What Is a Wood Planer & Why Do You Need One for Woodwork?

wood planer

If you’re yearning to get a detailed answer to the question: “what is a wood planer?” Then, you’ve struck gold—by finding this article because I’ll talk extensively about wood planers.

But that’s not all.

Apart from knowing the definition of a wood planer, you’ll also find out why it’s an essential tool in the woodworking industry.

Plus, you’ll learn how to use the wood planer because I plan to teach you—with a simple step-by-step guide.

No adequate knowledge about the different planers available in the market? No worries, I made a list that will guide you to choosing one that best suits your needs.

So, let’s begin! 

Where It All Started (the Birth of the Wood Planer)

Everything has a beginning, and the same goes for the wood planer. The wood planer’s history dates back to the time of the medieval era.

In those days, the structure of a wood planer was just wood and a metallic blade. The Romans used hand planers that looked similar to today’s versions—blades and muscles did all the hard work.

In the Nineteenth century, Leonard Bailey introduced new hand planers with iron cast bodies. The design became the blueprint for modern planers.

However, in recent times, more planer manufacturers are gradually shifting towards electric/power planers. Today, we see new electric wood planers with spinning blades, which have paved their way into the market.

Thus, what was once wood and metal is now a carpenter’s favorite tool.

What Are the Benefits of a Wood Planer

You can’t deny the remarkable benefit of wood planers. With it, you can reshape the thickness of any workpiece to your specific needs. Plus, it is a very powerful tool in the arsenal of a carpenter.

So, let’s take a look at the benefits of using a wood planer.

1. Saves You Time and Money

A wood planer can save you a lot of stress when shopping for wood. How? You can buy rough lumber and plane it to your desired thickness or smoothness instead of looking for your exact specifications, which could be cost-effective.

But, that’s not all.

You can save some money with a wood planer to recycle old lumber and get its grain. Plus, an old and abandoned wood can be remodeled easily—by flattening the surface with a wood planer. I’ll expand more on this—later in this post.

2. Avoid Tearout

A tearout is detrimental to any wood, and freshly cut lumber can face tearouts too—because it occurs when you cut a piece of timber poorly—the wood splinters and gets compromised.

Plus, boards that suffer from Tearout become unusable. Thankfully, there is a way to avoid this issue—a wood planer.

When you properly use your wood planer, you can avoid tearouts with ease. But, you have to position the cutter correctly—then let the tool do the rest. Wood planers also help to strengthen the integrity of your wood and improve its quality.

3. Reclaim Old Wood

As I mentioned earlier, Wood planers are also wood recyclers. But, the process is not so simple.

First, you must remove all nails, hinges, screws, or any metal on the wood. If you don’t do this, your planer will get damaged—and you won’t get the best out of it.

You can reclaim old wood from doors, furniture, and even worn-out logs as long as it still has good quality.

When Do You Need a Wood Planer and How Does It Work?

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, a wood planer should be top of your list—regarding woodworking tools.

Why? A wood planer is helpful most times—especially when you’re trying to even the dimension thickness for different workpieces—you plan to use for your projects.

Also, the wood planer comes in handy when you can’t spend much on finished wood—or you’re finding it difficult to get the perfect workpiece for your project.

Unless the wood gets bent at odd angles, you could always get the accurate thickness you need for your next woodwork project.

But there’s more.

It would be best if you had a wood planer to reclaim old wood. There might be other options like a belt sander, but the wood planer is the top dog in this area.

If you need to smoothen the surface of any wood, the wood planer is your go-to.

But how does a wood planer work?

Based on the type of planer you choose (I’ll discuss this later), you can either use your hand and muscles to plane wood. Or you can use the power planers—controlled by an engine, to plane your lumber.

If you’re a fan of the power planers, it means you’d have to settle for the hand-held power planers, benchtop planers, or stationary planers.

But whatever option you pick—as regards power planers, the mechanism is quite similar.

The power planing process is as follows;

First, you drive the wood into the planer. Next, the roller grabs the wood and passes it via a rotating cutter that shaves off the top of the wood.

You can repeat this process until you get the smoothness, thickness, and flatness you want.

The Types of Wood Planer Available

Like, I earlier mentioned, the first wood planer was simply a wooden block and a metal blade. Today, many woodworking manufacturers have introduced different wood planers into the market—for various purposes.

