries me, but you can't fault the performance.

Pros & Cons

Performance and build quality
Ease of change of loadings
Excellent belt feed
Feed motor sticking out
Tricky depth control

The Numbers

Motor: 2.2kW/240V
Speed: 1600rpm
Sanding width: 630mm
Sanding thickness: Min/Max 6.4/125mm
Sanding drum diameter: 125mm
Table size: 780 x 670mm
Overall L x W x H: 1080 x 800 x 1200mm
Weight: 210kg
Price: £1,219.50 (inc VAT)

The Axminster Senior Drum Sander, once assembled