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View Full Version : Hand planing Beats Power Sanding in Contest



Andrew Joiner
05-25-2010, 5:34 PM
Fine Woodworking magazine had a competition between hand planing and power sanding.
They call it the Surface Prep Shootout. Hand planes won (sharpening included). I'm sure it's all subjective, but they had an audience of judges...( was Lie Nielsen one of them:))

I was surprised. My own tests confirm that sanding is way faster.

I would say belt sanding before the RO sanding would speed things up a lot.
I use 2- RO sanders one in each hand for large areas ( is that cheating?)

Does anyone have more ideas to keep us power tool users out of the losers bracket?

Andrew Joiner
05-25-2010, 5:47 PM
Here's a link:

http://www.finewoodworking.com/item/21050/surface-prep-shootout-we-have-a-winner

Oh and they used an older PC 333 sander. I have a PC 333 and it's not the fastest RO sander out there anymore.

Jamie Buxton
05-25-2010, 5:50 PM
Since when is speed the measure of fine woodwork?

Prashun Patel
05-25-2010, 6:02 PM
Sanding excels in its ease. No tearout. One device fits all. With a soft backing pad, you can even handle gentle curves.

David Weaver
05-25-2010, 6:12 PM
OK, I never sand if I can help it, but my thoughts are...

.. what was the contest on. Was it on face frames? What kind of wood.

The good thing about sanding in a production or semi-production environment is that if you have good equipment (like a nice WBS), you do your joinery and get everything glued, and then you ram your face frame and doors through the wide belt sander and get everything trued.

All you have to do yet is finish sanding.

If you're just doing a single panel, a hand plane would be faster. If you're putting together a kitchen full of arch raised panel doors and you're doing things properly, no way.

Not to mention (I worked in a large cabinet factory when I was in college), I can load doors into the WBS two or three wide constantly.

I like hand planes better, but it's not because they're quicker in every situation. To make an article trying to say "this one is quicker than the other" is just a bit goofy. If hand planes were really faster, then aristokraft would have several dozen people running around the plant doing face frames and doors with hand planes. I sure never saw a hand plane in that place.

Roger Newby
05-25-2010, 6:43 PM
Since when is speed the measure of fine woodwork?
+1 If yer in a hurry....buy Ikea.:eek:

Eric DeSilva
05-25-2010, 7:19 PM
+1 If yer in a hurry....buy Ikea.:eek:

Ikea is merely the illusion of speed. You forgot to factor in a second trip to the store to pick up some strange, semi-proprietary RTA connector they didn't include.

Jamie Buxton
05-25-2010, 7:54 PM
Here's a planes-versus-sanders contest that I'd want to read about...

It'd be a contest about surface quality. The quality would be judged after finish is applied, just as wood is used in the real world. The contest would use a variety of woods -- straight-grain, curly, fine-grain, coarse-grain, etc. Judging would be done by expert woodworkers, not journalists. And the judging would be done in a real double-blind set-up, so the preconceptions of the judges wouldn't affect the results.

Van Huskey
05-25-2010, 8:06 PM
I read that and was not surprised BUT I will still sand since sanding produces about the same finish if done by a master woodworker or a trained monkey, since I am the latter sanding gives me a better finish. Using hand tools takes some level of skill something I just can't bring myself to spend the time to learn partly since I would get hooked and end up spending a TON of money on LN stuff...

Rick Markham
05-25-2010, 8:22 PM
OK, I never sand if I can help it, but my thoughts are...

.. what was the contest on. Was it on face frames? What kind of wood.

The good thing about sanding in a production or semi-production environment is that if you have good equipment (like a nice WBS), you do your joinery and get everything glued, and then you ram your face frame and doors through the wide belt sander and get everything trued.

All you have to do yet is finish sanding.

If you're just doing a single panel, a hand plane would be faster. If you're putting together a kitchen full of arch raised panel doors and you're doing things properly, no way.

Not to mention (I worked in a large cabinet factory when I was in college), I can load doors into the WBS two or three wide constantly.

I like hand planes better, but it's not because they're quicker in every situation. To make an article trying to say "this one is quicker than the other" is just a bit goofy. If hand planes were really faster, then aristokraft would have several dozen people running around the plant doing face frames and doors with hand planes. I sure never saw a hand plane in that place.

