If you’ve ever used a thickness planer, you already know what snipe is — even if you don’t know it by name. But before we discuss what can be done to combat snipe when using a thickness planer, let’s explain exactly what snipe is for anyone who doesn’t know. More importantly, we’ll review how it happens.
What is Snipe?
When a board is fed through a thickness planer, the leading edge or the final edge to pass through the planer is cut slightly deeper than the rest of the board. This leads to an uneven surface that may not be visible until you try to fit the board into place. Unless you’re experienced in snipe hunting, you’ll struggle with this aspect of work.
What Causes Snipe?
To understand why this happens, you must understand the inner workings of a thickness planer.
When you feed a board into a thickness planer, the board is grabbed by a set of two feed rollers, one on either side of the cutting tool. These rollers apply pressure to the board to grip the surface. They then pull the board through the planer as they rotate.
If you’re mechanically inclined, you may already see the cause of snipe from just that simple description. For the rest of us, here’s the cause — until both feed rollers are in contact with the board, it has uneven pressure being applied to it.
This imbalance in pressure on the board only happens when the board is in contact with just one roller. While both are in contact, the pressure remains evenly distributed, and the planer makes its cut at the proper depth.
The distance that snipe occurs in is equal to the distance between the feed rollers inside your planer. When you’re feeding the board into the planer, the first feed roller is holding the board, but the edge of the feed surface acts as a fulcrum. This allows the free end of the board to drop downward slightly.
This places the board closer to the cutter head than the depth you’ve set for your cut. Once the board reaches the second feed roller, it will return to a steady, even level.
Once the board passes the first roller, the same problem happens on the other end of the board.
Of course, there’s another factor that plays a role in snipe…the cutter head itself.
Until the board is under the control of both feed rollers, the cutter head is giving your board lift as it bites into the wood. This only serves to make snipe worse.
Several factors determine how severe the snipe will be on a board that’s fed through a thickness planer, but instead of trying to understand it, let’s look at some ways to reduce snipe on your boards.
Tips to Deal with Snipe
While we wait for a snipe-proof planer to be invented, there are some ways you can deal with snipe to minimize the problems it creates.
Here are four of the most useful methods that you can try.
- Waste wood on your planed board – The first and possibly easiest way to deal with snipe is to simply cut off the ends of the board that are affected by the snipe. Of course, for this to work, you’ll need to feed in a board that’s longer than what you need for your project. Unfortunately, you’ll wind up with quite a bit of spoiled wood. Plus, who wants to spend time re-cutting a board that has already been planed on each end?
- Waste wood with extra boards – One thing you may notice is that snipe only affects the first and last board in a set that you run through your thickness planer if you feed them through end-to-end. This is because the feed rollers never can lose their grip, except at the start of the first board and the end of the last board fed through.
If you feed two more boards through during a run, one at the front and one at the end, then the boards you need will all be planed with no snipe. Of course, that’s two boards wasted every time you use this method.
- Approach things from a different angle – This may not sound like it would be effective, but you might be surprised by the results. Instead of feeding your board straight into your thickness planer, feed it in at an angle. This allows the feed rollers to “ease” onto the board from the corner instead of the entire edge.
If done correctly, it reduces the amount of pressure and the amount of drop before the second roller applies pressure. This method doesn’t eliminate snipe, but it can change it from a major problem to one that can be fixed with a few minutes of sanding. Best of all, it doesn’t leave you with wasted wood.
- Give your board a lift – This is another common method used to combat snipe. Instead of feeding the board straight into the thickness planer, lift the trailing end up using light pressure. You don’t want to put a lot of strain on the board, but just enough to eliminate as much of the drop as possible.
Of course, once the end of the board enters the planer, you’ll need to move to the other side and perform the same lift on the board until it completely exits. This method may leave some small snipe or other damage to your board, but it will usually be minimal if you apply the correct amount of pressure.
Just remember, there’s no such thing as a completely “snipe proof” thickness planer, but there are ways to fight it. Some newer models are designed to reduce and even sometimes eliminate snipe when you use them.
Ever since wood planers came into use, snipe has been a problem that leads to extra work. Without time-consuming sanding, a board that’s been affected by snipe isn’t fully useable for your purposes.
The methods listed above will help you cope with snipe, and in some cases, may allow you almost to eliminate it as a problem. To make the best use of some of them, especially the highly-effective “board lift” method, you’ll need a quality thickness planer that is up to the task.
There are many different models of thickness planers available on the market, so it can be tough to begin searching for the best planer.
To make things easier for you, we’ve reviewed many of these tools in our best benchtop planer reviews guide.
You may even find a model that turns snipe into a non-issue in your woodworking, and if that’s not a good reason to look at a new machine, we don’t know what is.