How Wide Does a Planer Need to Be?

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.

Powermatic PlanerAs 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?

Category: Tools

Comments

  1. Caleb Sarty December 28, 2009

    I operate a 12′ planer in my shop and for most of my projects it suits me just fine. The only time I wish I had something bigger would be when making table/desk tops and panels for wide cabinet doors (even then I have found ways to make due with what I have). Honestly, I would love to upgrade to a 15 or 20″ model when I build a larger shop, and in the future I may, but for now my 12″ works just fine for me and takes up very little space in my cramped workshop.

    • Don Henley December 28, 2009

      I fall into line with most of the rest of you guys regarding the planer question. Mine happens to be a 13.5 inch model that gives me lots of good results and suits whatever capacity I seem top need. Most of us a probably not doing our woodworking in elaborate industry style settings, so, for me, I don’t see the need for a massive planer with a giant footprint.

  2. Dennis Scott December 28, 2009

    I also have a 12″ planer. I have used it for over 20 years. I have had problems with wide panels but from my own mistakes. The last blanket chest I made only needed sanding to the faces. Although if someone gave me a 20″ planer I would gladly take it.

  3. Tim December 28, 2009

    There is always another option, well 2 actually, if you need to plane something wider than the planer that you have in your shop. There is always the option of using a hand plane to flatten the board, but that could potentially be a lot of work.

    The other option is to see if there are any cabinet or furniture shops near you that would plane your glue-up for you. If I remember correctly, David Marks did something similar on Woodworks, going to a cabinet shop with a large glue-up to have it run through a wide belt sander.

    Tim

  4. Dyami Plotke December 28, 2009

    Assuming that money is absolutely no object, I’d say go with the 15″ to 20″ range. If money is even slightly important (or space, for that matter) I’d recommend the DeWalt 13″. It’s a lunchbox machine with the power of a smaller stationary model. Mine has been serving my Dad (long story) for 5 years now with great success.

  5. Robert Stuart December 28, 2009

    Let me add – if you are considering a 15 or 20″ planer get the Helical (Byrd) head for it. Besides the tremendous quality of the cut – the easy and simplicity of the blade changes – the 15/20″ planers are so much quieter than the 12″ ones especially with the helical

    I recently got a new Powermatic and am stunned at how quiet it is compared to my DeWalt dw735. The planer is actually quieter than the dust collector I hook to it

  6. Glenn Folley December 28, 2009

    I also have the Dewalt 13″ lunchbox unit and love it. My shop is not as large as I would like so space is a concern and this unit fits great. For the times when a larger unit would be nice there are other options to get it done. Good luck with your choice and enjoy your time in the shop.

  7. SamJ December 28, 2009

    I agree that the 12 or 13 inchers are enough. The plus of having one bigger than your jointer is that you can use a sled and run those wider boards through to flatten a face. Running glueups through a planer doesn’t seem particularly necessary for me as you’re better off running it through a sander anyway. Get a smaller planer and start saving up for that open end drum sander. Or take it to a cabinet shop like someone said and have them run it through their’s.

  8. Jim December 28, 2009

    “Need” is a subjective word but the larger the machine, the more options it leaves open to you. It’s the same as with cars or computers. A Yugo will get you there but they sure sell a lot of 4 wheel drives.

    • Mark (GreeneNCGuy) December 28, 2009

      If money is no object, and you have the space, why not. It’s always great to have options.

  9. I am using the Jet 15″ and an 11 year old DeWalt 735 12″ planer in my shop.

    As a professional I find that a 15″ planer has been very adequate and I have never felt the need for a bigger one. I can say that a 12″ would not be sufficient for my needs but it still sees a lot of work.

    The 15″ Jet is a nice balance between power, capacity, and reasonable footprint.

    The 12″ DeWalt often is used for finer planing needs. No matter how well tuned the Jet is, it is just not possible to take as fine of a pass and get as nice a finish as I do on the DeWalt.

    The two work as a complimentary pair and I really would hate to give either one up.

