The first jointers were long-bodied manually operated planes, which were naturally enough called "jointer planes." Their purpose was to smooth a piece of wood after cutting, ensuring that it was both flat enough and smooth enough for use.
These manual versions of the jointer have long since been replaced by power jointers, which still hold the same basic purpose. However, as power tools, they operate differently than the original. Instead of having one fixed blade, they have multiple blades, placed on a revolving drum. While this cuts much faster than the original manual plane, it isn't as smooth. The ripple appearance that is visible on the surface of many commercially produced boards is a result of being run through a power jointer.
Many woodworkers feel that they don't need a plane today, as boards purchased at the lumberyards have already been smoothed. Of course, if one is cutting their own boards on a sawmill, that would eliminate said reasoning. Nevertheless, a jointer is still a useful tool, providing the ability to thin boards as needed and match their thickness.
More than anything, jointers are used by those who make furniture. When laminating a number of boards together to make a tabletop or the top of a dresser, it's not uncommon to have slight variances in the thicknesses of the boards. This problem increases dramatically when the boards have come from a variety of different sources, as not all sawmills finish their boards exactly the same.
There are a wide variety of jointers on the market today, showing that they are still used extensively, even if a lot of people don't have them in their workshops. While there are not that many manufacturers producing them, each manufacturer has several models to choose from.
Jointers come in a variety of sizes, mostly measured by the width of cut they can produce. The wider ones are also referred to as planers, although the two are essentially the same tool. The major difference is that a true planer doesn't allow material to be edge cut on it, but only cut on the flat. A jointer on the other hand, allows the material to be cut on the flat or edge cut.
A couple of these jointers have helical or spiral knives. This is a relatively recent design innovation, created to reduce the waviness that power jointers typically produce in the sides of boards. While they have many more blades to set up, it is worth it, for the smoother cut that they provide.
The other important feature that some jointers have and others don't is parallelogram ways. This refers to the way that the bed of the jointer meets up with the center part of the jointer's body. By placing the sliding ways at an angle, making the center part of the jointer shaped like a parallelogram, it ensures zero clearance between the blades and the feed table. This reduces chatter, helping to reduce the waviness in the board.
Finally, power and size are important considerations. For the sake of this list, I've tried to stick with planers that were reasonably enough priced that they could be considered for a home workshop. I'll have to say, it was hard picking out the best models to choose. For each one you see here, the same manufacturers make other, larger models. However, those larger models have larger price tags as well.
Grizzly G0452Z, 6" x 64" Jointer with Spiral Cutterhead
Powermatic 54HH, 6 Inch Jointer with Helical Cutterhead, #1791317K
Shop Fox W1741 8-Inch Jointer With Parallelogram Adjustable Beds
Jet JJP-10BTOS 10" Bench-Top Jointer/Planer
Delta 37-365X X5 DJ20 8-in Precision Jointer
I picked this 6-inch model from Grizzly as my favorite for a number of reasons. First of all, it has a spiral cutterhead for smoother finish. Although they do produce a wider model of essentially the same jointer, I stuck with the 6-inch one for price. In most cases, hardwood boards purchased for furniture making are only six inches wide, or less. This unit comes with a 1.5 HP motor, which provides a maximum cutting depth of 1/8". The fence is a descent length, at 46 inches and is tiltable, with a stop at 45 degrees. It does have parallelogram ways, although for some reason, their website doesn't list that as a feature. The infeed table has a quick adjusting lever and the outfeed has a fine control handwheel. It also comes with a built-in moving dolly.
The reason why I didn't give this Powermatic unit the number one slot was its price. While this is an excellent jointer, it's considerably more expensive than the Grizzly unit that I picked for number one. This one has a helical cutterhead, with 40 blades on it for maximum smoothness. These are triangular blades, so once adjusted, if a blade becomes nicked or dull, it merely needs to be rotated, without having to readjust. That saves time and hassles. While this is also a six inch jointer, the bed is considerably longer, at 66 inches overall. The infeed table has a fine/quick selection for quick adjustment or exacting precision. This one is also a parallelogram design for the smoothest adjustments and maintaining zero clearance between the cutterhead and the tables. The motor is 1 HP.
This Shop Fox unit is wider than either of the ones we've looked at previously, with an 8-inch wide blade. It is not a helical or spiral cut design, but a standard straight bladed jointer. However, it is a four blade cutterhead, rather than the old three blade. The price is lower than the Powermatic unit we just looked at. For reference purposes, the 6-inch version of this same jointer carries a lower price than the Grizzly that I picked as number one. It has the parallelogram bed ways for reduced clearance and a much larger motor, at 3 HP. The table is also longer at 76-5/16 inches long, with both the infeed and outfeed heights being lever controlled.
I had to include this model from Jet because of its amazing price. I couldn't believe that a 10-inch jointer could actually be available for under $500. In all fairness, this isn't as good a jointer as the other ones we've looked at, especially if you need to be able to true up the edges of boards for laminating. The shorter bed means that it might not remove a curve out of a board. However, it is portable and it can even be used as a benchtop unit. The motor appears to be about 1 HP (they say it's 13 amp), which should provide adequate power, as long as you don't try and cut too fast. It will make cuts up to 1/8" deep.
I included this model from Delta even though it was outside of the price range that I was looking at. This 8-inch jointer does not have a spiral or helical cutter head, but does have a jackscrew arrangement on the cutterhead, for ease of individual blade replacement and adjustment. The surprising thing about this jointer is that it can make cuts up to 5/8" deep, much more than the other we've looked at. The motor is 1-1/2 HP, with sealed, permanently lubricated bearings. It has a nice long table at 76-1/2 inches long.
Before embarking on the current stage of my life, I spent 15 years as a Manufacturing Engineer in both the medical equipment field (medical electronics) and automotive engineering (city transit buses). After that, I owned a small construction company, mostly doing residential remodeling and commercial tenant finishes. I am no longer in either of these fields, but still get my hands plenty dirty as a consummate do-it-yourselfer; working on everything from remodeling my own home to rebuilding my car’s engines. My hobby (when I can find the time) is woodworking; making everything from toilet paper holders, to shelves, to music stands for my own home. My wife long ago gave up the idea that a two car garage is for parking two cars; it is my workshop.
While I cannot claim to having worked professionally with all types of tools, I have worked professionally with some. This comes from my previous careers, where I had to specify, buy and at times live with those decisions. Additionally, I would have to say that my engineering background has given me a thorough understanding of the construction of such tools. So, while I may not have used a particular type of tool personally, I have the knowledge to cut through all the advertising hype and statistics; in order to get at the truth of how well a tool will operate and last.
In my current career as a writer, I've written over 90 books. This includes my own titles and those I've written on contract. I've also written a complete website on how to build your own home.