Shop Talk

What's the Difference Between a Woodworking Planer and a Jointer?


                                                                  PLANER                        JOINTER

    Aside from their structural differences, even some of the most gifted woodworkers still can’t quite put a finger on the precise differences between a planer and a jointer. Others still can’t determine which they’d rather be alone with on a deserted island, or which they’d have for their own woodshop if they could choose only one. The fact is, although similar, a planer and a jointer do very different things and both are extremely advantageous in their own different ways. Though both machines are used to make your stock smooth, a jointer does the work of a hand plane smoothing the edges of your stock to make them perfectly smooth for joining two edges of two boards together. With an albeit limited capacity, the machine can also joint, or surface the face of a board as well, a step that usually precedes feeding your stock through a planer (thicknesser). A jointer can also be used to flatten a board that has slightly warped, bowed, or twisted. A planer, on the the other hand, is used primarily to make a thick board thinner, to smooth and flatten surfaces, and to create a board of consistent, parallel thickness throughout its entire length. 

    The jointer and planer are generally a woodworking duo, and when used together they are virtually unbeatable. The general game-plan involves jointing one edge and one face (or surface) of your board before feeding it through a thickness planer to smooth your surfaces and to make the board a parallel, even thickness throughout. Despite their dynamism when used together though, many craftsman have to get by with only one machine. If you fall into this category (as most craftsmen do), it is most beneficial to invest in a planer before a jointer. On its own, a planer can’t join, but with jigs and a bit of operator ingenuity, a planer can joint. You can also do the work of a jointer with a router and shim or a with a table saw and jig. In fact, you can do the work of both a jointer and a thickness planer with a good-old-fashioned hand planer. Of course this requires a great deal more time and energy, but is certainly possible.

    With a little more detail though, a jointer is its very best at edge planing, or surfacing and flattening the edges of a board so that it might be joined with another. In other words, you joint the edges of two (or more) boards and then glue them together to make a larger surface. By making a few cuts to either or both ends of a board’s surface, a jointer can also correct, or at very least improve any warping in your stock. Conversely, a planer manages the thickness of your stock. Before passing a board through a planer though, the board must have one flat side (ideally, perfectly flat and generally flattened by a jointer or a hand planer) to place on the planer bed. When the board is fed through the planer, the machine shaves slices off the top (rough side) of the board to make it smooth and parallel to the flat underside of the board.

    In the end, they both tend to work better when they can work together, but they can certainly stand tall on their own. And lthough I ultimately recommend the planer when choosing between the two, with a little bit of devotion and operator enthusiasm, it is a certainty you can make your shop and your projects work with whatever woodworking/machinery combo you have on hand. Good luck, be careful, and happy crafting.