Do I have to use the cutterhead lock on my planer?

The cutterhead lock found on many benchtop planers helps to alleviate snipe on the ends of boards.

Q:

Engaging the cutterhead lock on my planer after every pass gets tedious during large milling operations. Do I have to use it every time or is it safe to leave it disengaged?
—Brandon O’Brien, Concord, Calif.

A:

It’s perfectly safe to operate the planer without the cutterhead lock engaged, Brandon; after all, planers had gone without them for years. But, you’ll likely see better results with the lock engaged. Here’s why:

As a board passes through a planer—especially one with short infeed and outfeed tables—the weight of the board and pressure of the cutterhead tends to torque the cutterhead a bit, causing a full-width gouge, called “snipe,” at the beginning and end of the pass. The cutterhead lock resists this torque, thereby reducing snipe.

If your planer doesn’t snipe much with the lock disengaged, go without. Or compromise: Use it only on the last pass or two when it matters.

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