Jointer vs. Planer – What’s the Difference?
Most power tool users know that they will need jointers and planers to get the best out of their rough stocks. But given that the two can be quite expensive, it is hard for many to buy both.
However, what you choose between the two will determine whether you end up with a useful power tool or just a large machine that will collect dust in one corner in your workshop.
Ultimately what you pick between the jointer and planer will depend on the specific tasks you intend to use them for but for many woodworkers, things can get very confusing given that they are used for very similar tasks.
But, these power tools will still differ in several aspects and knowing these differences should help you determine which one you need. Below we explain some of the main differences between the two, but first here is an overview and the pros and cons of both tools.
Rough stock or lumber can come in all manner of shapes and some can even have warped and bowed faces which besides having an unsightly look also makes the stock hard to work with.
But, with a jointer around, this should be the list of your worries as this power tool is designed to help make your lumber more useful by straightening and flattening the faces and edges.
Jointers are large and powerful machines that will consist of infeed and outfeed tables and a cutter head that will trim out the excess material on the wood. The cutter head will have several knives and is typically mounted between the two feed tables.
When using a jointer you will need to preset the depth as this is what determines how much material is removed to flatten one side and edge of the stock completely.
A jointer will also help give the stock the square edges that are required for most projects and pieces with multiple imperfections will also be easily rectified.
Better yet, a typical jointer will also come with adjustable guarding fences that are designed to make it easy for you to change the cut angle when removing material.
However, despite the efficiency of the jointer in flattening wood and correcting face imperfections, this machine will not help with the thickness as a planer would. Also, if you want to give the board some parallel faces, you are better off sticking with a planer.
A jointer might flatten your lumber and get rid of the imperfection but even after going through this machine the wood might still not be ready to use.
But, this is where the planer comes in as it has been built to help with giving the lumber the desired thickness and also ensuring that its faces will be parallel.
Unlike the jointer which has infeed and outfeed tables, the planers will come with infeed and outfeed rollers which serve the same function and with the cutter head between these two rollers.
The distance between the cutter head and the table below on a planer will determine the thickness that your lumber will get. Also, the width of the cutter head should give you some idea on the lumber size that your planer can handle.
Because the planer will come with an adjustable circular cutter head, you can easily adjust them to give the wood the thickness that you desire. And they seem to work great when dealing with rougher stock surfaces.
But, you need to take extra precaution when using the planer as they can easily duplicate any wood imperfections to the other side of the piece. Also, if you are dealing with boards that are not straight, it will be wiser to first flatten them with the jointer because planers will not work very well for non-straight lumber.
Flattening, straightening and squaring boards
Flattening, smoothening and paralleling
How they Work
Wood is pushed manually through blades aligned with the outfeed table surface
Feeding rollers push the wood through internal blades for material removal
Infeed and Outfeed Components
Large and bulky
Smaller and more compact
Jointer vs. Planer
Because both jointers and planers are used for modifying wood surfaces, it can be easy to confuse then and hence find it hard to pick which is often a common issue with both beginner and experienced woodworkers. But, keeping the points below in mind should help make the differences between these two power tools clear.
1. Primary Uses
The main difference between the jointer and planer is what they have been designed to do. Despite the similarities in their overall appearance, these tools are designed for significantly different purposes.
Jointers are built for straightening warped and twisted lumber to make it more ideal for woodworking. Also, they can help to smoothen the surfaces and give the wood some nice square edges.
In many instances, the jointer is also what woodworkers will turn to when they need to give edges stopped chamfers and miter butt joints along a wood's length.
Planers can also do a lot of work in the workshop but their primary use is to smoothen and give boards some parallel edges. A planer is also what you turn to when you want to alter the thickness on lumber, and it can also help with flattening but will not be as effective.
It is also important to note that the uses of a planer will also depend on the types that you have. For example, a benchtop planer will be great for removing thickness while a manual hand planer is great when working on smaller pieces and want better control over the amount of material you remove.
2. How they Work
When looking at the jointer and planer in operation, many users might not be able to tell their differences since with both the machines lumber is fed on one end and comes out on the other. However, their work mechanism still differ significantly.
