I'm contemplating buying the Luthiers friend sanding station from StuMac, and I wondered if anybody here uses one, and if they're as good as they look on StuMacs website.
It's not cheap, but much cheaper than a thickness sander, which I would dearly love to buy if I had the money.
I would want to use it for thicknessing fingerboards, bridges and saddles. I've been getting away with doing bridges and saddles on my belt sander up until now, but the ability to be able to thickness sand them precisely would obviously be better. And I can't do fingerboards at all on the belt sander very well, as it's quite small, and the belt is too short.
Does StuMacs tool work accurately, and would it work on a smaller drill press which only measures 4.5" between the spindle and the column? And how long do the abrasive sleeves last? The reason I ask about them is because I live in Germany, and the abrasive sleeves available here are metric, whereas StuMacs ones are in inches, so they probably wont fit. So I'm wondering how many replacment abrasive sleeves I should order to be able to work for a while before I have to order replacments from StuMac.
 I've been trying for quite a while to find something comparable in Europe, as the costs incurred ordering it in America are very high, with import duty and sales tax etc. I haven't had any success up until now so I'm thinking about biting the bullet and ordering it from StuMac.
Any thoughts and opinions would be welcome

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Hi Grahame
I can't comment on the Stew-Mac sanding station since I haven't used it. My impression from the website is that it would probably be handy, but have a limited number of uses - and it is expensive. I bet the postage will add a lot also (I'm in Australia so I share your pain there).

You might already be familiar with it, but have you considered the Wagner Safe-T-Planer for the jobs that you mention? It is cheap and fairly precise. It is ideal for thicknessing smaller pieces like bridge blanks and fingerboards, but I also have a simple setup to use it on larger boards. I make a couple of instruments a year and can't justify the cost or space for a drum sander. I thickness tops, backs and sides with the Safe-T-planer also. I think I got mine from Stew-Mac.
G'Day Mark
Your suggestion with the Wagner planer has really got me thinking. I knew about it already (I know Frank Ford is a big fan), but somehow I never took it seriously, don't ask me why. How long do the cutters last? Would it be prudent to order a replacement set of cutters and a spare sharpener at the same time? And does it work at somewhat slower speeds? (I think my drill only goes upto 3000rpm), but I see StewMac recommends 4-6000rpm.
It certainly would be cheaper than the sanding station, even if I ordered spare cutters etc.
Have you built an auxilliary table with a fence as recommended by SM? I know they're always super geeky with this kind of thing, but sometimes they go a bit over the top I feel. I can just imagine them all sitting around in the R&D department racking their brains trying to think up new geeky tools to crank the sales up, lol


I think the sanding station is great. I use it everyday in my repair shop. Mostly, it's a quick way for me to rough - thickness bone nuts and saddles, but it's great for marking the thickness of tapered shims for planing (I'll see if I can find a picture of this to post), fabricating bridge plates and all sorts of other stuff in the thickness-sanding mode.

I've also gotten a lot of use out of it as a pattern sander. It really speeds up bridge fabrication and does a great job of shaping the bottom of fender nuts. The dust collection system works great too.

In the context of my repair shop, the sanding sleeves last a long time (a month or more) although I like to keep plenty of them around so I can stay effecient. I think you would need an opening of 5" between the drill press bed and the chuck in order to take the drum in and out.
I hesitate to say this because I like StewMac but I can't help but wonder if the extra cost and time you will have to put into purchasing this and shipping it over there, wouldn't make it cheaper to build one for yourself. I guess that what I mean is that I can see where it would make financial sense to just order it if you didn't have to pay such high taxes/shipping to get it. It is very nice looking but it also looks pretty straight forward in construction plus you would have the added benefit of being able to use locally available sanding drums.