The article did come with stipulations, the handplane ended up being slightly faster, but the craftsman even said he "kept his eye on the game clock" and would "have been more thorough in some areas". He also only used two handplanes a smoother and a block plane. A full compliment of planes would probably have increased the speed.

It's a trade off really, all about what you want out of woodworking. Abrasive paper and planes have both evolved to solve some similar problems, but excel in different situations.

Not sure using a Wide Belt sander, would have been a fair comparison. I think the article was to offer the more casual woodworker/ craftsman exposure and a comparison of different techniques. It wasn't for the production minded facillity manufacturing stacks of doors.

There is a difference in finish left behind. There are no doubts about that. It's really a matter of what you as a craftsman want to put your energy into. Personally, I use both depending on task. I'd much rather spend some quiet time planing than my hands vibrating and my face full of dust. But I also am not "manufacturing" anything

I personally thought it was a very strange article myself, but after reading it a second time I really feel it was a "creative way" to introduce the thought of finish hand planing as an alternative to the sander most people grab for first. If it wasn't a race, would any of you power tool junkies read it? :p

Mike Cruz
05-25-2010, 8:23 PM
Now, if this thread had been posted in the Neader section, the responses would have been TOTALLY different....

Odd how defensive some of the responses are. I understand opinion, but it seems like some are taking this personally.

It was a head to head contest that pointed to one method winning out. That's it. Don't read into it. Someone said since when is wwing about speed... I want to know when it became a contest!

To each his own. The fewer elitist, the better in my book.

My hat is off to anyone that can hand plane to a finishing product faster than I can 80, 120, 180 him... or her as the case may be.

glenn bradley
05-25-2010, 9:03 PM
All in good fun and it looked like everyone enjoyed the event. I wonder how things would have worked out if the two of them had switched weapons and repeated the exercise?

Andrew Joiner
05-25-2010, 9:16 PM
Here's a planes-versus-sanders contest that I'd want to read about...

It'd be a contest about surface quality. The quality would be judged after finish is applied, just as wood is used in the real world. The contest would use a variety of woods -- straight-grain, curly, fine-grain, coarse-grain, etc. Judging would be done by expert woodworkers, not journalists. And the judging would be done in a real double-blind set-up, so the preconceptions of the judges wouldn't affect the results.

I agree. The quality of the finished surface is first. That's why I'm surprised they picked that sander. Some sanders make more swirl marks than others. The PC 333 isn't a top performer in that area.

I'd like to see Jamie's criteria for judging with a dollar limit on tools. Say $500. This contest had $500 in planes VS a $60 sander. $500 buys a fine belt sander and 2 good RO sanders.
Of course that eliminates drum sanders and wide belts.

Kyle Iwamoto
05-25-2010, 9:21 PM
2 L-N planes versus a PC-333? I would think if "they" could use a L-N, then the power sanders could use a Festool 5 AND 6" ROS.....

Competetions are always skewed to someone. You can get a VW bug to beat a F1 race car. Who gets farther on a gallon of gas. It's all relative.

Peter Quinn
05-25-2010, 9:27 PM
I read that one and wondered if it wouldn't have been more appropriate to have only one contestant. First use the hand plane, then the sander. Of course the contestant could skew the results to favor their preferred method, but it takes away the silliness of the wood working drag race they set up. Perhaps one of the two would have been quicker regardless of the tools used. Not sure just what if anything they proved. Wood workers have hard heads and strong opinions?

In any event I found that article amusing but completely uninformative for my own situation. I own hand planes, I love using them, I strive to improve my skill with them regularly, but I can screw things up quicker with a hand plane than anything at this stage, and I'm decent with a sander. Hand plane versus sander? Who cares, just as long as you enjoy what you are doing and get results you can accept.

Don Alexander
05-25-2010, 11:10 PM
:D:D:D:D:D:D:D

the guy using the PC333 almost without question had semi numb, tingling hands and breathed/swallowed a couple of quarts of dust during this test

David Weaver
05-26-2010, 11:33 AM
Now, if this thread had been posted in the Neader section, the responses would have been TOTALLY different....

Odd how defensive some of the responses are. I understand opinion, but it seems like some are taking this personally.



I probably am in the category of people who look like they're taking the article personally.

I am actually a near strictly hand tools woodworker. The only thing I've used in terms of power tools in the last 6 months is a band saw, a cordless drill, and a belt sander (but the belt sander was only for metal).

