Individual finishing products aside, the difference between a good finish and a great finish boils down to one thing the quality of the surface being finished. And in that area, it's all about sanding.

To achieve a truly top-notch surface, cabinetmakers have relied on time- and labor-intensive hand sanding to produce the desired quality level. However, that may soon be changing. The SuperBrush line of brush sanders currently being produced by Eagan, Minn.-based SuperMax Tools offers shop owners an affordable way to quickly get the results typically expected from hand sanding.

Scott Williams, owner of Williams Furniture and Cabinet Manufacturing in Perry, Mich., and Ron Stewart, owner of R & S Woodworks in Newberry, Fla., have each purchased SuperBrush brush sanders in the last year. Williams uses a SuperBrush 36-inch, while Stewart runs a SuperBrush 24-inch. For both shops, the sander has had a significant impact on their operations.

Background

Unlike widebelt or drum sanders which are typically used for harsh sanding, brush sanders rely on either a steel brush or nylon/silicon carbide brush for removing material. Woodworkers tend to use a nylon brush in 120 micron grit, which is the equivalent of 220 grit sandpaper. Micron grits of 80 and 240 also are available.

Purchasing a SuperBrush

Both Williams and Stewart were looking for ways to reduce the amount of hand sanding done in their respective shops when they purchased their brush sanders. Williams had tried adding a denibbing brush to the back of his Timesavers sander, but was not satisfied with the results. This led him to purchase a SuperBrush.

Stewart was actively looking at adding brush sanding technology to his shop without incurring the level of cost normally associated with orbital brush sanders. "We actually thought about converting our dual drum sander to a brush sander," Stewart recalls. "In the process we ran across a guy at Industrial Brush who indicated they were the ones that wound the brush heads for SuperBrush."

After months of discussion and research, Stewart ended up purchasing a SuperBrush at IWF 2006 after looking at what else was offered. At a price point in the neighborhood of $8,000, a SuperBrush was significantly less than orbital brush sanders. "I was real impressed overall, because we thought we were going to have to spend quite a bit more money to get the type of results that we're getting from this machine," Stewart says. "And then just look at the machine it's got a Baldor motor and beefy Square D switches. It's well made."

Results

Both Williams and Stewart have been pleased with the results they have gotten from their respective SuperBrush sanders. "It cleans our product and opens the grain for our stain," Williams says. "Our finish is much better, by far. Our product is spotless. It denibs all our cabinet fronts and it breaks all the edges."

In Stewart's shop, the sander is used to dress everything. "We'll run everything through, we'll line bore everything, clean up the edge band and run panels through. It just gets them beautiful before we stain them."

Advantages

One of the biggest advantages that Williams and Stewart have found with the SuperBrush is time savings. "I just ran twelve kitchens between last night and today, and we're done denibbing, and everything is going into paint," Williams says. "That's doors, cabinet fronts and drawer covers."

Stewart agrees. "Even if we did nothing but denibbing or white wood sanding, it would be worth it. We're a small shop, and we probably could've have replaced one of our employees easily, if we had enough sanding to do."

The short learning curve on the sander has been a plus as well. In Stewart's shop the SuperBrush was used right away on a job that they needed to get out the door. "We kind of let the machine show us what it could do and then we made some adjustments based on the results," Stewart says. "But it was pretty easy, actually."

Williams notes that some woods require a little more attention with the sander. "The only thing I've got to be careful of is on our oak. The oak is a little bit softer than the hickory or the maple. You've got to learn how to use your brush speed and slow it down on your softer woods."

Mouldings too

Both Williams and Stewart were pleasantly surprised to find that the sander worked for mouldings as well. "You do have to make some pressure-feed roller adjustments to be able to run moulding through the sander, but from what little bit we've done with it in terms of moulding, it does a great job on that as well," Stewart says.

Williams agrees. "We run the living daylights out of this. The brushes don't really wear down, and I use it aggressively. I run all my crown mouldings through, because we manufacture all our own mouldings. It takes any glazing off from our knives and from the moulders. All our square-edge trim that we put on our shelving and stuff, I run it through. It does a clean job and it will break the edges nicely. It eliminates a lot of handwork, and there's no way that anyone could keep up with that machine."

Phenomenal cleaning

Williams notes that a number of shop owners have contacted him asking whether the SuperBrush with a 120-micron brush will sand sanding sealer. "The SuperBrush will hit sanding sealer, but there's a special technique to really sand it good. The brush won't sand sanding sealer thoroughly. It's not going to pull the tips off or anything like that. We sand our sanding sealer by hand," he says, adding "this brush does a phenomenal job of cleaning and then sending the product out that's spotless, ready to go."

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