Follow us on Pinterest
Welcome, Guest! Log In  |  Join Now

Tool review: Benchtop Planers

Here's the skinny on thickness planers: They'll all dimension wood accurately, but the best machines leave less cleanup work for you to do afterward.

Pages in this Story:
Give top priority to cut quality and snipe

Give top priority to cut quality and snipe

Think of buying a benchtop planer as an investment that pays dividends in lumber savings. By using it to surface less-expensive, roughsawn stock, you free yourself from buying costly presurfaced lumber. Although these machines get the job done, don't mistake them for heavy-duty planers with beefy 3-hp and larger motors, which can chew through hardwoods quickly and handle deeper cuts without bogging down. Benchtop planers have universal motors and typically work best removing 1/16" or less at a time, thus creating longer work time to surface lumber. That said, a benchtop model works great for most home shops that aren't working on a production-like schedule. To make sure you get the right planer, we put 11 benchtop models through extensive testing to sort the smooth operators from the roughnecks.

Only a few of the tested planers relieve you of the burden of power sanding or heavy scraping to remove scallop marks or snipe (the scooplike gouges on the ends of a board created when it's when gripped by only one feed roller.) To check cut quality, we ran poplar and red oak through each machine, removing 1/32" with each pass. We then rubbed chalk on the just-planed faces to reveal scallop marks (photo) caused by the cutterhead knives. With sharp knives, a few machines produced turned out boards that needed only light sanding to remove any barely noticeable scallops. On the rest of the models, it took sanding with coarse sandpaper to remove the scallops, and then with finer grits to erase the sanding scratches just to match the unsanded surface quality of the category leaders.

As for snipe, we could not get any of the planers to crank out snipe-free boards as they came from the factory, although the amount of snipe varied from so minimal it removed easily with light sanding, to stuff you'd just have to cut off. We reduced sniping on almost all the machines by fine-tuning (or adding optional) infeed and outfeed tables. The two machines that sniped least have cutterheads that lock on their posts automatically when a board engages the infeed roller, preventing the carriage from moving up or down during the cut. We found no clear advantage to cutterheads you must lock by hand, as machines so equipped sniped about the same whether we engaged the locks or not.

Continued on page 2:  Features to look for in a benchtop planer



Comments (9)
malleckron wrote:

lefty442 - with my limited budget, I first bought a planer that came with regular planer blades but has the option of swapping out it's existing blade head for a spiral cutter head later. When "later" comes, you can decide if the portable planer is still the right size and buy just the spiral cutter upgrade kit. But If you need something bigger by then, you can go for a floor-size model with whichever head you think will serve you. It worked for me.

4/30/2015 08:39:30 PM Report Abuse
mischka wrote:

The DeWalt 735 is outstanding and with a helical cutter cant be beat.

4/30/2015 10:56:13 AM Report Abuse
ronaldwein38214 wrote:

I have a Rigid 4331 and love it. As long as it's locked snipe is minimal. I'm new to planers and love that I can buy $3.50 2x4x8ft and mill them into quality wood for fussin around with ideas. It's like 4 cents and inch and the lumber comes out SQUARE.

2/13/2015 11:37:41 AM Report Abuse
lefty442 wrote:

I do have a limited budget, but need a surface/thickness planer. Several have piqued my interest, and I could use some advice. I am considering a 13" machine; Sears has three or four under the Craftsman name, and Home Depot has a couple made by Steel City. My dithering is whether a spiral cutter head is really worth cost vis--vis a straight cutter head.

10/24/2013 04:08:49 PM Report Abuse
chpjep893595 wrote:

My DW 735 has been a great addition to my shop. I work with cherry most of the time and the blades and chip ejector are great.

4/4/2013 11:43:43 AM Report Abuse
bob_julie1 wrote:

The Ridgid R4331 is much better than the 4330, I highly recomend it for the price and warranty.

4/4/2013 11:09:22 AM Report Abuse
wesgarcia wrote:

I agree with your finds on planers. I have a DeWalt DW-735 and it is great!

4/19/2012 10:51:03 AM Report Abuse
mrcliff wrote:

What issue of Wood Magazine was planer review in?

9/2/2011 03:26:27 PM Report Abuse

Add your comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Register | Log In

Please confirm your comment by answering the question below and clicking "Submit Comment."


Connect With Us
  • Recent Posts
  • Top Posts
See More >