In this article, I’m excited to dive into the fascinating world of woodworking, where craftsmanship and precision reign supreme. Today, we’re embarking on a journey to explore two indispensable tools that every woodworking aficionado should be well-acquainted with: the planer and the jointer.
At the heart of many woodworking projects lies the need for precision and uniformity in our lumber. Wood, as we all know, can be quite unruly, often arriving with warping issues like bowing, twisting, or cupping. These quirks, while part of wood’s natural charm, can make it challenging to work with, especially when striving for impeccable results.
But fear not, for this is precisely where planers and jointers come to the rescue. These preparation tools take center stage at the beginning of our woodworking ventures, transforming rough and uneven wood into flat, uniform boards that set the stage for our creative endeavors.
Planers, as we’ll discover, excel in making wood uniformly thick, although they may not always tackle the flatness aspect. Jointers, on the other hand, specialize in creating a flat surface on wood, serving as the crucial first step to prepare the wood for the planer, which ultimately achieves both flatness and uniform thickness.
And here’s an intriguing twist in our woodworking tale: many skilled woodworkers initially start with a planer and eventually learn the art of achieving jointer-like results using a simple jig. It’s a testament to the adaptability and ingenuity of craftsmen and craftswomen in this ever-evolving field.
So, as we delve into the differences and uses of these two woodworking champions, we’ll unravel the secrets to achieving precision and finesse in our projects, all while embracing the rich challenges that working with wood brings. Let’s embark on this educational and creative journey together!
Key Distinctions Between Jointers and Planers
Jointers and planers both utilize rotating cutterheads to remove material from wood as it passes over the blades. However, the fundamental workflow purpose of each machine differs:
- The Jointer’s Role. A jointer’s primary task is to flatten one face of a board and square one edge at a 90 degree angle to that face. It establishes a reference surface and edge from which the rest of the milling can be completed. Jointers have a long infeed and outfeed table and the cutterhead is mounted horizontally.
- The Planer’s Role. A planer evenly reduces the thickness of a board to achieve parallel flat surfaces on opposite sides. It also brings rough lumber to consistent thickness. The cutterhead in a thickness planer is mounted vertically above a flat table.
While their functions overlap, jointers mainly produce flatness and squareness, while planers focus on uniform thickness. Understanding these roles will help determine which is the better choice for your projects.
Key Differences Between Jointers and Planers
Beyond the core purpose of each machine, there are some notable differences that factor into choosing between a jointer vs a planer:
- Cutting Action. A jointer takes deeper cuts and has more powerful motors to remove material along the grain. Planers take very light shaving cuts across the grain.
- Machine Size. Benchtop jointers max out around 6-8 inches cutting width. Planers can accommodate 12 to 15 inches.
- Handling Long Boards. A jointer needs long beds to support boards. Planers can manage shorter boards.
- Requirements for Use. A planer requires one flat reference face from a jointer before use. A jointer can work rough, uneven stock.
- Handling Imperfections. Jointers effectively flatten rough, uneven stock. Planers require at least one flattened face as a reference.
- Machine Size. Benchtop jointers max out around 6-8 inches wide. Planers accommodate up to 12-15 inches.
- Motor Power. Jointers need more power to hog off material. Planers have lower power requirements.
What is a Bench Jointer?
A bench jointer, also known as an edge jointer, is a woodworking machine used to flatten, straighten and square the edges and faces of lumber.
Definition and Operation
- Features an infeed and outfeed table with a fixed cutterhead in between mounted horizontally
- As wood passes over the spinning cutterhead blades, material is removed evenly along the length of the board
- Produces perfectly flat surfaces and precisely square 90 degree edges
Types of Bench Jointers
- 6-8 inch width benchtop models for home shops
- Floor standing industrial jointers from 8-16 inches wide
- Helical cutterhead jointers becoming more common
How a bench jointer works
- The cutterhead contains spiral shaped knives that rotate at high speed.
- The infeed table supports the wood as it enters, the cutterhead removes material, and the outfeed table supports the jointed edge.
- The fence along the infeed table keeps the wood at a fixed distance from the cutterhead for consistent cuts.
- The wood is pushed across the jointer with the grain, taking off just a small amount of material in shallow passes.
