Lathe Drum Sander




About: My name is Troy. I'm a Mechatronics graduate studying Aerospace Engineering. I like to make things and spend time outdoors (especially SCUBA diving). I am a Community Manager for Instructables.

A stationary drum sander is a helpful tool for smoothing and producing wood of uniform thickness; it can flatten wood from thin strips to larger panels. When flattening brittle wood or end grain, a planer simply will not work. A drum sander is a less aggressive tool that will yield a better result in these situations. With the price and size of commercial drum sanders being impractical for me, I decided to make my own utilizing power from my lathe.

This instructable doesn't go into depth on measurements because everything will be custom made for your lathe.

If you would like to expand the features of your lathe, create a drum sander too!

Step 1: Tools and Materials



  • Lathe
  • Nova Chuck
  • Table Saw
  • Drill
  • Hack Saw
  • Nail Gun
  • Band Saw
  • Drill Press
  • Hole Saw
  • Spring Clamps

Step 2: Turn End Caps

To make the drum, mount a piece of plywood or hardwood between centers and secured to the head stock with turners tape. Once mostly round, turn a recess in the center so it can be mounted to the nova chuck. Mount the end cap to the nova chuck and turn round. Reduce the size until it fits inside a piece of 4 in. PVC pipe. Repeat this step for the second end cap but do not cut the recess.

Step 3: Secure End Caps

Cut a length of PVC pipe suitable for your lathe. For my lathe, a 13 in. length of 4 in. PVC pipe was suitable for this project. Drill pilot and clearance holes in the PVC drum and secure with screws.

Step 4: Turn PVC

The PVC pipe is not perfectly round. It needs to be reduced in size until it is completely round with the same diameter from end to end. Be extremely careful when turning this piece of PVC. I found the PVC to be extremely grabby and found the best tool was a skew turned on it's side and used like a scraper. If anyone has tips to help others replicating this step, please leave them here.

Step 5: Attach Sandpaper

Planning out this step is very important. Test wrap the paper around the drum and cut to length. Mark the seam where the edges meet and a registration location. Having these registration marks means the difference between a perfectly aligned paper, and one that looks bad and functions poorly. You will see a bad example in pictures throughout the rest of this instructable.

Apply 3-4 coats of spray adhesive to the drum and back of sandpaper. Carefully align the sandpaper to your previous registration marks and wrap the drum.

You can make as many drums as you like with varying grits of sandpaper. This makes for quick and easy sandpaper changes.

Step 6: Base and Table

The base of this sander was made from an old bed. A old door or similar piece of wood would work just as well, as all you are looking for is stiffness. Cut the base as wide as your lathe will handle, mine is roughly 22 in. wide. Cut inch wide strips off each edge of the base. Attach them to the melamine top for added rigidity to the top. I folded a piece of paper twice to act as a shim when attaching the second rail for minimal clearance.

Drill holes for the mounting carriage bolts through the base. These will be what secures the base and table on the lathe. Pay attention to your lathe. I first drilled a hole in each side, however my lathe has the motor underneath one side which didn't accommodate the location of this hole. I had to re-drill a hole in the center because of this. Make sure that the holes have clearance under the lathe for easy access.

Step 7: Base Hardware

To secure the base to the lathe bed, cut a strip of wood that will act as a guide for the bolts. Cut this strip slightly smaller than the channel in the bed of the lathe. Cut two locking washers out of sheet metal that fit under the channel of the lathe bed. Using some screws, secure the washers to the guide so they do not rotate.

Step 8: Attach Table to Base

Attach the base and table to the lathe. Tighten with a ratchet and socket.

Cut the piano hinge to the width of the base and attach it to each corresponding piece.

Step 9: Table Support Surface

These metal pieces are secured to the base as a bearing surface for the adjustment screws. No specific size is required as long as they protect the base. They will take all the force applied to the table. Attach one in each corner of the base (non-hinged side).

Step 10: Adjustment Screws

The height of the table will be adjusted by two screws coming through the table pressing against the metal plates from the previous step. They are secured to the underside of the table using 3/8 in. t-nuts. Drill clearance holes for each of the prongs and secure the t-nuts with lath screws.

These adjustment screws were rounded on the end using a bench grinder.

Step 11: Return Springs

Attach two springs to the table and base. This will help the table return to the bottom position when lowering with the adjustment knobs. Drill pilot holes and secure with pan head screws. Use 3 in. long screws to attach the springs, this will distribute the spring force deeper into the fragile melamine particle board and end grain.

