Anyone can walk into a big-box store, buy a supposedly flat piece of wood, slap some legs on it, and claim to have made a table. But a craftsman seeking a professional look for projects will recognize the importance of adding a planer to the workshop, whether they use it every day or only on rainy Sunday afternoons. You’ve made the tough decision not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an industrial planer – the benchtop version is the right choice for you. These reviews should help you get one step closer to turning your dreams of a planer into a reality.
|DEWALT DW734 Benchtop Planer|
|Makita 2012NB 12-Inch||72 lbs||4.8/5|
(Best for the Money)
|PORTER-CABLE PC305TP||62 lbs||4.3/5|
|Delta Power Tools 22-555 13 In||58 lbs||4.1/5|
This planer gets rave reviews for its combination of quick use “out-of-the-box” and finish so smooth you might even skip sanding; it’s the only one on our list with three cutting knives instead of the more common two. Extra-long in and outfeed tables and a cutter head locking mechanism help minimize and eliminate sniping, and its reversible blades make it through plenty of wood before you want to change them (which is a breeze to do yourself). It is heavy – about 80lbs. – but you can still take it to work with you, plus it holds nice and steady while you’re using it. The only real complaints are about noise – it’s pretty loud – and dust control. With this machine, things are going to get dirty. But assuming you weren’t going to use it in your dining room, these are minor trade-offs.
The Makita 2012NB 12-Inch came in a close second to the DeWalt DW 734. Like our top pick, the Makita gets high marks for quick set-up. Makita beats out the DeWalt when it comes to noise level, with many noticing how quiet it is, plus, at 62 lbs., it’s genuinely portable. Both machines have the reversible, disposable blades and cutter head locking mechanism, plus both are messy. Users point to the exceptional build quality on display here as well. But the Makita comes with some reports of sniping, more so than the DeWalt DW 734, and occasional complaints about new machines purchased online arriving broken or already used.
The WEN 6550 comes in with a significantly lower price tag than either our Top Pick or Runner-Up and with a noteworthy array of features. Unlike others, the WEN 6550 offers a granite feed table, which promises a lifetime of smooth, unwarpable surface that will never mark up your boards, plus shavings and dust come off easily. It’s also got a fan-assisted dust port, significantly reducing the clean-up hassle. But the blades seem a little less sturdy, with a shorter lifespan and more frequent chipping, especially when working with harder wood. And overall, despite weighing about the same as the DeWalt (about 80lbs.), it has the feel of a machine appropriate for the hobbyist, not the professional. If you’re a Saturday afternoon woodworker, and if you don’t want to spend a fortune, the WEN 6550 is a great buy.
There isn’t one glaring problem with the Porter-Cable PC305TP, but it just doesn’t generate a lot of love. Like the others, it has two reversible knives, and like the Makita, it’s a lot more portable at 62lbs. But it runs at the lowest RPMs and fewest cuts per minute (8,000 and 16,000 respectively), so no one is raving about the fine finish. It kicks dust everywhere, like our higher-ranked machines, but it’s also less expensive. But the primary downside here is snipe. One might argue that this planer tends to be used by hobbyists, who have less experience and would generate snipe regardless, but it seems like this one requires serious diligence to avoid snipe. This is a machine for the weekend woodworker who doesn’t demand absolute precision and is willing to trade that for a lower price tag.
The Delta Power Tools 22-555 13” planer is a baseline machine. Like the others, it has dual edge disposable knives that are easy to change out. It produces a respectable 18,800 cuts per minute, giving a slightly better than mediocre finish, and at 58 lbs., it’s the lightest and most portable planer on our list. But we found that although it works just fine with pine, with anything harder it struggles to pull the wood through the feeder. In addition, sniping is more pronounced on the harder woods, forcing you to rig up extensive feeder tables to try to avoid it. More alarming, though, is a rattling noise that pops up after a moderate amount of use, leaving you wondering if interior pieces have come loose.