  10. mark williams December 28, 2009

    I think you should make a list of all of the features and aspects of each piece of equipment. Then rank them according to your situation, shop space, budget, type of work etc. Then total the scores and decide what piece of equipment will best accomplish. i.e. in Marc’s case he wanted the helical cutter which would rate higher then the 20 in. and so on….

  11. Chester December 28, 2009

    Money and space … not a problem, I would get a stationery 15″ … or maybe a 20 if it were given to me. But I have recently added a Jet 22/44 drum sander to my shop and I am amazed at how much I am using this as part of my combination of tools to flatten boards. For me, at this time, with money and space being important, the combination of my 6″ jointer, the 12.5″ portable Jet Planer and the big drum sander is a good one.

    • Steve December 29, 2009

      I agree. I would much rather have a wide drum sander than a wide planer. I can take the individual boards down to dimension with my 13 planer prior to glue up. If I take all the necessary precautions when gluing up the panel, all that should really be needed is a couple of light passes through the drum sander.

      • Russ December 30, 2009

        I agree as well. I have a 12″ planer and it suits most of my needs. I would love a larger 15″ but that’s for power reasons and not so much for the size. I say get the 15″, and the sweet new Jet oscillating sander! You could send doors through the sander where you couldn’t with the planer. Recently Marc mentioned someone else sending an end grain cutting board through a planer and it wasn’t pretty. This is another reason for the sander!

        • Chester January 4, 2010

          End-grain cutting boards … you gotta’ have a drum sander. Before I did my first board, I always thought that I would never need a drum sander. So I got one so that I could do more boards … and now I find that (for all kinds of things) I would have trouble being without the DS.

    • I also agree that a wide belt or ‘drum’ sander would be a better buy.

      A 12″ thicknesser/planer should give you all the capacity you ever really need. The minute you start working with wide boards (greater than 4in.?), you going to run in to several issues with the wood wanting to expand and contract.

      It also tends to be more wasteful and less economical to work with very wide boards – not to mention more expensive! ;-)

  12. DanP December 28, 2009

    I recently bought my first planer, a Delta 12″. I did so with a great deal of trepidation, wondering if it would meet my needs and be a worthwhile addition, compared to a much larger unit.

    All I can say is that I have been amazed at what I can do with such a small (relatively speaking) machine, compared to something much larger. I am convinced that a larger machine would have had incremental benefits over the 12″.

    As a secondary point, these machines appear to hold their value, so if you were to purchase a 12″ and decide you need a larger one, you could probably recoup a good part of your investment.

    Dan

  13. Matt Egan December 28, 2009

    I have the dewalt735 and i wish to death i had something bigger. I guild alot of things with panels such as toy chests and it would be awesome not to have to go to the local woodshop to spend 63$ an hour to sand my panels for me. that being said the dewalt 735 is a killer planer.

  14. Vic December 28, 2009

    Rick,

    In you’re question, you state money is not an issue. That being the case, upgrade to a 12 or 16 inch jointer and match that capacity in the planer you buy. Make sense?

  15. cahudson42 December 28, 2009

    Not many boards these days seem wider than 12″ – at most 15″ (at least for me) – so its hard for me to see a need for anything greater in the planer.

    I’ve a 12″ $245 Grizzly that works great. Far more annoying to me is that my jointer is only 6″ – so annoying that I’m thinking my next purchase will be the 10″ jointer/planer Grizzly combo @ about $1,000. They also have a 12″ version for maybe $2300.

    For tabletops, or even jointing just one side of a 12″ – 15″ board – planing it by hand is not a chore IF you have the right planes. Spend the money ($200 – $300 each) for the Veritas bevel-up smoother and jointer planes. They are a pleasure to use. (Forget ‘junk planes’ or old dogs off ebay – ‘been there, done that’ – and its pure frustration, plus not that cheap after you buy the Hock blade for the junker etc.)

