We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
There are many reasons to buy a jointer. Rough cut lumber is far cheaper than milled, and with a jointer you can clean it up yourself. Pre-milled stock is rarely accurate to the dimensions stated. Additionally, it may not be flat or square. With a good jointer you can rectify these problems in minutes.
The question is, which jointer should you purchase?
The good news is, you have plenty of choices. The not-so-good news is that with over two hundred machines to choose from, finding the right one becomes something of a challenge!
BestReviews helps resolve buying questions like these by undertaking the kind of testing and comparison that you just can't do yourself. We have our own workshops, where we can run tools side by side to build an accurate picture of comparative performance. We check our findings with professional woodworkers. We also collate vast amounts of customer feedback.
We're independent, so our final report is free of outside influence. We never take manufacturer samples; we use our own money and buy the same products you would. That way we're under no pressure to focus on a particular brand.
Our comprehensive jointer review found that the five machines above provided best-in-class performance and value. They satisfy the needs of a wide range of woodworkers.
For those who would like more detail on what to look for from a jointer, we've prepared the following report.
If you get lots of tear-out, you're probably cutting against the grain. Try reversing the workpiece. If it still happens, the knives are probably blunt.
What's the difference between a planer and a jointer? It's a question that comes up often. Given that they do similar jobs, it's no surprise there's confusion.
In the past, the only tool woodworkers had for shaping wood was the hand plane. Whether you wanted to flatten or square a piece of wood, or shave the thickness, a hand plane was the tool you used.
It's common to see electrical versions of this tool, and they're fine for general woodworking. However, when it comes to squaring, they have no real advantage over the manual tool. In fact, some feel that electric planers are too aggressive.
That's when you turn to a planer (rather than a plane), or a jointer.
Jointer planer combos do exist, and might seem like an ideal solution. However, there are drawbacks. First, they're all large, floor-standing machines, requiring plenty of space. Second, the process of changing between the functions is frequently criticized for being too fiddly and time consuming.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Powermatic 8-Inch 2 HP 1-Phase Jointer with Helical Cut
Like a Hot Knife Through Lumber
The Powermatic 8-Inch Floor-Standing Jointer is a serious workhorse that will remove an impressive 1/2" in a single pass. A powerful, 2 hp motor, combined with the four-knife helical cutterhead option, delivers up to 28,000 cuts per minute — and will do so all day, every day. Long, cast-iron tables give excellent support, as well as the rigidity needed for high precision. The fence is operated by a direct worm gear, so it goes exactly where you want it, and stays there. This is a high-performance package that will satisfy the most demanding professional.
The difference is:
A planer (sometimes called a thickness planer) cuts the top and bottom of a piece of lumber at the same time, as the lumber passes between two sets of cutters. The planer is best at cutting a piece of wood to the desired thickness quickly and accurately. What it won't do is flatten a warped board. Nor can it square up the edges.
A jointer has one set of cutters, with tables to either side (referred to as the infeed and outfeed). These are adjusted to guide the desired amount of material removal as the stock is run over the cutters. A jointer is best at cleaning up and flattening a board, taking out any twist. It can also square the edges or, in some cases, cut a bevel on the edge. It only cuts one side of the material at a time, so it's not recommended for thicknessing.
Which tool is better? Technically, there is no “better,” because a planer does one job, a jointer does another. Professional woodshops will always have both. So will most enthusiastic amateurs.
If your budget is really tight, it is possible to use a jointer to dimension lumber, but it’s not recommended.
Floor-standing jointers will likely require some assembly. Cast iron tables can be very heavy, so it's a good idea to have someone around who can lend a hand.
There are two main types of jointer: benchtop and floor-standing.
Benchtop jointers invariably offer a width of 6 inches. Many popular floor-standing models are also 6 inches, but there are also 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch options. If you work with wide boards, a benchtop jointer will not give you the capacity you need.
Many woodworkers — professionals included — never use boards wider than 6", but that still leaves a choice of benchtop or floor-standing machines. So what are the other considerations?
The main dimension of a jointer is obviously the combined length of the tables. When estimating the space the machine will take up, you also need to consider height and depth.
There are variations, of course, but benchtop models are around 12 inches high and 12 inches deep. Floor-standing models vary considerably. Plan for a height of around 40 to 44 inches and a depth of at least 24 inches, though you'll need to check each model individually.
There's also a question of weight. A benchtop jointer will weigh anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds. That's going to be a big consideration for those who are short of space, and need to move it frequently.
Use a high-quality engineer's or machinist's square, or a digital gauge, to set your fence. Accuracy here is vital.
Floor-standing jointers start around 250 pounds for a 6-inch model. Wheel kits are available to make them movable, though moving a tool that heavy isn’t something you would want to do often.
High-end jointers can easily exceed 500 pounds, so they need a permanent site.
In summary, there's clearly a big step from benchtop to floor-standing jointer.
If space is a factor, a benchtop jointer may be the only practical solution. That shouldn't be taken as a negative. The 6-inch capacity is as much as many woodworkers ever need. Properly fixed to the bench, these jointers are capable of producing first-class work.
If you regularly mill wide boards, or long pieces of lumber, a floor-standing jointer will give you the required capacity and, potentially, much higher levels of productivity.
Big jointers are heavy and often require special transportation. Check delivery prices — they can run to several hundred dollars.
The longer the length of the infeed and outfeed tables, the more stability you have for your workpiece.
This is particularly important with long boards. If it rocks, you'll get inaccuracies and an uneven surface finish.
