Jointer / Planer: Which Comes First?

Difference Between A Jointer And A Planer

Believe it or not a lot of people really don’t know that each one of these wood working tools do different tasks and they wonder which one to buy first. The quick answer is if you think that you need one of them then you’ll need both. But what if you don’t have the money for both and a choice needs to be made as to which one to buy first?

Even though they’re like salt and pepper and some would would say you can’t have one without the other. I think from a business standpoint that’s a true statement. But if you’re just a weekend woodworker then I think you can get by with purchasing one tool at a time.

If you’re really strapped for cash consider buying a few different types of hand planes and possibly even a hand jointer.

So I’ll try and make this as simple as possible to answer the question of which one to buy first. However before making a choice, we should get the basic understanding of what each one of them do.

What Does A Wood Jointer Do?

The jointer is used to square up rough lumber that has twists, bows and cupping in the wood. The jointer’s main job is to take one of the faces of the board and make it flat. When the board is run through the jointer it takes shallow cuts off of the face.

When enough passes have gone through the jointer, all cupping or twists and bows are taken out of the board leaving you with a nice flat surface to work with. An edge of the board can be squared up to make a nice ninety degree angle to match the face that you just cleaned up. This process should be done before you run a board through the planer.

Can A Jointer Be Used Instead Of A Planer?

The short answer is no. The reason is once you’ve run your board through a jointer and established a clean and flat surface and you turn it over to do the other face you’ll find out that the thickness of your board will vary in thickness from side to side and from end to end.

That’s why it’s so important that once you have a flat face and a flat and perfect ninety degree angled edge to that face you pass the other rough face through a planer. By doing this you ensure that both faces are the same thickness no matter where you measure the board.

What Does A Wood Planer Do?

The wood planer’s only job is to mill down wood to a desired thickness from one end to another. For instance if you have a board that’s 5/8 of an inch thick and need it to be 1/2 of an inch thick, then this is where a planer should be used. Another planer tip to keep in mind is if you have thick boards that have to be transformed into a much thinner ones, mark out the thickness that you want and run them through the band saw first.

This will not only save you time doing it this way but also will cut down on scrap. Here is an example, if you have a 6″ X 12″ piece of wood that’s 1″ thick that you want to use for a panel for a cabinet that you’re making but only has to be 1/2″ thick.

Make a mark that’s one half inch thick, set your fence on the bandsaw to only cut just slightly less than the thickness to make sure you get what is needed out of that piece of wood. Then if the piece you want to use is just slightly more than you need then run that piece through the planer to get it down to the thickness that you want. The other piece that you don’t need can be used for something else in the future. don’t waste anything if you can help it.

The Planer For A First Purchase

So why should the wood planer be the first one to purchase? Well you as a woodworker can buy lumber that has already been pre-milled. Keep in mind that if you decide to buy pre-milled hardwood or softwood the price will be a little more than rough cut wood.

Of course you don’t have to buy pre-milled stock, you can buy rough cut lumber just as long as it is pretty straight without any bows, twists and cupping. So keep in mind that you need to look at every piece to make sure you can get everything out of that piece of wood that you need before getting back to the shop and sending it through the planer.

So getting back to why the wood planer may be the first purchase is because even though some of the wood that you buy might not have the best square edges, you can still get by without the use of a wood jointer. There are a number of tools that can square up an edge of wood.

A circular saw with the help of a saw guide is an option. What about using a router and a router table with a fence attachment? Yep that will work too and something else that works well is the good ole table saw with the help of a jointing jig. Granted that these options aren’t perfect or as quick as a wood jointer, they are meant as a temporary solution until you can afford to buy one.

How Does A Jointer Work?

Now that we know what each tool does and what the differences are let’s go over how each one works starting with the wood jointer. So how does a jointer work? All wood jointers’ have two tables, an infeed and an outfeed table which both are aligned on the same plane. A cutting head made up of knives is mounted between the two tables and is at the same height as the outfeed table. The infeed table of the jointer is set at a lower depth that’s equal to the amount of wood that you want to remove.

The first step of the jointer process is to pass the board over the infeed table while keeping the board firmly pushed against the fence. The second part is to slide the board through the cutting head onto the outfeed table which catches the board so that it’s supported to give you a nice even and cleaned up face.

The same process can be done when an edge of a board needs to be squared up which almost all of the time needs to be done. One thing that should be mentioned about the wood planer is that it comes with an adjustable fence. They can be tilted to any degree to cut bevels when needed in edges of wood. Normally the max. you can go is forty five degrees. Do bevels need to be cut often? no not really but it’s nice to know that the wood jointer has that capability.

How Does A Planer Work?

So this is how it works, once the board has been run through the wood jointer. The wood jointer has created a perfect flat face along with an edge that has also been shaved to a clean surface that’s perpendicular to the face. You lay the jointed face down on the planer and as the planer pulls the board through the cutting head which is above the board and at the same time pushes downward and shaves wood from the top or rough face of the board.

The downward pressure of the cutting head makes for even cuts along the length and width of the board. When the board is milled down to the desired thickness, the end result will be a board that is exactly the same thickness all the way down and across the board.

At this stage you have 2 faces and 1 edge that are ninety degrees angles to each other. The only thing to do now is cut your board to the desired width on the table saw. To do this put the edge that you ran through the jointer up against the fence of the table saw and rip it down the length which will leave you with a second edge that matches the first.

The Jointer And Planer Pay For Themselves In 2 Ways

The jointer and planer will pay for themselves in a couple of ways. The first is through time and efficiency especially if your in the cabinet and or furniture making business. We’ve all heard the old saying that time is money. The jointer and planer are 2 good examples of that.

They can face, edge and plane wood in the fraction of the time that it would take to do it by hand. I’m not saying that hand planing is a bad thing, matter of fact it’s a good skill to pick up but it is time consuming. Plus if you make a mistake on the board you’ve been working on for awhile with a hand plane that’s a lot of time wasted and you have to start over.

Another way the jointer and planer pay for themselves is you can buy rough cut lumber. Rough cut lumber is by far cheaper than pre-milled lumber. As time goes by and material bought you’ll find that the jointer and planer have paid for themselves and will start to earn money through labor.

What Size Jointer / Planer Should I Buy

With any tool that depends on your circumstances and how big your projects are or will be. For a lot of hobby woodworkers benchtop planes and jointers work fine. They’re also a little easier on the pocket book not to mention they take up less space.

Me personally I hate spending more than I have to and the benchtop jointer and planer do just fine for me. They work well for small and medium size projects and depending what type brand you decide on you can purchase a benchtop jointer for under $500.

The benchtop planers are pretty close to the same price as the jointers. I encourage you to stick to the benchtop styles because once you get into 12″ to 15″ jointers and planers the price goes way up. More than double with some brands.

Are Jointer / Planer Combos Worth It?

As with anything the jointer planer combos do have benefits over the others. One of the benefits is the combos have only one cutting head in the machine to worry about. This is a money saver since you only have to buy one cutting head instead of two. The combo’s take up even less space than their counter parts because it’s an all in one machine.

The jointer planer combos’ do have some negative things about them. You have to adjust the machine to go from jointing mode to planing which can be a royal pain in the neck. Plus sometimes when going from mode to mode you take a chance on knocking some of the adjustments out of line such as that fence. Does this mean that it’s a bad investment. No not at all you just need to take extra care and pay attention to what you’re doing.

For me, I like having two separate machines so I don’t have to worry about changing from jointing mode to planing mode and back again. I also don’t have worry about misalignment as much either.