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Shopping Guide for Best Planers

For those who love woodworking, a planer is a must-have tool. Not only will it save you time in finishing your woodworking projects, but it can also save you money. For example, if you own a planer, you can purchase wood of a lower quality at a lower cost and then plane it to create a uniform thickness. Planing also reveals the grain of the wood.

The benchtop planers on today’s market make fast work out of planing boards. You’ll still need to perform some sanding on these boards, but the time required will be reduced by your planing efforts.

If you’re ready to begin your search for a new planer, we can help. After hours of product research, we put together a product matrix at the top of this page featuring five of the best planers on the market.

In order to eliminate the chance of bias, we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Instead, we rely on our product research to help us identify the best options.

The shopping guide that follows will help you understand how planers work, their key features, and how to choose the best one for your needs.

Modern electronic planers share many similarities with jointer power tools.

How Planers Work

To use a planer, you feed a board through one end of the unit. The planer shaves the board before it exits the other end.

For best results, you should try to feed it at a uniform speed. And make sure the planer’s blades are cutting with the grain to avoid nicks in the wood.

A modern power planer makes use of a spinning cutterhead. The cutterhead removes small pieces from the face of the board as the planer works along the length of the board. This inevitably results in a flurry of shavings and dust.

Setting the planer to work at a deep depth will create a rougher finish on the board. A shallow depth creates a smoother finish.The latter requires less sanding, so you may wish to use multiple shallow planer cuts.

A typical planer designed for at-home use cuts the surface of the wood at a maximum depth of 1/8th of an inch.

Small planers may top out at cuts of 1/16th of an inch. Large planers designed for professional use are able to make deeper cuts, typically 3/16th of an inch.

Some pro-style tools can even cut as deeply as 1/4th of an inch.

Before you feed a board through a planer, make sure the spinning cutterhead has reached full speed. It can take a few seconds for this to happen.

Handheld vs. Benchtop Planers

Benchtop planers offers some performance-oriented advantages over handheld planers. But handheld planers have their strengths, too. We’ll discuss aspects of each type here.

Comparison

Motor

Benchtop planers typically sport motors with at least 10 amps. Handheld planers have much smaller motors. This helps keep the unit’s weight down.

DID YOU KNOW?

During a drywall project, a handheld planer works well for resizing a wall stud that’s just a little out of alignment. You couldn’t do that with a benchtop planer.

Comparison

Cut Depth

Most benchtop planers can make cuts as deep as 1/8th of an inch. Handheld planers are typically limited to 1/16th of an inch or shallower. A deeper cut will save you time when planing really rough boards, as you’ll need fewer passes.

Comparison

Cut Width

Most benchtop planers can manage boards that are 10 to 15 inches wide. Most motorized handheld planers are limited to boards no more than 3.25 inches wide. However, this is enough to accommodate a 2x4 piece of lumber — and for some people, that’s good enough.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re considering a cordless, battery-powered planer, bear in mind that these tools are designed for only the lightest of workloads.


Staff  | BestReviews
Comparison

Weight and Size

Benchtop planers are heavy; you can expect a unit of this type to weigh 50 pounds or more. We recommend a benchtop model for users who want a stationary workshop tool. Handheld planers weigh much less — 5 to 10 pounds — and are easy to transport. We recommend this type of tool for those who may travel from jobsite to jobsite.

Comparison

Power

Benchtop planers run on electrical power. They don’t require high-voltage outlets; a typical household outlet will suffice. Some handheld planers also run on outlet power; others use rechargeable batteries. And, of course, a manual handheld planer doesn’t require any electrical power.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some planers feature a knob that allows you to “direct” the dust to the right or left, depending on what’s best for the job at hand.

Comparison

Cost

Benchtop planer prices run anywhere from $200 to $800. You’ll pay less than $200 for a handheld planer with a motor — and often less than $100. Manual planers, which easily cost less than $100 are the cheapest planers.

Benchtop planers aren’t quite as powerful as the planers used by professional woodworkers. But they do a solid job with all types of wood.

Our advice: before you invest in a costly benchtop planer, make sure your woodworking needs are heavy enough to justify the cost.

Some planers have cords that are too short, making it tough to place the unit where you want it. If you’d prefer not to be restricted to an area close to an outlet, look for a planer with a long electrical cord.

Staff
BestReviews

Watching for Scallops and Snipe

One area that differentiates planer units is their cut quality. You’re going to want to find a planer that provides high-quality cuts, avoiding problems with scallops and snipe.