If you’re ready to take another step towards professional quality woodworking projects, a planer is a terrific investment. Although your local lumberyard or big-box store can plane your wood for you, where’s the fun in that? And what should you be looking for in a benchtop planer? Here we give you the A-Z on planers.
All our reviewed benchtop planers vary in weight from 58 to 80 lbs., certainly within your ability to carry from the bed of your truck to your job site, or from your garage to the backyard. But you’re not going to just put your planer on the ground and fire it up. You’re going to need a flat and level surface to work on. Most planers can be readily bolted to a slab of wood, or you can buy or make a planer table with wheels. But once you bolt it to anything, it will become harder to carry around, and if you attach it to a store-bought table with wheels, you’re not throwing it in the back of your car. In any planer scenario, you need to have or buy a surface on which to operate it (and probably a level, too, if you don’t already have one). Firmly attaching your planer to a work surface will also cut down on any walking or wobbling, neither of which is going to help you get perfect boards.
The machines discussed here have maximum cutting depths of either 3/32” or 1/8”, with the better planers able to take off more in one pass. You might never choose to use the maximum cutting depth available to you since that’s going to increase the likelihood of sniping. But the max cutting depth certainly is an indicator of the planer’s capabilities. If you can afford it, go for the deeper cutting depth.
A depth stop keeps you from cutting the wood thinner than you want. If you’ve got a pile of boards of varying thickness that you want to shave down to a uniform thickness, taking a different amount off of each, a depth stop can ensure you don’t overshoot on any of the boards.
A cutter head locking mechanism is another great feature that makes any job faster and easier. It will virtually eliminate snipe. Once you’ve set the cutting depth, the lock holds the knives at precisely that level. As you can imagine, having the leading edge of your board bump the knives out of place for a brief second leads to – you guessed it – sniping. Not every planer has this specific feature (but we wish they did).
There’s going to be lots of dust no matter what. Is your planer going to actively help you deal with it, like with a fan-assisted dust port available on some models? Or are you going to have to buy additional attachments, like dust hoods or hoses, to help you (and your shop vac) manage all the dust? Even if you’re planing outside, at some point you’re going to have to get rid of the accumulated dust. Some planers are more helpful with this than others.
The number of linear feet of wood can your planer handle in a minute is measured by – you guessed it – ft/min. The fastest one on our list runs at a maximum of 28ft/min and the slowest at 24ft/min. But our slowest is also our Top Pick, in part because of the super smooth finish it produces. You might lose some time on the board feet per minute, but if that machine eliminates the need for sanding, you’ve come out way ahead. Also, keep in mind that some wood types will go through any planer more slowly than others.
Some planers will do just what you want them to – give you a board of the thickness you want. But a better one will go the extra mile and give you a soft, smooth finish as well. You might even be able to skip sanding altogether! Three knives instead of two coupled with maximum cutting RPMs will create the smoothest possible surface.
In our reviews of benchtop planers, a clear line emerged: our top two were suitable for professional work, and the remaining three were better for weekend projects. Think about what you’re going to be using your planer for before deciding.
Any planer you buy should come with infeed and outfeed tables to hold the wood as it enters and exits the machine. Longer tables on both sides can go a long way to reducing or eliminating snipe, so unless you want to rig up and level your own tables, look for a planer that comes with more than token infeed and outfeed surfaces.
Your benchtop planer will come with two knives, three if you’re at the higher end of the spectrum of cost and quality. Nowadays, most knives are disposable and reversible, effectively doubling their lifespan, and flipping them is usually straightforward. Don’t think you’ll be able to outsmart the disposability aspect by sharpening them yourself anyway. But at least you can quickly change your knives in the middle of the project without necessarily needing to buy new ones or get them sharpened.
There are benchtop planers on the market that can run at two speeds, the slower of which generates more than twice the cuts per inch and results in a super-smooth finished surface. If this is a feature you can’t live without, be prepared to pay upwards as twice as much money as you would for a one-speed planer.
