There’s no feeling as satisfying as saying goodbye to expensive pieces of lumber purchased from retailers. With the right tools in your workshop, you can reuse old pieces of lumber you’ve inherited from your grandpa and ditch the pre-pampered stuff they sell with outrageous, marked-up prices. Of course, you’ll need a planer before you can get rid of those bloodsucking corporate stooges taking you for every penny you’re worth.
Sorry about that. The point we’re trying to get across is that you can prep your own wood if you have a planer. A planer, also known as a thicknesser, shaves thin layers of wood off the top of a board. The result is parallel sides – perfect and ready for further processing.
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Types of Planers
There are two main types of planers to choose from. There are large, floor models that huge companies use to flatten thousands of feet of board per day. Now, unless you plan on running your own milling business, this may not be the type of planer you’re looking for. It can cost thousands of dollars and require hundreds more in utilities to operate monthly.
Then there are small, benchtop models that fit in great in garage workshops. They don’t have the same planing capacity as floor models have, but for regular small-scale carpentry projects, a benchtop planer will pay for itself.
Planer vs. Jointer – What’s the difference?
This is perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions regarding planers. Both tools are used in the milling process to flatten the surfaces of wooden boards, so how exactly do they differ?
A planer has a downward-facing, multi-knife cutterhead that removes thin layers of material from a board. Before running your workpiece through the planer, it needs to have one of its surfaces jointed or flattened completely. The cutterhead cuts the opposite side, making it perfectly parallel, so if the board is bent, the planer will replicate the bend.
A jointer is used to flatten one side of the board. This tool removes bends and twists using an upward-facing cutterhead which the board is passed over. It also makes sharp corners and prepares the board for planing.
A jointer’s job can be replaced by a handheld planer. It’s tedious and time-consuming, but it’s possible, whereas making parallel sides without a planer is a lot more challenging. For this reason, many would argue that a planer is a much better tool to invest in if when choosing between the two.
Planer Buying Guide
A quick look-see on the interwebs and you’ll find hundreds of different benchtop planers to choose from. You could close your eyes, play eenie-meenie, purchase any random model and hope for the best, or you can read our guides on how to pick up the best planer for your next project.
However, the “best” planer depends on what you plan on doing. In this article, we’ll split the buying guide into three based on three distinct planing tasks – working with pallets, working with barnwood, and reclaiming rough, old wood.
Best Planer for Pallet Wood
Pallets are flat transport structures that keep the transported objects stable as they’re lifted by a forklift. Businesses also use pallets to ship out their products if they require extra protection for the road, so if you’re a woodworking enthusiast, pallets are basically free raw materials.
But not all pallets are made the same. Take a look at the pallet’s grains and feel for its weight; you’ll find that some pallets are sturdier and considerably heavier than others. In this brief guide, we’ll help you find the right planer so you can use pallet wood to create beautiful pieces for your living room.
The wood used to create pallets is not a consistent type of wood. Some are made of hardwood (trees that shed leaves during autumn) while others are constructed from softwood (trees that stay green all year long). The right motor for dealing with pallets really depends on what sort of wood it’s made out of.
If you’re fortunate enough to be shipped softwood pallets when purchasing stuff online, then your planer doesn’t need to come equipped with the beefiest motor in terms of amperage. However, for hardwoods, even a powerful 15-amp model may prove to be insufficient in planing the pallet’s entire surface evenly.
Width and Height Capacity
There’s no way you’re ever going to fit a full-sized pallet through a planer. Good thing these pallets can be deconstructed by pulling out nails and other adhesives. Most benchtop planers are designed to fit boards as thick as 6 inches and as wide as around 15 inches. This should be more than enough to pass single pallets boards through. If you’re dealing with larger pallets, feel free to cut them down to size using a circular saw or table saw.
The cutterhead is the component that does the cutting (if that wasn’t already obvious). A planer’s cutterhead can come with two or more blades. Generally speaking, more blades is better since it allows the cutterhead to deliver more cuts per second, giving the board an ultra-smooth finish.
Additionally, you may want to also check out what sort of knives the cutterhead uses. There are high-speed steel knives that are inexpensive and great for softwoods, and then there are helical knives that last quite a long time and are ideal for hardwoods.
Furthermore, knives can either be re-sharpened to extend their life or reversible and disposable. For planing pallets, we’d recommend getting cheap, reversible HSS blades. That is unless you plan on using your planer for other projects and tougher woods.
Best Planer for Barn Wood
Barn wood is exactly what it sounds like. It’s wood taken from old, dilapidated barns that are restored and put to good use. Barn wood isn’t known for being the most appealing or preferred type of wood for building furniture, but after sending it through a planer, you’ll soon realize that the old shed/barn you have in the back is furniture just waiting to be built. In this guide, we’ll go over what sort of things to look for in barn wood planer.
