What is a Wood Planer: Beginners Guide to Wood Planers

new manual Hand Planer picture

As you develop your woodworking skills, you’ll find yourself buying more and more tools for your shop. A common tool that you’ll routinely hear about is a wood planer. 

In this beginners guide, we’ll explain what a wood planer is, the different types and uses, and which one is right for you.

What is a Wood Planer?

A wood planer is a tool in a woodshop. It glides along the tops of materials to achieve a precise and even thickness.

There is one or multiple blades positioned at the bottom of the tool. As the tool moves across the top face of a piece of material, it cuts away a certain amount.

The blades are carefully positioned so that the material is left flat and even after a pass is made.

In addition, the blades can be adjusted. This allows the user to cut a specific amount of material with each pass.

The tool can either be hand-held, a tabletop unit, or a shop floor machine. 

Uses for a Wood Planer

It could be used for making a piece perfectly flat, like making a flat tabletop, for example. It could also be used to get an exact thickness on a part, especially if it’s part of an assembly or needs to fit in a predetermined location.

Materials Cut by Planers

Although we’re calling them “wood planers”, they aren’t restricted to only cutting wood. You can cut soft materials, plastics, and even some metals. However, most people use planers primarily in woodworking applications.

Types of Wood Planers

There are five major types of wood planers. In order of complexity and price, there are:

  • Manual planers
  • Power planers
  • Benchtop planers
  • Shop floor planers
  • Planer jointers, also called 2-in-1 planers

Let’s take a closer look at each of these styles.

The Manual Planer

The WoodRiver 5 Bench Plane on a white background

Manual planers, also called hand planers, are the simplest and least expensive. There is a blade (usually adjustable) that protrudes at an angle downward. At the base, the planer is perfectly flat and smooth.

The user will either push or pull the planer along a piece of wood. The protruding blade makes an even cut along the length of the wood.


  • Not expensive
  • Easy to understand and use


  • Expect a learning curve
  • Not as precise
  • Can’t make large cuts
  • Takes the longest to make cuts

Perfect for: Casual or beginner woodworkers

The Power Hand Planer

Photo of a Green electric planer

If you add an electric motor to a manual planer, now you have a power planer. These are typically wired, but you can find cordless power planers as well. 

Once you learn how to use a power planer, your project becomes exponentially easier instead of using a manual planer. 

There are a number of blades organized at the bottom of the tool. When you pull the tool’s trigger, the blades will spin and cut off a certain amount from the material underneath.


  • Much faster
  • More accurate
  • Make bigger cuts


  • Requires an outlet (if not wireless)
  • More expensive
  • More dangerous for beginners without experience

Perfect for: Intermediate woodworkers, DIYers

The Benchtop Planer

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

An even bigger option is a benchtop planer. This is a little machine that’s small enough to fit on top of a table in your woodshop.

Rather than using your hand to move the planer, with this machine you move the material through the stationary planer.

They’re more expensive, more accurate, and even faster than power planers. The blades are more powerful so they can typically take off more material than previous options on this list.


  • Even more powerful, accurate, and faster
  • High-efficiency tools


  • Takes up tablespace 
  • Can get expensive

Perfect for: More advanced woodworkers with a woodshop, small businesses that do woodworking 

The 2-in-1 planers

Photo of a large yellow Jointer

Finally, you have planer joiners. These are also called 2-in-1 planers since they do two operations within a single unit. 

Jointers are machines that square all the faces of a beam. If you look at a 2×4 plank, you’ll probably notice that the faces might look flat, but that doesn’t mean that they’re perpendicular and parallel with one another.

The only way to achieve that is through a jointer.

With a 2-in-1 planer jointer, both operations can be done on a single table. You can choose between planing or jointing before passing through a plank.

For woodworkers who need to do both operations, nothing’s better than a planer jointer.

However, this is typically the most expensive type of planer you can buy. Depending on the style you go with, it’s also the most expensive. 


  • Performs two operations at once
  • Can save a lot of time and money, depending on the project
  • More accurate and precise cuts


  • Most expensive option (potentially)
  • Takes up the most space (potentially)

Perfect for: Professional woodworkers, companies that do a lot of woodworking for profit

Shop Floor Planers

When a benchtop unit gets even bigger, it’s called a shop floor planer. These are freestanding units much like a lathe, large drill press, or milling machine.

Also called stationary planers, these machines make it even faster and easier to plane material. They can typically handle larger pieces of material than benchtop planers. In addition, they cut quicker and can make deeper cuts.

They can get super expensive as you add more bells and whistles.


  • Even faster, more accurate, and deeper cuts
  • Easier to feed material in (since they’re freestanding)


  • Can get really expensive
  • Takes up floorspace 

Perfect for: Professional woodworkers, companies that do a lot of woodworking for profit

The Stationary Planer

Jet Helical Head Planer photo

Stationary planers are the more powerful versions of the benchtop planers and these are definitely not a portable item. They are basically the industrial planer and not too many home hobbyists will have one lying around in their home workshop.

Don’t get me wrong I know of guy’s that actually do own them at home, but they do turn over a nice profit on their woodwork so I guess they’re able to justify buying one for the price that they ask. I’m lucky to be able to have access if needed but I’m just not at their level of woodworking (and definitely don’t sell as much woodwork as they do), so I definitely won’t be buying one anytime soon.

Price Range: $1000.00 and UP!
Who’s it for? For anyone serious about woodworking and in an Industrial woodworking business and environment.

Who Can Benefit from a Wood Planer?

As you can probably tell, there are a lot of people that can benefit from a wood planer. We highly suggest a wood planer to any woodworker across the globe. 

Depending on your level of woodworking, you can pick one of the five types of planers detailed above. 

Even if you occasionally cut wood, a manual wood planer would be a good addition to your workshop.


Understanding what a wood planer does is just the first step. Once you understand its power, you’ll probably be tempted to get one for yourself. Check our site for our buying guides for different styles of wood planers. We have a few products that we review and recommend to our readers.

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