Spend a little money on a planer today and you'll save money for a lifetime: Instead of paying home-center prices for preplaned boards, you can buy less-than-perfect lumber in a wide variety of species—including exotics—and thickness it yourself.
Planers come in two varieties. Large, stationary machines handle stock up to 15" or 20" wide (depending on the model) and cost from $800 on up. More common, though, are planers capable of machining stock up to 13" wide and selling for $200–$500. We put nine such models through their paces to find out which one is best for you and your budget. Before we dig into our test results, let's bury the old name for this class of machines—portable planers—because each new model seems to get less portable. The lightest planer in our test weighs in at 53 lbs; the heaviest, nearly twice that.
Cut quality: It comes down to scallops and snipe
To plane a board to thickness by hand, you'd literally shave it down one stroke at a time, using a single blade in a jack plane. A planer multiplies that action exponentially, with two or three knives mounted around a rotating cutterhead. This rotary cutting action results in a series of shallow scallops that makes the board essentially flat, and the closer those scallops are together, the smoother the surface. That's why you'll often see “cuts per inch” (cpi) listed in a planer's specs. Planer manufacturers increase cpi by speeding the cutterhead (rpm), adding a knife, slowing the board feed rate, or some combination of the three. But is cpi a reliable gauge of cut quality? To find out, we planed 30"-long oak boards of various widths and thicknesses with each planer.
The second measure of cut quality is snipe: the annoying tendency of planers to take a too-deep bite a few inches from each end of a board. Snipe happens when only one drive roller engages the workpiece, allowing it to rock the head or lift up slightly into the cutterhead. Snipe measuring less than .002" deep hand-sands away easily; between .002" and .003" requires power sanding to smooth, and anything deeper will need to be cut off. Just as you wouldn't expect a tablesaw to cut perfectly out of the box, a planer usually needs some adjustment to minimize snipe; so we tweaked each machine to its peak performance before measuring the snipe.
Both the DeWalt DW735 and Delta 22-580 performed well in our tests, and we’d be pleased to have either one in our shop. Both have their Achilles’ heels, though: On Delta, it’s the clumsy thickness stop and hit-or-miss depth-of-cut gauge. With the DW735, you have to buy accessory extension tables ($45), or it snipes like a $200 planer. But we’ll give the DW735 the Top Tool nod—by a nose—based on its superior cut quality.
Our Top Value choices were a bit easier. The Ridgid TP1300LS and Ryobi AP1301 left surfaces as smooth as the Delta 22-580. Ridgid does it for $40 less than the 22-580, and the TP1300LS also comes with extra knives, a leg stand, and dust hood. The
bottom-dollar Ryobi planer costs $150 less than either of those models, but plan to cut off the sniped ends or build your own infeed and outfeed tables.
Learn the detailed results of our testing of the Delta 22-580 and TP305, DeWalt DW734 and DW735, Grizzly G0505, Jet JWP13DX, Makita 2012NB, Ridgid TP1300LS, and Ryobi AP1301 when you pick up the November 2006 issue of WOOD magazine and turn to page 74. Or you can LINK TO DOWNLOAD download the review for only $4.95.
Editor's Choice Top Tool: DeWalt DW735
Editor's Choice Top Values: Ridgid TP1300LS and the Ryobi AP1301