Hand planers are one of the most beginner-friendly woodworking tools out there. It helps you deal with old furniture and shape all kinds of wooden surfaces. You don’t have to be a seasoned carpenter to know that this is a must-have tool for your kit. Nowadays, electric versions have swarmed the market and have made it difficult for people to easily pick the right model for them. This is why I’ve gone through the trouble of picking some of the best hand planers for this year and rank them from best to worst.
In this guide, I will explain what hand planers are, walk you through some of their most important features, and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using them in your workshop. First, let’s start with a brief comparison of the top models I’ve chosen…
Hand Planers Comparison Chart
WEN 6534 8-Amp Electric Hand Planer
WEN 6534 Hand Planer is a good combination of versatility and affordability. I wouldn’t normally recommend it if you are looking for something premium and well-built, but if you are on a tight budget, there are few models out there that can outperform this one. It has a powerful motor and a ton of additional features and accessories that will make working with it a breeze. There are, of course, some noticeable price cuts, such as the material quality and the common blades and shoes defects, which would, unfortunately, require a product swap or return. If you inspect your model well before starting, though, and there are no issues, you should expect a healthy few years of usage. If you are after something more heavy-duty, I suggest going for some of the DeWalt or Makita models I have here…
PORTER-CABLE PC60THP 6-Amp Hand Planer
Porter-Cable has been a true pioneer in the woodworking tools niche for some time now, thanks to the help they get from their parent company Black and Decker. The PC60THP hand planer is yet again another tool that could very well be one of the best in the budget class. It lacks the rigid, premium feel of the more expensive competition but it more than makes up for it in almost every other aspect. It is one of the lightest planers out there and has a relatively small footprint meaning it is easy to work with. The cast aluminum shoes and the three v-shaped grooves for chamfering make planing easy. The adjustment knob doubles as a rubberized handle and is easy to turn and adjust the depth. There are dual dust vents which add to the overall convenience. As a whole, it is definitely something worth your consideration if you don’t want to pay three times the price for a heavy-duty planer.
DEWALT DCP580B 20V MAX Brushless Planer
DeWalt tools aren’t the cheapest out there but sure as one of the best, especially in the cordless department. In fact, that is the main theme with the DCP580B. It is surprisingly lightweight for a battery-powered planer, and has enough motor-power to cut through most types of wood. The 20V brushless motor spins the blades at 15,000 RPM resulting in 30,000 cuts per minute which isn’t great but is respectable. Thanks to the poly-V drive belt technology, the power delivery is also good, meaning there won’t be much RPM loss when faced with a harder surface. One of the major disadvantage about this tool is that all the additional accessories, including the batteries, are sold separately and can greatly increase the initial investment needed.
Bosch 3-1/4 Inch Woodworking Hand Planer
If you are after great reliability and very comfortable work feel, then this Bosch planer is one of your best options. Granted, it isn’t the cheapest tool out there but it more than makes up for that by having a few interesting features up its sleeve. For instance, the positioning of the buttons and handle design make for a truyl ambidextrous experience for those who constantly work with both hands at different occasions. There are dual dust ports that work with dust chutes or shop vacs. The shoes are machined and put together after everything else has been built, which ensures proper alignment straight out of the box. If you want to learn more about this planer, head over to my full review!
Makita XPK01Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Planer
As with most other battery-powered hand planers, the Makita XPK01Z is a little too much on the expensive side, especially so when you count the cost of the battery packs and the charger. Still, if you are a general contractor or a woodworker that is in need of a powerful and portable tool, this is a pretty safe bet. Despite being a bit heavy, it has a perfectly balanced weight distribution and is surprisingly agile even when you’re working one-handen. To hear more of my thoughts on this planer, head over to the full review by clicking the button below!
Hand Planers Buyer’s Guide
Hand planes have been one of the essential wooworking tools for centuries and are even used nowadays by woodworkers with a more traditional approach to the art. If you’re doing this as a hobby, I strongly recommend trying out one of the old-styled bench planes, as it really puts modern instrumens into perspective and allows you to appreciate the technological progress in this line of work.
Modern hand planes are mostly electric and are far easier to work with. Still, they require a certain skill set and practice to master, just like any other woodworking tool. Let’s start first with perhaps the most important question here…
What Exactly is a Hand Planer?
Hand planers, whether they are electric or not, are a tool which is designed to flatten and smoothen wooden pieces. Apart from that, you can use them to alter a wooden piece’s thickness by taking large chunks off its surface. Think of it as a razor that you push through the outermost layer of the wood to cut out strips with different thickness. It is also a great tool to level edges or creates grooves with different depth.
