Planing is a wood working process that essentially involves shaving a fine layer of wood away in order to achieve a better fit or surface. Traditionally this is done with a manual handheld tool known as a plane or planer. A craftsman might have a whole range of planes of different sizes, designed to take off different amounts of material, the smallest wafer in some cases. If this is your area of expertise you’ll find these tools highly effective.
Sometimes, especially when speed is more important than precision, it’s worth having a helping hand to assist you. If for instance you need to hang several doors and need to plane them all slightly in order to get them to fit, then a power planer is the tool for the job. Powered planers come in both handheld and bench mounted forms and both are effective for different reasons, but for now we’re going to concentrate on hand held planers as these are by far the more popular and widely used type among both professionals and hobbyists.
Hand held power planers follow exactly the same principle of shaving away material as a manual plane, however the hard work of forcefully pushing the device along the grain of the wood is replaced by simply guiding the planer and letting the powerful rotating cutting mechanism do the work for you.
Where a power planer can’t compete with a traditional hand plane is in the quality of surface finish. The very nature of a power planer means that the blade rotates rather than moves in a linear fashion, and this makes it harder to achieve a smooth finish. However there are a few subtle techniques you can employ to improve this, such as applying less downward pressure throughout the middle of each planing stroke, and you’ll get a better feel for this when you start experimenting for yourself.
Naturally planing is quite an intense activity as far as the cutting blade is concerned so most models typically have two blades, one at either side of the rotating drum, this both makes the job quicker and makes each blade last longer.
Using a Power Planer
Like a manual plane, a power planer is a flat bottomed tool, typically (though not always) with a handle at both the tail and front ends. Often the the front handle doubles as an adjustment knob to set the cutting depth of the blades. It does this by changing the height of the area in front of the cutting blade, known as a ‘shoe’, whilst the shoe behind the blade stays in a fixed position.
If you’ve ever used a manual plane then you’ll be familiar with the action of sweeping the tool along the face or edge of the work piece, if you’re not then a bit of practice will soon help you find your rhythm. Follow these tips as a starter for ten:
- With the planer switched off, rest the front shoe on the starting edge of the work piece
- Switch the planer on and allow it to get up to speed
- Slowly move the planer onto the work piece and move forward at a steady pace applying pressure to the front end
- As you move along the main length of the work piece try to even out the pressure you’re applying
- When you reach the end of work piece be sure not to allow the planer to drop off sharply and ‘snipe’ the work piece, try to keep it level instead
The most important thing is to make sure the work piece is securely fixed in position, either in a vice or with clamps, and you should also take the right precautions in terms of safety – use hearing protection, and more importantly safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes against flying debris – of which there will be a lot!
As mentioned above ‘snipe’ is the unintentional removal of more material at the ends of the work piece as a result of the planer ‘dropping off’ of coming in too deeply at the beginning or end of the stroke. For the casual user this phenomenon isn’t really a big deal, but it can be prevented should you wish. Besides exercising more control over the planer, the best solution is to position scrap pieces of wood at the ends of the work piece to support the planer as it makes and breaks contact with it.
Power Planer Maintenance and Blade Replacement
Like any power tool, a planer can if not used or maintained correctly be hazardous, causing injury to you and others. Ensuring your planer is correctly maintained is the single most important thing you must do before use. The good news is that for the most part there isn’t a lot that needs to be done to keep your planer running smoothly. The main things to keep in mind are:
- Components working themselves loose due to vibration, in which case you should tighten them up with a suitable screw driver or allen key
- Keeping moving parts lubricated, primarily the rotating drum – simply apply a drop of machine oil periodically to prevent the mechanism getting stiff or seizing altogether
- Store the planer in a dry environment to avoid the ingress of moisture and the development of rust
The Best Power Planers Reviews Summary
Bosch GHO 18 Cordless Planer Review
Bosch’s professional range of tools aren’t just for professionals, and if you’re willing to spend a few extra quid they can be well worth the investment. In the case of the Bosch GHO, you get a powerful 18V cordless tool complete with high quality tungsten carbide blades, the industry standard choice for cutting tools. Working in varied environments is the order of the day with this tool, and with no cord to worry about you can be working in your garage one day, and a site with restricted power the next. Another feature that users love about this tool is the efficient braking system of the cutting blade – the drum stops almost dead when the power switch is released, a great safety feature and one the minimises the risk of damaging the blade if the planer in put down on a hard surface.
Silverline 128891 Planer Review
At the budget end of the planing spectrum, the Silverline 128891 is an affordable planer, ideally suited for a one of job, or very light occasional use. Despite being cheap, this planer still performs well thanks to it’s carbide tipped twin blades – pretty much standard across the board for power planers, so these certainly won’t be the point of failure, if indeed there ever is one. In fact the only real drawback of this planer is that the dust collection bag is a bit on the small side, but really that’s a small price to pay for a planer that’s… well a small price to pay for!
Triton TCMPL Compact Palm Planer Review
A great example of planer that does things a bit differently, the TCMPL by Triton is a compact planer designed to be operated by one hand – clearly inspired by the thinking behind Black and Decker’s ‘Mouse’ sander. If you’ve got concerns about this planer being unsafe due to its single handed operation then rest assured, the designers have done everything possible to make sure one hand can fully support the tool, and it also features a comfortable rubber grip to minimise the discomfort of vibration.
What advantages are there of this design over conventional planers? Well besides being significantly cheaper, it’s really just a case of this being more compact and convenient – better for the casual user, and better for not contributing to the clutter in your garage!