Portable Thickness Planer

Tool Groups

When sliding the templates around, one thing that can make a small shop work "big" is to organize tools by groups.

  1. One way of grouping that makes a lot of sense is to arrange tools by the job they do. For example, the table saw, jointer, and planer are all used during stock preparation. So it's convenient to cluster them together.
  2. You can also use tool groups to provide support for large workpieces. To provide side support when crosscutting a long workpiece on the table saw for instance, you can set your jointer next to it, see photo A.

Or if your router table is the same height (or a bit shorter)

than your table saw, the top can double as an outfeed support.

STORAGE. Finally, don't overlook the need for storage when arranging groups of tools. One of the most important "tools" in the shop is my workbench. But it

A. Support. A board clamped to the fence of the jointer provides support for a long workpiece.

doesn't do me much good if I have to walk across the shop to get tools. So setting my tool cabinet near the bench to give me easy access to both hand and power tools is a must, see photo B.

B. Storage. For efficiency, it just makes sense to position a tool cabinet next to your workbench.
  1. Corners. Even with this drill press tucked in a corner, you can still work with long workpieces.
  2. Overlapping. Take advantage of different table heights by overlapping infeed/outfeed areas.

Space Requirements

DOORS AND WINDOWS. When planning infeed/outfeed requirements, don't overlook an opening provided by a door or window. Positioning a band saw or table saw near a door may be just the ticket for those extra-long pieces, see drawing on page 20.

  1. One last note. The corners of a shop often get filled with clutter. But tucking a tool like a drill press into a corner can take advantage of wasted space. Yet you can still drill holes in a long workpiece because of the distance between the adjoining walls, see photo D. iL
  2. Corners. Even with this drill press tucked in a corner, you can still work with long workpieces.

While a group of tools may look alright on paper, don't start muscling them into place just yet. Remember, each tool has its own space requirements.

This isn't just the visible "footprint" of the tool. But more importantly, it's the extra space that's needed so the workpiece that feeds in (or out) of one tool doesn't bump into another one.

CENTER STAGE. Take the table saw for instance. Because of the clearance required in front, back, and at the sides when cutting large workpieces, it usually claims more than its fair share of space in the center of the shop.

Even so, you can still work around these space requirements. Sometimes it's just a matter of positioning the table saw at an angle so workpieces feed into an open area of the shop, see drawing on page 20.

The table saw isn't the only tool that can gobble up space. When working with long pieces on a jointer, band saw, router table, or planer, you might also

C. Overlapping. Take advantage of different table heights by overlapping infeed/outfeed areas.

need a sizable "run" at each end of the tool.

OVERLAP One way to provide this space is to overlap the infeed and outfeed areas of two tools. For example, position a planer so the outfeed passes in front of the table saw.

Overlapping areas also works well with tools where the tables are at different heights. For instance, I park my band saw right next to the router table. This way, a workpiece that feeds off the table on the band saw passes above the shorter router table, see photo C.

Portable Thickness Planer

we tested six commonly available models, see photos below. Each of these planers accepts stock up to 6" thick and 12" wide.

TEAM. Like our other tool reviews, we asked three woodworkers with different amounts of experience to test the planers. Both Ken (a professional carpenter) and Steve (an advanced woodworker) use a planer extensively in their shops. While Cary H (who is just getting

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We bought a portable thickness planer for the shop a few years back. Although it cost considerably less than a big industrial planer, this scaled-down model is a real workhorse when it comes to reducing stock to uniform thickness.

Since that time, a number of companies have started manufacturing portable thickness planers of their own.

To find out which one is best, started in woodworking) is thinking of buying one for his shop.

gg What were your first impressions of these planers?

Ken: The thing I noticed right off the bat is that even though the planers may look different, many of them appear to use the same parts. Take the Grizzly, Jet, Ryobi, and Sears for instance. Except for the color of the paint, the motors and the

4-Post. Four steel posts provide solid support for the cutterhead.

Frame. There's a bit more "play" when the cutterhead is guided by the frame.

4-Post. Four steel posts provide solid support for the cutterhead.

cutterheads are practically identical. But that didn't seem to be the case with either the Delta or Makita planers.

Steve: One thing I noticed is the basic design of the planers is different. Four steel posts on the Delta and Grizzly guide the cutterhead up and down. (See drawing at right.) So the cutterheads are rock solid.

But because the Jet, Ryobi, and Sears use the frame of the planer to guide the cutterhead, there's a bit of "play." I guess we'll see how that affects the performance of the planers.

Cary: The Makita also relies on the frame. But since the cutterhead is fixed, it guides the bed of the planer up and down.

Are these planers really all that portable?

Gary: That depends. Ranging from 51 to 77 pounds, lifting them can be a real gut-buster. (See chart at right.)

Ken: Besides the weight of the planers, the location of the handles is important. Especially when I have to lift the planer onto a workbench or into my truck.

