Power planers were developed to take the place of the manual plane, which was difficult to work with, requiring skill to make a clean cut. The power planer is also faster, as it can take a thicker cut from a board than a manual plane can. Nevertheless, power planers can’t do everything that a manual plan can, especially the various molding operations that were originally done with planes.
Power planers come in both handheld and stationary models. The stationary ones are more limited in the types of things that can be done on them, although they can take off more material at one pass and make a much wider cut. Handheld planers, while limited in their thickness of cut, are not limited in the size workpiece that they can work on. They can even be used on hardwood floors.
A stationary planer is used only to clean up wood that has been sawn on a sawmill, resawn on a band saw, or needs to be thinned for a project. It cannot be used for the edges of a board, but only for the surface. Even so, for what it does, there is no other tool which can replace it.
For more information on choosing a planer best suited for your woodworking needs, check out our buyer’s guide provided below.
Best Cordless Planer:
Cordless routers are rather rare since the amount of battery power it takes to run a high speed motor is incredible. Nevertheless, a few quality manufacturers make them. These planers are essentially the same as the corded handheld planer, except they’re powered by rechargeable batteries; in the case of these models it’s with Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries.
Li-Ion batteries are a perfect choice for planers, even more so than for other power tools. When Ni-Cad batteries start losing their power, the tool tends to slow down. However, with Li-Ion batteries, the tool continues functioning at normal speed right up until the battery loses enough power so that it can’t operate the tool. While some have complained about the lack of warning given for the tool being about to quit, it’s ideal for a planer which needs to operate at high speed.
The nice thing about these cordless planers is that they can be taken to a jobsite and used where there is need to only make a couple of cuts. That saves the carpenter time, as they don’t have to dig out a power cord or set up a generator. However, to be honest with you, the run time on a battery isn’t really all that long, so if you want to do a lot of cutting with a planer, you’re better off with a corded one.
Amazingly enough these tools are reasonably priced, especially if you buy the “tool only” version to use with your existing batteries; just make sure you’ve got plenty of batteries to use. All three of these picks are 18 volt units, the current standard for cordless tools. Compared to 12 volts, the higher voltage provides considerably more power, making the tools more or less equal in power to their corded cousins.
As with any planer, the key to these is the speed at which they operate. The higher the tool’s speed, the smoother the finish they’ll be able to provide. The feed rate that you use makes a difference because unlike many power tools, the problem with pushing the tool for a fast cut isn’t so much the tool will bog down. Rather, the high speed will negatively affect the finish. Take your time, there’s no reason to rush.
As is to be expected from Makita, their cordless planer is almost as good as their corded one, even going as far to use the same cutterhead and blades. This is a well designed tool all around, which will provide you with excellent service. Read Full Review
The Bosch cordless plane operates at the same speed as the Makita, but it only has a single, rather than a dual, blade. They've given it dual switchable ejection ports, allowing the user to decide which side the chips fly out of. Read Full Review
Best Corded Planer:
Planers, like jointers are the modern power tool which has taken the place of the manual wood plane. Rather than use a single blade, they use multiple blades (usually three) which are mounted on a drum and turned at high speed by a motor. This provides a much faster and easier cutting action than a manual plane, making corded planers ideal for carpenters or other professional craftsmen.
I must confess I personally don’t use power planers, as I don’t like the finish they provide; I like the finish that a manual plane provides. I actually still use my collection of manual planes, some of which are antiques. The problem I have with power planers is the way that they cut. Since the blades are mounted on a drum, they’re not at a consistent angle, perpendicular to the wood being cut. This causes them to cut in a scooping manner, which can leave a scalloped edge on the wood.
There are several ways of reducing this effect:
- Increasing the speed of the planer. Most planers run at extremely high speeds to reduce the risk of scalloping the edge of the wood.
- Reduce the feed rate of the planer. This one is under the control of the operator. The slower you move the planer through the wood, the shorter the scallop arcs are, making them virtually invisible.
- Use a spiral blade geometry. A spiral or helical blade cuts at an angle to the wood, rather than perpendicular to it. This helps conceal the possibility of any scalloping.
Now that I’ve complained about corded planers, let me back up a minute. With the high speed most planers operate at, and a low feed rate, the scalloping is really very minimal. I just prefer the finish that my planes give me, and don’t mind taking the extra time. I also like to use molding planes instead of a router at times and a scraper instead of sandpaper.
So, what makes for a good plane, as compared to a mediocre one?
- Spiral blades – I’ve already mentioned the advantage of this, but as far as I know, there’s only one handheld planer that has them. I picked it as number one on this list.
