How To Use A Power Planer

How To Use A Power Planer: The Beginner’s Guide

A power planer can do some magical things in the right hands. Like most tools, it doesn’t come with helpful instructions. If you use it incorrectly, your project will suffer.

To help you get the best results, we’ll teach you exactly how to use a power planer in this beginner guide. Near the end of this guide, we’ll give you step-by-step instructions to use your tool.

What is a Planer Used for?

The main purpose of a power planer is to smooth out a piece of wood. They’re almost exclusively used on wood.

If you have a plank that isn’t perfectly flat, has surface defects, or any knots are protruding, you can reach for your planer. 

The planer is used to create a flat, level, and mar-free surface. It can also be used to trim off a little material from a flat surface to get the correct thickness.

Parts of a Power Planer

There aren’t many parts of a power planer. Still, it’s worth noting what they are and what they do.

The shoes. You won’t see a Nike swish on these — they’re just there to make sure your tool is flat on the surface. The shoes are positioned at the immediate front and rear of the tool. They’re the plates that slide along the piece of material you’re working on.

Infeed. The technical name for the front shoe. It’s where the material is fed into.

Outfeed. The term for the rear shoe. Scraps of material will blow out of this section.

Blades. The most important part of a planer is the blades. They’re positioned in the center of the tool at the bottom. They are spun circularly to make the cuts.

Trigger. You’ll hold the trigger when you want power, just like a chainsaw or Sawzall. The power planer will continue to spin until there’s a fault or you let go of the trigger.

Depth adjustment knob. This knob will change the position of the blades. As it’s turned tighter, the blades will move further down the tool, resulting in a deeper cut (more material taken off).

Chip extraction port. Some models don’t throw chips from the outfeed, they’ll use a chip extraction port. The tool is routed so that chips will be blown from a hole in the side of the tool. A vacuum or dust bag can be attached to this port which makes cleanup a lot easier.

Blade housing. Finally, there’s a protective piece of metal or plastic that keeps the blades out of reach while you’re using the tool. This is positioned on the side of the tool. To access the blades, you can take off this housing.

Similar to a manual hand planer, an power planer also operates on a sole plate or shoe. It has also blades that are mounted on a head or drum which spins incredibly fast in order to shave wood.

Man using a blue power planer on a board

How an Electric Power Planer Works

The process seems pretty straightforward on paper. The blades are incredibly sharp (at least, they should be) and they cut the material underneath them.

The blades spin when you hit the trigger, and they keep going until there’s something that stops it or you release the trigger. All the while, the blades will eat away at the material below them. 

The blades are oriented and built so that they create a smooth and flat finish. 

How To Use A Power Planer

This section is everything you need to know about using a power planer. We’ll give you some step-by-step instructions as well as plenty of information to get you started.

Safety First

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, we need to talk about safety. The tool you’re about to be holding in your hand is unforgiving and doesn’t care about you. There are sharp blades that can do some nasty damage to you.

Always remember to be safe while operating the tool. Wear safety glasses and don’t put your body anywhere near the spinning blades. 

In addition, a lot of sawdust can be produced from using this tool. Make sure you have good ventilation in your area and you’re wearing a mask.

Knowing the Max Cut

Every planer has a maximum amount that they can cut in a single pass. For most power planers on the market, the max is around 1/16 of an inch. That means that if you want to cut 1/4 of an inch from a beam, you’ll need to do four passes.

Either the depth knob or your tool’s packaging will tell you the max cut that you can make with a single pass.

Your Tool Has a Max Width, Too

You also need to realize that your tool has a max width that it can cut. That’s determined by the width of your blades and, unfortunately, it’s something you can’t change.

If you want to make a 2-inch wide plane and your tool can only handle 1 inch, then you’ll need to do two passes.

Body Position Matters

Balance is key when you’re operating one of these tools. It doesn’t take a lot of muscle to move them around, but a misstep could be disastrous.

Sometimes you’ll run your planer into a thick knot, and it can push back with some force. Keep your feet centered underneath of you and make sure you’re prepared for it.

You should always be pushing the tool away from you, never towards you.

Learn How to Hold the Power Planer

Two hands are required on the power planer whenever you use it. One will be on the trigger, and another will rest on the front of the tool. Some have a little handle built in, or you might just use the depth adjustment knob as a grip.

The Secret to Starting and Ending a Cut

Think of your planer as a see-saw. In the middle of the board, the see-saw is balanced. At the beginning and end of a cut, there’s an imbalance that you’ll need to correct with your hands.

In the beginning of a cut, you’ll need a little extra downward force on the front of the tool.

At the end of a cut, put extra downward pressure on the rear of the tool.

#1: Prepare the Area

Step one of using a power planer is all about getting the workspace right. You’ll need plenty of room to maneuver around your piece as you’re working.

If you’re working on an installed piece, that means clearing the area from tripping hazards or anything that can be damaged.

If the work is being done in your workshop, make sure you can easily walk around the piece as you work on it. Clear wires and equipment from the floor immediately around the space.

#2: Clamp the Workpiece

No matter where you’re working, the workpiece has to be clamped or fastened. If it’s free to move, it can shift and ruin the cut.

This is clearly harder to do if you’re working on a joist that’s already hanging. Just be sure that the joist is fastened on either side and can’t slide away from you.

#3: Glide Slowly and Steadily

The actual technique of using a power planer comes with time and experience. Remember to be slow and steady as you go across the board or beam.

Eventually, you’ll learn the exact speed to use for the best results. For now, just focus on going slowly.

#4: Check for Flatness, Surface Finish, Thickness, and So On

Once you finish a pass, check for all the parameters you were looking to change. Take a close look to ensure the top face is smooth and the finish is neat. Check the thickness and flatness then decide if you need to do another pass or if you’re done.

Continue this process until you have the final product you’re looking for.

Conclusion

You just learned how to use a power planer. This handy tool will save you a ton of headaches in the future. With a little practice, it can become your best friend. Explore the rest of our blog to learn how to use the other tools in your workshop. There are other planer uses that will benefit you owning a planer so if you don't own own one you can pick one up on our best electric hand planer page.

How to Use a Power Planer
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