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.
Makita LXPK01Z, 18 Volt LTX Lithium-Ion Cordless 3-1/4 Inch Planer
Bosch PLH181BL, 1 Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Planer Kit
Ryobi P610, 18 Volt One+ Hand Planer
Festool 574553 HL 850 E Planer
Bosch 1594K, 3-1/4 Inch, 6.5 Amp Planer
Makita 1806B 10.9 Amp 6-3/4-Inch Planer
DeWalt DW680K, 3-1/4 Inch, 7 Amp Planer
PORTER-CABLE 6.0-Amp Hand Planer (PC60THPK)
DEWALT 13" Two Speed Thickness Planer (DW735)
Delta Power Tools 13" Portable Thickness Planer (22-555)
Makita 2012NB, 12" Planer with Interna-Lok Automated Head Clamp
Jet JJP-10BTOS 10" Bench-Top Jointer/Planer
PorterCable PC305TP 15 Amp, 12" Thickness Planer
Makita shows off their manufacturing quality in the design of this tool by using the same cutterhead and same blades present in the KP0800K corded planer. It has dual carbide blades, which are reversible to help extend their service life. By using the same cutterhead, Makita ensures you’ll get the same quality with the cordless tool as you do with the corded one.
The cutterhead operates at 14,000 RPM and will make cuts up to 5/64” deep. The depth adjustment knob is click set, ranging from 0” to 5/64”. Blade changes are designed to be easy, with minimal blade adjustment. There’s even an electric brake on the motor, to stop the tool quickly when the trigger is released.
Bosch’s cordless planer runs at 14,000 RPM, but the cutting depth is limited to only 1/64 inch. It’s also a single blade design, rather than the Makita’s dual blade design so you’re only getting one cut per revolution, rather than two.
This planer is designed with dual switchable chip ejector ports, allowing you to select which side the chips exit for your convenience. The tool comes with a fence, which while not necessary is very convenient when cutting the edges of boards. It is also part of Bosch's family of tools which come with the L-BOXX system of cases, for your convenience.
Ryobi’s cordless planer is narrower than the others we’ve looked at, with a 2-inch cutting width, compared to the 3-1/4-inch cutting width on the Makita and the Bosch. Its cutting depth is limited to 1/64” like the Bosch, with a 1/2” max rabbeting depth. This tool is only running at 10,000 RPM, which makes it considerably slower than the other two we looked at. However, it has dual blades, like the Makita.
This lightweight planer is very comfortable to work with and like the Bosch unit there are also dual, selectable ejection ports. A tool kickstand protects the blade and workpiece when putting the unit down and it also comes complete with an edge guide, which can also be used for rabbeting.
This is the only handheld planer I’ve seen that has a spiral cutterhead, something I’ve seen on some jointers which do, but no other planers. That alone is enough to make this tool take the number one slot. There are various heads available, allowing you to create rustic architectural effects in beams and flooring.
Even though the speed is only 10,000 RPM, with the spiral cutterhead, this planer will still provide the smoothest finish on this list. Oh, and the blades are self-aligning, so it’s easy to change them out, without having to adjust them every time.
This planer is also designed so the blade is flush with the edge of the tool, so you can plane right up to the edge of a connecting piece (think planning a floor right up to the wall, although you’d never use it for that). This design feature also provides unlimited rabbeting depth. The planning depth is precisely set with a rotary handle, providing from 1/256” (1/10mm) of cut up to 9/64” (3.5mm) of cut. As with all Festool’s products, it’s designed to work with their dust collection systems.
This Bosch planer really impressed me with its fence. The fence not only provides accurate setting for rabbeting, but is also a bevel guide for cutting chamfers or other angled edge work. The 6.5 amp motor turns the two-blade drum at 16,500 RPM, much faster than the Festool.
The blades are made of special micrograin carbide for the sharpest edge and smoothest possible cut. These blades are rated to last 30 percent longer than standard carbide blades. The ratcheting depth knob allows depth of cut setting from zero to 3/32” (2.6mm) while there’s also a spring-loaded park rest stand, to protect the blade and the workpiece when you stop cutting.
