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As with most of our guides, we like to keep things pretty simple. Our Simple Guide to Jointers and Planers is no different. We will make every effort to keep the new woodworker in mind. In addition, we will talk through some value options that can help people who are on the fence about buying a machine make the right decision. Personally, I can’t imagine my workshop without a Jointer and Planer. Both of these tools have so many uses and make relatively complex processes a snap. Keep reading to find out more. And if you have questions about saw selection or what sander is right for you, check out our Simple Guide to Electric Saws and Simple Guide to Electric Sanders.
Simply put, planers create a single flat surface in your workpiece. By moving the wood through the planer on a set of rollers, rotating blades cut the board down to a consistent height. Planers are great time savers, and in some cases can take a pretty rough looking piece of lumber and turn it into something useful. In addition, they are great for getting lumber to a specific dimension when precision really counts. For example, we sometimes create six-pack beer carriers from recycled pallet wood. Pallet wood is notoriously janky, with odd widths, lengths and thicknesses. All it takes to get the wood to 1/2″ thickness is a few runs through the planer!
In our shop, I use a ‘lunch box’ style planer like the one above from Porter-Cable. I am not sponsored by them, but I do love their products. This style of planer is a great value for beginner woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts because they provide high durability and most of the features you want in a high-end model. They call these models lunch boxes because you can carry them around by the handle. They are highly portable, if not a bit heavy. Mine has been very dependable and is capable of handling every type of wood I have put through it. The hardest wood I have milled with it is American Ash. With a fresh blade, it didn’t have any issues. I did experience a bit of gouging when I tried to run it through with a duller blade.
This model has a max width of 12″ and an opening of 5″ high. While I have never worked with wood over 3″ thick, myself, I have used this planer to reduce boards to as thin as 1/2″. I have used my planer to level out rock maple end-grain chopping blocks. Some folks will advise against it because it can cause tear-out or even kick out your workpiece. I have never had this happen. I believe that if you are cautious about making sure that you only plane off about 1/16″ at a time, the machine can handle it. Your mileage may vary.
Maintenance & Upkeep
There are three big maintenance pieces that I want to address for anyone considering purchasing a planer. First, you will need to plan on buying blades occasionally. Unfortunately, there is no safe and easy way to sharpen dull blades. The good news is that replacement blade sets can be found relatively cheaply on Amazon. Secondly, you will find yourself waxing the infeed and outfeed regularly. The rollers pull / push the workpiece well, but friction needs to be reduced wherever possible. We recommend Paste Wax for this polishing. Lastly, the large screw that serves to raise and lower the planer bed will need to be cleaned of sawdust and lubricated with grease occasionally.
If you are looking to upgrade from a basic model, the Dewalt option has some interesting bells and whistles that are worth considering. First, this model has three blades. The three blade system reduces the wear-and-tear significantly, which means less blade changes. Secondly, this model allows you to control the feed rate. If you are working with harder woods, or just really need a cut to come out smoothly, being able to slow down the feed rate is a huge bonus. Lastly, this model has a dust collection system. This feature is sorely lacking in the Porter-Cable model. Every time I fire up my planer, I am left with a huge pile of shavings on the floor.
When you are ready to move out of the hobby / DIY space and take your shop to the professional level, you will be looking for a planer that can handle 15″ boards. These models provide additional width, superior adjustability, enhanced dust collection, and helical cutter heads. If you aren’t familiar with helical cutter heads, they are basically a gift from the gods. Offset blades spin around to create a significantly more reliable cut. In addition, as blades dull, you can choose to rotate the four-sided blade to a fresh and sharp side. This saves a ton of effort and money maintaining blades.
Jointers perform a similar role as a planer, but they work against a fence, which creates a 90 degree angle and a flat surface. In my experience, jointers are particularly useful if you will be doing any glue-ups. Matching planes for two boards is very difficult without a jointer. However, if you run a board through the jointer a few times, you will have a perfect match for those two boards. Your glue-ups will be much smoother, with less waste and zero frustration. A jointer can perform many of the same functions as a planer, but with a smaller 6″ work surface.
Let me start by saying that I was very on-the-fence about purchasing my jointer. I wasn’t sure I was going to need it. In addition, I didn’t know if I would use it often enough to justify the price tag. To be honest, I am still on the fence about using it often enough to justify the price tag. However, there is no doubt that I need it in my shop. The jointer has become an indispensable part of my shop. While it’s role is highly specialized, nothing can quite reproduce the work that it does as well, or as efficiently.
Maintenance & Upkeep
Similar to the planer, jointers are going to need replacement blades occasionally. The frustrating part is that most of the work occurs at the fence, so blades wear much faster in the first third of the blade. As with planers, there aren’t any good options to sharpen the blades, so replacement is advised. Blades are even cheaper than for the planer, because they are half as long. In addition, the jointer will also need to be waxed regularly to keep your workpieces moving smoothly. We generally keep Paste Wax on hand for this purpose.
If you are looking to upgrade from the basic 6″ benchtop model, consider looking into an 8″ benchtop model. This will allow you to surface wider boards. In addition, the model above features a helical cutter head. Like we mentioned before, that’s a pretty serious upgrade, especially when you consider that a jointer gets the most work done next to the fence. By managing your blades well, you can really make them stretch by replacing the heavy-use area blades smartly.
When you are ready to take things to the professional level, you’ll be looking for a model similar to this one. Shop around and explore different manufacturers. Some are known for precision, others durability. Find a brand that works well for you and your needs. There are models out there that will joint up to 12″ boards. Figure out your price point, your must-haves, and then get out your check book!! With a larger model like this, you can reliable joing significantly longer board that would prove challenging on a tabletop jointer.
We hope you enjoyed our Simple Guide to Jointers and Planers. We really enjoy woodworking and sharing all of our tips and tricks with you. If you aren’t ready to make your own boards, but would like to support our shop, we have charcuterie boards for all occasions and tastes in our Etsy shop. We also have a selection of end-grain and edge-grain chopping blocks available as well. You can click the E in the sidebar, header, or footer of this page to go directly to our Etsy shop, or you can click here to see our selection of boards and blocks on the site.