Jointer Vs. Planer (Flatten and Change Thickness)

Last Updated on October 2, 2022 by Barry Gray

Here on TheToolSquare you will find me talking about the best jointers or the best planer power tools. However, I know some people don’t know either of those tools or which one is best.

So, I plan to address that here.

You see, both a jointer and a planer have their place when it comes to working with wood. I’m not saying you need to own both tools, although that could be an option for some people, but in the next few minutes, you will better understand what both tools can do.

The Key Difference Between a Jointer and Planer

As you may have already worked out, several key differences do exist between a jointer and a planer. However, I don’t want you picking up the wrong tool, so it’s worth me running through them again just to make everything absolutely clear.

So, I’m going to go through a scenario to help you better understand what happens with both a jointer and a planer.

Let’s say you get your hands on some unmilled lumber. Your first tool is the jointer to remove those imperfections and get things straight. 

Keep in mind that the jointer can remove material on two sides if you pass it through the jointer on two occasions. Do remember that it means the lumber does not have a uniform thickness at this moment. The jointer is unable to do that.

However, after passing through the jointer, it means you at least have the opportunity to begin to smooth things down with the planer.

But what if you don’t want something flat? Well, you would skip the jointer and just use the planer, knowing there will be twists and cups on the board, even though it would mean it did have the same maximum thickness across the length.

Yet I feel most people will end up using both machines on most occasions to get the perfect board for their project.

The Machines are Different

It’s also worth mentioning that the machines themselves are different. Generally speaking, a jointer is larger in size, and it comes with two tables. One table feeds the lumber over the cutter head while the other table is the outfeed.

A jointer machine also requires a bit more work from your perspective. You need to use the fence included to keep the lumber straight and move in a straight line. This is important as it does often require you to use some strength on your part to get 

This tends to mean a jointer machine is larger in size than a planer. Also, planers do come in different sizes from stationary machines, which are large, to benchtop planers for those smaller boards.

When choosing a planer, you clearly need to understand what you are likely to want to do regarding your projects to know you have the correct size machine in the first place.

Why You May Require These Machines

Unless you pre-purchase perfectly flat or smooth wood, then you need a machine that can transform the lumber into something you can work with. That’s where a jointer and planer will come into their own.

However, each tool has its own way of doing things, and that’s where the confusion comes into play with people. Also, even when you have wood that’s already straight, you may still need to work on it to get the lumber precisely as you want it.

So, if you intend to work with wood regularly for various projects of all shapes and sizes, you could need a jointer or a planer.

The Basic Idea of a Jointer

using jointer

If I can begin with the jointer, what you have here is a machine that will turn your lumber from something that’s uneven into a completely flat board. Already, you can understand how doing that will completely transform your entire project.

But it doesn’t really stop there.

A jointer also has the ability to take a piece of lumber and deliver a perfectly straight edge to what could have even previously been quite a warped piece of wood. It’s pretty impressive how it can produce a straight and true edge, even when starting off with quite a horrible board.

How it Works

A jointer will have two tables, with one allowing you to feed the wood into the machine and the other acting as the out table. These two tables give you a solid surface to work on and increase the size of the boards you can work with. Also, jointer machines come in different sizes, so look at the base size to determine the extent of panels you can then transform.

But one thing to know is that each table sits on the same plane. Between the two tables sits the cutter head, which is where you will find the knives. Also, the top of the knives will be lined up with the level of the outer table.

To remove the amount of material you want to take off, you adjust the infeed table to create the depth of difference between the infeed and outfeed table. That difference is the amount of material that will be removed as you pass the board over the cutter head and out the other side.

A jointer will also come with a fence, which can often be angled up to 45 degrees if that’s what you need for your project. This fence provides some support when it comes to attempting to joint board edges. It should mean you get a perfectly consistent end result.

As you can see, using a jointer is very easy. Your main issue is making that adjustment to ultimately remove the amount of material you need to remove for the sake of your project.

jointer in use

The Advantages of a Jointer

For me, I would recommend using a jointer when you want to flatten a board and start to get things as uniform as possible. This is thanks to several advantages.

First, a jointer makes short work of getting those warped and damaged boards straight once again. It also manages to straighten up edges in no time, allowing you to use the board in your project when previously it may have been unusable.

A jointer can work with twists, bows, and cups and remove those imperfections. This does open up the possibility of you working with more boards or lumber than you previously thought possible.

Finally, a jointer is a simple tool. Adjusting a jointer changes how the infeed table sits to determine how much material it will remove. It doesn’t require any real experience or knowledge to get the sort of end results you were hoping for.

So, if you intend to work with wood and seek to transform lumber into however you need it, then a jointer may be an essential tool in your workshop.

Where a Jointer Will Struggle

But while I do see a jointer as a wonderful machine, I admit it does come with some limitations. I think it’s only fair I point them out to help you come to some conclusion as to whether or not you want to press ahead and get one.