    Good Luck!
    Chris

    • Larry Dufault December 29, 2009

      Hi Chris,
      I am looking at the Grizzly 10″ planer/Jointer too. Have you been able to find any reviews/info on it other than their website? I’m trying to get as much info as I can before I spend that much money and not be happy with what I buy. I also found Jet has what looks to be a nice 12″ planer jointer for @ $2000.

      Larry

      • Wood Magazine this past summer I think it was did a review of the Grizzly, Jet, and some other 12″ combo unit. They seemed to lean toward the Grizzly…

        Then again, magazine reviews can tend to be pretty biased… I would love to see owner reviews.

  16. Guido Ackermann December 29, 2009

    After reading all comments so far, my personal opinion is that the size of a tool is not a matter of space or money. It is even not a matter of what kind of project you do.
    If woodworking is a hobby, it’s a matter of saying “If i ever want to, i could do” And of course to show your friend how big is yours.
    If woodwork is your business for living, you should think of time.
    What’s the time needed for average project, and how many time can a bigger tool save compared to other methods like router, handplane or drumsander/beltsander?
    Or do you get bigger projects, earning more money in the same time, if you have bigger tools?
    And think of costs. A bigger tool usually uses more electrical power and spare parts are more expensive. So there are more costs for all your projects compared to the use of a smaller tool.

  17. Paul December 29, 2009

    Another thing to consider is the power requirements, in my country(Australia)a 15″ 3hp planer is about the biggest you can get on a normal single phase power.
    20″ planers really should have a minimum of 5hp, you can get away 3hp but it will struggle with wider cuts.

    Also a wider bed allows you to feed more pieces at once, ie when machining say 20 or so 4″ wide boards you can feed 4 boards at once

  18. Ben Delk December 29, 2009

    12, 13.5, 20, 24. Each person’s needs are different depending on his or her specific wood working hobby. I think the question here should be “blades or spiral” cutting head. I got into wood working rebuilding & repairing antique furniture and moved into building new furniture. I use a DeWalt 12.5 planer and a Grizzly 6 inch jointer. Both suit my needs but my brother-in-law has a 20 inch Gizzly planer with a spiral head and I must admit it makes me a bit jealous. And as always, space and power source have a huge impact on what most of wood rats decide.
    I say if you have the space, money and power, go bigger….

  19. I have a 13″ planer, and would not bother with a large industrial sized unit. I’m not the best, but I am competent enough with a hand plane that if I mess up doing a panel glue up or what not I just dig the hand planes out…

    If I were given a 20″ planer, I would sell the thing. Then again, if I were given a 20″ planer, I would sell it, my 13″ planer, and my 6″ jointer and grab one of those 12″ Grizzly G0634 Jointer / Planer combo machines. I have run into situations, albeit rarely, where the 10″ is just a shave too narrow, but 12″ is as wide as I work with my stock…

    Now if we were in the day and age where 20″ wide lumber was still common I would be singing a different tune.

  20. Dan December 29, 2009

    I use a 12 inch planer but would like the 15″ for a larger table area and quieter operation, not to mention a helical cutter head for smoother cuts. The 20″ seems too much for what I would use it for and if I ever needed to plane a 20″ board I would take it to someone or plane 2 10″ boards and edge glue them and even as possible. As for which brand, Powermatic (shameless plug for the sponser of this fine webiste-no loss of quality in their products).

  21. Claude Stewart December 29, 2009

    I have a 12 in. planer and have needed anything bigger.

  22. Don W December 29, 2009

    I suspect that the quality and size of ones tools will eventually expand to meet the budget available. I have a 12″ planer and can’t imagine needing more.

    • Chester January 4, 2010

      Don – I have all the tools (except a lathe … don’t want one) but a good part of my collection has been nominated for replacement with something better. My top candidates to go are my bandsaw (old craftsman), the 6″ Jet Jointer, the 12″ Jet portable planer and maybe my old Ryobi 10″ CMS. Three grand would do the job but, for now, I will get by.

      • Chester January 4, 2010

        Is this just the “nature of the beast” as a woodworker. You know … “boys and their toys.” Will I ever be satisfied with all of my tools? I really do hope so.

