The 10 Best Planers
Choosing Your Perfect Planer
You could spend less than fifty dollars on a planer that many DIY enthusiasts might call an excellent, capable machine. You could also spend around $650 on a planer that professional carpenters will call a fine choice.
First, let's discuss high end planers. The more you pay for a planer, the more durability and versatility you can expect from the tool. That latter point is the more operative: a great handheld planer can be used with a variety of attachments to create a patterned "architectural" look on a floor or wall, enhancing the aesthetics of a space or even a piece of furniture long after it has been completed. So too can such planers be used to smooth an entire hardwood floor after installation or prior to refinishing. A powerful handheld planer will keep up its operating speed even when under full load, making it a viable option for flooring, framing, and other large scale projects. Pricier planers also tend to have excellent dust extraction capabilities, making them a fine choice for use in renovation projects.
The lower priced handheld planers are more than adequate for simple projects such as smoothing lumber before you build yourself a porch or a treehouse, or for resizing a few boards you will use to repair an old piece of furniture or to reframe a door. In short, if you are working with raw wood yet to be used in a project rather than repairing or refinishing a surface, then a cheaper planer is likely a fine choice.
Ultimately, the choice of which planer is right for you is predicated on the projects for which you will use it. If you work on professional jobs or you are refinishing an entire floor in your home, spend the cash on a tool that will let you work quickly and will minimize the risk of damaging wood that's hard to replace. If you're shaping lumber before a minor or recreational project, there's no reason to spend top dollar. If you will be making rabbet cuts, primarily used in furniture making or cabinetry, make sure the planer can make cuts of the size you need; any decent planer should be able to handle said type of cut and can save you time compared to using a table saw or other shaping method.
Safe And Proper Planing
Planing is one of those activities wherein everything can go wrong fast. If you are shaping a board to fit snugly into a piece of furniture, removing just one millimeter more material than intended can render the board useless. When working with pricier woods like walnut or ebony, that can be both a financial setback and a drain of time. The same can be true when you are preparing a piece of lumber to fit into a carefully designed frame, such as the woodwork that will support a staircase; when a board is going to play an important structural role, it has to be crafted perfectly.
Planing can seem easy once you have grown comfortable using your tools, but even if you are an experienced woodworker, it's a good idea to go about any planing project with the old carpenter's approach of: "Measure twice, cut once."
It's imperative that you keep your planer as clean as possible and that your sharpen or replace the blade as needed. Any bits of wood (or other dirt or grit) caught around the blade or adhering to the bottom of your planer can prevent the tool from sitting flush against the surface of the wood you are trying to shave, creating an uneven surface. A dull or damaged blade may create irregular planing patterns and may require more effort .
As with any power tool -- especially those with razor sharp blades often operating at tens of thousands of cuts per minute -- a person using a planer should be wearing work gloves. Eye protection is also advisable, as is a mask worn over the nose and mouth. The fine particulate matter a planer creates can be extremely irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat, and can lead to serious health issues with prolonged unprotected exposure. And while a handheld planer usually won't produce decibel levels high enough to damage hearing, ear protection is still a fine idea for personal comfort and to hedge against the possibility of hearing issues.
A Look At Planers Past
A 21st Century carpenter should be thankful he or she is working today and not in centuries past. Modern tools make shaping wood easier than ever and open up new possibilities of design and craftsmanship. They also save a massive amount of time and effort.
Traditionally, planing wood was one of the most intense, thankless tasks a woodworker undertook. Shaping a piece of wood into a workable piece of lumber began with the laborious process of hewing the raw wood with an axe. Once it the log had been roughly shaped into a board, it would then be smoothed using a hand plane that consisted of an angled blade set into a housing made usually of wood, metal, or a combination of both.
Hand planes have been found in ruins dating from thousands of years ago, with examples turning up in Ancient Rome, Northern Europe, and beyond. The plane remained largely unchanged well into the modern era, save for innovations such as removable blades and angle adjustments.
Powered planers that used pressured air or electric motors to move blades housed within the plane were not seen until the early 20th Century. For most of human history, wood was smoothed thanks to the effort of a person leaning into their plane and hauling it back and forth across the surface of the wood they wished to work into shape.