Tool Test: Portable Thickness Planers
The best tools offer precision board-surfacing without sacrificing convenience and durability.
Synopsis: Not too long ago, a thickness planer was a tool strictly available for shop use. Now, however, manufacturers have made the planer something that can be brought to the job site. For this tool review, Montana builder Christian M. Whalen tested seven portable thickness planers, evaluating them on “the four P’s”: precision, performance, portability, and practicality. Among the seven, Whalen rated a DeWalt model as best overall and a Ridgid model as best value. This article includes a sidebar on counteracting snipe with an inexpensive infeed/outfeed table.
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,…