What Is The Difference Between A Jointer And A Planer?

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It’s not uncommon to see novice woodworkers asking, what is the difference between a jointer and a planer around DIY communities. Many inexperienced hobbyists also face the same dilemma and confuse jointers with planners and believe they’re the same thing.

Mechanically they aren’t very different. Both machines use a spinning cutter head driven by a motor and belt/pulley arrangement. They both fulfill the same basic principle; that is to alter your lumber faces.

And, that’s just where the similarities start and finish. In reality, these two machines perform different jobs and it’s not about which one is better than the other. You need to use both machines on the same lumber in order to prepare it for your next DIY project.

In the next few sections, I’ll explore more about these two pieces of machinery, and explain why and how they are different.

Without further ado, let’s jump right in! Shall we?

What is a jointer?

Wood jointers are a modern piece of equipment that brings efficiency producing flat faces along a board’s length. They replace the need for a hand plane to remove warps, twists, or cupping from your boards.

Hand planing is time-consuming since it depends on your muscle power. Moreover, it requires expertise that has to be built up over time. A motorized jointer works wonder in this case.

Instead of manually forcing a hand plane across the wood, you will run it through the machine. Thus jointers eliminate a lot of efforts from your end and produce perfectly straight and square edges in less than half the time.

Therefore, having a jointer at hand means you can prepare workpieces quickly and effortlessly. As a result, they can be glued edge-to-edge to create larger panels.

How does a jointer work?

A jointer machine consists of an infeed and outfeed table, and a cutter head (with knives). The cutter head is held in between the table into a groove. Every jointer also features an infeed table adjuster so that it can be lowered. This lets you control the depth you want to trim on your boards. 

As you turn the machine on and feed your wood facing the table, the spinning cutter head starts removing materials from the surface. An adjustable fence (vertical) helps you keep it in place during this operation. Depending on the roughness of the surface, you might repeat the process several times.

The fence can be titled into different angles, typically at 45 degrees in both directions. Thus producing bevel cuts is made easy.

What is a planer?

A jointer is invaluable when it comes to flattening wood surfaces and square edges. Having said that, it doesn’t mean your wood will be left with uniform thickness end-to-end. That’s where a good quality wood planer has a significant role to play.

These heavy-duty machines help you produce parallel surfaces on your boards and convert them into usable workpieces. Sure, you can implement the same with your jointer, but it will be cumbersome since you have to run the same board over and over again. Despite this, the resulting thickness may not be as perfect as you would achieve with a wood planer.

How does a planer work?

The main components of a thickness planer include a table (bed), a set of roller (infeed & outfeed roller), and a cutter head. Basically, you will first place a wooden board (after it has been flattened on a jointer) on the machine and set the table to the desired height afterward.

You then have to switch the machine on and run the in-feed roller. The roller will grab and pull this wood between the table and the cutter head until the other roller (out-feed) ejects it. The resultant thickness will be equal to the distance you’ve set from the table to the cutter head.  

Usually, a planer is used to trim a large quantity of materials in a single pass. However, each machine has its limitations and you might need a few passes to achieve the desired width.

What are the differences between a jointer and a planer?

A lot can be said about these two heavy-duty woodworking machines, however, when we want to differentiate between them there are only four points worth mentioning.

  • Both a jointer and a planer is used to prepare workpieces for a project. Jointers excel at smoothing a rough face and square a single edge. On the contrary, a wood planer is best at producing boards with consistent thickness.
  • Again, a jointer finishes your boards leaving the same ratio of thickness they came from a lumberyard/DIY store. A planer, on the other hand, converts these to have consistent thickness throughout.
  • The position of the blades is noticeable. In jointers, you’ll find the cutter head is placed in between the table to remove woods from below. A planer is quite the opposite. The cutting unit is placed above the bed.
  • Unlike jointers, a thickness planer can’t diminish cupping, warping, or twists on your non-finished wooden block.

To cut a long story short, we can say that a jointer prepares your woods on its surface and at the edges so that you can attach a few of them and build a table or bookshelf perfectly.

Conversely, a planer helps you to produce boards that are parallel across all faces. This way, it helps you achieve the required robustness you need in finishing up a project.

Jointer vs. Planer: Which one comes first?

You can’t really pick one over the other if you want to get the most from your rough lumber. In order to prepare the woods perfectly for your project, both machines are extremely helpful.

Having said that, we’re talking about expensive machinery, which means most of us can only afford one at a time. And that begs the question, which is a little more efficient for a hobbyist woodworker?

If you ask, I’d invest in a planer first. Simply because buying pre-milled stocks is much easier nowadays than to find boards with precise dimensions.

Having just a jointer means you’ll have no way producing boards with an equal thickness which is more important for any medium to big wooden project. On the other hand, if you purchase a planer, you’re just minutes away to get this benefit.

A planer can also perform reasonably well flattening rough faces as long as your boards are straight. For the most part, a few passes on both sides can give your lumber a clean finish.

Yet, you’ll have to deal with rough edges. Trimming with a hand plane could be a good solution. Using a circular saw or router table will save even more time for you.

After saying all of these, I must admit these are just temporary approaches. If you’re serious about woodworking and want to take it up a notch a jointer will always be necessary. The way they remove warps and twists from non-finished woods is simply irreplaceable. Also, if you intend to join several boards together, you’re going to need a jointer sooner or later.

Final Words

The key difference between a jointer and a thickness planer is that one is great at making true faces and square edges, where the other is best at making panels with uniform thickness. However, at the end of the day, they are different at what they do, you can’t really replace one with the other.

That’s why for a seasoned craftsman, the whole debate of wood jointer vs. planer is pointless. If you’re planning to work with big scale projects and want to accomplish more, both machines would be equally important for you.

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