Combination machines aren't just for the pros anymore. With two Asian-made models selling for half the price of European makes, even a hobby woodworker can joint and plane wide stock with one space-saving unit.
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jointer/planer opener

Jointers and planers work together in your shop like hot dogs and buns. One tool complements the other. But just as with hot dogs, typically sold in packages of 10, and buns, sold in 8-packs, the math doesn't add up: Jointers commonly come in 6" and 8" widths, while planers start at 12". European-style jointer/planers perform both tasks with equal ease—and 12" capacity—but have never quite caught on in the United States thanks in part to price tags well north of $4,000 (although some manufacturers have recently started selling Asian-made versions for about half that price).

Why should you consider buying one of these machines? First, you'll love being able to face-joint stock as wide as you can plane. And second, the prices of the Asian-made models nearly equal the prices of stand-alone 12" jointers, so it's like getting the planer for free. Plus, with a jointer/planer you gain a beefy 3- to 5-hp induction motor and precious floor space that would otherwise be devoted to the second machine. And changing from jointer to planer mode and back again proves easier than we expected. We found we could transform each machine in less than a minute. And the more we used them the more efficient we got at making the change.

At these prices, you'd expect smooth, precise, snipe-free workpieces that need only light sanding, and these combination machines deliver. Power is never an issue, even when hogging away 18 " from 12"-wide hard maple. The differences between the machines lie in the details.

  • Cutterhead. Asian-made jointer/planers sport cutterheads similar to those commonly found on stand-alone jointers: three straight knives or square carbide cutters spiraling around the cutterhead. We favor the latter style because the carbide holds its edge much longer than the high-speed steel of the straight knives, and cutters are easily replaced or rotated should they become nicked. European-style jointer/planers often use a Tersa cutterhead that holds its three dual-edged self-indexing, disposable straight knives in place with wedges and centrifugal force. That might sound scary at first, but when you turn on the machine with the knives in place, the wedges slip immediately into place tightly against the knives.
  • Jointer fence. Again the Asian machines borrow from stand-alone units with rear-mounted rack-and-pinion or simple sliding fences. Fences on European machines mount more like a Biesemeyer-style tablesaw fence on one end of the jointer bed. This design eliminates the extra depth behind the machine, allowing it to hug the wall better in a space-starved shop.
  • Changeover/dust collection. Convenience in changing from jointing to planing and back is different but about equal from machine to machine. On some models, the entire jointer bed tips up to convert to a planer, so you don't have to remove the fence, but you have to lower the planer table about 6" in order to rotate the dust hood/cutterhead guard in place for planing. Two-piece tables require removing the fence before tipping the tables out of the way, and you may have to move the dust hose to a different port on the machine to serve the planer.

If the price of the 12" jointer/planers proves out of your reach, consider an 8" or 10" benchtop model that sells for about the same price as a mid- to high-end benchtop planer. They have adequate power and cut quality, but the short tables make it tough to work with long stock. And because the jointer tables do not lift up, we found it difficult to feed stock less than 1-12 " thick into the planer because the tables get so close together. Still, they seem a good space-saving option for someone on a limited budget getting started in woodworking.

Learn the results of our testing of three representative 12" jointer/planers (Grizzly G0634, Jet JJP-12, and Mini-Max FS30) in the July 2009 issue of WOOD magazine, or download the review.