Planer cuts

Scallops

Scallops result when a planer causes slight gouges in the wood. It almost looks like the washboarding you’d see on a well-traversed gravel road. The more scallops a planer leaves in the wood, the more time you’ll have to spend sanding them down.

A low-quality planer can cause scalloping, as can a high-quality planer with dull blades. To minimize scalloping, consider a planer with a high-powered motor and multiple blades. This type of tool will cause fewer scallops than a handheld unit.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

To protect your eyes from flying wood chips and dust, always wear safety goggles with a planer.

Planer cuts

Snipe

Snipe is a slight gouge at the end of boards. As the board begins to pass through the planer, it may jump just slightly as the planer grabs the wood. This results in a slightly deeper cut than what occurs on the remainder of the board.

Handheld planers are less likely cause snipe than benchtop units. That’s because the board receives support through the entire process with a handheld unit.

Most types of snipe can be sanded out relatively easily.

If your dust collection system suddenly stops working, turn off the machine. Either the collection bag is full or wood chips are clogging the machine.

Staff
BestReviews

Common Planer Features

When shopping for a planer, pay attention to these key features, all of which can make your woodworking tasks easier and faster.

  • Blade Type: If you want the very best blade for your planer, select a double-edged carbide blade. Another option is high-speed steel, or HSS. These blades adequately suit woodworkers with light-duty needs.

  • Depth Gauge: Although a planer with a depth gauge may cost a bit more, it’s a nice feature to have. A depth gauge allows you to make planing cuts at a specific depth. Limiting the depth of cut reduces your chances of snipe and scallop problems.

  • Depth Stop: A depth stop allows you to set the desired thickness for a board and maintain that thickness on subsequent boards.

EXPERT TIP

The best way to ensure your new planer stays in tip-top condition is to keep the blades sharp.


Staff  | BestReviews

Safety Tips for Planers

Planers aren’t overly noisy or hard to control. This fools some woodworking novices into thinking they’re not dangerous. But the blades on a planer spin fast, and they’re extremely sharp.

Follow these safety tips to avoid serious injury —

  • Avoid loose-fitting clothing and jewelry:
    If your shirttail or another piece of loose clothing contacts the blade, it could become entangled. Dangling bracelets and necklaces pose a similar danger. Avoid wearing items that could catch in the spinning blade.
FOR YOUR SAFETY

Before you begin work, make sure you know where your planer’s emergency stop switch is located.

  • Keep the area clear:
    You’ll be moving back and forth quite a bit while using a planer. Keep the floor around your workbench free of objects that could cause you to trip or slip. This includes the power cord.

  • Maintain full control of the planer:
    Whether you’re using a handheld or benchtop planer, keep both hands on the tool at all times. One-handed operation is never recommended.

  • Wait for a full power down:
    If you need to check the blades for clogs, power the unit down first. Wait for the cutter blade to completely stop spinning before you inspect the unit.

  • Wear safety goggles and other protective gear:
    Wear safety goggles to avoid an unwanted encounter with flying wood chips or dust. If you’re going to be working for an extended period, you may also wish to wear a breathing mask and ear protection.

Benchtop planers often have two to four blades. A handheld planer nearly always has just one blade.

FAQ

Q. How do I know which type of planer is best for me?

A. The choice between a handheld or benchtop planer depends on your specific needs.

  • If you have lots of boards to plane, a benchtop unit provides a fast, efficient solution. Benchtop planers are designed to remain in the workshop.

  • If you want a planer you can carry to different locations, consider a handheld unit.  

Q. When should I migrate to a professional-grade planer?

A. For most people using a planer at home, a benchtop or handheld unit offers plenty of power. But some people — like those with frequent planer needs — want even more power. In cases like these, a stationary planer is an option.

These heavy-duty tools can accommodate wood up to 24 inches in width, whereas benchtop units usually max out around 10 to 15 inches. A professional unit can also make cuts that are a bit deeper than benchtop units — up to around ¼ inch.

If you find yourself unable to perform planing jobs as quickly as you’d like, you may wish to consider a pro-style planer.

Q. What should I look for when it comes to dust collection?

A. Without some sort of dust collection facility, you’ll likely end up with dust in your face. No planer is perfect when it comes to collecting dust, but they do offer attachments that will help.

  • Some benchtop planers sport a hood that directs the dust into a collection area.

  • Others include a hose attachment for collecting dust.

  • Both handheld and benchtop planers may also include a dust bag.

Q. What are some of the top brands of planers?

A. Many of the world’s top power tool companies also participate in the planer market. Some of the best brand names for planers are Black & Decker, Bosch, Dewalt, Makita, Porter-Cable, Powertec, Ryobi, SKIL, and Wen.

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