There are a lot of joys that come with woodworking, but most will agree that sanding sure isn’t one of them. The best part of this repetitive, dusty and labor-intensive process is finishing it — especially if you are doing it all manually. Gary Green, founder of Performax sanders, knew the drudgery of sanding full well as a woodworker back in the mid-1980s. But, at that time, if you didn’t like to sand by hand or with a power sander, the only other option was to invest in a wide belt sander — and Green didn’t have room for one of those in his garage shop. So, he developed a rig that fit on his radial arm saw to sand for him, and with that, Green ushered in the age of wide drum sanders.
Performax Sanders built a reputation in the woodworking industry for quality sanding solutions. Then, in the late 1990s, JET Tools bought the entire Performax line from Gary and his wife, Donna, and hired Bill Schroeder to be general manager of Performax products. After a few years of manufacturing sanders in Tennessee, however, JET’s parent company, WMH Tool Group, decided to move production to Taiwan. But, the Taiwanese manufacturers were unable to fulfill JET’s need for larger sanders at the time, so WMH decided to put the rights to its closed-end sanders up for sale.
Schroeder saw this as an opportunity to strike out on his own and take drum sanding even further by starting a new company: SuperMax Tools. “Bill went to JET and offered to buy the rights to the products instead of discontinuing the models,” recounts Hanna Schroeder, SuperMax’s marketing manager. “He purchased excess inventory from WMH in 2005, and he recruited Warren Weber and several of his old employees and coworkers from his Performax/JET days to work for him.”
True to his vision, Schroeder has broadened the capabilities of drum sanding, as well as added new models, since the company’s inception almost a decade ago. “In the beginning of our company, we developed more brush heads for the line of SuperBrush sanders, expanding the applications they could be used for,” Hannah explains. “We’ve added a double-headed SuperBrush to our product line, too, to answer industry and production demands.”
Over the years, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company has grown its product line to include nine variations of drum and drum/brush combination machines, plus three versions of single and double-brush dedicated machines in several widths, as well as wide belt sanders. It’s an ambitious range of products from a company that has just 10 employees. Within SuperMax’s 13,000-sq.-ft. facility, they do some assembly, technical service, sales, marketing, and distribution of both machines and repair parts.
One of the company’s significant milestones happened four years ago when it launched its first open-end drum sander — the 19-38 model. Schroeder says the machine is the ideal solution for a small-shop setting, both in terms of its sanding capabilities and the improvements it features in materials and functionality over other comparable drum sanders. Among them, the machine will sand up to 19-in.-wide panels in a single pass, or up to 38 inches in two passes. It includes a wider conveyor table for added support, more space for access to the abrasive system and a “fast lever” to adjust the table for wider stock. The 19-38 sells for $1,399.
“With our 25 years of drum sander history, (we) knew how to build a better sander,” Schroeder says, “and that’s why the 19-38 was created.”
While SuperMax’s manufacturing happens overseas, Hannah assures that the company is not a “set-it-and-forget it” distributor. SuperMax remains heavily involved in the design and engineering process with Taiwanese manufacturers and makes frequent visits to those factories to ensure that quality standards are constantly being met. And, innovations and enhancements are driven by SuperMax, not by its vendors.
Stateside, Supermax assembles its double-head SuperBrush sanders, 49-in. brush sanders and the 50×2 drum sander in-house. “We also do a fair amount of custom machine builds, working with customers to build a machine that suits their shop and production needs. Custom machines are built here in St. Paul.”
In addition to its primary market of wood sanding, Hannah explains that the company is expanding into metal and composite material applications, too, which are relatively new markets. And, thanks to a strengthening U.S. economy, SuperMax is also seeing a resurgence of business from the construction and cabinetry trades. “We’ve had double-digit growth year-to-year for the last four years,” she says, “and we don’t see that slowing down.”
DIY and hobbyist woodworking interests are up as well, and so is a growing trend of using reclaimed materials for projects. Since those often need to be cleaned up before they can be upcycled, Schroeder says the company’s SuperBrush machines are perfect for the task. “They offer nearly limitless applications for profile sanding and wire brushing wood, not to mention different applications for other materials.”
Regardless of whether a potential customer is a pro user or a serious hobbyist, Schroder assures that buying a SuperMax product offers tangible advantages that go beyond some other suppliers in the industry. For one, the company prioritizes features that make their machines easy to use, in order to minimize the tedium of sanding. And, customer service is a top priority. “When you call SuperMax Tools, you’re going to talk to a live person here, not an automated system or a call center filled with part-time employees … any issues get resolved quickly, because we don’t have corporate red tape. We pride ourselves on our customer service.”
Additionally, there is singular focus that sets the company apart. Rather than being a generalist supplier of other machines, such as table saws or dust collectors as well as sanding equipment, Super Max offers only sanding solutions.
“One of our taglines is, ‘We know sanding, because sanding is all we do.’ It’s a little cheesy, but very true. There’s not much we haven’t seen, so if you have a hard-to-solve sanding issue, we’d love to hear about it.”
To learn more about SuperMax’s products, click here.