Wood Planer Vs. Sander | Which Tool To Use and When?

Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray

Have you recently found yourself searching your workshop for woodworking tools to do your next DIY project only to realize you don’t have the hand tools you need? A planer or a sander, what differences do these truly have?

A wood planer is a tool that evens out wood boards and planks to make it the same thickness. A wood sander, whether belt sanders, random orbital sanders, disc sanders, and finishing sanders, are used as finishing tools to give a smooth result to what you have made. 

Although a wood planer and a sander might sound like it almost does the same job, it truly doesn’t substitute one for the other. Still, they are both of equal value to your workshop, and once you have gotten used to having them, seeing projects without them would be impossible. 

Wood Planer Vs. Sander

Wood Planer Vs. Sander

A wood planer is a tool that evens out wooden boards and produces planks of similar thickness, making it an extremely valuable tool because you can use wood of any thickness to make the thickness you prefer or need for your project. 

It also means that you can clean up sawn edges, smooth rougher pieces of wood, and can give old pieces of wood a clean lease on life. In addition, planed timber is often called in for projects where you need to glue wood together, such as making cutting boards or other woodcarvings and furniture making. 

Sanders, on the other hand, are finishing tools. They give the wood a smooth finished feel, and you can easily varnish or paint on a sanded surface. Sanding wood also removes the wood to remove minor flaws, scratches, and cuts. 

When you don’t sand wood, it will absorb much more stain, varnish, and paint than when it’s sanded. Varnishing or staining on rougher surfaces can also create stripes and marks on the surfaces, diminishing the project’s result.

Can I Use A Sander Instead Of A Planer?

You might be wondering since wood planers and sanders are both essentially even out wood, they are interchangeable. After all, there are many other tools that one can use as alternatives if you don’t have a specific hand tool.

And some believe that if you are using a belt sander, you can use it to even out the wood to a certain thickness.

But, unless you have the steadiest grip in the world and heaps of time on your hands, and if you love to replace sanding grit every five minutes with no regard to keeping your sander from burning out, my recommendation is don’t do it.

A planer will give you the best imaginable, even thickness, taking 100% less time than a sander. So, thus wood planers and sanders are not interchangeable, and it is highly ill-advised. 

Does A Wood Planer Sand Wood?

If your next question is if a wood planer can sand wood, then you are in for a surprise. Although a wood planer gives you an even surface, it can still have inevitable scratches and blemishes that a sander removes from wood. 

However, if you are making a crafty item with a rather spectacular wood grain, you might want to know that sander can make the grain look a bit dull, and if you are planning for the grain to be a feature of the project, then you might not want to sand. 

This is a helpful tip to know when making niche items that don’t have a big surface to even out, and you have a beautiful grain to show off. 

You can find out more information in the video below:

Different Types of Wood Planers

There are several types of wood planers, all having the same purpose, mainly divided into:

  • Manual planers
  • Electric planers

Manual Wood Planers

Carpenter Using Manual Wood Planer

Manual wood planers include:

  • Hand Planers
  • Combination rasp planers
  • Flat plane bottom-edged wood hand planers
  • Hand scrapers.

This means that you use your hands to take off wood slivers to make the wood pieces even in thickness. Some manual wood planers are also effective in removing paint or varnish from wooden floors, such as hand scrapers. Hand planers are also helpful for rounding corners or a more niche crafting than electric planers could provide for you.  

Electric Wood Planers

Using Electric Wood Planer

Electric wood planers can easily be put in two categories: portable and stationary planers

Portable wood planers would include:

  • Handheld electric planer is, what it says in the name, a handheld and works by spinning a blade rather than a static blade. 
  • A bench planer is also a portable planer. Although not handheld, it can be put on a workbench and easily be transported as needed. It can handle small pieces of lumber but it’s not suited for small, detailed work. 

Stationary planers are the big boys of woodworking. This is just a hand tool for a quick DIY job. Stationary planers such as molding or stationary planers stand on your workshop floor, and they are big pieces of equipment. They can handle big pieces of lumber and are not for playing around in the workshop. 

Different Types Of Sanders

type of sander

As with planers, you also get a few different sanders, each having the same purposes yet featuring a few differences for particular needs.

The most commonly used sanders are :

  • belt sanders
  • orbital finishing sanders
  • random-orbit sanders

Belt Sanders 

Belt sanders are super helpful in sanding large pieces with large surfaces to cover because the belt moves with intense speed and force. It smooths the surfaces quickly and efficiently. You can also easily change the sanding grit, which means that you can adjust the coarseness of the sanding depending on your needs

Belt sanders come both as stationary and handheld. They are, however, not as smooth, and you would need extra sanding with an orbital sander to get that polished finish. 

Orbital Sanders 

Orbital sanders are easy-to-use, lightweight, and portable. Regardless of your skillset as a woodworker, they are a great choice and give an ultra-smooth polished look on wood surfaces. Unfortunately, though, they are not as fast as belt sanders and do not have enough force to remove hefty wood stock easily. 

Random-Orbit Sanders 

A random-orbit sander works differently from an orbital sander as it vibrates and spins simultaneously and acts like an orbital sander combined with a belt sander. It gives a smooth finish yet removes stock quicker than an orbital sander. 

It is one of those hand tools that many amateurs and professionals swear by and believe it a ‘must-have’ workshop tool. 


Although you can finish your piece with a planer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that planning is better than sanding. Both processes have a place in finishing your project, and you’ll probably use both tools in most projects you take on. 

If you are a hobbyist and feel the time is right for you to buy a sander and a planer, you can get quite far with a random-orbit sander and a plain jane hand planer. Using those two hand tools will provide you with much ease, and you would soon not be able to imagine life without them.

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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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