Jointer vs. Planer - Main Difference

Last update June 18, 2018

Woodworking is a great hobby for many DIYers as well as professionals. However, one of the most confusing aspects is about the difference between jointer and planer tools. Read on to find out all about them.

What Does a Jointer Do?

What does a jointer do

Some of the confusion that comes into play regarding these tools is the fact that the names used for them also have counterparts. For instance, in many cases a jointer is actually referred to as a jointer-planer, and in many other cases it is just called a planer. To add to the confusion, there is also a planer tool for metalworking, which does very different things in relation to its woodworking counterpart. For the purpose of clearing up this confusion, it is best to think of the specific woodworking tools as only a “jointer” and a “planer”.

To put this in very general terms, a jointer is a tool used for making the face or edge of a board flat and even, without any distortions. This tool is commonly used for wooden boards that are warped or bowed, or may have knots in the wood that cause a raised surface or bumps on the face. The name comes from the fact that many of these tools are primarily used for producing a flat edge (often referred to as a “joint”) on the board so that it can easily be joined together to another board at the edge for the purpose of creating larger panels or boards.

How Does a Jointer Work?

How does a jointer work

A jointer is a large tool consisting of two tables, an infeed table and an outfeed table. Mounted between the tables is a head that is used for cutting the board, with the blades aligned with the surface of the outfeed table. The piece of wood that requires either a straightened edge or face is then manually passed through the cutting head, which cuts off the wood, resulting in a perfectly flat edge or face. There is also using a fence that is used as a guide for ensuring that the board being passed through remains level. The fence can often be set at different angles, allowing for easily cutting the wood at a necessary angle.

Although a jointer is named for its ability to cut a perfectly straight edge, it can also be used for ensuring perfect flatness of the face as well. What it does not do, however, is ensure the thickness of a board. Its primary purpose is only to guarantee a perfectly straight edge or face. This distinction is worth noting because it is often used in conjunction with a planer.

If you are looking to purchase a jointer, take a look at some of the best jointers available.

What Does a Planer Do?

What does a planer do

Now that you have a good idea of what a jointer is used for, let’s take a look at a planer. A planer (not to be confused with a jointer-planer) is a tool used for ensuring an even thickness of a board, or making sure that they are co-planer. Instead of dealing with both the edges and face of a board, a planer only deals with the thickness, or the distance measured between one face and the other. A planer is not a good tool to use to ensure that your edges or joints are perfectly flat, but it is great for ensuring an even thickness of all boards, with perfectly flat and parallel faces.

Planers are best used with wooden boards that show signs of being warped, having cups (raised center), or having any distortions that prevent the faces from being perfectly parallel. This is a common occurrence with wooden boards, as the temperature and humidity conditions in the area where the boards are kept can heavily influence the shape of the boards.

How Does a Planer Work?

How does a planer work

A planer is generally a smaller machine than a jointer, usually mounted either on a table top or having its own freestanding base. Its internal operation is more complicated than that of a jointer, but in practice it is almost always easier to use. Most models that can be found in planer reviews are what are considered “powered planers”, which means that very little manual effort is required by the user in order to achieve the desired effect.

The user operates the planer by placing the wooden board on the planer table and pushing it partly through the feeding side of the planer. Once the board has been pushed through enough, the planer takes over the process by using the feed roller to pass the board through to the other side, while the internal blades remove wood from the board in order to achieve the parallel dimensions of each face. The planed board is then passed completely through to the other side, where it should be at the desired thickness. The thickness of the board will be determined by the distance between the feeding table and the cutting head, so it is necessary to set this distance before operating the machine. Planers will also have a maximum thickness, so boards that require a thickness higher than that provided by the planer will need to be manually planed.

Best Practices for Using a Jointer

How to Use a Jointer

Once you have found the perfect jointer for your workshop, there are a few things to keep in mind that should help you not only maintain maximum safety, but also to help achieve the best possible results in your use of the machine.

Always remember that safety must be paramount, regardless of which woodworking tool you are using. A jointer, just like many other woodworking tools, has sharp blades that spin at a very high speed, making them capable of cutting through even the strongest piece of wood effortlessly. Always make sure that you are keeping your hands and other parts of your body away from the blade. Wearing eye protection is also a good idea, as small wood particles can fly away from the machine and into your eyes.

Before you use the jointer, make sure that both the infeed and outfeed tables are clear of any obstacles or objects that are not needed for the jointing operation. This includes ensuring that they are both clean of any debris that might be left over from previous use. The cutting head should be aligned flush with the outfeed table prior to operation.

Jointer in Use

It is also best to inspect the piece of wood before jointing it, to check for any physical defects such as jagged edges, cupping, or knots that might be present. All of these need to be accounted for in order to ensure that you are able to get the edge or face perfectly flat. When using the jointer on the edges of the board, push the board through slowly and evenly, keeping your hands well away from the cutting head. The push-through should be done in one even movement, without stopping. Once it has passed through, inspect the wood again to make sure that the desired cut has been achieved.

Using the jointer for the face of the board, there are several options to ensure that you are able to do this safely. One option is to tape a holder on the top face of the board to allow you to push the board through while keeping your hand away from the cutting head, Another is to use a push stick to push the board through. Either of these options are equally safe, but which one you wish to do is entirely to your preference.

Best Practices for Using a Planer

How to use a planer

Having the perfect planer can help immensely in your woodworking, considering that they are generally very easy to use. However, it is still important to remember some best practices for their use.

The number one best practice, of course, is maintaining maximum safety. As a planer takes away much of the complexity of the process away from the user, they can generally be quite safe. Regardless, it is still best to make sure that you keep your hands out of the internal cutting area of the planer, as the sharp blades inside can still be quite dangerous. Keeping any obstacles away from it as well as keeping the machine clean can also go a long way towards ensuring maximum safety and performance.

Before putting the wood through the planer, inspect it carefully for cupping or bowing. If the wooden board that you wish to plane is cupped, make sure that you put it on the feed table with the cup on top, That means that the board will have two points of contact with the feed table, ensuring maximum stability of the board. Likewise, if the board is bowed in any way, the bowed part of the board should be on top. Push the board into the feeder slowing but evenly, and make sure that you let go of it the moment that the internal feeder takes the board. Let the board pass through unobstructed until it has passed through completely. Following these simple steps should provide you with perfectly paralleled faces, and should greatly enhance your woodworking capabilities.

Conclusion: Do I Need Both a Jointer and a Planer?

Which is best: jointer or planer

Once people tend to learn the difference between a jointer and a planer, this is a common question that is asked. The short answer to this is: No, neither machine is absolutely required for woodworking, or for achieving the results that are provided by both machines. However, the real answer is a bit more complicated. While many woodworkers are perfectly capable of jointing and planing wood without the use of these machines, using them both can help save a lot of time and effort. In fact, both of these machines work quite well together, allowing a woodworker to create perfectly flat, jointed, and paralleled wooden boards with a minimum of time and effort. That’s why both machines are common mainstays in the workshops of many serious woodworkers, and would be a welcome addition to yours.