Shop Talk

Powermatic Planers, a Brief History

  • Nearly a century ago one Leonard F Smith Senior of McMinnville Tennessee manufactuered what would become the first of a long line of Powermatic planers. In only a few years Smith turned this one planer, this one innovated machine, into a woodworking empire.


    On what I imagine to be a beautiful morning in McMinnville, Tennessee, Leonard F Smith Senior studiously crafted what was and has remained one of the world’s most innovative, evolved, and trusted woodworking planers ever built. The result was a thickness planer with the charm, smarts, and innovation of an entrepreneurial and intrepid craftsman, and the beginning of a woodworking giant that would permanently change the industry and the ways in which people work and craft within it.

    It was 1921, and as a vendor of timber and rough-cut lumber by trade, Leonard F Smith Senior concluded that he could market a far better product if he were to first plane the lumber himself. Rather than purchasing an existing planing machine, Smith elected to redesign the planer with a few modifications of his own. His thickness planing machine had the ability to plane large amounts of wood from wide and thick boards in only one slick pass. Because this amount of removal would normally require hundreds of manual passes, or several uneasy passes through a rougher machine, the planer made the lives of craftsmen exponentially easier. Creating a flat board of uniform thickness, and doing it better than any other existing machine, the resourcefulness of Smith’s planer propelled the success of what would become the first Powermatic planer to an unprecedented height.

    Using his new thicknesser in his own woodshop, Smith’s machine was a staggering success and after dropping jaws all over the McMinnville woodworking community, a colleague proposed to buy Smith’s machine. After what I also imagine to have been only the slightest amount of friendly deliberation, Smith sold the machine and built four more planers with the income generated from the sale. These, of course, also sold quickly and as word of Smith’s evolved machine spread throughout the industry, demand for them and for their uniquely clean performance steadily augmented as well. Needless to say, Smith soon elected to leave behind the lumber business for the greener pastures machinery manufacturing and in 1928, only seven years after Smith developed his first planing machine, he christened his new and growing company “Powermatic.” The brand soon became known as the “Gold Standard” among woodcrafters and tool-users and with a devotion to that hard earned reputation Powermatic continued blaze trails throughout the industry.

    Now, after innovating and transforming the woodworking and industrial communities as we know them and
    despite growing competition and a farm more aggressive global economy, Powermatic planers continue to be one of the most trusted, most evolving and most high-performance woodworking machines in the industry… It seems good-old-fashioned ingenuity does go a long way.