Put a Planer to Work
If you’re already familiar with a jointer, you have a good handle on how to work a power planer. The difference is orientation — essentially, it’s like using a jointer upside down.
First, adjust the depth of cut to suit the job at hand. For hogging off lots of material, set it on the deep side; for good looking finish cuts and minor trimming (such as fitting a door), dial the depth back.
Start the cut by resting the tip of the front shoe on the workpiece with the machine angled slightly up at the rear. Turn the machine on and, when it comes up to full speed, lower the planer so the front shoe is flat on the workpiece and move it forward in one smooth motion. Slide the planer through the cut with a light, uniform pressure on both front and back of the tool, and don’t lift up until the cutterhead has cleared the workpiece. If the workpiece is short, you can do all this without moving. However, for longer workpieces like doors, it’s best to “walk” the planer through the cut.
So, just what kind of work can you do with these tools? In a nutshell, just about anything you’d do with a non-powered hand plane, but adding power extends their usefulness tremendously.
I’ve mentioned doors a couple of times, and working with doors is one of their most common tasks. Used with a fence, a planer will give you a perfect 90-degree edge; if the door requires a slight bevel for a perfect fit, you can do that freehand or with an adjustable fence. Likewise, fitting door cases can be problematic if the jamb extends beyond thinner walls. A power planer can easily level those jambs in a snap.
For decks and other outdoor projects, you won’t find a faster way to chamfer deck, railing and post edges than with a power planer. Virtually all have a V-shaped chamfering notch on the front shoe — something you won’t see on a hand plane — and some have multiple notches in varying sizes. This notch guides the planer straight when milling stock corners.
If you’ve ever installed a ceiling, flooring or drywall, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the occasional stud or joist that simply isn’t in the same plane as those next to it. Trying to get drywall hung with a warped stud jutting out-of-plane with the others is tedious. But, using a good straightedge, you can determine which studs (or joists) need a bit of shaving. A few passes with a power planer and frequent checking with your straightedge can give you a flat surface for installation in no time at all.
Because planers are really upside-down jointers, it should come as no surprise they can handle a few of the same tasks, such as rabbeting. Planer fences are designed so they can be set anywhere over the shoe, just as a jointer fence can go anywhere over the tables. (A curved cutout keeps blades from making contact.) To cut a rabbet, just slide and lock the fence in place to the desired rabbet width then plane along the workpiece edge until you reach the depth you want.
Ever taper workpieces on a jointer by making a series of ever-longer cuts? You can do that with a power planer, too. Make a short pass over the end of a workpiece, then a longer second pass, a third pass that’s longer still, and so on. The last cut runs the length of the workpiece to make a single smooth cut, resulting in a fast-and-easy taper. If you’ve ever tried to hang a door in an existing frame that’s not square, you’ll quickly come to appreciate a planer’s tapering ability.
Finally, it should come as no surprise that a tool based almost exactly on a jointer can also joint boards. To this end, several manufacturers offer adapters to simplify this task. Most are bench-mounted bases that support the planer securely in an inverted position.