If you’re working with wood, a thickness planer could help with project efficiency and cost. The machine has its own unique function and is a must for anyone invested in woodworking. Even if you don’t own a thickness planer, knowing how to use the planer is a useful skill to have.

What Does a Thickness Planer Do?

Imagine you are filleting the skin of a fish. Conceptually, a wood thickness planer does the same thing. A thickness planer cuts wood from above, taking off the top layer until the wood is your desired thickness.

Wood planers can be great when lumber is needed in-between measurements. For example, if you need wood to be .92 inches thick, you can send a 1” piece of lumber through a thickness planer. Using a planer can allow you to control measurements in a way you’ve previously never experienced.  

Thickness planers can only be used if one side of the wood is flat. Wood thickness planers feature a feed bed, where the wood is gently pushed through. When running, a pair of rollers guides the wood through the machine. The wood is sent through the machine at a constant rate, ensuring a proper cut. Bob Vila further explains how the thickness planer works.

Reducing Costs for Woodworkers

Do It Yourself declared that a wood planer was the second-most-valuable tool for woodworking, right behind a table saw. Thickness planers typically cost a couple hundred dollars, but they can be a worthwhile investment for anyone serious about woodworking.

Having access to a thickness planer can allow you to order rough cuts of lumber, significantly reducing your costs. Lumberyards charge much more for smooth cuts of wood, such as milled boards. After running lumber through a planer, you’ll have wood with a smooth face, costing you a fraction of what you would have otherwise paid. The thickness planer is an investment that quickly pays for itself.

You may also know a colleague who owns a planer and is willing to provide access for a small fee. Furthermore, some lumberyards will allow you to plane your own wood. Knowing how to operate a thickness planer is a skill worth learning, even if you don’t plan to purchase one.

Thickness planers can also allow you to focus on cuts and quality of wood, rather than a wood’s measurements. How many times have you been to a lumberyard and found the perfect piece of wood, but couldn’t purchase it because it didn’t fit the project measurements? A thickness planer eliminates that problem.

How Does a Planer Differ from Other Tools?

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A wood thickness planer is different from a jointer and a sander. The tools can be used in conjunction with one another, but not as substitutes for each other.

Thickness Planer v. Jointer

A jointer can straighten and square off an edge, or flatten a wooden face. It is primarily used to alter wood that is bowed, twisted, or warped. The jointer can be used to flatten the wood’s face and then clean up the edges of the wood.

After using a joiner to flatten the wood, a planer can be used to create an equal level of thickness throughout the entire board. There is no such thing as a jointer planer. A jointer and a planer are two different machines that are not interchangeable. The Woodworkers Guild of America has provided additional information on the differences between a jointer and a planer.  

Thickness Planer v. Sander

A wood thickness planer and a sander are very similar in nature because both reduce the thickness of the wood. However, a thickness planer should be used for large jobs. The initial cut that creates a consistent thickness will be done by a wood planer. Wood planers are ideal for large, unfinished pieces of lumber. They are not ideal for finishing a woodworking piece.

A sander can be used for more intricate, professional finishes. In fact, wood planers can leave surfaces rough and uneven. Using a sander after the fact will create a smooth surface. Attempting to run an entire piece of lumber through a sander could ruin the belt, whereas you can run an entire piece of lumber through a thickness planer.

A sander is also the ideal choice for more delicate pieces of wood, like plywood. This post by Equipment Area details the differences between a sander and a planer.

Portable Thickness Planer

If your woodworking is not based out of a shop, you should consider investing in a portable thickness planer. Portable thickness planers are ideal for those who bounce from job site to job site, especially those in construction. If you build homes, decks, or similar products, you could benefit from carrying a portable thickness planer.

Portable thickness planers are beneficial for those having bulk lumber delivered to a job site. When building a deck or home, having quality wood is important. But your costs could quickly add up if the lumber company planes all of the project’s wood for you. A portable wood planer could allow you to plane the wood at the job site after it’s been delivered.

The one downside to a portable thickness planer is the machine’s width, which will limit the type of wood you’ll be able to put in the planer. Most portable thickness planers offer 12 or 13-inch capacities, which should still be plenty wide to get the job done. Planers that are not portable tend to offer a 24-inch capacity.

What you sacrifice in width, however, you make up for in weight. Thickness planers meant to stay in a woodworking shop can weigh nearly 700 pounds, entirely too heavy to carry from job site to job site. Portable thickness planers can range from 60 to 100 pounds.

Tools of the Trade took the time to review portable thickness planers, comparing a variety of criteria. After long-winded tests, they determined that the portable Dewalt thickness planer was the best available.

Thickness Planer Blades

Over time, your thickness planer blades will wear down, requiring them to be replaced. The fact that there are thickness planer blades available means your machine could last a lifetime if properly cared for.

Additionally, if you do not think you can afford to purchase a new thickness planer, you can consider buying one used and replacing the blades. Ask fellow woodworking colleagues, and browse websites such as eBay and Craigslist to find a used thickness planer. Simply replacing the blades can give you a machine that performs like-new.  

Where to Find Thickness Planer Blades

Replacement thickness planer blades are available at many hardware stores, or through your manufacturer’s website. For example, Dewalt thickness planer blades are available on the company’s website, making it a near guarantee you’re buying blades that fit your machine. Home Depot also carries an array of planer blades.

Amazon also carries replacement planer blades. It should be easy to search for your machine and find a compatible pack of blades. No matter where you buy them from, purchasing replacement planer blades should not be difficult. And although costs vary by model, generally, thickness planer blades are affordable.

How to Install New Thickness Planer Blades

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Installing your new thickness planer blades is a relatively simple task. When doing so, remember your basic woodworking safety tips.

You’ll first want to disconnect your thickness planer from its power source. Then, gently loosen the screws that are holding your existing planer blades in place. Once loose, remove the blade from the machine.

Once you have removed the blades, wipe your planer down with a damp rag. Remove all traces of dust and debris. Proper care is necessary to ensure the life of your thickness planer, and cleaning it while the blades are out will help you get into spaces previously unreachable. A dab of isopropyl alcohol can be used on the rag to help clean grease and grime.

After cleaning the machine, it’s time to replace your blade. When putting the new blade, you’ll want to adjust it so that it sits high enough but not so high that it will accidentally break during use. Your personal judgement is crucial here, but don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it the first go-round. It’s something that you’ll get better with over time. Your manufacturer may have provided magnets, which can help you with this step.

Once you’re comfortable with the blade’s position, tighten the screws so that the blade is held tightly. Plug your machine back in and turn it on while wearing proper eye, ear, and mouth protection. Test the new blades out a few times with scrap pieces of wood until you are comfortable with how the blades are running.

If you would like more information about changing your thickness planer blades, there are informative videos on YouTube. Fine Home Building has also provided a basic tutorial for replacing blades. They also recommend extending the life of your blades as long as possible by using a diamond stone to file the existing blade’s edges.

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