The worlds of woodworking and construction are similar but don’t always overlap. Tools used for one aren’t always suitable for the other.
But when it comes to performing woodworking tasks away from the confines of the shop — deck building, patio furniture, garage and roof work, or repairing/replacing doors just about anywhere — who’s expected to get that done in your house? You, the woodworker, of course. With that in mind, a wise woodworker should always consider extending equipment from the shop out into the greater world. Few tools are better equipped for that task than power planers.
While they may have limited usefulness inside a well-equipped shop, they do have the extraordinary ability to take a number of woodworking chores out of a shop’s confines and do them very well on-site. This can be a real boon in keeping you from running back and forth from wherever you’re working to the shop every time you need to use a shop-based piece of equipment.
What Are These Things?
They plane stuff, so they must be planers, right? Well, yeah, but when you take a look at the business portion of a planer, you can easily see that they’re designed exactly like another shop tool: the jointer. Outside of terminology, the only real difference is the orientation and the fact that these are handheld; otherwise, they work the same.
Power planers use a spinning cutterhead nearly identical to that on your jointer, with the blade positioned to cut in the direction opposite that of the workpiece feed. On a jointer, the stock is fed in and the cutterhead cuts toward you; with a planer, you feed the tool into the stock and the cutterhead cuts away from you.
The depth-of-cut is also determined on a power planer the same way. On a jointer, the infeed table is raised or lowered to adjust the cut while the outfeed table is fixed. The corresponding portion on a planer, called the front or adjustable shoe, is raised or lowered to control cutting depth while the rear shoe is fixed. As with a jointer, how much stock you remove per cut is a balancing act based on characteristics and size of the workpiece, and it is determined the same way. The quality of the cut is controlled just like on a jointer, as well. Slower, shallower cuts give a smoother appearance than fast, deep cuts.
Adjusting the depth-of-cut on a power planer is accomplished in different ways, but each does the same thing: raises or lowers the front shoe. The first is a large twist knob at the front of the tool that doubles as a handle, and you’ll see this method most often. Some planers with smaller depth dial. Festool has opted for a beefy twist handle that sets the depth.
And, comparing a planer to a jointer one more time, all can be used with a fence (don’t buy a planer that doesn’t come with one). A fence is essential for keeping your cut at 90 degrees, as on a door edge or for milling stock. For beveled cuts, some manufacturers provide fences that can be angled to a specific setting. Cutterheads and capacity vary considerably, although the most common cutting width among power planers is 3-1⁄4″.
Cutterheads can feature one or two HSS or carbide blades, either single- or doubleedged. Some, like the Festool, use a single spiral blade. Along with capacity, you’ll find that power, weight and pricing are all over the board. Some inexpensive units run at about 4 amps, while huskier machines go to 7 amps and higher. Most fall in the 5- to 6-amp range, with machines in that group tipping the scales from about 6 to 8 pounds. As with most tools, upping the power further results in a corresponding bump in both weight and price.
Speaking of prices, expect to pay $70 to $80 for models on the low power end and $90 to $160 for beefier models, with some more powerful and feature-rich machines going for more.