In many cases, there are tools that can be a better alternative to a sander in order to complete tasks like adjusting pieces of wood, removing material or smoothing the surface of a piece of stock. The tools covered in this article are:
The jointer and the thickness planer
In order to get wood planks that are straight and that have two sets of parallel sides, the jointer and the thickness planer are much more effective than any hand sander, which are not really suited for this task. That being said, a thickness sander can work in a similar fashion to a thickness planer.
These tools are very useful and effective, but are not necessarily essentials. Woodworkers will often acquire them later in their career than other tools that are difficult to make do without them, like the table saw.
The scraper is a tool that I find more enjoyable to use than a sander in many cases. It leaves a very smooth finish, smoother than fine or even very fine sandpaper. It is quite a simple tool, which is made from a relatively thin piece of metal that is cut into a shape that is practical for given tasks. The scraper is used, like its name suggests, by scraping the wood surface with its edges.
In order to remove material at a good pace with a scraper, their sides must be sharpened in a special way by rolling a hook on them with a burnisher, which is a tool with a tip made of a very hard metal.
The hand plane
The hand plane might be the most emblematic tool of traditional woodworking. Before the jointer and the thickness planer were commonplace, the hand plane was used, among other things, to prepare lumber by making its sides flat, parallel to their opposing sides and relatively smooth. Special hand planes were used to create decorative contours; this task is now generally done with a router tool, probably the most versatile tool in today’s woodworking shops since it can also cut grooves, copy pieces and create joints like tenon and mortises, box joints or even dovetails, although some of these tasks also require the use of jigs that are bought or homemade.
The hand plane now often plays a complementary role with other tools. Granted, it is possible to prepare a dozen planks of 8 feet by 10 inches by 2 inches of rough lumber with a hand plane, but most woodworkers will favour the use electrical tools to do this in order to avoid a long and fastidious work. Indeed, it would take a great physical effort and many sharpening sessions to see this task through.
That being said, a hand plane can often advantageously replace an electric sander to adjust the width of a small plank or to remove excess material at the bottom of a door in order to shorten it, for example.
The hand plane has the advantage of being much quieter than a sander. Also, it creates wood shavings that are easy to pick up instead of saw dust that requires the use of a shop vac or a dust collector to manage it; otherwise a mask will have to be worn in order to avoid breathing in the dust.
The electric hand planer
When the belt sander isn’t up to the task, the electric hand planer can be a good option to remove material faster. That being said, it can also make relatively subtle adjustments if it is set to remove less wood by pass. The electric hand planer uses rotary blades to remove wood and so it is more dangerous to use than a sander and should be manipulated with caution.
The electric hand planer’s blades are hard, but brittle, and when the tool is powered on they must never make contact with nails or staples, which would most likely break the blades. Sanders, on the other hand, will generally be able to sand any type of metal without any problem. Oftentimes, a belt sander equipped with coarse sandpaper can eliminate the head of a nail that sticks out in a few seconds.
The Rasp and the File
Rasps are effective tools when some material removal is needed at a precise location on a piece of wood. They generally leave a rough finish.
Files are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and are used for fine detailing work since, while they don’t remove a lot of material, they can shape wood in a very controlled way and leave a smooth finish. Electric sanders don’t have such a high degree of precision.
The rotary tool
A Dremel type rotary tool (1/8 inch chuck) or a heftier Foredom type rotary tool or die grinder (1/4 inch chuck in both cases) can be very useful for precise material removal in a piece of wood, like in the case of a sculpting.
The angle grinder
An angle grinder can be equipped with a sanding disc in order to quickly remove material. This way, it will function just like a disc sander. A flap disc can also be equipped in order to remove even more material.
Various sculpting discs made to be attached to an angle grinder also exists. They remove material at an even faster pace than a flap disc but must be used with caution since they have a tendency to kickback and to be difficult to control. Some of them, that have the shape of a rounded disk, can be used without a guard, but others, like those that have a blade very similar to the one used on a chainsaw, must be used with a guard at all times and can be dangerous to use. In any case, protective eyewear has to be worn at all times.
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. Psaume 84 : 11