- High speed – Although all planers are high speed, they do not all run at the same speed. The higher the speed, the less scalloping. However, there’s a flip side to this coin in that the higher the speed, the easier it is for the motor speed to be affected by the load. If it is affected too much, that negates any advantage of speed.
- Machined shoe – The shoe needs to be extremely flat and exactly parallel to the blades for an accurate cut. Stamped steel shoes are never going to be as flat as a machined one.
- A fence – Some planers come with a fence, or even a tilting fence. The tilting fence is a must if you are going to use the planer to chamfer or to put an angle on the edge of a board (such as on a door for easier closing).
- Excellent depth adjustment – While most planers have similar depth adjustment mechanisms, they do vary somewhat. It needs to be both easy to set and to lock in place, so that it doesn’t change depth in the middle of a cut.
- Carbide blades – High speed steel blades will not last long, especially if you use the planer on any glued wood or engineered wood products. The resins in these products will dull a blade very quickly.
Different planers have different cut capacity, both in width and in depth. You need to be sure that you select one that meets your needs for the type of work that you expect to be using it for. Remember, these aren’t a jointer because the shoe isn’t long enough for that, even though some people try and use their planer as if they are. If you are not extremely careful when using it, you can make a wavy edge on a board.
The motor size is important as well. The more powerful the motor, the less likelihood there is of the planer bogging down when it runs into a hard spot, such as a knothole or from a deep cut. Remember, that speed is important to your finish quality.
Festool has created the only spiral cut handheld planer on the market. The blades are flush with the right edge of the tool, providing for unlimited rabbeting depth.A very impressive tool. Read Full Review
The nicest thing about this planer is its fence, which allows both straight and angled cuts. It's also the fastest running planer on this list, with a no-load speed of 16,500 RPM. Read Full Review
This planer is considerably larger than the others, with a 6-3/4 wide cutterhead. It also has a 20-3/4" long shoe, making it able to function more like a jointer than most planers can. Read Full Review
For the price, this is an excellent planer. Its 7 amp motor allows for cuts up to 3/32" deep. Grooves in the front shoe make it easy to cut chamfers of various depths. Read Full Review
Best Benchtop Planer:
Planers and jointers are very closely related and work almost the same way. The major difference between these two tools is jointers are designed primarily for edge cutting, although they can be used on the flat side of the board. Planers are only used for the flat side of the board and mainly used for smoothing boards cut on a sawmill and cutting boards to match an exact thickness.
When laminating boards for a table top or butchers block, thickness in an important issue. Boards that are of uneven thickness must be made even, either by planning them before assembly or by planning them after laminating them together; the choice depends more upon the particular woodworker’s preferences and the tools they have to work with.
Most planers are designed to be used for boards up to 12-inches wide. Combination jointer/planers won’t have that capacity, but stand-alone planers usually will. The combination units will either be 6, 8 or 10-inch capacities.
A planer has the cutting head situated above, unlike a jointer which has it below. The only thing below the wood being cut on a jointer is the table which traps the workpiece between the cutterhead and the table, to ensure consistent board thickness. Most have a feed mechanism for the board to maintain consistent feed speed.
Like a jointer, the problem with a planer is the cutter is actually scooping a curved cut resulting in the finished board having a rippled surface texture. The solution is to have the most possible cuts per inch as the board travels through the planer. Increasing the number of cuts per inch can be accomplished either by increasing the speed of the cutterhead or reducing the feed speed of the board being cut. It also helps to have more cutting knives on the cutterhead, as that makes for more cuts per revolution.
Generally speaking, boards run through a planer are sanded afterwards to eliminate potential waviness. If you’re running boards through the planer which will only be visible on one side in the finished piece, you can always hide the waviness by only cutting it on the back side. Of course, since the sawmill also uses a planer for finishing the boards, you’ll still need to sand the face side.
When looking at a planer, there are various things to consider:
- Motor size – The last thing you want is the planer bogging down in a cut.
- Maximum depth of cut – This is fairly consistent from one planer to the next, with 1/9-inches being typical.
- Cutterhead speed – The faster the cut, the smoother the finish.
- Number of blades – More blades equals more cuts per inch, producing a smother finish.
- Feed rate –The slower the feed rate, the smoother the finish. An automatic feed also provides more consistent results.
- Ease of blade setup – Setting the blades parallel without issue is essential. If blades aren’t set correctly, the planer won’t cut the wood evenly.
All of these units are benchtop units, but don’t think they’re lightweights. However, there are larger, floor-standing commercial planers with 24-inch capacities around and much higher price tags.
