Alternate to finish sanding?

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Forum topic by Jesse posted 05-01-2014 12:45 AM 868 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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58 posts in 1044 days

05-01-2014 12:45 AM

So I need to assemble the brain trust here, if you have dealt with large quantity production runs of wood items this might be right up your alley. For this scenario I am cutting out small shapes for toys. Think 4 inch stars, flowers, etc.

I do wholesale orders of my products for companies all the time but they are growing into the thousands, which is getting a little crazy around here. I do have a “commercial” type of shop, a dual drum sander does the initial face sanding of my boards, then a large CNC cuts out the items. After that, the products head to the router tables to round over the edges. Now I have the edge and the rounded over part of the product that is not “final” sanded, they are for kids so they have to be smooth. We have sanding belts, discs, spindles, and handheld sanders but they all lack the ability to get into the small areas and they all take so very much time to get through. I need a way to get the products smooth without this final “by hand” step. It just takes too long now.

I know that some manufacturers use a system of putting their pieces in a large drum, for lack of a better word, and mix in a medium or abrasive of some sort and spin it slowly for several hours and that seems to soften the edges without any adverse effects to the wood. Does anyone know how this is done or what they use in the “mixer” to smooth or soften the edges? Any advice would help or any other ideas on how to achieve the same end goal would be super helpful. Thanks guys

4 replies so far

View gfadvm's profile


14928 posts in 2108 days

#1 posted 05-01-2014 12:57 AM

Those are called tumblers and there are 2 types: vibratory and drum that rotates. I’ve used them a lot for steel but never wood. Google wood tumbling and you may find your answer.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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Mark Davisson

597 posts in 2735 days

#2 posted 05-01-2014 01:29 AM

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View TheFridge's profile


5672 posts in 904 days

#3 posted 05-05-2014 03:35 PM

I saw a tumbler on how it’s made where they just threw all the pieces in there. Might had an abrasive of some sort but the action against each other did most of the work. They were really rough cut pieces also.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View JAAune's profile


1614 posts in 1735 days

#4 posted 05-05-2014 10:49 PM

Harbor Freight sells a concrete mixer that might work in your application. It rotates about 35rpm which is about right. Real barrel tumblers are expensive so you need to improvise or make your own if you don’t have a lot of money floating around. The downside of the Harbor Freight mixer is that it runs hot and I wouldn’t trust it to operate overnight unattended even with a cooling fan mounted to the motor case.

Cabela’s sells a $60 vibratory tumbler that has a decent capacity for the price but you’d want one that handles aluminum oxide media.

It’s also likely you’ll need several polishing steps in which case you need either multiple tumblers or a system that allows you to swap containers with different media quickly.

Whether a vibratory or barrel system works better depends upon application. The vibratory machines will get into inside surfaces and do a quicker job on large flat surfaces and the barrel systems tend to focus more on the edges.

White aluminum oxide is probably the stuff you want for your tumbling medium. Darker sands can discolor light woods.

Kramer Industries sells the aluminum oxide.

Other than that I can’t tell you a lot. The exact ratios of parts to media, the type of media, the tumbling time and size of batches changes for each application. The folks at Kramer will help you some but even they won’t be able to give exact answers, just general ones. If you buy a complete system from them I think they’ll run tests on your parts and tell you exactly what you need to buy and how to operate the tumblers.

If you have the need and the cash (but not enough to hire Kramer) I’d suggest purchasing $400 of cheap equipment (concrete mixer, Cabela’s case tumbler, media and buckets to fit into the concrete mixer) and supplies then running tests until you get perfect results.

-- See my work at and

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