I just think it's a goofy comparison brought on by the requirement to write an article, not by any sort of real usefulness. When it's a hobby, I don't even see the need for speed to enter into material issues that matter.

I used to be a power tool woodworker almost exclusively. I sure don't build things faster now using hand tools. I like what i'm doing more, but it definitely isn't faster.

Sean Nagle
05-26-2010, 12:56 PM
In the best possible scenario, I would use handplanes exclusively for final surface prep. However, tearout is almost always a problem for me (most of my projects are cherry). Anymore, I handplane lightly to remove any planer marks and then use the ROS. Handplaning first does allow me to start with 180 grit. I think the article mentioned that even the handplane method required a final pass with a ROS.

Paul Johnstone
05-26-2010, 1:13 PM
The real point of the article is to sell magazines, and generate interest.

The controversial conclusion got a good discussion going here, so mission accomplished.

Some of their other "race" articles they have had were pretty amusing.
I remember they had a guy handcutting dovetails racing a guy using a router. Of course, the router won, but it was an amusing article to read, nonetheless.

Andrew Joiner
05-26-2010, 1:14 PM
I think the article mentioned that even the handplane method required a final pass with a ROS.

No mention of a RO sander on the handplane method that Mike used. It does say he sanded by hand with 320 through 600 grit to remove scraper marks.

The handplane method left some tearout on the finished product,so maybe the judges missed that?

Greg Portland
05-26-2010, 5:39 PM
That's why I'm surprised they picked that sander. Some sanders make more swirl marks than others. The PC 333 isn't a top performer in that area.Well, using a more swirl prone sander would mean longer sanding with more grits (and possibly a higher finishing grit). However, you could still get a good finish using the machine.

IMO, the article was good for a newer woodworker who is trying to sort through the hype. It illustrated that both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. I agree with the earlier poster that a double-blind comparison between surface prep techniques would be more interesting to the experienced woodworker. However, I think each side should get a fixed amount of time for each type of wood. IMO, you can get a perfect finish with either set of methods given enough time. The quality that you can get in 5 minutes for a 1' x 1' table top would be much more interesting.

Tony Shea
05-26-2010, 6:22 PM
FWW does it again, another cover page article that is worse than the one before it, they're on quit a roll. I am also 90% hand tool guy and was pretty disappointed by this article. I agree that contests in general, especially with a focus on speed, is a bit of a waste of ink and is almost always very subjective. Especially to those of us who prefer hand tool methods over machines. Granted there are many things that take less time using hand tools than with machines but when looking at the total amount of time it takes to complete a sizable project, the hand tool guys will almost always take longer. But is this really the point of WW when done in a hobbiest atmosphere? Not for me, I do it for the love of it like most.

Having stated all this negativity towards this article I will still admit that it wasn't all bad in theory. For a beginning WWer, this type of contest setting could be just what the person needs in order to have a decent excuse to indulge in using hand tools such as planes and scrapers. I think all WWer's should have skills associated with these tools as their uses can accomplish tasks machines could never dream of, including what it can do to the human body and soul. I know, a little bit mushy there but still true. Sorry for the run ons and rambling.

Ray Newman
05-26-2010, 8:05 PM
Well, I know that I can change worn/dulled sandpaper much faster than I can sharpen a plane blade.

Yes, hand tools are wonderful, I envy those who can swing a hand plane. I just can not do it. And then there is a whole new set of skills to learn -- sharpening and honing.

And speakin' of sharpening, don't forget the perennial arguments/debates as to which is faster and gives a sharper edge -- the oil stone or water stone and natural or man-made stones? Then there claims that electric water stones such as the Tromek and its clones are superior to hand sharpening or that done with a dry grinder. Maybe such contests will be next?

These "contests" that Fine Wood Working publishes in my view are meaningless and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Don Alexander
05-26-2010, 9:26 PM
speed in woodworking is what allows one to more quickly make scrap out of perfectly good wood :eek::D:D:D:eek::D:D:D:eek::D:D:D:eek:

Gary Herrmann
05-27-2010, 12:39 AM
Made an occasional table for the living room. Hand planed.

Made an umbrella table for the pool deck. Sanded.

Pick what works best for you when it best works for you. Or go by preference. Or...?

A speed test is meaningless for most of us.