Step 12: Attach Guides

Attach guides to the table. I did not glue these in place so they could be replaced in the future if needed. I originally secured them with brads but later secured them with removable machine screws. You will need more clearance than shown in the second picture because I forgot to take into account the usage of knobs. Turn the lathe on and raise the table until it sands clearance cut outs under the drums. Do this very slowly because you do not want to sand into the melamine table.

Step 13: Dust Collection/Guard

The dust collector/guard was made from MDF. 22 in. long strips were cut 2 7/8 in. wide with 67.5 degree on each edge. The two vertical pieces have the same 67.5 degree cut but only on 1 side and are 3 1/2 in. wide.

Stretch tape long the back and apply glue. Roll up the guard and secure with brad nails to dry.

Step 14: Tailstock End Cap

Cut both end caps from an extra piece of MDF. Set a 1/2 in. piece of scrap wood on top of the drum and place the dust collector on the drum. This will provide clearance for positioning openings. Drill a hole just larger than your tailstock and open it on the bottom with the band saw. Secure it in place with glue and nails.

Step 15: Tailstock Rest

Because the scrap piece of wood supporting the guard on the drum will need to be removed; create a rest that will support the collector on the tailstock. The design of this will depend on your lathe. Mine has a cutout for the tightening screw on the tailstock. Secure this rest to the dust collector.

Step 16: Headstock End Cap and Rest

Repeat this same process with the headstock side of the dust collector. I only added the top and front for my rest on the headstock; I wanted access to change the belts if needed without removing the dust collector.

Step 17: Cut Dust Collector Port

Using a hole saw, cut a port for the dust collector. Glue tabs inside the dust collector so the vacuum hose doesn't fall into the sanding drum.

Cut clearance notches for the guides if needed.

Step 18: Apply Finnish

Fill all holes and cracks with a wood filler or bondo; once dry sand smooth. I used a Bin primer because it does extremely well and sealing MDF. Paint with your desired color scheme. For the table, I taped off the melamine and painted the edges.

Step 19: Knobs

I ended up being lazy for my knobs and 3D printed them. I've attached the STLs if you'd like to print your own.

Epoxy the head of the bolt into the knob and then epoxy the bottoms in place. Clamp until dry.

These knobs have a great feature that allows you to drive them up and down with a standard 1/2 in. socket in a drill. This makes changing heights very easy.

If you don't want to 3D print your own or don't have access to a printer, you can use the method outlined in step 8 of this instructable.

Step 20: Ready, Set, Sand!

You are now ready to sand using your lathe. This turned out better than I could have imagined. I'm not worried about losing a finger, and the dust collection is great! Doing the math, each full turn of the knob raises the middle of the table toward the sanding drum 0.03509 (a little more than 1/32) of an inch giving great freedom for fine tuning flat boards.

As with any project, there are many ways this could be improved. I originally wanted to design a conveyor belt that would drive the wood under the drum, but I couldn't think of a simple and inexpensive way to do that. A conveyor belt would also prevent the problem of kick back. I haven't experienced this problem yet (unintentionally) but it is a concern especially when sanding larger pieces of wood. If anyone has suggestions on some way to hold the wood down similar to rollers on planer, I'd love to hear them!

What attachments have you made to make your tools more useful? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

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31 Discussions


3 months ago on Step 20

For a simple"conveyor", make a sled. Cut a very flat piece of sheet metal to the width of the bed, and perhaps 50% longer. Make a short 180 degree fold on the back side and hammer it almost flat, but leave it sticking up as high as the thinnest veneer you expect to sand. On the front edge, cut out an oval for a handle and line it with duct tape for protection. Slide it all the way back, load your stock, and slowly pull it toward you as the sander does its magic! To make it extra fancy, you could use PTFE tape on the bottom, and rabbet your side rails so they overlap the edges and hold it down.


1 year ago

Very well written and great idea.
But before someone builds one they might think about the capabilities somewhat. It will do touch up sanding or finish sanding, but it will not thickness sand, simply because no lathe has enough power. I doubt if it will clean up pallet wood for example.

4 replies

Reply 1 year ago

I think this would have no trouble with facing pallet wood. It clearly won't have the same performance as a commercial unit, however it had no problem reducing the thickness of the walnut shown in the last step. Using 80 grit sandpaper on the drum made for really quick removal.


Reply 1 year ago

What sort of lathe, brand, size and hp of motor are you using? Most hobby lathes don't have a lot of power.


Reply 1 year ago

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to make a lathe replacement with a larger motor and then this would be a nice tool. For someone who likes to build things. For the time put in making it a part time job would probably allow a commercial unit to be bought sooner!!!


1 year ago

Great idea.

I am currently building one using a cheap flea market lathe and $5 worth of aluminium tubing from the local scrappy but to make the thickness adjustment easy and always parallel I am going to be mounting two small car screw jacks with the shafts joined together.

