Tool review: Benchtop Planers
Features to look for in a benchtop planer
• Self-indexing knives. Nearly all straight-knife cutterhead models feature self-indexing, double-edged knives. (Knives that don't self-index prove fussy and time-consuming to set.) An automatic cutterhead lock helps, too, preventing the head from rotating while you remove the bolts and knives. Some portable planers now come with (or offer as an option) a segmented cutterhead, (photo), composed of 1/2"-thick segments, each with a high-speed-steel insert cutter, and each cutter with four cutting edges. The chief advantage to this head is that, should you nick one or more cutters, you simply rotate the affected inserts a quarter-turn for a fresh cutting edge.
• Gauges and stops. Many planers have a gauge that indicates the how much wood will be removed with each pass. These gauges help you avoid taking too large a bite, which might result in tear-out or deeper snipe. We also like the adjustable preset depth stops that prevent planing a board thinner than a targeted thickness, a handy feature when planing multiple project parts to identical thickness.
• Dust collection. A planer generates loads of chips that make a mess if you don't hook up a dust collector or vacuum. Some feature built-in fans that suck chips away from the cutterhead and blow them out the dust port for the most effective dust collection. This proves helpful if your planer sits far from your dust collector and needs that boost. Most come with dust hoods that connect to a 4" hose, a 2-1/2" hose, or both, but a few offer a hood only as an accessory.
• Power. To our surprise, power was not a critical factor. All planers showed enough oomph to handle even 1/8"-deep cuts in 12"-wide hard maple and oak.