Tool Test: Portable Thickness Planers
The best tools offer precision board-surfacing without sacrificing convenience and durability.
Magazine extra: Download a drawing of a low-cost shopmade planer table that prevents snipe.
Just as drills and saws have become more portable, so have many shop tools that we once thought of as stationary. Thickness planers aren’t a new category in this list of portable tools, but they are a group that has grown significantly in popularity due to improvements in performance. These tools allow me to clean up a poorly surfaced board from the lumberyard, ensure flush joinery by allowing me to plane each board in a stack to the exact same thickness, and provide design flexibility by allowing me to customize board thicknesses.
For this review, I tested seven portable thickness planers, which despite a wide range of prices, share lots of similar features. Unlike many stationary thickness planers, the bed of each model in this review is fixed; the cutter head is raised and lowered to adjust thickness settings. One full turn of the height adjustment crank equals 1⁄16 in. on all models except the Makita, for which a single turn equals a more awkward 5⁄64 in. Except for the Steel City model, which uses 26 small cutters arranged in six rows, all the others use either two or three full-length blades.
The DeWalt and Ryobi models aside, each planer has extension tables on both the infeed and outfeed sides of the tool. Although some operate better than others, each tool uses a paddle-style switch; all but the Ryobi have a built-in circuit breaker to protect against electrical overload. Although the severity varied, every machine in this review produced snipe during my testing, and all of the blades and tables were slightly out of parallel.
Although my favorite, the DeWalt, is the most expensive, the Ridgid is an exceptional value at almost half the price.