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

Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Barry Gray

When do you use a planer, and when do you use a sander? For me, I use a planer when I want to even out wood and get it the same thickness, while a sander is designed to smooth things out, remove old paint, and even to simply prepare the wood for the finishing touches.

Yet, there’s more to this than that simple answer I gave at the outset. Instead, what you discover as you dive into this entire wood planer or sander debate is that each tool has its own specific role to play. Basically, there’s a lot to get through in order to give you all the information you need to have at your disposal when deciding which tool you should use.

But there has to be a point to it all, and my point is to ultimately decide which option is the best. Let’s face it, you may be in the process of buying a new tool to help with this particular job, and you don’t want to go out and buy two things if they can produce almost the same end result. 

So, I think the information below should make a difference with that. Actually, in just a few minutes, you may find yourself in a situation where it’s clearer which tool you should go ahead and buy.

But to do that, I need to start by telling you more about each tool. Only after that will I have the ability to go ahead and come to some kind of conclusion as to which option is best.

Now, I know some people will have both a wood planer and a sander in their workshop. Some individuals may even have more than one sander since there are typically four various styles of sander you may own. But is it even possible to work out if one is better than the other?

That’s what I’m going to seek to find out. 

wood planer vs sander what's the difference

Introducing a Wood Planer

So, what should you know about a wood planer? Quite a few things, actually, so let me take you through these key components.

First, a wood planer is a tool designed to even out wood planks. A planer’s aim is to make the boards the same thickness across their entire length, and I’ve found in the past that this is something a planer is pretty good at doing.

I see this as a highly valuable tool to have at your disposal. It does mean you can take uneven wood and turn it into something that is easy to work with. Also, it manages to achieve this with minimal fuss and in less time than you ever thought possible.

Ultimately, it allows you to then make progress with your project while also knowing the boards you are working with are in perfect condition. It does this with consummate ease, and I know I was amazed at how it transformed a piece of wood the first time I had the pleasure of seeing a wood planer in action. It certainly opened my eyes to what was possible, and it ultimately led to me seeking to get my own version for my own workshop. 

But that’s not all that a wood planer is capable of doing.

Other Ways a Wood Planer Can Help

using a wood planer versus a sander

I’ve already stated how a wood planer has the ability to make a board the same thickness, but that’s not the only trick it has up its sleeve.

Instead, you can use a wood planer for a multitude of other tasks, but they are all intended to do the same thing, which is to get that board into the perfect shape for your project.

Look at some harshly sawn edges to planks or boards. You need to plane them down to ensure different boards can effectively go together, and never mind the fact it just looks messy when everything is ragged like that. So, a wood planer can cope with that in no time at all.

But I’m still not finished with the way in which a wood planer can help you out.

A wood planer can also be used to strip back an old piece of wood and make it look fresh once again. I know a sander can also do this, but at least you still know the old board is of a uniform thickness. It’s just amazing how stripping the uppermost layer of a plank can just transform it in a matter of minutes.

But the same also applies to any rough or gnarled edge to a board. Allowing your wood planer to get to work with it makes a huge difference, and if you have ever been involved in any kind of woodworking before, then you will already know how important it is to get the base materials right before you start.

Well, a wood planer has the ability to make all of this significantly more straightforward than you had previously thought. Also, it allows you to fire through this part of a project, which is often the boring part, and get you closer to your end goal.

But even though I hope to have clarified why a wood planer is such a good tool, perhaps explaining some clear advantages associated with the tool will also help.

Basically, I would sum things up with the following points.

  • A wood planer will even out wood
  • It does so at speed and with absolute control
  • It creates a uniform thickness
  • It cannot effectively finish off the wood and get it ultra-smooth

The Advantages of a Wood Planer

advantages of a wood planer

I see a wood planer as having a number of clear advantages as a tool. So, let’s quickly run through them to help anybody that’s perhaps not so convinced about using one in their projects. For me there are at least four different advantages that really stand out for me. 

It Really Does Even Out Boards

There’s no doubt that a wood planer does indeed do the job it’s designed for, which is to even out boards. It manages to do this even if you use a manual planer, but clearly, the power tool version can plane everything down in next to no time. Also, think about whether you want corded or cordless to make it easier with working on those boards.

The Speed

The speed at which a wood planer works is astonishing. Of course, the speed will be even more impressive when you use the power tool version. It’s very easy for you to effectively rip through boards and prepare them for your project, even if they do initially appear to be very uneven.