The electric models consist of the following elements:
- Infeed table (called the front shoe or the front base plate)
- Cutter head which, in most cases, has 2 blades opposite to one another
- Cutter retainer
- Outfeed table (the back shoe or the back base plate)
- Front handle (which can double as the depth adjustment knob)
- Main handle
- On/off switch
Each of those components is vital to the operation of the whole tool. The front shoe is what you lay on the surface of the wood before you start cutting. It lies perfectly flat to ensure that you aren’t cutting at an angle. Once you start “making the pass”, your back shoe will also lay on the surface of the wood and will add to the stability of your cut. The plates can often be grained in order to prevent tear-outs or splintering.
Between the front and back shoe lies the cutter head which, in most cases, has two (twin) blades facing the opposite direction.
On the top of the tool, there are two handles – the main one, located at the back part of the planer, and a knob-like handle which doubles as a depth-adjustment knob. You spin it to change the depths of your cuts which can often be precisely calibrated even with a 1/32 of an inch.
The on/off switch lies within the main handle and usually has a switch lock right beside it which you can use to lock the current power position (on or off).
At the side of this tool, you can have a belt guard and/or a dust extraction port which can be connected to a shop vacuum that will take away the wood dust.
How Does a Planer Work
Planers work only when they are pushed towards the surface of the wood. Once you have placed the tool on top of the piece you will work on, start moving forward. This is called making a pass and is essentially all you need to do in order to cut away the outermost layer of the wooden surface. The blade will cut anything that it meets according to the depth you’ve set with the adjustment knob.
Generally, the deeper you want to go, the harder it will be and the slower you will have to make your pass. Still, how easy those cuts will be also depends on the power of your tool and the number of cuts it does per minute. Let’s say your planer’s cutter head spins at 16,000 RPM. Since it has two blades, this will mean 32,000 cuts per minute! The more cuts per minute you have on your tool, the easier it will be to work with, and that is why this stat is one of the first ones people look for when buying a new planer.
The old-school manual hand planes have a sharp single-sided blade that is angled towards the front of the tool and shaves away the top layer when you’re making a pass. These tools still have front and back shoes and handles but they operate solely with human power and aren’t as potent as their electric counterparts. They also can’t reach depths than the electric planers can and are harder to master.
In case you want to use your electric hand planer for edge bevelling or chamfering, you must look for a tool that has a V-groove on its base plate.
Types of hand planers
There are a lot of hand planers out there but they can generally be divided into two main types – manual and electric. Manual planers are also the ones being called simple “hand planers” even though modern electric planers are often called just “hand planers” as well. To stay true to the correct names of different types, modern (electric) planers are called power planers.
Manual hand planers
The manual planers, as I previously mentioned, are hand-operated and have a much steeper learning curve in order to master them. They are the oldest version of hand planers with evidence of their usage stemming from the 18th century. They are made out of hardwood and have a metal blade, along with some other parts that might be either metal or wood. They all have a front knob but their adjustment knob is located behind the blade, unlike its location with the electric models. The back handle is often referred to as “tote”.
Here are a few sub-types of hand planers:
- Block planers – Block planers are the most common type of manual planers and are mostly used to smoothen uneven surfaces or flatten pieces of wood that are twisted. They have their blade at a relatively low angle.
- Bench planers – These are also called finishing planers and are almost identical to the block planers with the main difference being the angle of the blade which is steeper on the bench planer. The functionality is basically the same as the block planers.
- Pocket planers – As the name suggests, these planers are of compact size, small enough to fit in your pocket. They are used for lighter (one-handed) tasks and smaller projects.
- Spoke planers – These are also called shavers. They are primarily used when you need to round up a log. Woodworkers mostly use these types of planers to shape the seats and legs of chairs, tables or other curved projects.
- Trimming planers – These are bigger than the pocket planers and are used for detailing, flattening, or smoothening of different (larger) surfaces.
Electric (power) planers
These planers are geared towards heavier and bigger projects that require some serious power. They can be divided into a few categories, such as corded/cordless, curve base/straight base, or others, which I will show you in a moment. They are far more efficient than normal manual hand planers but also come with a much higher price tag.
Here are the four types I usually divide them into:
- Hand power planers – These are the most common modern planers which are also called edge or door planers. They are primarily used on various flat wooden surfaces such as floors or tabletops.
- Bench Top Planers – Bench top planers can be either thickness planers or jointers.
- Cordless Hand Planers – Cordless models usually use a 14-18 Volt power output and are really handy when you are constantly on the move and need your tool by your side even when there is no power outlet nearby. Makita and DeWalt models are the pioneers in the battery technology nowadays and their models have batteries which can easily last you through a day of work.
- Combination Hand Planers – These planers are a combination of planers and jointers.
There are also jointer planners, which as their name suggests, are used to trim different types of joints. They are usually big and stationary, and also quite expensive.
In regards to their base, they can have a curved base which is more suitable for when you’re working with curved/arched wooden structures, or have a straight base which is the most common type used for all sorts of trimming, smoothening, or cutting operations.