This planer comes with a three blade cutterhead for smoother finishes and longer blade life. It also has a two-speed powered feed for the wood being cut. DeWalt is the clear winner in this tool category. Read Full Review
Delta's planer also has three blades in the cutterhead. The depth gauge runs the full material width, so you’re assured cutting depth is consistent across the board. Read Full Review
This planer has the fastest and easiest blade changes of any planer on the market. The two blades are double edged for longer life. Read Full Review
This combination planer/jointer will handle boards up to 10-inches wide. It will also handle jointer tasks, which other planers on this list cannot do. Read Full Review
Planer Buyer's Guide
When lumber is freshly cut at a sawmill, it’s not smooth; rather, it shows the marks from the saws used to cut it. What we buy in the lumberyard is not lumber that’s just been cut, but lumber that’s sanded-four-sides (SFS) to smooth it. That's why a one inch thick board is only 3/4 of an inch thick. The rest of the thickness has been taken away in the act of smoothing the board.
Actually, the board isn't sanded even though it is said to be sanded; it is planed. In olden times, planing a board took considerable amount of time with the use of a manual plane to get it flat and smooth. Today, manual planes are rarely used and this work is done by a power plane.
In addition to being used to smooth a recently cut board, planers are also used to change the thickness of the board. If 1/2" thick material is needed, it is easier to plane a standard 3/4" thick board down than it is to resaw and then plane. Of course, this is more wasteful as well, but few people need wood that is 1/8" thick.
Power planes generally have a series of blades (typically from one to three), mounted around a drum. The positioning of these blades is critical, both in comparison to one another and to the drum itself. If the blades aren't set at a consistent height, the surface of the board will be wavy. If they aren't installed level, they will cut more off of one side than the other and make the thickness of the board uneven.
A gauge is used for installing the blades to ensure consistency of their location. Even so, it’s necessary that extreme care is taken to ensure proper use of the gauge and blade alignment.
Planes operate at extremely high speed so that the scalloping of the surface of the board is minimized. The larger the drum and the faster it is moving, the less scalloping there will be. There will always be some scalloping with a power planer, although it can be minimized by using the planer slowly rather than forcing it to cut as quickly as possible.
Types of Power Planers
There are three basic types of power planers on the market, with a forth tool that falls into the category of being similar to a planer.
There really is no such thing as a free-standing planer although benchtop planers can be mounted on a stand and used as if they were free-standing. The benchtop planer usually has a 12" wide drum, allowing it to be used for all sized boards. Since standard lumber is not sold over 12 inches wide (actually 11-1/2" wide) a benchtop planer will be able to be used for all wood. Benchtop planers are normally used in cabinet and furniture making.
Corded and cordless planers are generally 3-1/2" wide, although there are a few models on the market which are 4-1/2" and even 6" wide. These are used mostly by carpenters for adjusting the size of a door, beveling the edges of doors and trimming boards in finish carpentry. They are also used by some hardwood floor installers, although it is much more common to use a floor sander.
Like all other handheld power tools, handheld planers are also available in cordless models. Since most uses that a carpenter has for a plane are for trimming boards, a cordless planer is much more convenient than having to connect an extension cord for making one cut. However, in applications where a lot of planing is needed, such as hardwood floors or butcher block counter tops, a cordless planer is not practical.
Jointers are not technically planers and we have not included them in this category. The only reason I mention them is that they are similar in function. However, the main use of jointers is for edges of boards, whereas planers are used for the surface. When joining a number of boards together, such as for making a table top, the edges of the boards are usually run through a jointer, to ensure that they are straight, flat and smooth.
Things to Look for in a Planer
When shopping for a planer, the first thing you want to consider is the planer's capacity. This must match the type of work you are going to use it for. Buying a portable planer for use in furniture making is not practical, as you can't plane the full width of a board with it. Trying to use a benchtop planer for adjusting the width of a door won't work either, as you can't fit the door in it.
The amount of power that the motor provides is an important factor, as a more powerful motor will allow you to take thicker cuts with the tool. This is especially important when working with dense hardwoods, such as oak or maple.
Other than that, the most important part of any planer is the blade or blades. The more blades they have, the smoother a cut they will provide. Blade geometry is important as well, as a spiral cut will make for smoother finish.
The shoe and fence of any planer must be made of durable cast metal, and be ground very smooth. Otherwise they will cause problems with catching the wood and making imperfections in the finish. If the plane has a tilting fence, it can be used quite well for making chamfered edges. Without a fence, you would have to make that as a freehand cut, which would probably end up uneven.
All planers have a depth adjustment on them. The ease of use and accuracy of this adjustment is important for ensuring that the work comes out as intended. The depth adjustment must lock in place, to prevent it from migrating during the cut.