I recently wrote up a post on the best jointer for your shop and mentioned that buying a planer and jointer was the moment where I finally felt like a “real woodworker.” Suddenly I was capable of taking almost any piece of wood and turning it into a useable piece of lumber. Well, it’s time now to take a look at the best planers you can buy for your woodshop.
And I promise we’ll take a look at a few more than just the standard DeWalt that literally every woodworker either owns or has owned at some point in their woodworking career. I’m not one to talk as it is the planer that lives in my shop right now.
Although it’s a tough planer to beat as it is small enough to live on a furniture dolly that slides under my table saw wing when not in use and has held up well over the years.
What to Look for in a Thickness Planer
If you’re in the market for your first planer or want to make an upgrade here are a few things to look for in a planer.
One of the biggest issues for most woodworking shops for planers (and jointers) is space for both the infeed and outfeed. If you’re planing an 8-foot board, then you need 8 uninterrupted feet on either end of the planer. That means 16 total feet plus another foot or two for the depth of the planer.
Given that the average garage is around 20 – 24 feet deep that means a lot of valuable floor space that you would need to dedicate to a stationary planer. Choosing a planer that is small enough to be mobile can really ease this constraint as you can wheel it into the middle of the shop when in use and tuck it away the rest of the time.
With that said, there will be a trade-off between a small, mobile planer and a larger stationary unit that will have a lot more planing power and capacity.
Most benchtop style planers are going to have between 12 and 13 inches of capacity and, for most woodworkers, this is more than enough. I very rarely find myself in situations where anything more would be of use.
With stationary planers, you’ll be looking at 15 to 25 inches of capacity which can be of huge help if you’ll frequently be working with wider glue-ups. Although if you have room for a planer of that size then a wide belt sander may be of better use for flattening in those situations.
Planers come with two cutterhead options, straight knives or helical.
The cheaper option will be to go with a planer with straight knives. The downsides to using straight knives is that they can be significantly louder than helical cutterheads and will need to be sharpened far more frequently.
Some straight knife planers, like the uber popular DeWalt, have knives that can not be sharpened either so once they are dull or nicked they will need to be replaced.
Helical cutterheads can add quite a bit of cost to the planer up front but are also most economical in the long run. The finish surface on the boards will frequently be far superior to the surface off a planer with straight knives. The carbide cutters, when dull or chipped, can be rotated 90 degrees or replaced individually. And the noise off of these planers doesn’t sit in the jet taking off in your ear category like some straight knife planers.
Having multiple feed rate options allows you to run quicker passes for rough work and slower passes for a smoother finish. This can be a nice feature to reduce sanding on your final piece. Although I have found the best use for this feature on my planer to be when planing boards with difficult grain as it tends to lead to less tearout.
Most of your smaller, lunchbox style planers are going to run on a standard 110v outlet. Some mid range planers will offer dual 110v/220v options while the larger planers will be almost exclusively 220v.
Planers come in a huge range of price options that will fit most any woodworker’s budget. Lower end lunchbox planers will typically be available for under $500. Mid range stationary planers will typically run in the $2,500+ range and your top of the line, industrial level planers you’ll be looking at $10,000+.
The Best Planer Options
Here are a few of our picks for the best planer in some of the most popular categories.
Best Overall Planer: DEWALT Thickness Planer, Two Speed, 13-Inch
When it comes down to it, I just can’t make any other choice for the best planer. There is a reason this planer is so popular, and it isn’t just the price.
The DW735 is a benchtop planer but a far beefier version that most of the others in the price range and size. I can pick this tool up to move it around the shop but my back yells at me each time I do it so there is some serious weight behind it.
The build on the entire unit is clearly a step above any other benchtop-style unit. With a four-post style depth adjustment mechanism, the head will always stay true to the bed. This will ensure accurate cuts and reduce the occurrence of snipe you’ll find in many other planers this size.
This planer offers 13 inches of planing capacity with 6 inches of vertical clearance. The feed rate can be run at two different speeds, 96 or 179 cuts per inch, when you need to hog out material or slow it down for a smooth finish.
