If you work with a lot of rough lumber, or plan to, get your hands on one of these wood-chomping brutes.

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Buying a stationary planer for your home shop is like buying a bass boat for fishing: You want to take your experience to a level that cannot be achieved from the fringes. To do that, you need to work with wood beyond what's available in presurfaced thicknesses. A stationary planer, such as the seven reviewed here, has the brawn to help you quickly and accurately dimension stock over many years of dependable service. Here, we compare five machines equipped with carbide-insert helical cutterheads against two more-traditional three-knife models.

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It's all about the cutterhead

Aside from the top-mounted motor on the General International 30-115HC, these seven planers are similar in most respects. All have 3-hp, 220-volt motors capable of hogging off 116 " of 15"-wide hard maple at the faster of two stock-feed rates. Most also handled a heftier 332 " depth of cut at their top feed rates, but three models (Grizzly G0453Z, Jet JWP-15HH, and Shop Fox W1742S) bogged down during these cuts. All models handled a 18 " depth of cut on narrower stock (depth-of-cut limiters in the center of each machine prevent full-width cuts deeper than 332 ) at the slower 16-feet-per-minute feed rate.

So, with no significant power concerns, it's the four different styles of cutterheads—two that use straight knives and two helical designs that use disposable insert cutters (see this chart for details)—that truly distinguish these planers from one another. You're probably already familiar with straight-knife cutterheads, as they've been the de facto design on benchtop and stationary planers up until the last decade or so, when helical cutterheads began to trickle down from industrial woodworking to home-shop models.

Helical heads have several advantages over the traditional design: cutter sharpness longevity from the carbide inserts; almost no surface tear-out due to the shear-cut angle; reduced noise; smaller chips (less likely to clog a dust collector or ductwork); and easy maintenance—if a cutter gets nicked, you simply rotate the damaged insert(s) to get a fresh edge. We found that planers equipped with helical heads require more amperage than their straight-knife counterparts (because at least one cutter, no matter how small, is always cutting wood), but we never popped a 20-amp breaker with any machine during the course of our tests.

A helical head adds about a $500–$750 premium compared to a straight-knife planer, but the added cost doesn't stop there. When it comes time to replace the carbide inserts, expect to pay $50–$75 per 10-pack. That can add up to as much as $600 to replace all the inserts. By comparison, tool shops will resharpen three steel straight knives for about $25–$40. (You should keep an extra set on hand to avoid downtime while your knives get sharpened.) And Jet's JWP-15DX planer uses double-edge disposable knives, which cost about $130 to replace.

Despite making every possible adjustment on each machine, we could not achieve a completely snipe-free surface. (Snipe is the deeper cut about 3–4" from each end of a board.) But we got close. Six of the seven planers left snipe no deeper than .002", an amount that scrapes or sands away easily. The General International averaged .0035" of snipe, but even that needed only power sanding to remove.

More "chips" to consider...

 Table rollers in each machine [Drawing, below] reduce friction between the board and table surface. We also found these rollers help reduce snipe if raised a few thousandths of an inch above the table.

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A serrated infeed roller grabs and pulls lumber into the planer and under the cutterhead (straight-knife design shown) while the chipbreaker limits chip size to reduce tear-out.

 We like easy math—who doesn't?—so we appreciate that six of the planers change cutting depth in 116 " increments per turn of the handwheel. The General International changes 18 ", so it makes big changes fast, but it's easy to go too deep as you zero in on a board's target thickness.

 The serrated feed roller of each planer leaves impressions on a workpiece as it pulls it into the cutterhead. Usually this gets cut away, but when you make a skim-cutting pass (removing about 164 "), these impressions tend to remain. So it helps to remove 132 " or so on your final pass to avoid these marks.

All seven test planers have built-in casters, but only the Grizzly and Shop Fox models have a swiveling caster for easiest maneuvering.

The General International, Jet, and Powermatic machines come with angled dust chutes (below) that keep the dust collection hose from interfering with a workpiece as it exits the planer.

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Not only does this angled dust port keep the flex-hose clear of workpieces, but it also effectively clears chips (with adequate suction).

  All seven machines come with magnetic power switches that prevent accidental start-ups.

  None of the planers have onboard storage for included adjustment tools.

Our conclusion: Invest in a helical planer

If we had to put our money on one planer, we'd go with a helical-cutterhead model. The Grizzly G0453Z and Jet JWP-15HH set themselves slightly ahead of the others for their combination of clean cuts and ability to control snipe. And although the Jet sells for $900 more, it comes with a 5-year warranty and makes about half the noise of the Grizzly, a distinction you can appreciate only when using both machines side by side. So the Jet earns Top Tool honors.

For less than half the price of that Jet, though, you can get the Grizzly G0453 straight-knife planer, our Top Value. This machine cuts well with sharp knives and barely snipes when fine-tuned.

