If woodworking is only a casual hobby, or if you rarely have trouble fitting wide lumber through your benchtop planer, flip to the next story. This tool review is not for you. On the other hand, maybe your woodworking “hobby” is starting to turn a profit. You might be dabbling in the craft show marketplace or finding yourself building more cabinets, bookcases, built-ins and commissioned furniture these days. If the shop lights are on more than ever — especially if you’re taking orders — then sooner or later you’ll want machinery that will suit your budding business. That’s when an industrial, 15"-capacity thickness planer isn’t just a fanciful dream tool … it’s an investment in the future.
I use a benchtop planer, just like many of you do, so I jumped at the chance to round up six of these workhorses and see how they compared to my machine. For a planing test, I set them loose on 4' lengths of 5/4 poplar, glued up into 14"-wide boards. I limited cutting depth to 1/16" and measured snipe on both board ends following each pass; then I calculated an average after making a dozen passes. Once the test boards were turned into hamster bedding, I took a closer look at each machine’s features. At the end of a couple of days of testing — well, actually more like kid-in-a-candy-store revelry — I’ve decided I’m going retire my benchtop model and invest in a bigger planer. Here’s what I learned about these tough-as-nails board munchers.
Snipe is a Reality, but Let’s be Real
First off, let’s clear the air about snipe. Snipe, or a planer’s tendency to cut more deeply on the ends of boards when only one feed roller is in contact with the wood, is typical with power planing. Every one of these test planers left some degree of “scoop” on the ends of boards. You’ll see in the specs accompanying each tool that snipe averaged from an incredibly low .0006" with the Steel City planer to between .002" and .003" for the rest. Keep in mind, however, that we’re splitting hairs here ... literally. A sheet of office paper is around .003" thick. The worst case of the snipe I measured was .006" — enough to see and feel, but definitely still repairable by scraping or sanding. With some fine-tuning, I expect all six planers could be improved beyond their factory settings to reduce snipe even more. A little snipe isn’t worth much hullabaloo.
Looks Can be Deceiving...
You’ll notice that the other four planers in the test group share some similarities in general design and specification. As you might guess, manufacturers sometimes use common sources for castings and other components. However, these machines are not carbon copies, particularly in terms of their cutterhead styles. But, what they do share in common is beneficial for us: precision-ground cast-iron beds, four massive 2"-diameter steel posts and an iron top case that provides rock-solid support for the cutterhead and feed rollers.
Now that the Chips are Bagged Up...
It’s time to pick the brightest star in this test. Although Powermatic’s helical cutterhead is dreamy, JET deserves to be in the winner’s circle for bringing quick knife-changing convenience and an affordable price to professional quality planers. The JWP-15DX earns the Woodworker’s Journal “Best Bet” award. It should prove to be a dependable addition to your growing shop.