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The Differences Between Jointers and Planers

Jointer vs. Planer

All new woodworkers eventually end up asking the same question: Do I need a planer or jointer? The answer is you need both! However, when you are first starting out, your budget may not allow for buying both. Depending on who you talk to, you may hear strong cases for buying one over the other first. In general, a planer may give you the most flexibility at the start, but as you progress, you’ll definitely need to invest in a jointer as well.

So just what exactly are the differences between a jointer and a planer? Let’s start with the design. They look totally different from each other. A jointer has two coplanar tables, with a cutterhead in between them. There is also a fence that helps to keep your wood properly lined up and moving smoothly. When you use a jointer, you run the wood on top of and over the cutterhead. While there are plenty of different applications for your jointer, the primary function of a jointer is to flatten a surface and create a perfect edge.

A planer, on the other hand, has a box-like design. You feed your board into it, and the rollers inside the machine pull the board through and out the other end. Unlike a jointer, the planer has a rotating cutterhead that cuts from above. You can adjust the settings to the exact dimensions you need, and the planer will cut your board to those specifications. A planer’s main function is to create uniform thickness for parallel boards.

Both are wood-prep tools that take rough, raw lumber and transform it into smooth, ready-to-use material in the dimensions you need. Having both a jointer and planer makes your prep work easy, fast and, most importantly, consistent. Basically, your jointer will flatten and edge the wooden board, and your planer will make it the right thickness.

Why You Need Both a Jointer and Planer

New, rough lumber is often warped, and may be bowed, twisted or cupped. While you can try to fix warping with a planer, you’ll end up losing a lot of your material in the process. This is where a jointer comes in handy and makes your planer work more effectively. You can simply run your piece of wood over the jointer and end up with a flattened surface on one side. Now that you have one flat side, you can run that through the planer for a uniform cut and parallel edge. This process will save you a lot of time and material. There are quite a few other applications that make jointers and planers incredibly useful, but this may be the most important.

Can You Use a Thickness Planer as a Jointer?

Yes! You can use a planer like a jointer, but it will require a bit more work. There are a few methods out there, but the following is pretty easy.

To use your thickness planer as a jointer, follow these steps:

  1. Create a planer sled. The planer sled needs to be longer and wider than the boards you’re working with. Make sure the sled is completely flat, and add a bumper edge at the end of the sled to keep your board secure to the sled.
  2. Secure your board to the sled by placing shims in any gaps. Check that the board doesn’t rock on the sled, and if it does, add more shims to make it stable.
  3. Glue the shims in place with a hot-glue gun. Don’t worry about a mess; the glue will come off easily once you are done.
  4. Saw down the extra length on the shims so they are flush to the sled. Now you’re ready to feed your setup through the planer!
  5. Be sure to have support for your sled on both the infeed and outfeed of your planer. Adjust your planer settings so they are very light. The first pass is to mainly check rollers and smooth operation.
  6. After the first light pass, adjust your planer settings and pass your sled through again. Adjust settings and pass through as needed.
  7. Once you have a flattened surface, remove the board from the sled, flip it over and run the untouched side through the planer. That’s it!