With all that out of the way, let’s move on with the advantages and disadvantages of modern hand planers…
Pros & Cons of Electric Hand Planers
In terms of advantages, modern electric hand planers created quite the revolution in the woodworking world, mainly by cutting down projects costs and times needed for execution of a single task.
- Their precision is unmatched by manual woodworking tools.
- Shortens the time it needs to finish a project
- It is very easy to learn how to operate them
- It is easier to cut in a straight line when making your pass
- You can trim and cut deeper into the wood as opposed to manual planers
- Thanks to their adjustability they also replaced the need for multiple kinds of hand planers.
Now, let’s check some of the main disadvantages of these power tools…
- Manual hand planers still have a certain amount of precision that electric models cannot really replicate
- They require electricity to work which isn’t always available at certain project sites
- Certain types of electric planers are quite bulky
- Moden hand planers can be really expensive
Features To Look For
There are a number of features to look for when choosing a good electric hand planer. To be able to accurately measure a model against its competition, you need to make a list and go through their features comparing them along the way. I’ve made that easy for you by creating a detailed list of all the features you need to look for:
Now, let’s discuss them one by one and see how would they affect your tool’s performance…
With power, you have to primarily focus on the Voltage and Amperage of the tools. Cordless (battery-operated) planers have Voltage as their main power indicator. Corded models, though, use Amps to measure that.
Cordless models like Makita’s and DeWalt’s use primarily Lithium-ion batteries with different Max Voltages. DeWalt models are slightly more powerful and are known to have better batteries. They operate at 20V max voltage, while Makita’s planers usually operate at 18 Volts. If you have a small woodworking shop, where you aren’t embarking on huge tasks, this small difference will almost go unnoticed, so your primary concern should be focused elsewhere…
For instance, corded models tend to be slightly more powerful but you will also be tethered to the location of your power socket. Battery-operated planers will give you more freedom to move around without tripping things on your way.
The other defining characteristic of power is the RPM of the tool. Anywhere from 15 to 20 thousand RPMs is considered good in modern electric planers. That is the rounds per minute the blade does once fully up-to-speed. At 16,000 RPM, you will be making 32,000 cuts per minute thanks to the two blades! Battery-powered planers will have slightly lower RPMs and will also be more affected by the load you put on them. That will also significantly drop their cuts per minute as well, especially if you are cutting a hardwood in a low depth-setting.
Blades are of the most important components in a planer. Don’t worry, though, since they are interchangeable, meaning if you don’t get this right from the first try, you can simply buy new blades separately and put them on your planer (just pay attention to sizes and compatibility).
Blades are usually made out of two materials – carbide or steel. Carbide seems to be the way forward as it wears less and is sharper. Other things you can look for are whether or not the blades are double-edged, which helps with cutting precision and performance.
For added rigidity, some companies add tungsten to their carbide blade compound but that does bulk up the price a bit.
Shoes are mostly made out fo cast aluminum or regular aluminum. This metal is great since it won’t scratch surfaces easily and is fairly soft as compared to other options. Some shoes are precision-machined, which will add unprecedented parallelism to your cuts which is one of the most important aspects of making a straight and even pass through the wood you’re working on.
The shoes can have grooves for chamfering that are V-shaped. I usually prefer having two grooves symmetrically placed on both sides, rather than one in the middle.
The front shoe is also the part that adjusts the depths of your cut and determines how wide of a cut you can make.
Most shoes nowadays allow you to adjust your cut anywhere from 0 to 1/8th of an inch, most commonly in 1/128th of an inch intervals.
Dust chutes are one of the most important accessories for a hand planer. There will be a ton of wood dust coming out of your tool and being able to capture that without it littering your workshop is crucial. Depending on the tool there will be holes on either one (or both) sides of it, allowing you to attach a shop vac or a chute.
Kickstands or other types of stands are also a welcome feature since it will allow you to rest your planer in a position that won’t damage the surface it is laying on.
Lastly, let’s talk about the price tag of these tools…
Whether or not you are making money woodworking is perhaps the biggest deciding factor when it comes to the price. The price differences between certain models are in the hundreds of dollars and if you are getting the planer just for your home woodworking shop, it is often a good idea to go with the slightly cheaper model. The more expensive models are better in almost all aspects, of course, but aren’t too good of a bang for the buck, especially if they won’t be used for daily tasks. That is actually where premium models shine – they can be constantly used and they won’t age as fast as a cheaper model, nor will they require maintenance that often.
Woodworking is a great way to spend your time, especially if you have that DIY spirit in you. Nothing makes a person happier than crafting something of your own either for yourself or for other people. Picking the best hand planer will be an essential part of your tool-picking process once you start building your dream workshop full with all the essential woodworking tools. Keep in mind all the features that we just went through and remember that if you get confused by the myriad of tool characteristics, it is always a safe bet to go with some of the most well-received models for the year.