Understanding how to use a planer is one of the critical skills that bring you a step closer to becoming a woodworking expert or a DIYer.
Usually, a manual hand planer is the first planing tool most woodworkers begin with before upgrading to other advanced planing tools.
The benchtop wood planer is an excellent example of advanced planing tools a woodworker should learn to use.
It’s one of the unique tools designed to make planing lumber—easy and fast. With this tool, you can learn how to avoid common issues like snipes, ridges, and tearouts.
Plus, it helps you to handle the following tasks:
- Clean up rough-sawn lumbers
- Create custom thickness for boards
- Reclaim old wood
That’s why I created this post to show how to use a benchtop wood planer in the right way.
Let’s jump right in!
What Are the Required Tools and Materials You Need to Use a Benchtop Wood Planer?
Before you start planing lumber with a benchtop wood planer, you need to know the tools and materials you need to get things started.
If you plan to save yourself time and avoid frustration when planing with a benchtop wood planer, here are the things you need:
- Dust mask
- Safety glasses
- Hearing protection
- Softwood lumber or top-quality hardwood
And a benchtop planer, of course!
How to Use a Planer: 10 Practical Steps to Take
Without further ado, we shall be diving into the ten practical steps to take when using a benchtop planer:
1. Familiarize Yourself With the Parts, Mechanisms, and Features
Getting familiar with the vital features, parts, and mechanisms of a benchtop planer is the first step to take.
Hence, you should know that a benchtop is a portable carpentry tool that helps cut, shape, and smoothen wood edges. Plus, it’s the bridge between hand-held planers and stationary planers — used majorly for heavy-duty projects.
Undoubtedly, you’ll see an improvement in your work productivity and more profits, as your workpieces get great finishing touches.
So, here are the key components that make up a benchtop planer;
- Table: The table is the flat surface or platform where you place your board as you feed it into the machine. So, if you’re going to handle lengthy boards, I recommend you go for benchtop planers with an adjustable table—relative to the cutter head.
- Cutter head: The cutter head is a stationary component that houses the cutting knives of the benchtop planer. It’s responsible for creating cuts and snaps on a stock. Typically, the material of the cutterhead is steel and it slices and cuts through wood quickly.
- Rollers: This component helps to support wood fed into the benchtop planer. Plus, it keeps the tool moving forward smoothly.
- Scale and Pointer: These are measuring components you’ll find in the benchtop planer.
- Dust collection port: A dust collection port connects with a duct hose to capture woodworking dust and debris from your planer, which helps to keep your workshop clean.
2. Setup Your Benchtop Planer for Use
Here are essential benchtop planer tips you can use to set it up—for efficient application and use:
Find a Good Location
It’s always ideal to find an isolated location—away from the public when planing wood. Ideally, it would help if you get an enclosed workshop (that isn’t so accessible to people) because of the wood chips and sawdust produced by the benchtop planer. Your basement or garage is a good place to start.
Setting Things Up
This step is one of the essential steps to take if you want to know how to use a benchtop planer.
Here are the steps to set things up:
- Unplug the planer
- Ensure the blade has no sign of debris like wood chips and sawdust
- Next, lower the outfeed and infeed table adaptable bolts to insert the tables beneath the center table
- Ensure there’s no blade hanging under the cutter head unit.
- Place the straight end firmly and carefully in the right place.
- Make all the adjustments to keep the tables at the bottom part of the edge
Test Drive the Machine
After setting things up with the planer, the next thing is to switch on the machine and test it. First, you can draw a few lines on a wooden board with a pencil to check its progress. Afterward, pass the board through the planer and see how it works.
3. Select Your Preferred Finish
When working with a benchtop planer, there are two types of finish you can achieve:
- The finishing cut
The rollers tend to move faster or slower when you switch between these two finishes.
The finishing cut gives you a finer result because it has a higher number of cuts per inch. In contrast, dimensioning provides lesser cuts per inch and a rougher finish.
4. Feed the Benchtop Planer With Your Desired Finished Workpiece
Next, you feed the planer with the selected board. While you’re at it, ensure that you run each board through the planer vertically.
Also, you can start by running the wooden board through the planer—above each board’s wide and flat sides.
Afterward, adjust the planer gradually to plane the wood a little more. Avoid taking large chunks at once.
The rule of thumb is to feed all your wooden boards at once. In other words, avoid planing one board at a time. That way, all the boards will have the same thickness.
Also, don’t forget to plane all the sides of each board to get a smoother and flatter finish.
