Archeologists have found planers used in woodworking that date back to ancient times. Modern planers have been around since the mid 1800’s.
With such a long history, it’s no surprise that a seemingly simple tool, like that of the wood planer, has evolved into a massive collection of specialized, versatile, and necessary equipment for everyone from the woodworking hobbyist to industrial lumber providers and builders.
These simple tools come in so many shapes, sizes, and variations, that one can quickly become overwhelmed when the conversation turns to planers and their uses.
Many are made of wood, some of metal, a few are even made of plastic. Then, there are endless lists of specialty planers to consider. That’s all before we even start to think about the electric variations.
Manual / Hand Planers
1. Scrub Plane
The scrub planer is a workhorse, and a good place to start. This heavy-duty planer is very effective at removing large amounts of material from lumber stock to reduce the size of boards, especially on inconsistent woods or grain that is difficult to work. Employing a thick blade, it makes quick work of material removal. As an aggressive tool, it requires quite a bit of force to use effectively but is an excellent first tool to use for preparing stock for your project. Although unique in design, this planer is often classified as a bench type planer.
2. Jack Plane
Like a scrub planer, the jack planer is typically used for the removal of wood stock to reduce the size of boards. This planer, however, is much more versatile than most every other type of plane and can be used as a more of a general-purpose tool. Its smaller size makes it less effective for very difficult wood grains, but still manageable. Being somewhat more of a precision planer, it is often used for initial smoothing of the wood surface. In some situations, it is also effective as a jointing tool. The jack planer falls into the category of bench planers.
3. Fore Plane
Another type of bench planer, the fore planer is also a very versatile tool. Slightly longer than the jack planer, it is excellent for flattening out larger surfaces. It is best suited for rough flattening and truing of stock prior to working with the longer bench planers. It can, however, take the place of a jack planer as they are very similar in design.
4. Smoothing Plane
After your wood stock is made flat and true, it is time to bring out the next bench planer, the smoothing planer. Generally smaller than the previous tools, it is designed for creating a very smooth finished surface on your project piece. Using a wide blade of 2 inches or more, the smoothing planer is great for wide boards. Carpenters skilled in this planers use can create finished surfaces equal to, or better than, what can be achieved with sandpaper!
5. Jointer Plane (manual)
The jointer plane, also know as a try plane, is the longest and widest of the bench planers. At around 24 inches long, its body is designed almost exclusively for preparing smooth edges on long boards intended to be joined to make wider stock.
6. Block Plane
The term, block planer, is used to describe a planer that is small enough to be used with one hand. Several varieties are available, ranging from a very low blade angle design, for use in planning end grains, to steeper blade angles that are effective for creating chamfered edges in wood. These planers are the tool of choice for on-site, portable use.
7. Traditional Japanese Planes
Traditional Japanese planers are an entire family of planers unto themselves. The difference being that they are designed to be pulled toward the user rather than pushed away. Japanese planers can be found in many different shapes and sizes and rival the diversity of western-style planers.
8. Shoulder Plane
Designed with a low angle, full width blade, the shoulder planer is used for the sole purpose of trimming and cleaning up end grains of tenons when joining wood pieces perpendicular to one another.
9. Chisel Plane
With a unique design in which the blade is located at the front of the planer body, the chisel planer comes in handy when planing is required in tight corners of your work. It is excellent at cleaning up fine details after assembly of the project.
10. Moulding Plane (manual)
For creating designs in woodwork, the moulding planer is the tool of choice. The secret of this planer is the almost endless shapes of blades that can be used. Its best use is for the creation of long, decorative, and detailed grooves in trim work.
11. Finger Plane
As the name suggests, the finger planer is small and is operated with one hand. The planer typically is not adjustable for depth. It is used for very delicate finish work or fine touch-ups in small areas.
12. Rabbet Plane
The one job the rabbet planer does well is to quickly create rabbets for joining two pieces of wood together. The tool is designed to remove large amounts of material with each pass. Rabbet planers are also referred to as rebate planers or rabet planers.
13. Compass Plane
A compass planer is needed for planing the concave or convex edges of a curved piece of wood. It is adjustable for different shapes of curves.
Unlike traditional planers, a spokeshave is a planer with handles on the sides of the tool. It has a very thin sole that can be difficult to control for inexperienced users. The planer can be pushed or pulled and is useful for planing slightly curved, irregular, or rounded pieces. Many spokeshaves accept curved blades or grooved blades for even more versatility.
15. Trimming Plane
Looking much like a block plane, what sets the trimming planer apart is the ability to have the blade set at the same depth as the sole of the tool, making it perfect for trimming corners, bumps, and plugs in your project.
16. Grooving Plane
Handy when building drawers or backs of cabinets, the grooving planer is built to make long grooves in wood for use in perpendicular joints.
17. Tongue & Groove Plane
Not surprisingly, the tongue and groove planer comes as a set of two planers that has one job, which is to make tongue and groove joints in planks.
18. Spar Plane
A spar planer is used to plane rounded shapes of wood and comes in various sizes to accommodate different radii.
19. Handheld planer
The handheld electric planer is arguably the most versatile tool of the electric planer category. It is available in many different sizes depending on your needs. The blade depth is adjustable from less than 1/32 of an inch all the way up to 1/8 of an inch on some models! The spinning blade makes quick work of smoothing and leveling wood surfaces. The benefits of speed and ease-of-use, however, can come at the cost of accuracy for inexperienced users. Recently, the use of handheld electric planers has found a place for use on construction framing sites where speed and precise trimming of cut lumber is necessary.
20. Thickness Planer
A precision tool, the benchtop thickness planer creates smooth surfaces and uniform thickness in boards. The desired thickness is achieved by adjusting the distance between the base and the cutter head of the tool. Available, both in benchtop sizes, that are relatively portable and can accommodate boards up to 14 inches wide, and in shop sizes that are much larger and can work much wider pieces. A common misconception of the thickness planer is that is can be used to straighten a board that is bent. The design of the tool, however, in which the cutting head is set to a thickness rather than a specific height, means the cutter location is relative to the bottom side of the board, and therefore is not effective in straightening a piece of wood.
21. Moulding Planer (power)
Similar in design to the thickness planer, but for a much different use, is the electric moulding planer. It also is available in benchtop and industrial sizes. The tool has a rotating cutting head that accepts various shapes and sizes of blades. By using any number of different shaped blades, it creates decorative and sometimes complex designs in trim work and other design pieces. Like the thickness planer, the moulding planer is a stationary machine in which the boards being worked are pushed or drawn through it.
22. Jointer Planer
Also known simply as a jointer, this tool has one function, which is to create a flat, even, consistent, and smooth surface in preparation of joining two boards together. They come in various forms such industrial and benchtop jointers.
The electric jointer is a stationary tool with spinning blades that the stock glides over from one side of the machine to the other. The ‘in’ side, or infeed, of the machine is adjustable depending on how much material is to be removed. The ‘out’ side, or outfeed, remains at a constant height in line with the top of the cutter head in order to maintain a consistent, and perfectly flat surface on one side of the stock at a time. Jointers are available in sizes for use on anything from tiny hobby wood to massive timbers.
With such a large variety of planers available, it could be difficult to determine which tool will be most useful for you. A good first step in deciding, would be to picture the finished product