It Offers Amazing Precision

Because of how a wood planer is designed, it does mean you will be able to use a tool that offers amazing precision. This is because of the way in which the blades on the planer come down on the board, and they do it very evenly from the first moment the blades come into contact with the wood.

You Can Adjust the Thickness with Ease

One thing I love about a wood planer is that you can easily adjust the thickness, which means you can adjust how much wood is removed to get your board to the desired size. How many settings you have available does depend on your model, and it’s obviously the case a power tool has more settings than a hand version.

However, both options make it as easy as possible to set how much material is taken off the board in just the one pass.

I just see a wood planer as being an excellent tool to have at your disposal. You never know when a piece of wood you plan to work with is just not working, thanks to it not being even. A wood planer stops you from throwing away that wood while it allows you to carry on with your project, knowing the wood is precisely as you need it.

The Disadvantages of a Wood Planer

wood planer disadvantages

Even though a wood planer does have a number of clear advantages, this is not a perfect tool. It does have limits as to what it can achieve, and I feel having an understanding of those disadvantages is crucial when settling on whether or not you intend to use a wood planer.

It Cannot Create a Smooth Finish

A smooth finish is not something you are going to achieve when it comes to a wood planer. I know it can create an even thickness, but that’s entirely different for a smooth surface.

Due to the reason why you use a planer, it means the blades will leave some slight ridges or notches in the wood. They may be small, but you will still spot them and feel them when you run your hand over the wood.

So, while it levels out a board, it’s not going to get it to an adequate type of finish for you to then have the finished project.

It Can Produce Snipe

Snipe is a common issue with a wood planer, and this is where the rollers on a wood planer manage to pull up, leading to slightly deeper cuts at the ends of the board. This is something you need to take into consideration when dealing with boards, as it may mean the very end of the board becomes useless thanks to the deeper cuts.

How deep, or how big the snipe is, does vary depending on the machine. But there’s little you can do to prevent it from happening even slightly, so always choose the wood that’s longer than you need to then allow you to cut off the snipe without destroying your project.

But here’s an important point. These two clear disadvantages will not prove to be a problem when you are aware of them and know that a wood planer does come with these limitations. 

As long as you plan for that snipe and know you will not get that silky smooth finish, then you can put a planer to work in the way it’s designed to do and then sit back and love the end results you know it will achieve. 

Introducing a Sander

wood sander vs wood planer

While a sander does do a number of the same types of jobs, the main reason for using a sander is completely different.

You see, in my opinion, a planer is more of a preparatory tool, whereas a sander is more of a finishing tool. I think that’s the best way of looking at these types of tools, and it gives you some initial insight as to what you should then be using a sander for.

Now, a sander does come in different forms, and I’m not going to delve into the merits of each type of sander as they are all designed to ultimately produce the same end results.

The main reason why you would use a sander is to get a smooth finish to the wood. It then makes your life a lot easier when it comes to adding those finishing touches, such as varnish or paint, when the surface you are working on is completely smooth.

But there’s a bit more to a sander when you really look at what it’s capable of doing.

How a Sander Can Make a Difference to Your Project

using a wood sander

Aside from the general sanding down of wood to get a smooth finish, it’s also worth pointing out that a sander is also capable of helping when there are some slight chips and marks on the surface of the wood.

I see a sander as being an excellent tool for dealing with those minor marks, and it’s certainly a better option than the wood planer, which would take so much off the wood when it’s just not required.

Basically, I see a sander as being the perfect tool for these reasons.

  • For preparing wood for paint
  • To remove small notches and rough parts to wood
  • Smoothing down edges of planks
  • Smoothing down rough edges after sawing
  • Removing old paint from a surface
  • Smoothing down repairs

The list does carry on, but this at least gives you some idea of the types of projects you could use it for, and it’s certainly different to how you would use a planer.

The Advantages of a Sander

using a wood sander

I feel a sander does come with a series of advantages, and it’s best to know what they are if you plan on adding a sander to the list of tools at your disposal. They have a number of clear advantages that I feel will immediately leap out.

It Makes Varnishing or Painting Easier

Let me start by telling you that you will quickly discover that painting or varnishing wood that has been sanded down smoothly will be significantly easier. A sander has the ability to provide you with the perfect surface, so the brush will be unable to jump over the ridges that may have otherwise been there.