Hey Grahame, Another option for you is a small thickness sander that is only 30 or so dollars more than the sanding station from stew-mac. and i'm sure that the results you get would be far superior. Ive used the sanding station before and am not a big fan.... It is difficult to keep the face of nuts and saddles parallel with each other. take a look at this.,8599.html
Between the Wagner safety planer on the drill press, the Jet thickness planer, and various planing/ sanding/ surfacing jigs, and my sander cabinet (with vac attachment) I can get most parts how they are supposed to be. The Stew Mac sanding station is verrry cool, but I think a guy could make one and have it just the way he wants it. How many times do we buy a tool like that and wish a piece was thicker here, maybe a wider base, etc.
I would guess this is a pretty good tool but I like to do all the thicknessing you mentioned using a Jet 12.5" thickness planer. Between the planer and belt sander, I thickness fingerboards and bridge blanks. I thickness nuts and saddles by hand on the belt sander, checking progress with dial calipers. It's really very fast. I think I would prefer to get a thickness planer before purchasing a tool like the Luthier's Friend. I also like the Safe-T-Planer.
Thanks everyone for all the helpful advice, after concidering all the variables, and the specific job I want to do next week (thickness sanding an ebony fingerboard for a 5-String bass), I bit the bullet and ordered the luthiers friend from StuMac just now. The Safe-T planer looks nice too, but after watching a video by Robert O'Brien on how to use it, I saw that you have to be able to set the height of the table very precisely. As I only have a simple bench drill where the table height is set with a clamp, and not with a rack and pinion, I thought I'd be better off buying the Safe-T planer later when I can afford a better bench drill.
I like the idea of being able to thickness sand nuts and saddles too with the luthiers friend, and also save some time with making new bridges, repair cleats etc
My long term plan is to buy a full size thickness sander anyway, as soon as I can find a bigger workshop that's also affordable. In the shop I have now, I wouldn't have the space for any more machines, even if I could afford to buy them at the moment. I only went full-time as a guitar repairman in July 2008, after doing it part time at home for 30 years, and with the economic climate here in Germany in the state it is, it's proving more difficult than I thought to expand. I never really realized how many tools I didn't have till I opened up full time and started taking on more complicated jobs :-)
My thing is repairs so maybe my approach doesn't make sense if your manufacturing a bunch of identical guitar parts as a builder. But I use bench and block planes a whole lot for all sorts of tasks like jointing and thicknessing.

I use some very basic devises for holding my work while I plane such as 2 pine wedges (cut from a 2x4) that pinch against each other in a mortise through my bench top. This creates a plane-blade-safe adjustable bench dog. I also have a simple bench vise with wooden jaws and 3/4" holes drilled all over the place that accept 3/4" dowels that I use as bench dogs.

Planes are not too expensive if you go with antique ones and Ron Hock's replacement blades/chipbreakers. Maybe I'm just a Luddite but this approach serves me well.
You will probably be really happy with your purchase - and please let us know how it goes. In answer to your question about the Safe-T-planer, the cutting blades last ages. You definitely need the sharpening stone (which is supplied with it). The speed is not critical. It operates quite well at 3000rpm on my drill-press, but I also use it at higher speeds on a hand drill which is stationary mounted and that is better (can feed wood into it faster).

It is not essential to have fine precision in the drill-press table setting. You get the table close to the right height and fine tune it by adjusting the height of the tool in the chuck. I set it for a precise height using a set of shims (just scrap wood about playing card size) of various known thicknesses. You place these in the table and drop the Safe-T-planer on to it, tighten the chuck and then slide the shim out - so you then know the thickness of the gap between the cutters and the table. Someone on one of the other forums gave me the tip of using drill bits as ready-made thickness guides for this purpose. It is important to know that the thickness of the cut that you get is a shade thinner than the size of that gap (and the difference varies a bit depending on the hardness of the wood).

I predict that you will end up with both tools eventually, but be happy with both and have different uses for each.
G'Day Mark
Thanks for the great tips on the Safe-T planer: I think you're right about me eventually having both of them, I spent this evening searching the net to see if anyone in Europe stocks the Safe-T. I think I've found a company in England, that would be ideal, but at the moment they're temporarily out of stock. I'll be checking back regularly to see when they have them again, they will be cheaper than StewMac I think, for one thing no customs duty to pay.
I hope you're right about the Luthiers friend being good, especially after the song and dance my dear lady wife :-) has been making since I ordered it yesterday, you'd have thought I'd morgaged the house....My wife could'nt tell the difference between a thickness sander and a pound of nails, but she's still absolutly certain that I don't need it, and that it's too expensive. Now, where have I heard that before? :-)


Nothing that a bunch of roses can't fix I'm sure. Happy Valentine's Day!


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