Therefore, we can classify wood planer into two major categories; Manual and Electric.

Manual Planer

Here are the different types of manual planers.

  • Hand Planer

Hand planers are the oldest planers available in the market. They come with a sharp metal plate attached to a steady wooden body. So, moving the tool across a wood’s surface shaves the high spot and leaves the surface smooth.

Also, you can adjust how deep you want it cut and control your planing—though this type of planing requires your strength.

  • Two-handed Planer/ Spokeshave

As the name implies, the two-handed planer comes with two handles like a motorcycle—so you can exert more muscle power with your two hands.

In contrast to the hand planer, the two-handed planer is made entirely out of metal. Plus, it offers a lighter and more convenient planing action.

So, the two-handed planer can perfectly shape corners with quick and delicate motions. Also, you can adjust the blade of your planer if you want a deeper cut.

  • Combination RASP/ Surform Plane

Surform is a surface-forming planer that takes the shape of a plane. This wood planer shaves the lumber’s surface layer by layer, just like a cheese grater.

Surform has more versatility. Thus, it shapes other surfaces like soft metals, rubber, fiberglass, and plastic.

  • Hand Scraper

The hand scraper uses pulling action to even out rough spots on a surface. Thus, it uses a mechanism different from other manual wood planers.

Also, it offers a different solution if the pushing mechanism is not working for you.

  • Flat Plane Bottom-edged Wood Hand Planer

This planer is the smallest manual wood planer on this list—so It’s not the best choice if you have a lot of trimming and slicing to do.

However, it allows you to trim workpieces in little bits. Also, its tiny size makes it possible for you to see the progress of whatever you’re shaping. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable manual wood planers in the market.

Electric Planer

Manual planers are usually slow, so you’re likely to get worn out easily. However, if you’re not slow-paced, you’ll love electric planers. An electric planer gets the job done fast. Plus, you can adjust them to cut at the right depth and speed.

  • Handheld Planer

The electric handheld planer offers a better and quicker way to smoothen surfaces. It comes with a spinning blade that gets the job done quickly. As a result, the electric planer is an easier tool to use—when compared to the manual planer.

  • Bench-Top Planer

Also known as a thickness planer, the bench-top planer is a woodworking tool that shaves woodpieces to get a consistent thickness through the wood surface. The Bench planer is the first big planer to handle small lumber pieces. But, unfortunately, it’s difficult to handle small and detailed work—with this planer.

  • Molding Planer

Are you looking for a woodworking tool that doubles as a planer and molder? Then, the molding planer is the perfect go-to for your project. This tool serves as a molder and a planer. Hence, it’s ideal for professional woodworkers that handle a ton of industrial and heavy-duty tasks.

  • Stationary Planer

With heavy-duty tasks comes the need for industrial tools. And that’s where the stationary planer comes in.

The stationary planer is the tool you need when your woodworking projects require a professional touch. However, it’s more expensive than the other planer mentioned and requires a big budget.

How Do You Use a Planer?

Wood planers can be hazardous in certain situations, especially if you’re a newbie woodworker. In addition, you may not be able to handle the high cutter speed and horsepower effectively if you’re inexperienced—for this reason, proper training is essential.

Moreover, how you use a planer depends solely on the project—you’re working with. There are tons of planers for different functions, but they still have a few similarities.

The first thing to note is the direction you pass the blade. Also, it would help if you take caution while operating a planer because one wrong move could damage the wood.

The rule of thumb is to ensure your blade goes in the same direction as the board’s grain.

But, you must know this;

Grains that go in all directions have special requirements. Thus, it would help if you found the perfect planer for the job.

The same thing applies to trimming the end of a board. You will need a different technique.

Last safety tip;

When using an electric planer, don’t forget to wear the proper equipment to protect yourself from woodchips.

Final Words

Now, you have an answer to the question: “What is a wood planer?”

It doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur or a professional—you can create anything from dado rails, trimming floorboards to well-finished doors.

Thankfully, we listed the types of wood planers available in the market with their unique characteristics.

So, I recommend that you consider the nature of your woodworking projects before selecting a wood planer—best tailored for your needs.

I’d love to hear from you:

Which of the planers are you willing to use for your woodworking project? Do you have a fave?

Please, feel free to air your thoughts in the comments section. 

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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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