With a jointer, there will be two feed tables which are the infeed and outfeed, and with the cutting head mounted between them. Also, the cutting blades will be aligned with the outfeed table.
To use a jointer, you will need to push in the lumber that needs straightening on the edge or face manually, and the cutting head will then cut the unwanted section off the wood before the piece comes out on the other end over the outfeed table.
The working mechanism of a planer is pretty much the same, but the internal mechanism is a little more complicated. A planer will be a smaller machine that can either be table-mounted or free-standing.
Unlike a jointer, you will only need to push the workpiece in a little before the machine then takes over using the infeed rollers to guide the piece past the cutter head. The cutter head then removes the unwanted material before the piece is then pulled outwards by the outfeed rollers.
3. Cutter Head
One thing that these machines have in common is that they will both rely on a cutter head to shave off material from the lumber. However, these cutter heads are designed differently.
With the jointer, the cutter head will be to on the underside which means that the lumber being worked on will be cut from below. Hence when using a jointer, the face or edge that you want to be straightened or flattened should be at the bottom.
Planers will come with a topside or top-mounted blade which makes it easy to tell the thickness that you will get on your lumber when it passes through the machine. And it is also worth knowing that the cutter head will consist of multiple sharp blades.
4. Infeed and Outfeed Components
While for some users it might not sound important or might not make a huge difference, it is import to know the lumber feed components that these power tools use as it is also one of their main differences.
The jointer will come with large infeed and outfeed tables. While these feed tables seem to provide a little more space for the lumber and are also generally more stable, they will not assist in any way when moving the lumber through. Hence feeding the stock will be a manual process for the jointer.
Planers are designed to give woodworkers an easier time. Instead of the flat, plain tables, they will have infeed and outfeed rollers. These rollers make it easy for the wood to glide through the cutting head. In many instances, the user only needs to give the wood a slight push in before the machine takes over.
Another important difference to keep in mind when trying to decide whether to go for a jointer or planer is the fence because one will include an adjustable fence and the other tool will not.
Jointers are built to ensure you always get a perfectly flat edge or face, and so they will typically come with a fence to help with this. The fence will act as a guide that helps keep the lumber level. Better yet, it can also be adjusted to different angles to allow you to cut the wood at the precise angle you want.
While the planer will not come with a fence, you might not need one given its primary uses. Most of these tools seem to work perfectly enough without a fence whether you want to adjust the thickness of the wood or make the faces parallel as they use some a highly reliable and precise cutter head adjustment.
6. Overall Size
The overall size also differs when looking at these two power tools, and if everything else does not make the difference between two clear, their size should.
Jointers are generally large and heavy power tools that are designed to be used from a dedicated spot in the workshop, and it is hard to get a portable model that you can use at different job sites but there are still a few available.
The planer is a smaller machine when looking at the two side by side. Better yet, it is also available in several types including the benchtop models designed to take up little space in the workshop and also to be more portable.
Prices vary greatly with most woodworking power tools given the many brands available with several models in the market. The same is also true for the jointer and planer, and so unless you have a specific model in mind, it is hard to tell how much you will spend.
However, the jointers tend to be more expensive than a planer given that they are often larger and more powerful machines with a higher cutting capacity. But, when buying the same sizes the difference between the two will hardly be more than $100.
Also, when buying a planer, it is possible to get a smaller and more affordable benchtop model.
For the many woodworkers and DIYers that prefer to buy rough stock or lumber and fine-tune it to suit their specific preferences, jointers and planers should be at the top of the list of tools to buy.
Many professionals will have both given they are intended for different uses, but the majority of users can only buy one at a time given their hefty price tags. Hence, understanding how they differ should help make the choice an easy one.
And from the differences highlighted by our guide above, a jointer will be the better buy for those that want something for flattening and correcting imperfections in the wood. A planer will be ideal for thickness adjustment and when you need to make wood faces parallel.
Lastly, if you still think you will need both tools and do not have the money to buy both or even space in the workshop for both, a planer-jointer combo which is a tool that works as both will be an even better buy for you.