- The depth of cut is adjusted by raising or lowering the infeed table in relation to the outfeed table. Deeper cuts remove more material.
- The spinning cutterhead removes any hills and valleys as it makes contact with the wood surface.
- This results in one flat face as the wood exerts pressure downward on the outfeed table.
- Making edge cuts flattens the adjacent surface and the 90 degree fence squares the jointed edge.
- Multiple light passes produce better results than taking off too much material at once.
- The jointer cutterhead does the “jointing” work while the tables support and guide the stock.
Advantages of a Jointer
|Flattens warped, twisted boards better than a planer||The long beds and horizontal cutterhead allow jointers to flatten lumber with twist or warp. A thickness planer cannot flatten without a reference face.|
|Squares edges to prepare boards for glue joints or lamination||Jointers produce precisely square 90 degree edges ideal for joinery and gluing boards together.|
|Provides a clean reference face and edge for other operations||The flattened face and edge from a jointer provide a baseline surface for planers or other machines to build on.|
|Requires safe use of push blocks to prevent kickback accidents||Care must be taken with jointer push blocks to keep hands away from the cutterhead.|
|Limitations on maximum board length compared to industrial jointers||Benchtop jointers are limited in the length of board they can flatten compared to larger machines.|
|Significant investment for larger floor standing jointers||Floor model standing jointers with longer beds come at a significantly higher price than benchtop jointers.|
A bench jointer is an essential machine for any woodworker milling their own lumber. It provides the foundation for perfectly surfaced boards ready for assembly.
What is a Planer?
A planer is a woodworking power tool that is designed to make boards have smooth, flat, parallel faces at an exact precise thickness. Here is a detailed overview of what planers are, how they work, and the benefits they provide:
- A stationary machine with a flat infeed and outfeed table.
- Contains a vertical cutterhead with rotating knives.
- Feeds boards over the table through the cutterhead.
- Cutterhead cuts a tiny fraction off the top surface of the board.
- Adjusting cut depth gradually reduces board to desired thickness.
How Does a Planer Work?
- Cutterhead rotates at very high speed, up to 10,000 RPM.
- Allows taking fast but shallow passes of around 1/32″depth.
- Feed rollers pull board over table and through cutterhead.
- Bottom of board stays flat on table, cutterhead planes top surface.
- Making full width cuts across grain of wood.
- Cuts both sides of the board at the same time.
Benefits of Using a Planer
- Quickly reduces boards to consistent thickness.
- Creates perfectly flat and parallel faces.
- Ideal for laminating boards that must be precisely same thickness.
- Provides smooth surface ready for finishing steps.
- Much faster material removal than hand planing.
In summary, the planer is an indispensable thicknessing machine. It complements the jointer to transform rough lumber into dimensioned boards for woodworking projects. Planers allow rapidly fine-tuning thickness and smoothness to create lumber precisely sized for the intended use.
Using a Bench Jointer and Planer Together
Combining the use of a benchtop jointer and a thickness planer is an extremely effective approach for achieving perfectly milled lumber from rough sawn boards. Here is a detailed overview of how they work together:
Two Stage Milling Process
Utilizing a jointer and planer is a two stage process that takes rough lumber through the following steps:
- The jointer flattens one face and squares one edge. This provides a flat reference surface and 90 degree edge.
- The planer then uses the flattened face to plane the board to precise parallel thickness.
Why Surface First with the Jointer
Trying to flatten a warped board only using a planer would result in snipe, taper, and an uneven surface. The jointer provides:
- A completely flat reference face not possible with a planer alone
- Allows the planer to produce uniform thickness without snipe
- Squared edges so the planer can flatten all edges
Achieving Final Dimensioned Lumber
Used together in sequence, the jointer and planer transform rough sawn lumber into boards with:
- Two flat and parallel faces at the desired thickness
- Square edges at 90 degree angles to the faces
- Precision sizing ready for final finishing
This eliminates the hand prep work needed if only using a planer. The combination unlocks the full potential of both machines for efficiently producing boards ideal for woodworking projects.
Alternatives to Bench Jointers and Planers
While jointers and planers are the most efficient options, there are some alternatives for flattening and thicknessing lumber by hand:
Hand planes include:
- Jack planes for rough dimensioning
- Jointer planes for flattening faces
- Smoothing planes for finish planing
- Block planes for end grain
It takes skill to flatten lumber with a jack plane. Hand planing is slow and physically demanding compared to power tools.