Jet JWP-15HH, $2,750  

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▲ Nearly the same machine as the JWP-15DX, this model upgrades to a helical cutterhead and cast-iron infeed and outfeed tables, which add mass and a smoother, continuous surface. The cutterhead contributed the quietest cut in our test at a level signficantly quieter than its sibling. This was one of two machines with the cutterhead aligned perfectly parallel to the table right out of the box, and it tied the Grizzly planers for shallowest snipe. You also get the 5-year warranty.

▼ This planer has the same workpiece-width and mobility issues as the JWP-15DX.

Grizzly G0453, $1,125    

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800-523-4777, grizzly.com
▲ With a traditional three-knife cutterhead using jackscrew height adjustments, this planer delivers a lot of performance for an attractive price. With sharp knives, it cranked out surfaces as clean as any other tested planer, and its snipe tied with two other machines for the shallowest. We like that its table locks are on the same side as the cutting-depth handwheel. This is one of only two planers that came with a plug on its power cord.

▼ Setting the knife height after a resharpening can be tedious using the included jig. The dust hood mounts to the planer cover with bolts and nuts, but should the nuts ever work loose during use, they could potentially fall into the spinning cutterhead; we'd prefer threaded inserts or lock nuts to secure the hood. Setting up this machine required extensive cleaning to remove the thick rust-inhibitor coating, and we also had to add gear oil (not included) to the crankcase. Although it can plane a full 15"-wide workpiece, its stock-return rollers mount 14 " below the top of the posts that hold them and can accommodate only a 1434 "-wide workpiece.

General International 30-115HC, $2,860

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888-949-1161, general.ca
▲Thanks to the top-mounted motor, the cutterhead raises and lowers (instead of the table) when you make cutting-depth changes. So the fixed table lets you set up auxiliary infeed and outfeed supports for long stock when needed. This is the only tested machine with a lockout key on its power switch.

▼ The top-mounted motor also presents two drawbacks: First, you don't have stock-return rollers on top to pass boards back across the machine after each pass. And, the motor must be tilted out of the way to provide access (albeit limited) to the cutterhead for changing cutters, adding time to this process. The 3cm-long cutter knives have only two edges, so expect to replace them more frequently than you would with four-edged, square carbide inserts. This planer sniped the most of those we tested, and its workpiece-thickness scale proved the most difficult to read and use.

Grizzly G0453Z, $1,850

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▲ This is essentially the same machine as the G0453, but with a pedestal-mounted power switch and a helical cutterhead that produced the same minuscule snipe and a quality of cut as good as its sibling (though leaving a different pattern on the wood). This model's cutterhead also generates less than half the noise of the straight-knife model. (A three-decibel difference equates to doubling/halving the sound level.) It has the same workpiece capacities, feed rates, and table locks.

▼ This unit presents similar initial cleaning and setup issues as the G0453. Changing all the cutters at one time can be tiresome, but turning just a few to counter a chipped edge—the more frequent scenario—takes much less time.

Jet JWP-15DX, $1,990

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800-274-6848, jettools.com
▲ With the quickest cutter changes among our test group, this machine's disposable knives resemble those used on benchtop planers, but they're thicker and more durable. Jet's 5-year warranty is more than twice as long as other tested planers (except Powermatic, which matches it).

▼ At an ear-splitting 106 decibels when planing hard maple, this machine measured loudest in our testing. The infeed and outfeed roller tables prove easy to adjust, but the gaps between rollers present a finger-pinching risk as a board exits the planer. Though called a 15" planer, this machine's maximum workpiece width is actually 18" less than that. Despite having four casters, this planer is cumbersome to roll around because none swivel or roll smoothly.

Powermatic 15HH-PLNR, $3,000

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800-274-6848, powermatic.com
▲ This machine tied the Jet JWP-15HH for quietest cut, and comes with the same 5-year warranty. You can buy replacement cutters directly from Byrd Tool, maker of this machine's Shelix cutterhead, for half the price of some retail options, so shop around.

▼ Despite coming standard with a Shelix cutterhead—a $700 premium over Powermatic's base model—this machine's cut quality required the most post-planing treatment to remove linear ridges. (Tom Byrd, president of Byrd Tool, said his company is replacing this cutterhead with a new version that cuts more cleanly, due out later this year.) Like the Jet models, its maximum width falls 18" shy of 15".

Shop Fox W1742S, $2,415

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800-840-8420, shopfox.biz
▲ Nearly identical to the Grizzly G0453Z, this machine weighs 50 lbs less, yet displays no extra vibration. Its cutterhead was aligned perfectly parallel to the table right out of the box.

▼ Like both Grizzly planers, this unit required extensive initial cleaning and filling the gearbox with oil, and its stock-return rollers have the same shortcoming.

Download PDF 15" Stationary Planer Chart

Download 15" Comparison Stationary Planer Chart Download Four Types of Planer Cutterheads