I understand then that you forego hand planing altogether?
I've used the belt sander a bit in the past and found it very fast BUT expensive in the long run, dusty (i notice your neat dust collection setup - nice!), noisy and easily errodes flatness (probably due to my lack of skill).
So, for you it's Thicknesser > Belt Sander (i assume you work your way up to 200 or 320 grit?)
Does this give you a surface that is the equal to a surface that has been hit by hand planes?
Thanks for your thoughts, Hammer!
Gatortrial, in your original post you asked if there was a quicker way to get a good surface. Those of us that do it everyday might not be the sharpest chisels in the roll but we figure out how to make our lives easier. We have to meet some high standards and we can't waste time whittlin' and fiddlin'.
Should a person go down to Lowes, grab a Kobalt handplane, have at a piece of hard maple and make a judgement about handplanes based on that experience? Isn't that about equivalent to your beltsander experience? How great was your first handplane experience? It doesn't matter what tool, you have to learn how, where and when to use it.
I'm in the business but I'm a woodworking hobbyist, too. I have other hobbies and little time for any of them, like most. There are times I get a chance to break out my handplanes, fiddle around with them, sharpen them up, try different things, maybe just make some shavings, have fun. At work, I always have 2 or 3 low angle block planes ready to go but the collection of Stanley bench planes, wood molding planes, combination planes, and many other assorted planes are just for fun. It would be a very unusual project where I would use a handplane to surface. They can immediately cause complications that take time to fix and often compromise the project.
Surface prep depends on the species, use, intended appearance, type of finish. A black lacquer piano is different than a stair tread, oak is different than hard maple. I'll sand the epoxy primer on a piano in a deliberate single stroke, 4 direction, cross hatch with wet 1200. On an oak stair tread, 80 grit off the beltsander, good to go. Everything else falls in between.
For most wood finishes your eye won't be able to see 220 scratches with the grain. There really isn't any difference between a planed or sanded surface once the finish goes on, it just looks different in the raw due to light reflection or absorption. If you have a fine piano, chances are, it's protected from even breathing on it. Is that the type of finish you want on everyday furniture or shop cabinets? A fingerprint shows up like a headlight. Isn't a modicum of practicality involved here?
I do have a nice set up. The 4" x 24" PC variable speed is quiet for a beltsander, especially at the lower speeds. It glides across the surface effortlessly and stays on the platten with little input. The Fein vac is known for it's low noise level and high efficiency, no exhaust port to blow shop dust around. I made up the hose and fittings. Auto on off as the sander switch is pulled.
Here is a picture of a commercially made stair tread. It was put through a wide belt sander at the factory. I can use a lot over a year and these are very nice for commercial treads. You can see machine marks from the wide belt, particularly in the upper left corner. Those are not acceptable to me for stair treads so I sand them out. Most of the rest under the pencils has been hit with the beltsander, 80 grit. I think you can see the difference. There aren't many contractors that would sand those and some folks wouldn't even notice the marks but I do.