Squaring and straightening wooden boards is essential for creating perfectly fitting furniture and fixtures. Doing this by hand can be overwhelming, especially if you plan on restoring old, hole-ridden boards back to their former glory. Instead, if you’re serious about your craft, consider investing in a thickness planer.
Thickness planers are designed to shave thin layers off of a board with each pass the board makes under the cutterhead. This helps in ensuring a uniform thickness and that both sides of the board are parallel to each other.
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Thickness Planer Buying Guide
As you can already guess, there are hundreds of different thickness planer models to choose from. In this article, we’ll provide you with a brief guide on what to look for in a thickness planer.
The most important factor to consider when searching for a thickness planer is the motor. Since the number of cuts per minute and the cutting depth is determined by how powerful the motor is, you’ll want a model that features a beefy motor. We recommend only considering models that can deliver at least 8,000 RPM. Anything else and you might actually cause the motor to burn out, especially when working with hardwoods like mahogany and oak.
Type of Cutterhead
In general, there are two types of cutterheads available in thickness planers: helical and straight knives. Helical cutter heads often perform better in terms of smoothing and prevent snipe (unwanted tapered ends on a board), whereas straight knives are the cheaper option that are made of high-speed steel. Furthermore, thickness planers can come with a dual- or a tri-knife setup, the latter being the more efficient choice. Although straight knives are reusable and cheaper, this doesn’t mean that they perform badly. In fact, some of the best thickness planers come with straight knives.
Capacity refers to how big a board can pass under the cutterheads of a thickness planer. Serious woodworkers need something with a larger capacity – at least around 11 inches wide and 6 inches thick. We wouldn’t recommend getting any model with a smaller capacity than that, especially if you plan on running large boards through the machine.
Depth Adjustment Precision
Before passing a board through a thickness planer, you first need to adjust the height of the cutterheads to ensure that you’re cutting thin layers off the surface. For this reason, it’s of the utmost importance that you find a thickness planer model where you can easily adjust the height. This will allow you to trim your board to the precise dimensions for your project.
Finally, when it comes to working in a woodshop, safety should always be your first priority. When it comes to thickness planers, this means eliminating as much wood dust and shavings – potential fire hazards – as possible. Find a thickness planer that has a large enough chute that can connect to your workshop’s dust collection system. In addition, some thickness planers even have fan-assisted ejection ports. This means the unit will blow out as much dust and chips as possible with leaving very little residue inside of the machine.
Top 5 Thickness Planers
Now that we know the fundamentals of what makes a good thickness planer, it’s time to take a stroll through the Internet and find the right model for us. This can be more challenging than you’d expect, especially with the hundreds upon hundreds of various models with different specs, capacities, and features. To help you in choosing the best model, we’ve compiled a list of the best five thickness planers available today.
5 WEN 6552 Thickness Planer
Something that may come as a shock to some people is that the Chinese-made 6552 from WEN is actually one of the best-performing thickness planers available. The maximum capacity that this machine can handle is boards of 13 inches wide and 6 inches thick. It features a powerful 15.0-amp motor that generates up to 25,500 cuts per minute.
The quick rollers allow for boards to pass under the cutterheads at a rate of 26 feet per minute. You can adjust how deep to cut from between 0 and 3/32 of an inch. One common problem is that the 6552 can easily cause snipe despite it coming with sizable infeed and outfeed tables. So, perhaps consider investing in a better model if you plan on working with expensive woods.
4 DEWALT DW735 Thickness Planer
DEWALT has made a name for itself by manufacturing some of the best woodworking tools. The DW735 features a 3-knife cutterhead with reversible and reusable HSS blades. The 15.0-amp motor delivers up to 10,000 cuts per minute.
One unique feature of the DW735 is that users can select between two different speeds: a high 179 cuts per inch speed for quicker dimensioning and a low 96 cuts per inch speed for smoothing and finishing. Boards as large as 13 inches wide and 6 inches thick can pass under the cutterhead, and users can set the cutting depth by a maximum of 1/8 inches.
3 Makita 2012NB Thickness Planer
Makita is another household name in the power tools industry. One of their more amazing thickness planers – the 2012NB – is truly something to behold. First of all, it has a board-cutting capacity of up to 12 inches wide and 6-3/32 inches thick.
Its 15.0-amp motor generates up to 17,000 cuts per minute with a feed rate of up to 28 feet per minute. One amazing feature of the 2012NB is that the blades of the cutterhead are easily removable for re-sharpening and reattaching, reducing the risk of accidentally slicing your fingers. It only has a one-speed setting of 179 cuts per inch, but even at such a high cutting speed, we find that this tool works great for both dimensioning and final smoothing of boards.
2 WEN 6550 Thickness Planer
WEN makes a second appearance on our list of the five best thickness planers with their critically acclaimed 6550. At first glance, it might appear that there are no immediate differences between this model and the 6552.
After all, it also features a 15.0-amp motor and has a depth adjustment of between 0 and 3/32 of an inch. Some minor differences include the 6550’s smaller cutting capacity – 12.5 inches wide by 6 inches thick – and slower cutting speed – 18,800 cuts per minute. What really sets this model apart from the 6552 and every other thickness planer on this list is the infeed and outfeed tables which are made of pure granite.
1 DEWALT DW735X Thickness Planer
Finally, DEWALT-lovers will be glad to know that we picked the DW735X as the first-place thickness planer. The one true question that most people will ask is what makes the X-version different from the DW735In all honesty, there’s only one major differentiating feature, namely the infeed and outfeed tables that come with the tool.
When you purchase the DeWalt DW735, you have to purchase the tables separately, but the X-model comes with them included in the box. With this kit, you get 13-inch long infeed and outfeed tables which increase support of boards of up to 26 inches to the 19-3/4-inch long base. The tables are what will help significantly reduce snipe and precious dollars on wooden boards.
Basically, any woodworker – professional or otherwise – can benefit from thickness/wood planers, especially if they build long or tall furniture pieces and wooden fixtures. The main function of a thickness planer is to help dimension and square boards in preparation for further processing.
If you’re fortunate enough to live within traveling distance of a lumberyard that sells old, blemished-covered boards at a discount, then a thickness planer can help restore their natural beauty.
Our brief buying guide talks about the main features to pay attention to when purchasing a thickness planers.
These features include how powerful the motor is and how quickly the knives cut, what type of knives fit into the cutterhead, the largest-size board that can be fed into the machine, how precise you can make the depth-cutting adjustments, and how effective the dust chute is at expelling copious amounts of wood dust, chips, and shavings.
We’ve also provided you with our picks for the five best thickness planers out there on the market. Of the three different manufacturers who made an appearance on our list – WEN, Makita, and DEWALT – we find that DEWALT’s DW735X is the best of the best thickness planer for amateur woodworkers and professional craftsmen.
Sure, you can choose the table-less DW735 if you work exclusively on small boards of up to 19-3/4 inches long, but anything bigger than that and you’ll need the tables for support.