Ultimately, it should result in a perfect finish, but only if your painting technique is actually up to the standard that means you can create a smooth end result minus the marks left by the brush.

It Is Quick and Easy to Use

I find a sander, and I apply this to each and every type of sander to be very easy to use. Actually, it’s one of the most straightforward power tools out there.

It is designed to make short work of finishing off a plank or board and producing a smooth finish. I find it to be excellent with this, and it’s certainly the best tool for the job. Nothing else comes close to it.

The Disadvantages of a Sander

disadvantages of a wood sander

But a sander is not perfect. It does have its limitations, and you should know more about them before you fire up your own sander for whatever project you have in store for it.

You Have Too Many Options

One issue I have with a sander is the fact you have so many options available. From belt sanders to orbital sanders, finishing sanders, and disc sanders, it can mean you have more than one in your workshop.

Add in the fact you have different grades of paper you then attach to the sander depending on what you want out of your sander, and you start to see how it’s tough to even know you have the correct tool for the job.

I know the perfect solution is to have more than one sander. Still, I would generally opt for a random orbital sander with a variable speed control and match that with a range of sandpaper grits to cover me for most eventualities.

They Can Be Messy

A sander is not always the cleanest of tools, so prepare for the dust to fly everywhere if you do not have a suitable extraction system installed. Also, the level of mess it creates depends on so many factors, but I would always try to go for a model that at least attempts to catch as much dust as possible. 

Even having something that catches 50% of the dust will make a massive difference to the outcome.

It’s Easy to Make Mistakes

A sander has the ability to create a wonderfully smooth finish to a board, but it’s also very easy for you to go ahead and make a mistake.

This is often linked to the speed of the sander and a lack of general control. That’s why you need to look at the type of sander you plan to use and whether it has the ability to adjust the speed. This is more common with the random orbital sander, where you will often have up to six different speed options.

But overall, I would say a sander is a wonderful tool to have available. Any individual working with wood regularly should have one in their workshop, and I know you will end up using it way more times than you thought possible. 

Will a Sander Do the Job of a Planer?

wood sander vs planer

I’ve examined both the wood planer and the sander, along with telling you all about the advantages and disadvantages of both. However, let me address another question, and that is whether or not a sander is capable of doing the same job as a planer.

I suppose that in theory, at least, you could, but seriously, I wouldn’t recommend it, and I say that for several reasons.

First, a sander will take significantly longer than a planer to do the same job. You will have to use so much energy and even potentially burn out your sander just to get even close to the end result you can achieve with a planer. Also, this applies no matter if you use a belt sander, orbital or any other.

That’s not good, and by using more physical force and blasting the wood for longer, you also increase the chances of making a mistake and even damaging the plank. Nobody wants to do that, and you are also delaying your own project just because you are using the wrong tool to do a particular job.

I know a belt sander would be the tool that has the best potential for replicating the job a planer can do, but it simply comes across as significantly more hassle than it’s worth. 

But What About the Opposite?

I hope I’ve convinced you that you should avoid using a sander instead of a wood planer, but what about the opposite?

Honestly, I think this is an even bigger “no” than using a sander to replicate a planer. 

You see, a planer is going to level off a board, but it’s highly likely that it will leave some marks and scratches behind. That does mean you will still be required to come in with a sander and pass it over the board.

That solitary fact that it leaves ridges and marks means there’s just no reason for you to go ahead and use a planer instead of a sander. I know you will be very disappointed with the end results and feel as if you have wasted your time. 

Which Option is Best?

is a sander better than a planer

To draw things to a conclusion, I have to say that you cannot come to a decision as to which tool is best simply because tools exist for different reasons.

I think the most important point I’ve made in this post is that a wood planer does a fantastic job of preparing the wood, but a sander is a tool that will finish everything off. Basically, one piece allows you to start the project while the other tool ends it.

But both tools are fantastic in their own right. I cannot think of a better tool for getting the wood down to a uniform thickness than a planer. At the same time, there’s no better tool for getting a smooth finish than a sander.

If you work with wood regularly, I suggest you have a wood planer and a sander at your disposal. The speed at which it allows you to get the wood down to the correct size, and also the smoothness of it all, is out of this world. 

Overall Conclusion

Ultimately, it comes down to the project you plan to work on when it comes to deciding the best between a wood planer and a sander. However, I do suggest you spend some extra time learning more about both tools before you go ahead and make any type of decision.

For that, I think these articles may make life that bit easier for you.

Photo of author

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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