5. Avoid Tearout When Feeding Your Board Into Your Planer
Tearout occurs when feeding the wrong end of the board forward into your benchtop planer. When this happens, the knives hook the rising wood fibers and tear them out instead of cutting them.
So, to avoid this, check the direction of the fibers or grain, and you’ll know which end to feed the machine.
What if you want to plane a wide surface? Look out for the grain on the narrow edge. And if it’s the edges you want to plane, look for the broad face.
When feeding a rough stock, you can run your hands over the board to feel the fiber. You’re going to feel some smoothness in one area and roughness in other areas.
So, what do you do here?
Feed the smooth surfaces forward into the benchtop planer first.
If you find a tearout at both sides of the board, the ideal thing to do is to feed a small quantity of wood off for every pass of 1/32 inches.
6. Prevent Wood Snipe When Planing
When a board gets scratched at the beginning and end of wooden boards as you feed and remove them from the planer, we refer to this as snipe.
Snipe usually happens as a result of the wooden board moving up into the cutter head when planing. The wood should stay down, not move up. So, it’s crucial to fasten the board down with multiple pressure rollers.
That’s why the routers of most new planers come with a mechanism that locks the planer head in place—after adjusting the depth. This mechanism helps to reduce snipe.
But the best way to avoid snipe is to give the boards an additional 5 inches length—while planing. Then, you can slice off the snipe when you trim the board to its final size.
Another way to go about it is by sacrificing a small amount of your board. Afterward, feed the next board into the machine against the first board’s end and keep feeding the boards—end to end.
You can repeat the process and feed in another sacrificial board. The planer will see it as a long wood, so it keeps sniping the first and last boards.
7. Go for Perfect Deck Spindles
If you want to get familiar with your benchtop wood planer, planing a rough-cut wood into crisp and clean spindles is a great start.
What size of lumber do you need?
You can start with a 2 x 6 or 2 x 4 lumber to make 2 x 2s. With this dimension, you’ll achieve better-looking spindles with crisp, square edges.
So, kick start the process by ripping the boards to about 1-5/8 inches.
When you rip your board, it allows you to have about 1-1/2 inch thickness. It also lets you remove saw marks.
With that said, you can set your planer to do two things: remove approximately 1/32 inches and run the first batch of 2 x 2s through.
Then, reset your planer to take out another 1/32 inches. But this time, run your 2 x 2s through with the opposite face up. The goal here is to have the same width and thickness on both sides. Proceed to rotate the spindle (a quarter turn) and plane the two adjacent faces.
Afterward, lower the cutters by 1/32 inches. Then, you can plane the two adjacent faces left. While you’re at it, ensure that you’re consistent with stacking the spindles. That way, you’ll be able to determine which side you planed. Or you can mark the face of each spindle.
8. Avoid Wood Gauging and Cutting
You can avoid wood gauging and cut by NOT placing the rough side on the front side of your planer. If you do, your planer will catch the grain of your rough lumber and get unnecessary gauging and cuts.
So, it’s ideal to position the rough side entirely forward.
9. Clean the Rough Edges
To get rid of saw marks from the edges of torn boards, you can stack several boards side by side. This method also helps to prevent your board from tipping sideways.
Plus, it also allows you to produce a pile of boards of the same width. So, you can use this technique to clean the edges of a ripped lumber or plane shelf nosing.
10. Sand Out Ridges
It’s normal to have a tiny chip in your planer knives—regardless of how careful you are. When this happens, you’ll notice a ridge in your planed board. If you can’t afford to buy a new set of knives, there’s a way out.
First, check if it’s possible to offset the nicks by shifting one of the knives a bit. If that’s not possible, you can fall back to sanding out the ridges. After all, most boards need a bit of sanding before finishing.
If you’ve decided to sand out the ridges on your board, use 120-grit sandpaper. While you’re at it, sand with the grain. Also, to ease the process, you can use a commercial sanding block or wrap your sandpaper around a Styrofoam block.
Bonus Tips: Planing With Your Benchtop Wood Planer
Here are some bonus tips that can help you use a benchtop wood planer correctly:
1. How to Reclaim an Old Wood
It’s no surprise if you want to reclaim old wood—besides, it adds character and charm to your project.
So, how do you go about it?
Here are steps you can follow:
Most times, you may have reclaimed lumber (stacked with nails holding it). In this case, you have to disassemble the lumber into single boards with a hammer or pry bar.
