The 10 Best Planers
This wiki has been updated 31 times since it was first published in March of 2015. Among other purposes, finish carpenters and fine woodworkers depend on planers to produce straight edging and perfectly square rabbet joints. Our selections for this category feature several styles of this tool, including benchtop and cabinet models, as well as manual, corded and battery-powered handheld options that tradespeople can easily transport to and from their job sites. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 26, 2021:
This category saw quite a lot of evolution during this round of updates, with nearly half of our previous selections being no longer available due to a variety of availability issues.
We phased out the portable DeWalt DW680K, recognizing that these rankings already gave the brand a nod through the inclusion of the benchtop DeWalt DW735, and figuring that between the Bosch PL2632K, Milwaukee 2623-21 and Makita KP0810, there was no shortage of quality handheld models on this list.
We replaced the Woodriver #5 V3 with an alternate manual model of comparable quality – the Stanley 12-139 Bailey – and filled the cabinet-sized hole the Powermatic 179213 left in these rankings with two freestanding models — the Grizzly Industrial G0891 and Jet JWP-15BHH.
Last but not least, we swapped the discontinued Metabo HPT P20ST with its logical successor, the Metabo HPT P20STQS. Tit for tat, this new model looks to be virtually identical to its recently-ranked ancestor, but we did notice that its unit weight was increased by 1/2 pound, which definitely suggests that some sort of modifications have occurred. Disappointingly and frustratingly, a quick conversation with the company didn’t provide us with any insights into these changes, but we remain confident that this is a quality tool, and ranked it accordingly.
March 19, 2020:
During this busy round of updates, we removed the Festool 574690 HL due to availability issues, and replaced the DeWalt DW734 and Hitachi P20ST with their respective successors the DeWalt DW735 and Metabo HPT Handheld P20ST (note that all Hitachi power tools have been rebranded as Metabo HPT, following a merger between the two companies). We also eliminated the Wen 6530, Black & Decker 7698K and Triton TPL180 in order to make space for superior options.
Some of our new additions this time around include the Milwaukee 2623-21 – an 18-volt, cordless kit with a 3-1/4-inch cutter head, the Delta Power Tools 22-590 – a bench-top model with a 26-feet-per-minute feed rate that makes 30,000 cuts per minute, and the WoodRiver #5 V3 – an impressive manual option based on Stanley’s discontinued Bedrock line.
The broad category of planers was a bit tricky to rank, because these tools come in so many styles. While ranking a nice, little manual model like the WoodRiver #5 V3 next to a full-size cabinet option like the Powermatic 1791213 is hardly an apple-to-apples comparison, both are excellent planers that we felt deserved a spot on this list. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, consider that planers are typically considered in categories as follows:
Hand Planers: As the name implies, these are handheld planers that need to be physically passed over the material in question (as opposed to fixed benchtop and cabinet planers that need have material passed through them). They’re favored for their portability and affordability, and can be either be battery powered – as in the case of the Milwaukee 2623-21, corded – as in the case of the Bosch PL2632K, or manual – as in the case of the WoodRiver #5 V3. Note that manual options are not automatically considered inferior in this context, and indeed are the preference of many fine woodworkers.
Benchtop Planers: These tools make an ideal compromise for serious carpenters looking to outfit their workshop, who either don’t have the space or the budget to buy a full-sized cabinet planer. Models like the Delta Power Tools 22-590 and DeWalt DW735 can be setup semi-permanently on a convenient worktable, but removed easily if that table needs to be temporarily used by another tool, like a table saw or a metal lathe.
Cabinet Planers: Typically reserved for die-hard professionals with deep pockets, industrial-grade tools like the Powermatic 1791213 are a pleasure to work with, but can be prohibitively expensive for most hobbyists, and indeed plenty of professionals (their imposing size is also often looked at as a negativism, by those with smaller workshops). Although we don’t currently maintain a separate set of rankings for cabinet planers, they are well represented by our planers with helical heads category.
Laguna Industrial With an impressive 25-inch maximum cut width and 15-horsepower motor, this machine can take on stock as thin as 1/8 inch and as thick as nine inches. It runs on three-phase electricity, and advanced shops can manage its height settings using programmable logic controllers. lagunatools.com
King Canada This company's large catalogue of offerings includes several planers. While most are cabinet and bench-top models with widths that vary between 12 and 24 inches, they also provide a portable model with a 3-1/4-inch cut width. kingcanada.com
Choosing Your Perfect Planer
If you're shaping lumber before a minor or recreational project, there's no reason to spend a fortune.
You could spend just a little on a planer that many DIY enthusiasts might call an excellent, capable machine. You could also spend a week's wages 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 a fortune. 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.
When working with pricier woods like walnut or ebony, that can be both a financial setback and a drain of time.
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 for design and craftsmanship. They also save a massive amount of time and effort.
The plane remained largely unchanged well into the modern era, save for innovations such as removable blades and angle adjustments.
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 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.