A router sled guides a handheld router across a board to flatten faces. It requires building a sled to ride on rails. Results depend on skill at maintaining the router level. Can leave some ridges.
Using a belt sander, drum sander, or wide orbital sander to flatten or thickness boards is possible but time consuming and easy to make mistakes. A lot of material must be sanded off which is wasteful. Finishes will show any unevenness.
Lumber yards and woodworking shops can be hired to mill lumber with industrial jointers and planers for a fee. This saves on buying machines but with added costs each time.
For best control over woodworking, investing in your own jointer and planer is recommended. But the above methods can produce passable results with patience and care. Power tools make the process significantly faster and easier.
Best Uses for Jointers vs Planers
Keep these primary functions in mind when deciding where a jointer or planer best fits in your workflow:
When to Use a Jointer
- Flattening rough, twisted, or warped boards
- Squaring one face and one edge at 90 degrees
- Preparing S4S lumber from raw stock
When to Use a Planer
- Reducing boards to a precise, uniform thickness
- Smoothing and cleaning up minor marks from a jointer
- Decreasing thickness in small increments
Key Takeaways on Choosing Between a Jointer and Planer
- Jointers should be the priority for anyone starting with raw lumber
- Planers require at least one flat face reference surface
- Consider machine size, power, and board length handling
- Understanding their distinct roles will guide you to the right choice!
Both jointers and planers are wonderful additions for getting high quality results from your lumber. With the differences covered here in mind, you can decide whether a jointer or planer is the best machine for your woodworking needs.
Choosing Your First Machine
For handling rough lumber from the start, a jointer is generally recommended as the higher priority purchase. Starting with a planer limits you to only boards with one flattened face. Purchasing a quality jointer upfront saves additional milling steps later.
However, if you work exclusively with pre-surfaced lumber and shorter boards, a planer may suit your needs just fine as a solo machine.
Consider your current and future work to decide where a jointer or planer best fits into your process.
|Cut Direction||With Grain||Across Grain|
|Cut Depth||Deeper Cuts||Shallower Cuts|
|Table Design||Long Infeed + Outfeed||Flat Short Table|
|Standard Width||6-8 inches||12-15 inches|
|Motor Power||3+ HP||Around 2 HP|
Key Considerations When Choosing
- Available space – Planers have a smaller footprint
- Budget – Jointers cost more than planers
- Type of lumber being worked
- Typical board lengths
- Noise levels during operation
- Dust collection needs
Recommendations based on specific woodworking projects
The choice between a jointer and planer can also depend on the specific woodworking projects you’ll be completing. Here are some recommendations based on project types:
- Furniture Building. For furniture projects like tables, beds, and cabinets, a jointer is highly recommended. The ability to flatten rough stock and square edges makes joinery much easier. A planer will also be useful for sizing boards to precise dimensions.
- Flooring Installation. If you’re making custom hardwood flooring, tongue and groove paneling, or other floor covering boards, then a planer is the priority. The consistent board thickness it produces is vital for assembly and fitting pieces together.
- Cutting Boards or Shelves. A small benchtop planer is sufficient for making end grain cutting boards, butcher blocks, and live edge shelves from kiln-dried stock. It can surface both faces flat without a separate jointer.
- Turning Blanks. For wood turning projects, a jointer is less necessary since the lathe will round over imperfections. A planer can be useful to bring bowl blanks to an ideal starting thickness.
- Unique Projects. If tackling projects like carved furniture, bent lamination, intarsia, or artistic pieces, the power tools provide less advantage. Hand tools may suffice depending on the level of refinement needed.
Consider your upcoming projects and the particular milling needs involved when deciding between adding a jointer or planer to your shop. Their ideal uses and limitations should guide your purchasing decision.
Jointers and thickness planers both enable exceptional finished results from lumber. Keeping their distinct purposes in mind will guide you to choosing the best machine for your woodworking. A jointer is a wise early investment that pays dividends down the road. Add a planer later for the perfect thicknessing partner. With both machines, you’ll achieve professional quality boards ready for your next project!