This article was inspired by a question from Rick. He writes:
Egos aside, how wide do you really need your planer to be? If I have an 8″ jointer, do I really need a 20″ planer to flatten the other side of the board? Yes, I could glue two 8″ boards together and plane them together, but is the quality really that much better? I have searched extensively for the answer and turned up empty handed. I am not looking to save money, I want the best tool for the job. I am hoping you have the time to share a little of your wisdom.
As with most things woodworking, it really depends on your personal work habits and the kind of projects you build, so you’ll find a lot of differing opinions on this topic. Some believe you should get as much capacity as possible, and others think you shouldn’t go much wider than your jointer bed. But even the smallest planer on the market is going to be about 12″ wide, which is significantly wider that most of our jointers. Obviously this is very handy for planing down glued up panels and skip-planing extra wide boards.
But do you really need a 20″ planer? Absolutely not! It may come in handy someday if you want to plane a super wide panel, but that rarely ever happens in my shop. Most times, after the glueup, my panels receive a little sanding/scraping/hand planing to finish them off and that’s it. So for me, 20″ is more than I really need. In fact I recently downsized from a 20″ planer to a Powermatic 15″ unit. I wanted to upgrade to a helical head and I really liked the idea of something with a smaller footprint. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that I had the 20″ model for over 5 years and never used more than 15″ of its capacity. So in my shop, the 15″ model makes good sense. It’s been a year since the switch and I have yet to say to myself, “Boy I sure wish I had that 20″ planer!”
What do you guys think? Would a super wide planer be beneficial to your shop, or is it merely a “nice to have” item?