Makita has the largest selection of planers available on the market, with handheld units running all the way up to 12-1/4" wide. I selected this planer, because it is a considerably larger planer than most of the others on this list, allowing cuts up to 6-3/4” wide.
The 10.9 amp motor turns the two blade cutterhead at 15,000 RPM, for a maximum cutting depth of 1/16”. This planer is considerably longer than most, at 20-3/4”, allowing it to work more as a jointer as well. There’s a lock-on button as well, for times when you have to do a lot of cutting. The sole of this planer is precision machined for extra flatness.
DeWalt’s planer comes with a much lower price tag than the others we’ve looked at. That doesn’t mean that this planer is anything less than the others though. It comes with a 7 amp motor, which drives the cutterhead at 15,000 RPM, allowing a maximum depth of cut of 3/32” (2.5mm). It can also be used for rabbeting up to 1/2” deep.
The tool will work with either high speed steel or reversible carbide blades which come with the unit. It also has a rabbeting fence included, so you don’t have to buy that separately. Three grooves in the front part of the shoe make it easy to use the planer for different depths of chamfers. A “kickstand” protects the blades and workpiece when not in use.
Porter-Cable wins a place on this list for their excellent value. Although as wide as the other planers on this list, this model is considerably less expensive. The motor draws 6 amps, so it's not as powerful as the others, and the manufacturer makes up for that by limiting it to a maximum 5/64" depth of cut; but that's only 1/64" less than the DeWalt.
Rabbeting is limited to 0.47 inches, a mere 0.03 inches less than the DeWalt. But that 6 amp motor is turning the cutting head at 16,500 RPM, to help make up for it and get the job done quicker. It works with both carbide and HSS blades, giving you an option for longer blade life.
DeWalt clearly comes out the winner with this planer. To start with, it’s got a three blade cutterhead, the only one of its type in this category. The cutterhead moves at 10,000 RPM, so you’re getting 30,000 cuts per minute. There’s a power feed for the wood being cut, which is two speed, allowing for 96 or 179 cuts per inch, maximizing the quality of the finish.
The table is cast aluminum for extra rigidity and improving cut accuracy of the cut, while infeed and outfeed table extensions are provided with the tool. This planer even comes with an extra set of knives. There’s also a material removal gauge and a turret depth-stop, which allows you to return to the most common thicknesses easily and quickly. Finally, the planers chip ejection is fan assisted.
Like DeWalt, Delta’s planer has three disposable, dual-edged cutting blades and a quick change knife system makes changing blades out easy. Delta uses a four column design which provides excellent stability for smooth, accurate cutting. The depth gauge runs the full material width for greater accuracy.
The depth adjustment on this planer is extremely good, with a micro-adjustment which allowing the user to select an range of thicknesses. Included infeed and outfeed tables are adjustable to better support the workpiece and DeWalt has even included a patented snipe reduction system integrated into the cutterhead.
Makita boasts the fastest and easiest blade changes of any planer with this model. The two blades are double edged for longer life. At 61.9 pounds, it’s lightweight for individuals who need a portable planer to take to the jobsite. The cabinet has also been designed with four posts and cross-braces for greater stability. There’s an detachable tool box for storage of standard accessories and a depth stop for repeat cuts.
This model is a combination planer/jointer which presents both advantages and disadvantages. It will handle materials up to 10-inches wide and handle jointer work our other picks won’t. However, as there’s no positive pressure to hold the board onto the table, you’ll have to do that yourself. It has two blades in the cutterhead which provide 18,000 cuts per minute. One nice thing about this model is it features a longer bed, even if you figure in the table extensions on the others picks.
For those needing a planer but don’t have a lot of cash to spend on it, you might want to take a good look at this unit from PorterCable. It has a 2 blade cutterhead, which turns at 8,000 RPM, providing 16,000 cuts per minute. Like the other units, the blades are double-edged, so you can turn them over and use them again. Cutter elevation is controlled by a four precision ground columns for stability. The cutter head is ball-bearing mounted, to ensure long life.
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.