Dust and debris can dull the blades of your planer. So, you have to rid your lumber of any dirt or debris by using a wire brush on its surface. That way, you’ll spot any screw or nails that may have broken below the surface of the wood.
You have to check that your lumber doesn’t have the tiniest screws or nails that can damage your planer. You may not see these screws because the lumber is old—so, you can use a metal detector. While you use the metal detector, mark the spot where the device locates anything with a marker.
When you find all the metals or screws in your lumber, remove them with a trim pry bar. The tool is effective for removing screws and nails, thanks to its tiny head. Wire staples aren’t left out. You can use the trim pry bar to remove them. When you finish the task, use a metal detector to confirm that you removed all the screws.
Now, your lumber is ready—set your planer’s depth accordingly. Then, run the lumber through the planer—to remove about 1/8 inch of material for every pass.
Then, inspect the board as it comes out of the planer, and check if it has anything in the wood—between passes. If it’s all clear, you can repeat the process till you have a smooth surface without depressions
Turn the board over and repeat the previous steps until you get your preferred thickness.
The rule of thumb is to confirm that you put your board on wood saw horses. That way, your metal detector won’t falsely warn you.
Plus, it’s crucial to use gloves for this project to avoid cutting yourself with rusty screws or nails. Safety glasses and earmuffs are essential as well for protection as you work with your planer.
2. How to Flatten a Roughly Sawn Lumber
You can flatten a roughly sawn lumber in the following steps:
Assemble the Parts
First, it’s vital to draw a paper sketch of your layout. Then, use chalk to lay out the parts you need from the board. While you’re at it, work around cracks, edges, and knots.
Cut the lumber according to the corresponding lengths and add extra 2 inches at least. That way, you can remove any checks on the ends without affecting the final length. Plus, it’s best to use short boards over long ones as they are easier to flatten.
Flatten One Side of Your Wood
Check your board for any bow. If you have one, set your jointer depth to about 1/32 inches, position the bowed side up, and push the board through the knives. These knives will level the high spots as you push the board through.
So, maintain the downward pressure on your board over the infeed bed. But, the outfeed bed requires little or no pressure—until you’re making the last passes. In short, make passes till your lumber is flat.
Flatten the Reverse Side
Start with the board’s highest point. Then, send it to the planer first with a small cut. After the first pass, increase the cut depth a bi. But, you have to be careful here as a deeper cut could cause a tear-out, burning, and stalls.
If you notice a tear-out, turn the other side of your board and send it through your tool. Then plane out the tear-out before you get the final thickness.
Flatten the Edge
Check if the edge of your wood has any bows. If you find any, place the bowed side up and send it through your tool. When the edges are flat, you can stop.
Rip Out the Waste
Put the edge of your board against your table saw fence and cut it within 1/8 inches of the final width.
Gang-Plane Your Boards
Plane your boards in groups if you have several thinner boards with the same thickness. You can do this by holding them as they enter and exit the planer. Then, cut the final length for your project.
How to Use a Planer: Key Safety Tips to Follow When Using One
These are some tips that’ll reduce the risk of injuries as you use your power tool:
- Ensure that you wear safety glasses while using your planer
- Position the outfeed guard to cover the opening properly
- Avoid planing twisted or warped boards until you’ve straightened one side and it can lie flat on a level surface
- Remove any loose knots on your board before planing
- Confirm the thickness of your stock at the thickest point and the width—to know if your planer can handle it
- Set the height of the infeed table up to 1/16 inches less than the thickness you measured
- Before planning, identify the grain direction of the surface
- Ensure that your fingers or hands don’t get into the infeed opening
- Don’t turn your planer on with the stock inside the infeed opening. Instead, allow your planer to reach full speed when you switch it on before feeding your stock
- When the planer is running, avoid bending to look into it
- If you’re dealing with long lumber, get help feeding your stock into the infeed opening. While you’re at it, stand beside the stock, not behind
- When your device is running, focus on your stock, hands, and controls
- Turn off the machine if you hear an unusual sound while you’re planing a stock
- Avoid pulling the stock half way. Allow the machine to push it toward you
- Don’t make adjustments immediately after turning off the tool—wait till it stops moving
You may know how to use a planer before now. But I’m confident this guide has helped you understand the benchtop wood planer’s mechanism, features, and operation.
So, what you need to do is to start practicing on your benchtop—by running test drives. You can start by trying to reclaim old wood, check their grain and plane them to have smooth and flat finishes.
That said, I’d love to hear from you;
Which step are you still struggling with? Which one is your fave?
Please, share your answers in the comments section!