Hand Planer vs Table Planer – Which is Your Best Choice?

Close up A man with work clothes and a cap carpenter scouring a wooden board on an thicknessing machine in a light workshop

Buying the best planer for the job at hand is something that every beginner woodworker has to consider. When deciding between a hand planer vs table planer, or bench planer, you need to consider what you intend using your planer for.

A hand planer, be it manual or electric, is common in most woodworking shops. A bench planer, on the other hand, won’t always be found in a home shop. I’ll explain the difference between hand planers and table planers in this article. With this information, you should be able to determine which planer is going to be your best option. By the end, you should know exactly what we’re talking about when discussing a hand planer vs table planer.

Bench Planers

Bench planers are large machines, and this might not always be that practical for a small shop. They do, however, fulfill a specific purpose and can save you quite a lot of money when buying lumber for DIY furniture projects.

Often referred to as a thickness planer, bench planers allow you to size boards to the correct thickness accurately and easily. You adjust the depth of cut to size boards to the desired thickness.

You then pass the boards through the infeed rollers and it comes out the opposite side square and at the desired thickness. This saves a lot of time, especially if you’ve joined, or laminated, several pieces to make one surface.

Buying unfinished lumber, that is wood that has not been finished to a flat uniform surface, is much cheaper than wood that has been flattened beforehand. Over the years, a bench planer could pay for itself. By doing the finishing yourself, you will be saving a bundle of cash on lumber costs.

If you intend on making your own furniture, I would consider a bench (table) planer as an essential tool in your home shop. It is the most efficient way to get your boards to the perfect thickness an create perfectly flat surfaces for joining and laminating.

Once you’ve passed the wood through the planer, there is very little sanding required, especially if you use a high-end planer that leaves a nearly perfect surface.

There are two very important factors when deciding on the best bench planer. The first would be the size of the machine. The width of the planer determines what size boards you can pass through. A 12” bench planer will only accommodate boards that have a width of 12” or less.

The other thing to consider are the knives. Scallop is a wave like finish to the surface of the board. A table planer works by using knives fitted to a rotating shaft. This can result in the curve of the blade angle leaving indentations in the wood surface, that is scallop.

Most of the best table planers make use of three knives. More knives reduce the effects of scallop. Many may use only two knives. The effect of fewer knives can be overcome by a higher rotation speed, but three knives tend to be the best.

Benchtop planers are usually the best table planers for a home shop, they are not too large, and are portable. However, these machines are generally limited to a width of 13” or less. A cabinet, or standing, table planer has a large footprint. The machines are mounted to heavy cabinets, or stands, and are not portable. They have the advantage of providing a greater width capacity for larger boards.

Best Recommended Table Planers

WEN 6550T 12.5” benchtop planer. Excellent value for the home shop.
Delta Power Tools 22-555 13” Thickness planer. High quality for light to medium-duty home shops.
POWERTEC PL1251 12” portable benchtop planer. A cheap option for the beginner or occasional woodworker.
Makita 2012NB 12” planer. My personal top choice. An expensive planer for the home shop. But is a professional-grade machine.
Grizzly G0505 12” planer. Reasonably affordable for a high-end bench planer.

Hand Planer

The biggest advantage to using a hand planer is that you can take it anywhere and use it on per-installed woodwork. Unlike a table planer, where the wood has to be passed through the planer, you pass the planer over the wood that you’re working with.

Using a hand planer to finish large boards or tabletops, is time consuming and not too accurate. For these jobs, a table planer is the best option. Finishing narrow pieces like table legs is a perfect way to utilize a hand planer.

Probably the best case to be made for the hand planer is when it comes to maintenance and site work. Trimming doors to size, is one of the main purposes of a hand planer. This could be when you’re installing a door for the first time, or when a door swells after being exposed to moisture.

You can remove thin layers of wood until the door fits perfectly, and the surface will be smooth and square.

For building projects, a hand planer is essential. Fitting cabinets and balustrades usually requires some final cutting to obtain a perfect fit. The fact that a hand planer will remove a very thin layer with each pass, allows you get pieces to fit into corners with perfect precision.

Getting shelves to fit and other site joining projects, will almost always require some degree of planning.

Traditional manual hand planers are still very popular because you can use them anywhere without the need for an electric outlet. They are relatively easy to use and don’t require much physical effort.

Manual hand planers are also cheaper and are virtually indestructible, if you buy a quality planer. Electric hand planers use rotating knives and can save time when you’re doing a lot of planning. They are often easier to use than hand planers.

Best Recommended Hand Planers

Manual Hand Planers

Taytools 469591 Fore Bench Hand Plane #6, 18”. Top quality ductile cast body planer. Should work perfectly and accurately for a lifetime.
Stanley No.4 Bench plane. Great quality, accurate hand planer.

Electric Hand Planers

Makita 1806B 10.9A 6” corded electric planer. The ultimate electric hand planer, excellent for hardwoods. But is expensive
Triton TPL180 1500W, Triple-Blade corded electric planer. Reasonably priced for a good quality machine.
Makita XPK01Z 18V LXT cordless 3” hand planer. Ideal for smaller pieces and getting into tight spaces.
Bosch 18V Max Planer (GHO12V-08N) a handy little cordless planer for small onsite jobs.

So there you have it, Basically if you are going to do a lot of wood working from home I would recommend a table planer.

If your a handy man on the go and you do a lot of small renovation jobs then an electric hand planer and a bench top planer would be better in your situation.

It really depends on your specific situation I hope this article has helped you understand the differences in the two machines and which one or two will benefit your wood working ventures.

All the best David Hall.

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