With handles on top, the Delta, Jet, Ryobi, and Sears are a bear to lift high enough to get on a workbench. (See photos below.) And having only a single handle makes it even worse.

The low, recessed openings on the Grizzly and Makita make these planers more comfortable to carry.

Steve: One last thing about the handles on the Sears is they have built-in rollers. That's handy if I'm planing a lot of stock — a helper can roll boards back to me as fast as they feed out.

Frame. There's a bit more "play" when the cutterhead is guided by the frame.

Weight

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Portability. The single handle on top of the Ryobi (left) and the two handles on top of the Sears (center) make it difficult to lift the planers onto a workbench. But the recessed openings in the Makita (right) and Grizzly let you hold these planers at a comfortable height which makes them easier to carry around.

¡22 When testing the performance of these planers, what exactly were you looking for?

Testing Procedures. After running both hardwood and softwood pieces through each planer (left), we used a dial caliper (right) to check for any variation in thickness across the width of the board.

  1. Tiny "dents" are ► caused when the feed rollers crush chips and dust into the surface of the board.
  2. Taking a deep cut ► (especially on a board with irregular grain) may cause chipout on the surface.
  3. If there's a snipe on ►

the end of a board, it can probably be traced back to the infeed/outfeed supports.

Performance

Testing Procedures. After running both hardwood and softwood pieces through each planer (left), we used a dial caliper (right) to check for any variation in thickness across the width of the board.

Steve: Probably not. But I think it gives you a pretty good indication of the overall quality of the planer.

What about quality of cut?

Steve: The Makita and Jet both impressed me with the smooth surface they produced. (See chart on page 25.) Not that it's ready for a finish. But with a little scraping and sanding, it's darn close.

Ken: That brings up a point. Don't expect an absolutely "perfect" surface with any of these planers. There's bound to be some occasional chipout. (See margin.) Or if the planer isn't hooked up to a shop vacuum or dust collector, you'll get some "dents" in the surface of the board.

Gary: Another thing I noticed is it was fairly routine to see a shallow gouge at the ends.

Ken: To get rid of the gouges (snipe) you're talking about, I

just plane boards longer than I need and then cut off the ends.

[5% But shouldn't the infeed/out-feed supports of the planers take care of most of the snipe?

Ken: Only if they're adjusted correctly. What you're after is to make the support level with the bed of the planer. This way, when only one feed roller is applying pressure to the work-piece (at the beginning and end of a cut), the end of the board won't tip into the blades.

Steve: I guess that's why there was such a noticeable amount of snipe on the boards I planed with the Delta. In theory, the two removable trays are supposed to support the workpiece. (See photos below.)

But in practice, the boards ride above these trays. Since there's no way to adjust the trays up or down (besides shimming them), they're a real pain.

Dents. Tiny "dents" are ► caused when the feed rollers crush chips and dust into the surface of the board.

¡22 When testing the performance of these planers, what exactly were you looking for?

Ken: What I want is to get a uniform thickness across the entire width of the board. (See photos at right.)

As it turned out, the biggest variations in thickness were in the boards I planed with the Grizzly (.011") and Sears (.009"). The Jet (.006") and Ryobi (.005") produced more consistent results. But they still weren't as close as the Delta (.004") and Makita (.003").

Cary: Will that small a difference really affect how a project fits together?

  1. Taking a deep cut ► (especially on a board with irregular grain) may cause chipout on the surface.
  2. If there's a snipe on ►

the end of a board, it can probably be traced back to the infeed/outfeed supports.

Infeed/Outfeed Support. Unlike the removable trays on the Delta (left), the flip-down tables on the Makita (center) and Grizzly (right) are easily adjust ed so they're flush with the bed of the planer. Whether or not these tables ha ve rollers didn't affect how easy it was to feed stock through the planers.

Infeed/Outfeed Support. Unlike the removable trays on the Delta (left), the flip-down tables on the Makita (center) and Grizzly (right) are easily adjust ed so they're flush with the bed of the planer. Whether or not these tables ha ve rollers didn't affect how easy it was to feed stock through the planers.

Dust Hoods. A single port on Delta's dust hood (left) doesn't clog up during a heavy cut like the dual ports on the Jet (center). With no dust hood, the Sears (right) throws chips everywhere.

thick chips (left) and a rough surface. But you get fine shavings (right) and a smooth surface with a thin cut.

Gary: The infeed and outfeed support on each of the other planers makes a lot more sense to me. It's a metal table that flips down and easily adjusts level with the beds of the planers.

Steve: With the tables flipped down, the Makita has the longest bed of the bunch — almost a full two feet. Probably why the boards I planed with it had less snipe than the others. Also, the edges are rolled, so I can't accidentally "catch" my fingers.

Cary: The other planers all had a roller at the end of each table. While that's a nice feature, it didn't seem to make a difference in how smoothly a board feeds through the planer.

Ken: Besides the rollers on the tables, the Jet and Sears also had rollers built into the bed. These rollers are located directly under the feed rollers that hold the workpiece down flat against the bed. (See drawing below.)

