While the electric hand planer might not be the first tool someone would think of adding to their collection. A hand planer is a much more versatile tool than many give credit.
Yet even though a planer is a welcome addition to any woodworker’s tool collection, deciding which of the many available options is the right one for you can be pretty intimidating.
Of course, handheld planers all seem pretty much the same – high rpm machines designed to remove small thicknesses of wood and leave a remarkably smooth surface behind.
Beyond that are the decisions that can have a person second guessing their choice for months. How powerful, how wide, how expensive?
A handheld planer will do many of the same tasks as a belt sander, but faster, with more accuracy, and without spreading fine dust everywhere. Wood shavings don’t travel in nearly the same way.
Which to Choose?
There are certainly inexpensive examples on the market, suitable for very occasional light use. Unfortunately, as with many low priced tools, they are often not up to the rigors of anything more, and might leave a person in the lurch at just the wrong time.
Many users might find low power planers frustrating to use, but with patience they should be able to perform simple tasks. Just move the planer slowly and keep the depth adjustment to a minimum.
A more reasonable choice for many serious woodworkers or professionals needing tools for daily use are name brand tools in the one- to two-hundred dollar range. these are tools with enough power to quickly make work of tasks such as taking a bit of width off a sticky door or straightening a crooked door, and the quality construction that will give years of use.
If, however, you are looking for a hand planer that will tackle larger projects like thicknessing beams up to 6-3/4 inches or even have a use for a massive high power unit that will do much of the work that would normally require a bench top planer, there are choices available – like this very popular Makita 10.9 amp planer.
What Kind Of Things Can A Hand Wood Planer Do?
Probably the most well-known use for an electric planer is for planing down a door that won’t quite fit its opening. Close behind is the ability to reduce the width of a board that needs a bit of fine-tuning. This can be either reducing the overall width or “scribing” a board to fit against an uneven surface, or straightening a curved edge.
Perhaps not as well known is the ability of a power planer to reduce the thickness of a board or flatten uneven surfaces. Perhaps you have had occasion to see examples of non power hand planed being used in this manner in historical dramas, or being demonstrated by educators who revel in doing things the way their forefathers did. The power planer will perform the same function but quicker and with less effort.
In addition most if not all electric hand planers have the ability to make rabbet joints. The do this by being designed so that the blades are zero clearance on one side of the machine. Some are only able to cut rabbets to a limited depth before running into some projection that is part of the planer’s design. Others are designed to allow for infinite depth rabbets. This is the sort of feature that doesn’t reveal its true usefulness until the opportunity presents itself.
How does a hand planer work?
Sometimes referred to as a hand jointer because the small cylinder that does the actual work of planing resembles that of a bench or floor mount jointer. This cylinder typically holds two double sided blades that remove material at a pace of 30-40,000 cuts per minute. While this is typical, there are models that utilize a spiral cutter head. This type of cutter is often seen on more expensive stationary planers and jointers. It contains a series of diamond shaped cutters that are arranged in a spiral pattern around the cylinder. The cutters have four cutting edges that can be rotated when they get dull.
Electric planers vary in power from 5 amps all the way up to 15 amps – a standard that equals that of many stationary units.
Most handheld electric planers with come with the following features.
- a fence that will allow the tool to plane only a certain distance and aid in keeping the tool parallel
with the edge being planed.
- a knob that doubles as a control handle and an adjuster that can set the cutting depth from 0″ to
either 1/16″ or even 1/8″ per pass
- a groove in the lead shoe that acts as a guide and stabilizer when putting and angle on an edge
- a shavings bag to collect shavings created by the cutting process
- double edged cutters that can be rotated when they become dull.
- many models will come with a plastic case that can be used to carry the planer and all its attachments.
Power Planer Tips
As with any power tool, always familiarize yourself with, and follow, all relevant safety features. As you can imagine, a tool with twin blades rotating at up to 20,000 rpms can do a lot of damage fast. After all, skin is much softer than wood.
Always have the blade spinning before placing the tool in contact with the surface to be planed. Not doing so can result in kickback and chipping.
If cutting the length of a board be sure to place the front of the shoe in firm contact with the board and be careful to hold the planer parallel to the surface. It is quite easy, especially when making multiple passes, to begin to put an angle on the edge being planed.
Be sure to be constantly checking the work surface along the entire length of the cut to make sure that extra material is not being removed from one part of the cut versus another. Crowing – where more material is removed from the end of a board than the middle – is a common mistake new users make.
Be sure not to set the depth too aggressively. Though it might be tempting to speed the pace of the work, this can lead to chipping, much like a router when a cut is too aggressive. In the worst case, a piece can be ruined in this way.
One last thing to consider. It is often said that while it is easy to regret buying too cheap a tool, it is not nearly as common to regret buying one that is a little more expensive. One tactic is to decide which tool will meet the minimum requirements of the task at hand, then choose the one that is one step up. This will give you a better tool at a slightly higher price, and one that is likely to last longer, give better results and handle the slightly tougher jobs that are likely to come up once the tool is in hand.