Like another poster I would hate having to reset the lathe or sander as needed and with the unit on wheels it will take up minimal floor space (or it can go outside when that is appropriate) so felt $10 for a very rusty old lathe with no tooling was a good investment. A quick repaint, electrical checkout and new switch and the lathe works very smoothly. My biggest expense will be the base for the whole setup.

Unlike the person who suggested a single adjustment screw in the centre I realize that the thickness table can/will twist if there is only one central adjustment point which is why I am redesigning to use the two linked identical car jacks as that will allow a single adjustment handle and ensure both sides of the table move exactly the same distance. I may have to fit some sort of locking device - only time will tell.

Photo will follow after I recover from prostate surgery

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

Sounds like a great build! I can't wait to see pictures once it's finished!


1 year ago

Re :- PVC pipe. I am in the process of making one.

Using 120mm Gas high pressure pipe ( in Australia it is Light Blue ) which has 12mm wall thickness. It was not a true round but soon came good on the lathe



1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

That is great to hear! Please share a picture once your sander is finished!


1 year ago

Shop Notes:Vol. 15 Issue 86 has an article: "Build Your Own THICKNESS SANDER Get Perfect, Flat Panels-Fast"... I built one using a 3/4 Horse Motor under the unit, on a 30 x 30 inch metal rolling base unit. Below I placed a large Shop Vac. The Drum is made with 5 inch discs mounted on a one inch shaft 24 inches long, with pillow blocks and pulley to drive the drum. One pet peeve that I do not permit is to have a tool that requires set up. If you have 2 lathes, ok, one can be set up as a drum sander, but personally I would never make a set up where I had to assemble the sander, break it down after to use the lathe. I am pleased to see such a great design to use with a lathe. A height adjustment in the center front with one knob would make a nifty improvement to the ease of using this type of tool.

My compliments to the inventor.

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

This is a picture of the adjustment with one knob in the center. I have found it to be very accurate and I use one to two twists per run of parts. When I crank it two turns the sanding depth is too deep for a wide pass of wood. Thin strips will pass but still, too much wood is removed per pass. Light passes with one twist of the knob is no sweat for a 3/4 horse motor. With the lathe version, it looks like there is not a lot of room to put such a large adjustment device between the lathe bed ways and the sanding base. It was once said, if you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong.

recumbent bike

Tip 1 year ago on Step 4

glue a sufficiently large piece of sand paper to something flat eg mdf, then raise platten to sand drum flat


1 year ago

Interesting project. I have thought of building such a sander, but a stand alone version. I also thought about using PVC, but you really have to tread slowly truing up PVC. As you stated, PVC is not round, well not perfectly round anyways. So turning it can be tricky and I would think a scraper type tool would work better the a typical lathe cutting tool. I was wondering if a built up wood drum would be a better choice? Especially if you could turn that wood drum on a metal lathe that had a screw feed setup. IDK. Nice project either way.

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

Someone did a built up drum, I'm trying to remember who, Stumpy Nubs maybe? As I recall he cut a stack of MDF cookies with a 4-1/8" hole saw glued them all together with a threaded rod and then pulled the rod and put it in the lathe between centers and trued it up down to about 4" diameter. Actually, if you're worried about flex but not about weight you could fill the tube with Quickcrete but it isn't really necessary. Others have made these and as was said earlier just do light passes and at the low cost of PVC pipe you can make several and outfit them with with different grits and quickly change them out. Having been in the machine trade the suggestion to use the table with paper attached is really a good one because then the two parts are trued to each other. It also would be best if the adjustment could be made with a single control or the two could be locked together with either a chain drive or segmented belt drive. Single would be better always adhering to the KISS principle. I'm definitely downloading this and building it. Oh, as regarding kickback, not really an issue. You're going to bog down the machine before you get that far. The workpiece would have to have quite a taper to it before it would be able to get that much of a grip. Besides, with too heavy of a feed you're going to burn and ruin your workpiece and load up your belt in a very short time. It's sanding not sawmilling!


1 year ago

This could make a really nice addition to my old Shopsmith.


1 year ago on Step 20

You design is awesome, I intend to do one in the future with my shopsmith.

One suggestion is to add some sort of tick marks on top of the elevation knob to ensure that both knobs are being turned the same number of revolutions. You could easily factor it into your 3D design or mark it with a white paint pen.

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

I hope you do. I have a shop smith and would like to see your version.

Wood Chuck

Tip 1 year ago on Step 5

Instead of spray adhesive, wrap the drum in self adhesive velcro (hook & loop) paper. Now you can change the sandpaper when it wears out or you want to change the grip. Just a thought?