That means there should be less friction between the bed and the workpiece. But the only time

I can see the bed rollers making a difference is if you're "hogging off' a lot of material.

Steve: That's not something I do much. Especially since it doesn't give me as smooth a cut. As a rule, I make more passes with a lighter depth of cut. (See photo above right.)

HH Regardless of the depth of cut, you'll probably ivant to hook the planer up to a shop vacuum or dust collector. Which planers have a dust hood? And how did they handle the chips?

Cary: Except for the Sears, all the planers have an optional dust hood you can buy. These ranged in price from $19.95 for the Delta, Grizzly, and Makita to $39.95 for the Ryobi. The Jet fell in the middle at $29.95.

Even though the Ryobi is the most expensive, it's the only one that comes with two hoses, a connector, and all the hardware required to hook it up to a shop vac.

Steve: Can they do the job? I found the large, single port dust hood on the Delta and Makita worked better than the dual ports on the Grizzly, Jet, and Ryobi. (See photos above left.)

Just be prepared for one thing on the Delta. To keep boards that feed out from hitting the dust hood, you'll need to manually bend it around.

Ken: That beats sweeping up the piles of chips that pour out the back of the Sears. What's even worse is that when the feed rollers mash these chips into the board, it leaves little "dents" in the surface. (Refer to margin on page 24.)

Steve: In addition to all the chips and dust, these planers produced a lot of noise. Since they all have a high-speed universal motor, they're real screamers. (See chart at right.) Even though the Delta is "quieter" than the others, you still wouldn't catch me using it without my hearing protectors.

90dB 95 100 105

90dB 95 100 105

Good

Excellent

■inrnnnniKTi

Excellent

Good

[H By 71010, you probably have a pretty good 'feel"for the controls and adjustments of these planers. Hoiv about something as simple as the on/off switch?

Depth of Cut Adjusters. The hand wheel on the Sears (left) and a folding crank on the Delta (center) are handy to use. But the crank on the Makita (right) has a lock knob that makes it a knuckle-buster.

Hairline Indicator. ►

An adjustable hairline indicator makes the scale on the Sears planer easy to read.

Unless you look right down into the tape measure on top of the Grizzly, it's hard to get an accurate reading.

Since there's no up and down adjustment, you can't "fine tune" the pointer on the Delta scale.

Hairline Indicator. ►

An adjustable hairline indicator makes the scale on the Sears planer easy to read.

Unlike the loose safety key on the Makita (top), the other planers use a plastic tab that snaps onto the switch (bottom).

Unless you look right down into the tape measure on top of the Grizzly, it's hard to get an accurate reading.

Since there's no up and down adjustment, you can't "fine tune" the pointer on the Delta scale.

Ken: Maybe I'm picky. But the small push buttons on the Makita aren't as handy as the toggle switches on the other planers. (See margin at left.)

Steve: What bothered me wasn't the buttons as much as the "safety key" that's supposed to prevent someone from accidentally turning on the planer. I could turn it on even without the key.

Gary: Not only that, the key is so loose, I was afraid it would rattle out while I was planing.

¡¡§2 What did you think about the depth of cut adjustment?

Steve: Of all the planers, the Makita had the smoothest depth of cut adjustment. Maybe that's because it has a fixed cutter-head, so the only thing that moves is a lightweight aluminum table. (See drawing below.) On all the other planers, the bed is fixed, and the heavy cutterhead adjusts up and down.

Depth of Cut Adjusters. The hand wheel on the Sears (left) and a folding crank on the Delta (center) are handy to use. But the crank on the Makita (right) has a lock knob that makes it a knuckle-buster.

^ So which one is better?

Ken: Besides the ease of adjustment, I'd say it's a tossup.

[fH What about the handles used to adjust the depth of cut?

Ken: I like the big, beefy hand-wheel on the Sears. (See photos above.) And since you can attach it to either side, it's great for both right and left-handers.

Steve: The cranks on top of the Delta and Grizzly aren't removable. But I like the way they fold up for storage.

The Makita has a crank with a knob that "locks in" the depth of cut. That's nice if I'm planing a lot of stock at one setting. But it sure reduced the knuckle room I

needed to turn the crank.

Can you depend on the scales and the indicators that tell you the thickness of the piece as it feeds out of the planer?

Ken: I usually use them as a rough indicator. But the scale on the Sears is so easy to read, I can see using it for more accurate work. (See photos lower left.)

Steve: That wasn't the case with the tape measure on the Grizzly. It's in a "window" on top of the planer. So it's about as accurate as reading a gas gauge from the passenger seat of a car.

Gary: Even so, it's better than the pointer on the Delta. The only way to adjust it is to bend the pointer.

Controls & Adjustments

[H By 71010, you probably have a pretty good 'feel"for the controls and adjustments of these planers. Hoiv about something as simple as the on/off switch?

fixed cutterhead

adjustable cutterhead

Thickness Planer Universal Motor

fixed bed

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