A wood thickness planer is a welcome addition to any wood shop. There is really nothing that beats a surface planer when you need to smooth a board or mill one to a thickness that is perfect for a particular application.
There was a time when the only place you would find a wood planer was in a professional cabinet or millwork shop. Those days are past. With the advent of bench top planers, you can find a unit to fit your needs at any price point you are comfortable with.
Why Your Shop Needs a Wood Planer
Put aside the fact that a planer is one of the “cool tools” and think of the practical uses for one.
There ae things that a tabletop wood planer can do that any other tool in your shop would struggle to accomplish. If it was possible to do them at all. And today’s selection of bench planers can do them all with ease.
If you are in the middle of a project and need a length of 5/4 pine and you don’t want to run around trying to find one, or wait until your local yard can order one, turn to the wood planer. You can easily turn a piece of two by into a piece of 5/4, and at a fraction of the price.
And what other choice is there if you want to make wooden drawers with 1/2″ or 5/8″ sides? It’s pretty much impossible to buy wood in that dimension, and even more difficult to pay for. It is, however, but a moments work with a planer to make some out of 3/4″ stock.
Or perhaps you have a source of rough cut lumber that can be had at a fraction of the cost of finished boards. (Think of having a portable sawmill come in and chop up a few of the trees on your property.
Rough cut lumber is where a wood planer shines. It is, after all, probably the thing planers were originally designed for. There is nothing quite like taking an inexpensive rough board and using a thickness planer to reveal the beauty hidden within. Or the satisfaction of building a piece of furniture at a fraction of the price that one could be had anywhere.
Deciding Which Electric Planer to Buy
As noted, there are wood planer machines available to suit your budget. From there you need to decide what features you want to pay for.
While it might be a dream to have a floor mounted 15- or 20-inch planer, the fact is that is more machine than most shops will ever need. A benchtop wood planer is a more realistic, and to be honest more useful, machine for most of us.
The main things to consider when looking for a planer are quality (obviously), maximum width, throat depth, cutters, and adjustment/lock.
While most benchtop planers are up to 12-1/2 inches wide, a few of the higher quality ones are up to 13 inches. Most quality planers of this type will cut material up to 6″ deep.
The standard cutter for benchtop units will come with three cutting blades. They should be double sided and self-indexing. This means that you can install the blades and expect them to be set correctly, saving the time involved in trying to get them aligned – a finicky and time-consuming process.
A very few benchtop thickness planers will have “spiral” cutter heads. These units have a multitude of 4 sided cutters that are arranged in a spiral pattern around the cylindrical head. This creates a cutter that cuts smoother, easier, and quieter. In addition, these individual cutters can be rotated 3 times as they become dull, and individual cutters can be replaced if they become chipped. Chipped blades are the bane of the standard cutting blade.
Next to consider is depth adjustment. Look for a machine that has a large depth adjustment handle and a good depth cutting gage. An advantage is a unit with a depth stop that allows multiple boards to be planed to the same thickness. Make sure it also has a quality lock once the depth of cut is set.
Since a wood planer creates an amazing quantity of wood chips, be sure that you choose one with awell-configuredd dust collection hood. These most often allow connection to a 4″ or a 2-1/2″ inch hose for easy attachment to a dust collector or a shop vac.
Power is not a major factor when looking at benchtop planers, since most units come with ample motors and it is unwise to make cuts more than a 1/16″ deep.
Finally, you can choose a planer that offers two different cutting speeds. This seems like a nice featur, but for practical purposes the difference in finish for machines performing thousands of cuts a minute is minimal in most situations. The truth is that in most situations a final sanding is going to be required in any case.
So, Should You Take The Plunge?
If you are willing to up your game just a bit, and already have the basics covered, why would you not choose to ad an electric wood planer to your shop? The flexibility of design, and the ability to broaden your raw wood selections will allow you to “up your game”.
If you have a desire to build quality furniture – furniture that you can be proud of, or give those around-the-home projects a truly custom feel, then a thickness planer is just the tool for the job. And if you were to pair that tool with one of the many jointers on the market, you would be on your way to creating custom one-of-a-kind pieces that are likely to be the envy of all your like minded friends.
And yes, it’s a cool tool, likely to bring a smile to your face whenever you use it. Especially when doing things with it that you just can’t quite do with any other tool.