You have two choices of noise level with your planer – loud or louder. There are a few on the market that clearly have made it a priority to reduce noise without sacrificing power, and they will tell you so in their list of features. Assume any that don’t tout this are in the louder camp. No matter what, you should be wearing ear protection anyway, but anyone nearby – colleagues, neighbors, family – might appreciate the quieter models.
It’s impossible to read up on planers and not start thinking about jointers. Where a planer will give you two flat parallel sides, a jointer will give you give you one flat side and one perfect corner. If you only get one, go for the planer, or at least get the planer first. After you have two flat sides from the planer, you can use a table saw to get a straight edge that’s almost as precise as one the jointer would give you. But you can’t really replicate what the planer does with a jointer and anything else. (Unless you want to learn to plane by hand like they did in the Middle Ages.)
Simply put, more power means a better planer. You want a planer that can handle any kind of wood you throw at it, not just pine. A motor that falters or hesitates won’t be able to create a smooth, unmarred finish. All the planers listed here have 15 Amp motors but generate RPMs ranging from 8,000 to 10,000.
No one wants to send a beautiful, valuable board through their planer and have it come out the other side scratched or discolored. Sometimes the knives will tear a ridge in your board, and sometimes the feeder rollers will leave a noticeable smudge. None of our reviewed machines had significant issues with these, but it is something to be aware of. If you want to outsmart your planer, remember to always feed the wood into the machine with the grain, so the knives can “scoop” with it instead of against it. This will go a long way towards avoiding tearouts and other scarring.
Choose a brand that stands behind their product. If your planer needs service, you’ll have to either take it to an authorized provider, which could be hours from home, or you’ll have to mail it. The lightest planer on our list weighs 58 lbs. – not something you want to have to mail. Reliability is key with any tool in your shop, but it’s particularly important for your planer.
Most benchtop planers will accommodate boards up to 11-13” wide and 6” deep. If you know you work with a lot of 12” boards, you’ll want to make sure your planer can handle that. You can also send several narrow pieces through simultaneously, such as five 2” stair spindles at the same time. As you rotate the spindles, though, be sure to have a marking system in place to keep track of which surfaces you’ve already done.
Snipe may be last on our alphabetical list but it’s first in concerns about planers. The number one complaint about planers is usually snipe, those deeper, annoying cuts on the leading or trailing edge of the board. Many planers struggle to provide a consistent cut for the entire length of your board. There’s a variety of reasons for snipe to occur. A board that isn’t properly supported when either entering or exiting your planer will throw off its angle in relation to the cutting knives, causing a divot on one or both ends. Cutting knives that take an extra second to fully engage or disengage from the board can also create a miniature entrance or exit ramp at the ends. And if you’re in a hurry and try to plane off too much in one pass, you can expect snipe as a result of the knives struggling to reach your desired depth.
You can minimize snipe by creating a perfectly level entry and exit surface, and by using a sacrificial board at either end so that the board you’re planing is never at the end of the line. Repeated shallow cuts instead of one deep cut will also cut down on snipe.
Sometimes sniping is barely noticeable and can be quickly sanded out, but sometimes it’s so significant that you wind up cutting off a few inches from both ends, a potentially costly mistake when working with rare and valuable wood.
And although some sniping will occur due to user error, wouldn’t you prefer a machine that smoothed over your personal mistakes rather than punished you for them? A higher-end planer will do just that.
If you’re looking to produce high-quality planed boards for your woodworking projects, you should invest in the DeWalt DW734. It will give you the smoothest finish of any benchtop planer no matter what you’re cutting or how much of it you’ve got and might even get you out of sanding.
Your best bet on a budget will be the WEN 6550, unique on our list for its granite feeder surface and fan-assisted dust port. It doesn’t have the feel of a professional-grade tool but is perfectly suited to the weekend-in-the-garage woodworker.
You’ve read the reviews, so now there’s only one question left – what’s your first project?