Have you been itching to pull the trigger on that new jointer and planer, but hesitating because you can’t afford them? Truth is, you can’t afford not to own them.
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No matter the wood, the cost per board foot goes up for every milling step performed by your lumber supplier. Straight-line rip one edge (SLR1E)? Add a fee. Surface both faces (S2S)? Crank up that price. Surface four sides (S4S)? You had better be rolling in dough.

By the time fully milled wood slides into a home-center lumber bin (after being individually tagged, shrink-wrapped, and palletized), the cost has skyrocketed. Worse, if the 34 "-thick board warps or cups, even slightly, you can't mill out the defect without going below 34 ". That's why it pays to intercept wood as early as possible in the milling process, from either a local sawmill or lumberyard, and mill it yourself.

Do I need both a jointer and planer?

In a word: Yes. Though they remove wood in similar ways, each tool provides only half of the milling equation. First you flatten one face of the board on the jointer. Next, with the flat face pressed against the jointer fence, square an adjacent edge. And finally, make the opposite face parallel to the first using a planer. A few passes will reduce the board to a uniform thickness.

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Sawmills sell either rough-sawn or skip-planed boards. Skip-planed boards give you a clearer picture of a board's grain and color.

But can I afford them?

Again, yes. Let's walk through the math. We'll use the Blanket Chest, as an example, because it is a medium-size project constructed primarily of solid wood.

For an apples-to-apples comparison, we priced only the primary, solid-wood parts, not the plywood, hardware, optional cedar tray, and any hidden parts that can be made out of scrap woods or offcuts.

A planer lets you thickness lumber to the needs of the project rather than conforming the project to over- or undersize lumber.

Because home centers typically sell wood in common dimensioned sizes, we came up with a by-the-board shopping list to pit against our by-the-board-foot lumberyard order, shown below. We also added a generous 25 percent to the lumberyard order to account for waste in the milling process.

Instead of pre-dimensioned lumber, you'll buy by the board foot at the lumberyard. Board feet is the thickness×length×width in inches divided by 144.

Then we priced several species of lumber at a local home center and a local lumberyard. The "Case Study" chart, below shows the cost differences in red oak, maple, and pine. Remarkably, the lumberyard oak cost less than half as much as home-center oak. Build only about six projects this size and you'll save enough lumber money to buy an entry-level jointer and planer.

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Besides saving you money, shopping at a lumberyard opens up new species possibilities. For example, you could upgrade to rough-sawn mahogany from a home center's premium-priced red oak for about the same price per chest. The ash/walnut combination described in the plans costs $44 less per chest than home-center oak.

And if you feel like adding in the optional cedar tray, don't count on finding presurfaced aromatic eastern red cedar in a home center. For presurfaced material, you're likely limited to mail-order sources which will add $27 per blanket chest over rough-sawn aromatic cedar from a lumberyard.

Enough math. Time to shop!

For our cost comparison, we priced the Porter-Cable 6″ benchtop jointer, model PC160JT and the Ridgid 13″ benchtop planer, model R4331. These entry models will serve you well. But spending a little more here can pay big dividends.

For example, stationary jointers' longer, heavier infeed/outfeed tables improve accuracy and control on long workpieces. Both the infeed and outfeed tables adjust for fine-tuning the cut. And their more-powerful induction motors last longer than the noisy universal motors on their benchtop counterparts. Pricier, sure. But if you're going to be milling the amount of lumber that demands such a machine, you'll find it pays for itself in due time as well.

Now leave this article lying someplace where your home's budget maker will see it. (Sorry, you're on your own for that motorcycle you've had your eye on.)