Benchtop jointers have combined table length in the 26- to 35-inch range. Floor-standing jointers start around 70 inches, but professional woodshop machines can exceed 80 inches.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
RIKON Power Tools 6-Inch Benchtop Jointer w/Helical Cutter
Perfect for the Home Shop
The Rikon Power Tools 6-Inch Benchtop Jointer provides an ideal introduction to jointing, particularly for woodworkers without much space. At just 36 pounds, it can be lifted into position or stored away with ease. The low weight doesn't mean it's flimsy. The table may be aluminum, but it's thick and rigid, giving you the stable surface you need for accurate work. Quality is further supported by a helical cutterhead — unusual on a budget jointer. Add a five year guarantee, and you've got a superb blend of performance and value.
Size and capacity are important elements when choosing a jointer, but there are other considerations that will have equal impact.
Actual material removal is done by a rotating cutterhead (also called a cutter block), fitted with a number of knives. The more knives you have, the more cuts are made each time the block rotates — in theory, giving you a smoother finish.
Benchtop jointers tend to have two or three knives. Floor-standing models generally have three or four.
Knife blades can be high speed steel (HSS) or carbide-tipped. Both take a good edge, but the latter is superior, and lasts up to ten times as long. They are also considerably more expensive.
Knives are mounted in the cutterhead in one of two ways, either straight or helically.
If the motor sounds like it's straining, reduce the depth of cut.
A straight blade is usually the same length as the cutterhead. The whole length of the blade contacts the material at the same time. Then there's a momentary pause (a fraction of a second) until the next blade cuts.
In a helical cutter block, a number of smaller blades are set in a curved row. The shearing motion is more or less constant. If the knives are sharp and properly set, this gives a smoother finish, and is also quieter.
Helical cutter blocks are more expensive. It's also more expensive to change the knife sets. For this reason, budget jointers usually have straight knives. Higher-quality machines may offer one or the other at the time of purchase. There are also several companies who offer helical cutterheads, if you want to upgrade later.
The final part of this equation is cutterhead speed. If you have a two-knife cutterhead rotating at 10,000 rpm, you get 20,000 cuts per minute, but high speed isn't everything. A four-knife cutterhead rotating at 7,500 rpm gives you 30,000 cuts per minute, and therefore, a smoother finish. It also puts less stress on the motor and will likely be quieter — though that's somewhat relative. No jointer could really be described as "quiet."
Properly set knives are vital for good performance. Anything on the machine that makes knife-setting easier is a bonus.
The best tables are cast iron, giving high levels of flatness and long-term durability. However, benchtop jointers, where weight is a factor, often used machined aluminum. It's perfectly adequate, given the smaller material sizes being used.
The same is true with fences. Cast iron is preferred, but alloy has sufficient rigidity for modest demands.
Dovetail ways (the joint between table and base) are preferred by many. They give greater precision and rigidity.
Stands are usually steel, of varying thickness. You need as much stability as possible, so a heavy stand is a definite benefit.
Many jointers have single phase motors, which means they’ll run off standard household electricity.
Fences can usually be angled at 45° for cutting bevels, sometimes outwards as well as inwards (thus providing a range of 135°). Stops at 45° and 90° make setting a quick process.
Maximum depth of cut is seldom quoted, because it's not really important. Some machines will take ¼" off in a single pass, though it's usually recommended to take several thin cuts rather than one large one.
What is important is being able to adjust tables quickly and accurately — particularly the infeed table, as this is how you set depth of cut. Good machines offer fine-feed for additional precision.
Never be tempted to remove guards. A cutterhead running at working speed is extremely dangerous.
Manufacturers make much of the power available from their jointer motors, and it is vital that the motor can drive the cutterhead at the appropriate speed.
In practice, however, cheap bench models frequently have a 1 horsepower motor, and that's more than enough for a 6-inch, floor-standing jointer. Bigger machines will probably have 1½ or 2 hp motors.
The biggest machine we looked at, a monster 12-inch jointer, had a 3 hp motor.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
JET 6-Inch 1 HP Jointer with Quick-Set Knive System
A 6-inch floor-standing jointer is the tool of choice for many woodworkers, offering high productivity without the big investment that an 8-inch machine demands. In this bracket, the Jet is an excellent choice. The long, cast iron beds are the foundation of a machine built to tackle just about anything. There's plenty of power from a 1 hp motor. The cutterhead features a time-saving, quick-set three-knife system. Performance expectations are underlined by the 4-inch dust extraction port. It's a machine that's built for serious throughput. It may not have the bells and whistles of some, but this is a solid, dependable tool that will consistently deliver what's expected of it.
Jointers are noisy, so you should wear ear protection. You will also need protective eyewear.
There is a guard over the cutterhead, usually spring-loaded. It's pushed out of the way as you advance the workpiece, then springs back after. Never operate the machine without it in place.
One or more push blocks should also be supplied. Use them. They keep your hands well clear of any danger.
Jointers can create a lot of waste, very quickly. Dust extraction ports are a must. There are two standard sizes, 2½" and 4". Some benchtop jointers also come with a collection bag, but these can fill very quickly. A good workshop vacuum is highly recommended.
This is one of those occasions when you pretty much get what you pay for. These are robust, powerful machines, and none are cheap. Entry-level benchtop models will cost $300 or more. The best of these jointers cost around $450.
A good, 6-inch, floor-standing jointer will be priced around $1,000. It's a lot more than the same width benchtop model, but you'll get much longer tables, and a far more rigid machine. It's a big step up in productivity.
The price of an 8-inch jointer will certainly exceed $2,000, and prices rise rapidly depending on table length, cutterhead type, and other features. It's a serious amount of money, but you're buying a lifetime of high performance, so it's almost certainly a one-off investment.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.