The first issue is that a jointer can only work on one side of lumber at a time. That does mean flattening two sides of a board is not possible. It increases the chances of you potentially ending up with two sides of the board where two different depths of material have been removed. That may prove problematic for some projects.

Another issue is that you cannot set a perfect thickness across the entire board with a jointer. You may then run into problems getting things as precise as you want, but that’s where a planer could prove to be highly effective and helpful.

Finally, it’s not the job of a jointer to make the lumber smooth. It’s just not designed to do that at all, so don’t expect it to work wonders. It’s not going to happen.

But overall, I feel a jointer is a wonderful tool where the benefits and advantages of it certainly heavily outweigh the negatives. 

The Basic Idea of a Planer

using benchtop planer

If I now look at a planer, you will start to see some differences between the two machines. 

However, while you will probably be aware that a planer will make the surface of your lumber smooth, you may not know it comes with several other uses.

Instead, a planer can reduce the overall thickness of the lumber you plan to work with. A planer can take a piece of wood that has been jointed and can then be used to turn that board into something of uniform thickness across the entire length. You can already see why that would prove to be beneficial for several projects, and it’s why I do believe any individual working with wood needs a planer of some description.

How it Works

planer long board

Generally, you have more to deal with when using a planer than a jointer. However, the end results you can achieve may prove to be fantastic.

To work a planer, you place your board on the planer bed and start to push it through. The rollers on the bed effectively grab the board, in a sense, and feed it through the planer machine and over the cutter head. 

The rotating cutter head is placed above the board, and it will then remove your desired amount of material from the board. You should know that the amount of material removed correlates to the distance between the board and the cutter head.

However, a planer can only remove a certain amount of material in a single pass. Also, each planer machine has a maximum depth it can remove at one time, so knowing what that depth is in advance makes a difference.

Generally speaking, you probably won’t be able to remove more than ⅛” at a time with a planer. However, it does lead to the board coming out exceptionally smooth at the end.


The Advantages of a Planer

I think it’s obvious where the advantages lie when using a planer. Of course, any machine capable of helping you to get a smooth, even surface on your lumber will prove to be highly useful, and a planer can do precisely that.

I see a planer as the easiest way to get a parallel surface and do it without stressing out or complicating matters. Also, a planer does make it exceptionally easy to get a uniform thickness across the entire length and width of the board. It really can prove to be very precise.

In addition, as it can remove just a thin layer of lumber at a time, you will also notice that the lumber itself comes out significantly cleaner after passing through the planer. That’s because it will remove those surface blemishes revealing new, clean wood below. Boards can be completely transformed as a result.

A planer machine can do all of this in no time. It would take you a crazy length of time to try to do all this by hand, and you would fail to get as good an end result as you can achieve with a planer machine.

Where a Planer Will Struggle

While I do love what a planer can do for you, I also accept that a planer has some areas where it may struggle. So, like before, here are the disadvantages to be entirely fair in my opinion of a planer.

First, it won’t remove warps and twists in the lumber. It’s just not designed to achieve that type of result with a board. It only removes small amounts at one time, which cannot lead to too much wood being removed, resulting in those warps and twists being removed.

Also, a significant issue is that you cannot use a planer to get square edges to the boards. It just doesn’t have that capability either. So, if that’s something you need to do with the lumber, then you need to use a jointer before moving to a planer to get everything smooth.

Final Tips and to Clear Up Any Confusion

Finally, I don’t want you to feel confused about what a jointer or a planer can do, especially if you intend to go out and purchase one of the machines in the near future. So, let me clarify a few things.

First, a jointer cannot perform the same tasks as a planer, and vice-versa. They have distinct roles and can only do specific tasks. That is why you may often need to use both tools to get your intended end result.

However, there are times when a planer can do a job similar to a jointer, but with a number of restrictions. For example, it would mean one side of the lumber was already flat, but if that’s not the case, it just cannot happen.

Finally, if you have rough lumber complete with those twists and bends and cups, then your only option is to put it through a jointer first to give you something that then becomes workable. It speeds up the entire process, and I guarantee you will prefer the end result.

As I said, the machine you need depends on what you wish to achieve. In most instances, I would suggest both a jointer and a planer, but it then comes down to an issue of both cost and space in your workshop.

Overall Conclusion

Both a jointer and a planer have their role to play in helping you get your lumber precisely as you need it for your projects. If you intend to work with wood regularly and know you will have to make adjustments, I suggest you consider investing in these tools.

In no time, a jointer and planer have the ability to transform a warped, horrible piece of wood into something you can actually use. It can plane things to the exact depth you want, and they save you doing a lot of the hard work yourself.

A jointer and planer are both easy machines to operate, and the results they can produce may make both these machines invaluable to you and your projects. Elsewhere on my website, I even give you my list of the best machines to consider purchasing, so if you are interested in finding out more about the best jointer or planers, then check out those lists.

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.

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