Anybody with experience in woodworking, either as their profession or as a hobby, will know how frustrating it is to purchase boards of custom thicknesses from a local supplier. A classic technique to getting the thickness you want is to employ the use of a table saw to shave some of the thickness off of the board and clean the edges with a jointer.
Undoubtedly, this method works, but it’s time-consuming and requires the use of multiple tools. The simpler, more practical way of getting a piece of lumber to your desired thickness is with the help of a wood planer.
There are glaring similarities between how a jointer and a planer are used, and many people oftentimes use the words “planer” and “jointer” interchangeably. However, this is not the case. This article will go over what a wood planer is, how it’s used, and shed some light on the various applications where a wood planer can be useful.
So what is a wood planer?
The simplest definition of a wood planer is that it is a woodworking tool used to produce uniform thickness across multiple boards. Every board you feed into the machine has to be completely flat on both faces.
Classic wood planers were handheld tools, but modern versions of this tool are mounted onto workbenches or tables and have platforms where you feed and receive your boards. These machines either require manually adjusting the thickness of your boards or have electronic sensors to adjust the thickness of the passing material automatically.
How do you operate a wood planer?
The first thing you need to do is set the cutting depth. Adjusting the depth of the knives can be done by either twisting a handle or knob or adjusting the height of the platform. After it’s all set up and ready to go, flip the switch and begin feeding your board into the machine. The infeed rollers automatically pull on the board, sending it through the machine and under the knives without needing a push from the operator.
As the knives come down repeatedly into the board, they’ll begin to shave off fractions of an inch off the surface, and from the outfeed side of the machine, the board will come out smooth and ready for the next few passes.
Each pass through the machine should only cut a fraction of the total thickness you wish to remove.
If, for example, you set your machine to cut at its maximum cutting depth without prior passes at shallower cuts, the finished product might end up with snipe (tapered front and tail ends) or unsightly scallop marks that require deeper planing to remove.
When is a planer useful?
With the help of a thickness planer, you can make use out of irregular pieces of lumber by smoothing its surfaces and leveling the thickness to your desired thickness.
Basically, owning a wood planer means you can purchase odd-shaped boards from your local lumberyard – provided they’re the right type of wood and of the right quality – and make use out of these cheap cuts. In fact, experienced woodworkers make use out of rough-cut blocks all the time by passing them through a wood planer to produce beautiful deck spindles.
Perhaps your project requires the edges of two boards to be adjoined together. A wood planer can help ensure that the two edges that meet are perfectly smooth and won’t jam or click together.
Another scenario where a wood planer would be handy is when you’ve run out of store-bought lumber and only have old, uneven slabs of wood to work with. Even though passing old, rough wood into a wood planer could potentially wreak havoc on the sensitive knives and ruin their sharpness, the increasing cost of high-quality lumber could be more of an incentive to make use out of recycled pieces of wood.
Of course, this requires a little bit of quick math – the cost of replacement carbide-tipped blades are anywhere from $30 to $40 but compared to a hunk of high-quality, fully-prepared slabs of wood, you might be looking at a total savings of $10!
Basically, a wood planer is an investment for the future. With a wood planer in your shop, you won’t have to go to the store to purchase processed boards for your next woodworking process. Instead, you could make use out of cheap slabs from a lumberyard or any spare pieces of old lumber drying out in the corner of your shop.
Keep in mind that this article is not a guide on how to operate every wood planer model on the planet, so your experience in starting one up and feeding boards through the unit may vary.