A look at the Origin and Use of Electric Planers
Before we look at the electric planers (or hand power planers), let’s have a look at the various manual types that have largely been rendered redundant with the advent of the power planers.
Hand planers can be finicky and temperamental. As we know, it is not always easy to set them up perfectly – especially when working on wider surfaces. Blades can easily be sharpened on an oil stone but getting the bevel angle right, takes some getting used to.
Although electric planers are very effective and have replaced most of the requirements for the hand types, there is always a place for a medium size hand planer in any workshop
Types of Hand Planers
Although most hand planers are categorized as either bench planes or block planes, the various types of planes are as follows:
Block Planer – A block plane is used for smoothing and flattening timber, especially pieces of wood that are uneven and curly. The blade is at a fairly shallow angle and it features an upward bevel. With its low blade angle, block planes are designed to shear off end grain, making them very useful for trimming and fitting
Bench Planer – For larger projects, a bench or finishing planer is needed. Bench planes are similar to block planes and used for smoothing or flattening timber. The blade is fitted at a steeper angle and it features a downward bevel.
Pocket Planer – A pocket plane is used for one-handed speed cutting and trimming. It is small enough to fit in your pocket or toolbox. The blade can be adjusted or replaced simply with the turn of a knob.
Spoke Planer – A spoke plane (or shave) is used for shaping edges and cutting rounded shapes in timber. They are useful for shaping chair legs and seats or curved templates. Cutters are replaceable and are usually adjustable for depth of cut and shaving thickness.
Trimming Planer – Slightly larger than a pocket plane, the trimming plane is great for detail planing as well as for the smoothing and flattening of smaller pieces of timber.
Types of Electric Planers
Hand Power Planer – These are great for adjustment of door edges and trimming of flat areas such as floors, decks and tabletops. They are sometimes referred to as edge or door planers.
Like a hand plane, the power planer rides on a shoe. The planer has blades mounted on a cutter head, or drum, that spins at up to 20,000 rpm, removing a layer of wood equal to the difference in elevation between the front and rear shoes. The front hand grip doubles as a depth-adjustment gauge. The gauge, with its built-in scale settings, turns back and forth to move the front planer shoe up or down, setting the depth of the cut.
Cordless Hand Power Planer – There are now even 14 Volt and 18 Volt cordless versions available, which makes them extremely handy for off site applications
Bench(top) planer – The bench (or benchtop) planer comes in two varieties. The thickness planer is used for smoothing rough timber or reducing the thickness of a board while the jointer is used for straightening the edges of a board.
Combination Planer – This is a combination of a jointer and a planer, which is very handy for home use as it provides two functions on a single footprint.
Surface Planer – The surface planer, which is pushed (like a lawnmower), is more of an industrial tool and is certainly not your average home tool. These are used for very large areas (floors and decks) that require more than what a belt sander can offer.
Two blades spinning on a drum form the basis of a power planer. Using the depth adjustment knob, controls the bite of the blades by raising or lowering the adjustable front plate (or shoe).
Best results are achieved through mastering a balance between holding and pushing the planer. Proper balancing of the body will enhance the results. Following are some tips on using the tool:
- Start off by resting the front shoe of the planer flat on the wood without the blade touching the work.
- Start the tool, allowing the motor to reach full speed. Now ease the plane into contact with the work and gently push it forward.
- Keep your initial pressure on the front grip as the planer engages the work.
- Balance hand pressure between the tool handle and front knob as both planer soles contact the work.
- As you push the tool through the end of the work, transfer control to the rear handle. Avoid overreaching at the end of the pass as the front shoe will drop off the work and allow the blades to take uneven chunks out of the end of the work. This is known as sniping.
Some power planers have two full sized blades that can be sharpened using a whetstone.
Most planers use two double-edged disposable carbide mini blades. Many planers come with plastic “gauge bases” that ensure correct positioning of both the mini blades and the set plate for mounting on the drum.
Some tips on blade replacement:
- Unplug the power lead before you change blades or make any repairs and adjustments to the tool.
- Change blades before they get to the stage that they create smoke or fine powder during operation, as this can harm the motor.
- Always sharpen, or replace, both blades at the same time. This maintains the cutter head balance and ensures quality cuts.
- Double check mounting bolts for tightness before running the planer. Blades not mounted squarely on the cutter head will cause the tool to vibrate.
Most power planers are designed to utilise a 3.25 inch blade although some utilise blades 6.125 inches or wider. Planer prices vary according to blade width, quality of construction, power output and accessories. Reasonably priced light-duty models will handle 90 percent of average tasks. More rugged planers have more accurate and easy-to-use depth gauges. These include more standard accessories but they cost considerably more.
When buying a power planer, consider the following accessories:
- Cast metal sole plates, which warp less than stamped metal plates.
- A power cord, at least 2 metres in length, to allow a smooth pass with the tool.
- Adjustable fences that allow you to work accurately on door edges and boards.
- Chip deflectors, which direct waste instead of spreading it.
As with all power tools, protect your eyes and hearing by wearing appropriate safety gear.
When turning the tool off, protect yourself, the work and the blades by placing the front shoe of the planer on a wooden block until the spinning cutter head stops.
Should you be looking for pricing details and owner reviews of various electric planers, I would strongly recommend that you have a look at Amazon.com where you also have the option to consider refurbished tools.
If you’re just browsing, feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or share your experience.