Photos by Manufacturers; Illustration by Len Churchill
Also called lunchbox planers, a benchtop thickness planer is a cost effective way to machine lumber to final thickness. Once one face of a board has been flattened with a jointer, use a planer to dress the opposite face parallel to the first, and to a uniform thickness. The infeed roller above the material pulls the wood in and secures it for the cut, then the cutterhead dresses the wood before the outfeed roller keeps downward pressure on the workpiece. A benchtop planer will work well for most hobbyists, and even many professionals. Some models have two speeds, as well as preset depth stops for repetitive cuts at common settings. Most cutterheads contain replaceable (sometimes double-sided) HSS knives. Though expensive, a helical cutterhead produces a smoother surface, especially when working with figured material. All planers are loud.
Price: $200 – $800
Planing Width: 12″ – 13″
Planing Thickness: About 1/4″ – 6″
Planing Length: 12″
Max. Removal Per Pass: 1/16″
# of Knives: 2 or 3
Weight: 50 – 100 lb
Light cuts of no more than 1/16″ per pass will leave a nicer surface. Remove no more than 1/32″ per pass if using wide or dense boards.
Keeping the table clean and waxing it from time to time keeps the material moving through the planer smoothly.
The blades are replaceable, and often two-sided. Replacing them leaves a smooth surface that is easier on the machine.
If the planed surface of a board isn’t smooth, end-forend the board. Because of the grain direction, a board may chip heavily in one direction and not the other.
Hooking up a dust collector to a planer will help control the large amount of chips that are created and may leave a smoother surface.