Things to know about Barn Wood
Barn wood, similar to pallet wood, is not a single type of wood. The boards can come from any type of tree depending on whether the barn was made by a professional or is just a makeshift place to keep small livestock. Before running any boards from a deconstructed barn through a planer, make sure that there aren’t any nails or other hard objects stuck in the wood since they could potentially destroy the planer’s knives. It’s a good idea to run a rough brush across the surface of the board to release any dirt or pebbles that may be lodged in existing cracks. After all, nature’s elements do crazy things to wooden buildings.
Barn wood is typically made up of hardwood. For as long as your old barn has stood, the wood has slowly become weaker in structure. So for the most part, you won’t need a super-powerful planer to get the job done. A simple 10- to 12-amp model will do well, but we’d still recommend going larger if you’d like a more versatile benchtop planer for your shop.
One of the most important parts of a planer is the depth adjustment system. The depth adjustment system moves the cutterhead up and down to remove more or less material per pass. Typically, depth adjustment systems move the cutterhead at 1/16-inch increments.
Just so you know, you never want to go beyond 1/16 of an inch per pass when planing old barn wood. Not only do you risk burning the planer’s motor, but you also increase the risk of destroying barn wood due to its weaker structure.
Like planing pallets, smoothing the face of a barn wood is best done with a three-knife cutterhead. More knives translate into more cuts packed in a 60-second time frame, leaving a smoother finish. You’ll definitely want more knives when working with old, rotting barn wood as they will treat the wood much more delicately than a two-knife cutterhead.
Best Planer for Reclaimed Wood
For those of you who have inherited piles and piles of lumber from your grandparents but aren’t sure what to do with it, fret not; there are planers designed to bring even the oldest, mildewy-est pieces of wood out of the grave an into furniture.
Things to know about Reclaimed Wood
Even though barn wood is technically reclaimed lumber, this section will speak of reclaimed lumber in a more general sense. Reclaimed wood can be any type of wood that has served its purpose as furniture or building in the past, so they’re bound to have marks of wear and tear.
After being exposed to sun, rain, and snow, reclaimed wood is most likely going to deteriorate much more rapidly than new lumber. Even boards reclaimed from furniture lose their structural integrity after numerous cleaning sessions with chemicals.
Treat reclaimed lumber with care. Run it over a jointer a few times to get rid of twists and bends before sending it through a planer.
It’s not completely necessary to have the largest available motor to plane reclaimed wood, but it would be great if the boards you’re restoring come from ancient hardwood. A planer with a 10- to 15-amp motor would be more than enough to shave thin layers off of deteriorating wood.
When bringing life back to reclaimed wood, a planer with a three-knife cutterhead is ideal. With each turn of the cutterhead, it’ll deliver three quick cuts for a much smoother finish compared to dual-knife setups.
Benchtop planers all have one thing in common: producing snipe. Snipe is the removal of a sliver of too much material on the head and tail ends of stock. Basically, the finished product needs to have both ends removed in order for the board’s two main faces to be perfectly parallel. Reclaimed wood isn’t exactly something that you need to be careful with prepping since, let’s be honest, the stuff comes cheap.
The support tables are those found on the front and back end of the planer. They support the board as it passes beneath the cutterhead. Longer support tables are required to reduce the risk of long boards. Some planers come with infeed-outfeed tables that exceed 30 inches, while others don’t have them at all (sold separately). Check the planer to see whether it comes with detachable or collapsible supporting tables.
A planer is one of the handiest tools you could ever own. They’re a mandatory investment if you plan on using old, weathered pieces of lumber for rustic furniture. You can get reclaimed lumber from dilapidated barns or sheds, from lumber mills, and even from your grandparents’ or parents’ garage.
In this article, we’ve mainly talked about how benchtop planers are the must-have type of planer. Floor models are great, but their investment cost is astronomical and won’t make sense unless you want to open your own commercial milling business.
This guide split up different planers for different types of reclaimed wood. We’ve talked about how pallet wood, the stuff you get from when companies ship large appliances to your home, is quite unpredictable in terms of wood type is used.
Like pallet wood, barn wood is not a consistent species of wood. Dilapidated barns may be made of expensive hardwood or lumber taken from the nearest forest. For old, worn barn wood, the planer needs to be delicate enough not to disintegrate the weakened structure of the board, but also sufficiently powerful to cut shallow cuts.
Reclaimed wood is a general term that can include pallet and barn wood. A planer for bringing life back to reclaimed wood can be anything that has a three-knife cutter head, at least a 10-amp motor, and reduces snipe as much as possible. Finding such a benchtop planer is not going to be difficult.