Various versions of this bright yellow benchtop tool have been around for ages, and they’ve proved themselves to be venerable performers. Aside from a few changes in its body trim, the DW734 isn’t significantly different than the model DW733 that preceded it, which brings to mind the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The highest-priced model in the test, the DeWalt has an extensive feature set which includes nearly every bell and whistle mentioned in this article, including a unique-to-the-group carriage head lock which secures the motor/cutterhead assembly to the unit’s four posts, for greater stability during planing. At 80 pounds, the DW734 is the heaviest of the five planers and, unfortunately, you feel every ounce when lifting the unit using its slide-out bent steel carrying handles — they’re hard on the fingers.
Among the DW734’s better features, I really liked the depth-of-cut indicator mounted on the front of the motor unit. Sliding a board under the indicator and lowering the planer’s head lets you see exactly how deep a cut the planer will take. This saves the trouble of checking the board’s thickness with a tape or caliper, then setting cutting depth via the scale and cursor mounted on the front of the tool. The DeWalt also features a handy rotating turret stop that lets you quickly set 1/4″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ cutting depths. I found them to be pretty accurate, and they can be fine-tuned as necessary.
To see how much power the DeWalt’s 15-amp motor had on tap, I ran some passes on a few heavy birch planks. The machine thicknessed this dense wood without fuss, slowing only very slightly when I dialed in a maximum-depth cut. The DeWalt has a very good motor-fan-assisted dust hood with a 4″ port (a 2-1⁄2″ hose adapter is included). Although the hood doesn’t convert to a chip deflector like the hoods on the RIDGID and Ryobi do, the DeWalt’s fan had no trouble blowing chips out the port when no vacuum hose was connected.
Like the RIDGID, the DeWalt features a three-knife cutterhead. All five planers in this article feed stock at the same rate of 26 feet per minute, but at this rate, three knives take more cuts per inch than two knives do — 92 for the RIDGID, 96 for the DeWalt. More cuts per inch produce a cleaner surface with less tearout, especially on boards with squirrelly, interlocked or highly figured grain. The DeWalt actually produced the smoothest surfaces in the test and, surprisingly, did so even with its carriage head lock disengaged.
For knife changes, the DeWalt’s automatic carriage lock functioned well. However, it does take more time to change three knives than it does to change two on the lower priced models (plus, three-knife replacement sets are more expensive). The DW734 comes with a very nice wrench that doubles as a magnetic knife removing tool that stores on board the planer. Just don’t lose the tool, as the screws that secure the knives have torque drive heads — not as common as the Allen-head screws used on other planers.