Jointer vs Planer: What’s the Difference?

One of the most commonly asked questions by people looking to get in the furniture-building game is what the differences are between jointers and planers. This is understandable since they both are used in preparing boards by cutting away bits of the board at a time. In this article, we’re going to discuss in depth what truly sets them apart and why they’re both great investments.


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What is a jointer?

A jointer is a machine that flattens boards and straightens the edges. Operators need to run the surfaces of a board over the machine’s cutter head to get the edge and face as flat as possible. It removes material at a preset depth to get one side, and one edge of the board is flattened completely. However, making the surface flat doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready to be processed further, but the woodworker needs to pay close attention to the natural shape of the board (cupping) to get the board’s surface as flush against the jointer’s work surface as possible.

PORTER-CABLE PC160JT Variable Speed Bench Jointer

What is a planer?

A planer, also known as a thicknesser or thickness planer, is a machine that modifies the dimensions of the board. It does this by removing material at a predetermined thickness to make the cut-side parallel to the other side. However, if your board is naturally bowed, running it through a planer will reduce the thickness but will do nothing to fix the bow. The only way to ensure flawless parallelism is by running one side of the board over a jointer first, especially if the board is naturally curved or twisted.


Why get either?

One way professional woodworkers cut costs in their projects is by reclaiming old lumber or milling their own. This means chopping down trees or purchasing bulk rough lumber from lumber yards and processing them in their workshop. Compared to getting beautifully prepared boards at a retailer, you can save a considerable amount of money while increasing your profit margins. However, to do this, you’re going to need to invest in both a jointer and a planer.

You might be asking whether you should get a jointer or a planer first for your garage workshop. This is also a commonly asked question, and the answer isn’t quite simple. It ultimately depends on your needs.

Bench Top Jointer

If you’re picking up bulk 2x4s at a retailer, then you might need a planer. A planer will help adjust the thickness of the board to suit your project. You don’t have to worry about rough edges and uneven surfaces since they’ve already been run over a jointer and planed before being put on display.

Another scenario would be milling your lumber. It’s a lot easier to flatten a board by hand by shaving away the twists and turns of a board than it is to hand-plane the entire board to the desired thickness. In this case, we’d say that you do the flattening manually and then feed the board through a planer.

Jointer and planer: cooperation in milling wood

The way a jointer is used in the milling process is by running one surface and one edge of the board over a jointer’s cutter head. The best results from using a jointer come from passing the board multiple times over the blade; two or three times should do. Next, the operator needs to see whether the board is flat and free of shape defects.

You might be wondering what to do with the other side of the board and the other edges. Well, this is where a planer comes in. You need to place the board flat-surface down on the belt and rollers of a planer. The downward-facing cutter head of the planer will chip away at the board.

WEN Thickness Planer

This process reduces the thickness of the board but also makes the newly cut side parallel to the already-flattened surface from the jointer. Like a jointer, the best results come from feeding the board multiple times through the planer. You need to adjust the height of the cutter head with each pass to get the board closer and closer to the desired thickness each pass.

After it’s all said and done, you should have a perfectly usable board, ready for your next project. If there are any problems with the board such as uneven edges or bumps, then the board may need to pass over a jointer or be fed through a planer once or twice more.

Planer-Jointer Combo Tools

The planer or jointer debate has been one that has been debated since the beginning of time, or at least when the two tools became accessible by the public. In certain scenarios, you might need a jointer where parallelism isn’t that important (parts of furniture hidden from eyesight like the bottom of cabinets or bed frames). In other cases, you’ll need a planer to dimension your stock.

Bench Top Jointer

If you’re still unsure whether to prioritize one over the other, we recommend you take a look at planer-jointer combos. This is a versatile tool for people who need both functions but can’t invest in both machines for whatever reason. A planer-jointer tool is great for those with limited space or who are just looking for a one-thing-does-all type of machine.

However, a combo tool such as this doesn’t come without a few drawbacks. One of the most considerable cons of a planer-jointer is the amount of time it takes to switch it from jointer mode to planer mode and vice versa. If time isn’t a factor in your line of work, then we say go for it. If you’re looking to reduce your downtime, a jointer-planer isn’t the way to go.

Final Remarks

The question of how a jointer differs from a planer has been repeatedly asked and will continue to be asked in the future. A jointer tears away the material of your board to make it sit flat. If there are twists or curls, a jointer will sort it right out. A planer will make one side of the board parallel to the other. If your board is naturally curled and hasn’t been flattened, either by hand or by passing over a jointer, then the planer will replicate the curve on the cut-side.

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