Why Portable Planers are Better

lunchbox planerWhile we lust for a 20″ monster, most woodworkers would be just as well off (or better) with a ‘suitcase planer.’

by Christopher Schwarz
pages 32-36

When I started woodworking in about 1993, I wanted two things: a table saw with a decent rip fence and the biggest thickness planer on the planet.

In my opinion, planers are the biggest labor-saving device ever invented for the workshop. You might think it’s the electric jointer, but I disagree. Any half-witted woodworker can do the work of an electric jointer – e.g. flatten one face and edge of a board – with a $20 jack plane.

But if you want to then remove a 1⁄2″ of material from 20 boards and make all the surfaces dead parallel, put your handplane down and fire up the electric planer. It can turn days of sweat into a few minutes of easy work.

For many years, I lusted for an enormous cast iron, induction-motor battleship with a 20″-wide mouth. When I got my wish, however, it was anticlimactic. The finish on the boards it planed was just OK. And I sure as heck wasn’t happy with how much space the 20″ monster hogged in the shop – never mind the bill for the machine or the tedium of the jackscrews when changing knives.

Had I Reached Too Far?
When I set up a new shop in 2011, I skipped the cast iron planer. Instead, I bought an inexpensive, portable, universal-motor planer that fits under a workbench. It leaves a better finish. The knives are a snap to switch out. And I’ve been surprised – no, shocked – by how tough the machine is for daily use.

If you are shopping for a planer, I hope to convince you to save money, space and time by purchasing a portable machine and ignore the call of the heavy-metal sirens.

Blog: Read about universal and induction motors.
Blog: Read about helical cutterheads for suitcase planers.
In our store:Woodworking Machinery Basics: Jointers and Planers,” by Jim Stack and David Thiel.
To Buy:Four Ways to Make Tapered Legs,” by Keith Neer, Glen D. Huey, Robert W. Lang and Christopher Schwarz.

From the February 2016 issue, #233
pwm0216_150