The cutterhead comes loaded with three straight-edge knives. These knives are extremely durable, but they can not be sharpened, so plan on keeping an extra set or two on hand. My first set of knives actually lasted me a few years, so they have some life.
The planer has a rear 4-inch dust port with a built-in blower so, even if you don’t have a dust collector, you can hook up a hose and route it into a trash can. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll forget to attach the hose and coat your entire shop in shavings. The blower on this planer is no joke!
Best Budget Planer: CRAFTSMAN Benchtop Planer, 15-Amp
If you’re looking for an inexpensive planer to get started with in your woodworking journey, then the Craftsman Benchtop planer is a solid choice.
With 12 inches of capacity this planer can handle most any sized lumber you can throw at it.
With a footprint of only 24 by 18 inches, you can easily store this planer away when not in use to save space in the shop.
The cutterhead features two reversible high carbon steel knives. Note that with only two knives, you’ll want to take cuts a bit lighter than you may on a machine with a helical head or three straight knives.
This a great planer for working with softer woods, although it is perfectly capable of planing down hardwoods like walnut or maple.
The Craftsman offers only one feed rate, but if you’re looking for a smooth finish and trying to reduce the chance of snipe at the ends of the boards, just take very light passes for your final cuts.
One common complaint with this planer was the accuracy of the depth gauge. Although I never pay any attention to the gauge on my planer anyway, so that isn’t a huge deal to me. If I’m ever planing a board to a specific, measured thickness, I’m always using calipers and sneaking up on the correct depth.
Best Mid Range Planer: JET JWP-15BHH 15″ Helical Cutterhead Planer
Now we’re getting into the fun (read: expensive) tools. I love this Jet 15-inch helical head planer for a few reasons. First, it is very solidly built with cast iron extension wings and a heavy-duty depth adjustment mechanism. Second, though, it is still small enough to be installed on a mobile base and moved into place when you need to use it.
The four post design on this Jet planer will keep your cutterhead square the table at all times and can handle the larger lumber that will be put through this machine.
The included helical cutterhead comes equipped with 48 individual carbide knives designed to self align without any extra needed adjustment.
The guts of this machine include a whopping 3hp motor. This is enough to really power through thick material without missing a beat. You can also choose from two different feed rates to make quick work of stock removal or slow it down for a smooth finish.
Best Top of the Line Planer: JET JWP-208HH 20″ Planer, 5HP, Helical Head
If you’re looking for a planer to take up permanent residence in your shop then this 750 behemoth is a solid choice. The Jet 20-inch planer features a 5hp motor, 20 inches of planing capacity and a cutter head with 92 individual carbide inserts.
This planer is as solid as they come and the perfect additional for any industrial level shop or the home craftsman who demands the best from their woodworking tools.
Pair this machine with a wide belt sander and you’ll be ready to start producing solid hardwood panels that will make any project shine.
Best Jointer/Planer Combo: JET JJP-12HH 12″ Planer/Jointer with Helical Head
While a combo jointer/planer may not be a best of both worlds type of tool these machines have been around long enough now where a lot of the early kinks have been worked out. If you’re short on space or just don’t want to deal with two separate machines then a jointer/planer combo can be a great choice.
The Jet helical head jointer/planer combo machine features an impressive 12 inches of jointing capacity and a somewhat less impressive 12 inches of planing capacity. For many woodworkers though 12 inches of capacity is more than enough for day to day tasks.
The planer is rated as one of the easiest to switch from jointing to planing as the fence does not have to be moved prior to switching it over.
The helical carbide cutter heads and 3hp motor will make quick work of whatever material you put through it.
Final Thoughts on the Best Planer Options
Adding a thickness planer to your wood shop opens up so many more possibilities to working with rough lumber. We hope this guide helps in choosing the best planer for your shop needs!
Derek grew up woodworking in his father’s shop and has since gone on to start up a successful woodworking business on Etsy. In his spare time, you can find him mountain biking, skiing, or writing.