When to use a stroke sander
By Andy Kearney

I learned to use a table stroke sander many years ago during my cabinetmaking apprenticeship. To me a table stroke sander works better than a wide belt sander.


First it makes a perfectly wonderful large finger nail file if used correctly! Seriously, one has better control with this kind of sander when sanding solid wood. I can put pressure with the pad in the areas which need that extra sanding, while being careful not to make a hollow in the flat board.

In my shop where I make custom pieces of furniture, I use the sander to sand drawer sides before assembly; flatten solid clashing applied to plywood, table tops, and other flat surfaces.

This is a sander which can be frightening for some to use but once mastered, becomes a regularly used piece of equipment. The trick is to keep the table moving side to side while the pad is moving back and forth.

On some models of stroke sanders, the pad is attached to a roller bar with an extension arm, which allows you to keep your hands away from the sanding belt. I removed this from my machine and built my own pad. I have a better feel for how the sandpaper is cutting with my hand on the pad, rather than with the extension arm.

I mainly use 120 grit paper, which I believe is as aggressive as needed for most lumbers used in a shop. I do have some 100 grit which I have used when cross sanding a hard wood top to get it flat at the joints after glue up. I follow that, with 120 grit paper, sanding with the grain. Cross sanding on a stroke sander can remove a lot of material quickly, and sometimes too quickly. As the belt wears, it looses its cutting ability and polishes instead of cutting. A good belt cleaner increases the life of the sanding belt.


Quicker than an orbital sander or hand belt sander

Greater control where extra sanding may be needed.


Danger of cutting your fingers on the edge of that fast moving belt if you are using a pad without the extension arm.

Does not sand to a finished quality for staining and finishing. (Early in my career I made solid Mahogany caskets. It was Friday and a solid Mahogany casket had to be finished for Monday. I sanded the raised top on the stroke sander. I did what I thought was correct and then quickly hand sanded the edge mouldings to give to the finisher. He was not happy with me Monday morning. He told me that the last top coat of finish revealed how poorly I had sanded the top, which had required him to spend the weekend stripping and starting all over again.)

Takes up valuable space in the shop.

Final thoughts 

Sanding solid clashing flat, which are glued to the edge of a piece of plywood can be challenging at first, but can be mastered. Just remember to keep light pressure on the pad with both the table and the pad moving.

Hold the table bar underhanded. Why? If by any chance the table were to move back further than the setting, or the sanding belt were to come off, one can drop one’s hand quickly out of the way.


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