One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked over the years by new woodworkers is “Which should I buy first, a jointer or a thickness planer?” And the answer I always give is…it depends!
Okay, I know that’s not actually an answer that would be helpful, but it DOES depend. It depends on quite a few factors that I won’t go into in this post, but I will tell you what I chose first and why. I decided to go with a Thickness Planer.
Why? Because it was on sale at a price I knew would be a mistake to pass up. But that’s not the only reason! To make the big decision it’s important to understand what exactly each tool does.
In a nutshell, a jointer is used to remove material at a specific depth in order to flatten one face or one edge of a board. A thickness planer is a tool used to remove material at a specific thickness on one side or edge so that it’s parallel with the other.
They sound like very similar tasks don’t they? They are, but if you pay close attention to the description I provided you’ll see the key difference. Do you see it?
“a jointer…remove material at a specific depth in order to flatten one face or one edge…” versus “thickness planer…remove material at a specific thickness on one side or edge so it’s parallel with the other.”
It’s a small difference that has a huge effect. A jointer can give you a perfectly flat surface or edge, but if you were to flip the board over and attempt to joint the other side perfectly parallel and uniform in thickness to the first, you would have a very hard time achieving it. That’s not what a jointer is made to do.
But a thickness planer is made just for that task. Because the thickness plane sandwiches the rough stock between the cutterhead and the table, it helps to guarantee the end result is an uniform thickness.
Now the only problem is, if your board doesn’t have a flat face running across the table’s surface the board will still come out uniformly thicknessed, but it will also come out uniformly unflattened. In other words, if the face running across the table has a bow along it’s entire length, when it comes out the other end the board will be uniformly thicknessed but still bowed.
You maybe saying to yourself “so I need to buy a jointer AND a thickness planer together…cool…more tools!” But your family might be saying “YOU’RE BUYING WHAT???” Just know that I’m on your side, more tools are cool! But you can easily get away with just a thickness planer at first AND then buying a jointer later.
See, unlike a jointer a thickness planer can be used successfully without for giving your flat and parallel faces all by itself with the help of a jig or two and maybe even a hand plane. But we’ll talk more about that in the next post.
For even more great articles and links to information for “Get Woodworking Week” don’t forget to visit Tom Iovino’s website www.tomsworkbench.com all week long.
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