  23. Ken F December 29, 2009

    I have a Powermatic 20″ Did I need 20″ only a handfull of times, I do like to have approximately twice the width planer as the jointer, but no matter what size, If space is not a factor go towards getting a floor model with some horsepower and good size infeed & outfeed beds, adjustments for the presser bar and feed rollers so to reduce ha “have no snipe”.

  24. Dean December 29, 2009

    IĆ¢

  25. CrackPotWoody(Gregg) December 29, 2009

    I tend to use my planer to clean up wide panels after glue-ups, so wider is better for me.

  26. I’ve had a 13″ Ridgid for years and it has been great, if not a tad underpowered when running some full-width panel glue-up. I’ve been considering a move to a 3hp 15″ for a year or two mainly for the extra hp and the rock solidness of something that weighs 4-500 lbs. My Ridgid only weighs about 90. Lately though, since I have a rather small shop, I’ve been looking into something like an 18″ Woodmaster. I don’t really need that width for regular planing. My jointer is only 8″. But I like the idea of being able to convert those 18″ into a drum sander. There are a lot of situations where a drum sander at least that size would be really handy but I don’t have the room for 2 or 3 separate tools. It’s just a dream for now…unless I get a good tax return :)

  27. Matt Egan December 30, 2009

    don’t forget those of us who are horrid with the hand planes. blame the carpenter not the tool and this carpenter sucks with the hand plane…. if you have the money get the big planner i’v never looked at a big tool (that i had room for) and said “wish i got the smaller one” I have on the other hand spent extra money on buying the smaller one and then getting the bigger one anyway later and selling the smaller tool for less than i paid for it or just keeping it and having two for no reason.

  28. Jack January 2, 2010

    This is one of the few times that knowing someone that owns a large format CNC machine would be really nice.

    The CNC guys fairly regularly must flatten their tables by basically using a BIG flat end CNC bit to run over the surface and make it flat relative to the router/spindle. It usually goes pretty fast and they take off very little at a time.

    They could do the same kind of thing over a piece of wood to plane down a 4’x8′ (or whatever size they can take) piece of stock. ( know of one guy in Port Aransas, TX that has like a 12’x24′ CNC router system, if my memory serves me correctly. … He builds boats.

    It will take longer than a planer or wide belt thickness sander (possibly longer than the sander), but it could be a viable option at times.

    • George Pagliarulo January 11, 2010

      Is something like a wide Performax drum sander an adequate replacement for the jobs you would need a wide planer for. If I had my druthers I think I’d stay with a 12 or 13″
      planer (I currently have an old 10″ Ryobi) and spend the extra money on something like a Performax.

      •  
        thewoodwhisperer January 11, 2010

        That’s how it works in my shop George. By the time you glue up several boards, the grain is going in all different directions. So planing the entire panel means there is a good chance of tearout. Its just a bit too rough, in my opinion, for a finished panel. So a nice wide belt sander will smooth everything out and you don’t have to worry about grain direction and tearout.

  29. Lim April 20, 2012

    I like to get it close with a surface planer and finish up with drum sander.

  30. Trevor Hillman December 13, 2012

    I have been contemplating upgrading from my PC bench top 12.5″ planer to a 15″. I find myself utilizing the planer all the time, when a year ago I had not even used it once. I am somewhat disappointed with the current planer due to the noises that it makes, the lack of a helical cutter head and no form of dust collector attachment (I did remove some parts and install my own dust collector port but it is far from ideal). There have been several times that another inch of planing surface would be great.

  31. Matt Travers June 22, 2014

    I bought a factory-reconditioned Delta 12.5″ bench-top planer a few years ago because I had some large rough boards I needed to flatten for a TV table top. Since then, I’ve gotten interested in lutherie and I find myself realizing that a couple of extra inches would be useful for thickness-planing body blanks, which usually run about 14″ wide or so. However, for more “conventional” projects, I can’t imagine running boards wider than that, so my next and final upgrade would probably be a 15″ planer or something close to that.

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