The wood planer is probably one of the most obscure, and yet still very useful tools out there. If you don’t work with uncut pieces of wood often or if you aren’t into woodworking, then there is a very good chance that you probably haven’t even heard of it before. However, given how important this tool is for woodworkers out there, I felt like I should make this article to explain everything that you need to know about the wood planer. This will be useful for those of you who are either new to woodworking or who are thinking about getting into it as a hobby.
What Is a Wood Planer
A wood planer looks almost sort of like a giant printer or a press of some sort. However, a closer inspection will reveal a blade inside the machine, which is what makes the wood planer a useful tool. See, when you are working with reclaimed wood or imperfect pieces of wood, you aren’t always going to have uniformity. Obviously, having woods with different lengths and thicknesses can present a number of issues when woodworking. The wood planer is designed to help with the thickness issue (lengths and joints are handled by separate machines such as table saw and routers).
So, to sum it up, a wood planer is a tool that is designed to thin out wood to ensure that the entire piece of wood is of the same thickness. There are actually handheld wood planers out there, but the vast majority of woodworkers use electric planers that are also a lot bigger.
Generally, most professionals will use what are called “bench-top models,” which look similar to benchtop saws. They can remove a lot more material faster and is an ideal solution when you have to produce a large number of pieces with the same thickness.
There are even bigger models such as molding planers and stationary planers that have to be placed on the floor. But these are almost never used outside of a factory setting, so you don’t have to worry about those.
Wood Planer Uses: What Does a Planer Do?
A thickness planer is used to remove material from the thickness of the lumber to get flat and parallel surfaces.
Alright, so now that I have gone over exactly what a wood planer is, I should explain what exactly the wood planer does to accomplish its goal of ensuring even thickness. If you are familiar with woodworking, you could probably make a pretty good guess just based on what I wrote above, but I’m going to explain it in a bit more detail to ensure that we are all on the same page.
Basically, on the inside of the planer, there is a blade above the table. It also has feed rollers that will feed the lumber through the unit.
You control the exact thickness that you want and then you slide in the wood. The blade will then shave off just enough of the wood to ensure an even thickness all the way across the wood. The amount of wood taken off is usually very thin.
The important thing to remember here is that, while it can produce boards that are parallel, it cannot eliminate the bow or warpage of long lumber. You will need a jointer to do that. See this guide that explains the difference between planer vs jointer for more information.
Who Should Get a Wood Planer?
Most people won’t get a ton of use out of a wood planer, so it probably isn’t a good investment for them. However, you are into woodworking, then deciding whether to get a wood planer becomes a more complicated issue.
If you usually only work with pre-cut wood that doesn’t have uniformity issues, then you might not get all that much use of your wood planer. In that case, you only need a good belt sander to level the wood and finish it, even though it would still be a good idea to have one around. If, however, you often work with reclaimed wood or otherwise imperfect wood, then having a wood planer is essential in my opinion.
What Is a Planer Snipe?
A term that you may see pop up from time to time when searching for wood planers online is a “snipe” or a “planer snipe.” Since I’m already explaining what wood planers are and what they do, I figured I might as well explain this as well.
Simply put, a planer snipe is when the wood planer cuts a bit deeper on either the front or back end of the wood. It’s very subtle and hard to detect. In fact, if you were to look at a piece of wood that has had a snipe happen to it, you probably won’t be able to see it. You would actually need to run your finger over the wood to feel the different thicknesses.
What is the cause of a planer snipe? Well, it’s either caused by a defective machine or more likely, it’s caused by a failure to support the piece of wood when it’s going into the machine or coming out. See, when the majority of the wood is either in or out of the machine, the part that is still going through might accidentally lift a bit, which can throw off the blade and cause a snipe.
Will a planer straighten wood?
A planer cannot straighten the wood, but it flattens the wood. It works by removing the high points from the workpiece to even-out the surface. Hence, although the resulting piece is straight the thickness of the wood will be less.