Hand Planer vs. Bench Planer: Which One to Choose?

Hand vs. Bench Planer: Which One to Choose?

Handyman's World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Planers are great tools to have in woodworking, tools used to create uniform thickness in boards by trimming them down to size along their length. It’s all about making sure that those boards are flat, even, and consistent.

That said, there are different kinds of planers out there, including manual and electric hand planers, as well as bench planers. Let’s take a look at what these tools are, the differences between them, and which one is right for you.

Hand and Bench Planers: The Basics

Before we talk about what the major differences and uses of both hand and bench planers are, let’s take a look at the basics. So, what are these tools and what do they do?

What is a Hand Planer?

Hand Planer A hand planer is a small, portable, and handheld tool used in woodworking. A hand planer, also known as a hand plane, is a tool used to shave off or trim small layers of wood off of larger pieces. Generally, these are used to reduce the thickness of fairly small wooden pieces and can also be used to ensure that a board is both flat and even.

They consist of a block or base that is fitted with a special blade, with the ability to shave off thin layers with each stroke. All you have to do is hold the handle and move the hand planer back and forth smoothly while applying a good deal of pressure.

Now, the original hand planers were of course manual, which means that their function relies on your own muscle power, and yes, this can get quite tiring. However, we live in the age of technology and electricity, which is why many hand planers you find now are electric.

An electric hand planer, also known as a power hand planer, looks almost the same as the manual version, with the difference being that instead of having a stationary blade, there is a spinning drum with the blade or blades mounted onto it.

When you activate the electric hand planer, these blades spin at up to 20,000 RPM, thus doing all of the work for you.

What is a Bench Planer?

Bench Planer The bench planer, also known as benchtop or table planer, essentially has the same function as a manual or electric hand planer, but just on a much larger scale. These are planers that are quite large and yes, they must be securely mounted to a table or workbench that can handle their weight.

These are designed to quickly and efficiently trim down and even out large quantities of wood stock, as well as larger pieces of wood.

A bench planer features a table or base (usually equipped with motorized rollers that pull the wood into the machine), with a set of high-speed rotating blades mounted in the top. As the rollers on the bottom pull the wood in, the blades on the top trim the wood down as it passes through. Bench planers can be easily adjusted for depth or thickness to achieve precise results in a short period of time.

For more information about this tool in general, check this article.

Hand vs. Bench Planer: What Are the Differences?

Now that you know what hand and bench planers are, let’s take a look at the major differences that you need to know about.

Power and Speed

Hand planers are convenient if you need to do work on smaller pieces. In terms of manual hand planers, all of the power comes from you and your muscles, which is, of course, limited, and also leads to anything taking quite a while to accomplish.

Next, we have the electric hand planers, which have motors that can have several horsepowers, generally between two and five. This power level, as well as the fact that you have a motor helping you out, allows for greater speed and ease of use, especially with relatively small pieces.

Finally, we have the bench planer. Now, some electric hand planers and bench planers have similar power ratings, but bench planers do tend to be more powerful overall. Due to the fact that they have more power and allow for larger pieces, they are much faster in terms of producing an end result.

Electric Hand Planer in Use

Application / Size of Workpiece

The type of planer you have will also determine what size of material you can work with. Due to the limited power and speed of manual hand planers, they are best used for smaller applications. Next up, the electric hand planer is ideal for slightly larger pieces, as that motor does allow for more speed and power.

However, for the largest and longest of boards, you do want a benchtop planer, as these can easily handle wood stock that is several feet long and up to a foot or more in width, something that would take forever to plane with a handheld model.

Electricity Consumption

Another point of comparison has to do with power consumption, and of course, with a manual hand planer, the only power being consumed is your own, the calories you eat. Electric hand planers consume a little more electricity, particularly the more powerful ones.

Of course, seeing as a bench planer is by far the largest tool with large spinning blades and motorized rollers, it consumes more power than both manual and electric hand planers. That said, do keep in mind that power consumption is related to the power of the motor.

Using a Bench Planer

Ease of Use and Adjustability

Something else to consider here is that manual hand planers, although they do require a lot of muscle power and patience, are very easy to use. Due to their slow nature, it’s easy to get a precise result without moving so fast that you trim off too much at once. However, due to the fact that electric hand planers can handle larger materials and move a lot faster, they are much easier to use in this sense.

Then we have the bench planer, which most would consider the easiest to use of all of these options. The reason for this is because you really just have to feed wood through it, and the machine does the rest.

Unlike hand planers, bench planers can be adjusted for depth to make precise cuts, and they have a much larger range of depth adjustability than electric hand planers. Therefore, if you need to make cuts of various depths and you need to make constant adjustments, a bench planer is called for.


In terms of portability manual and electric hand planers are of course much more portable than benchtop planers, with the manual handheld version being most portable of all, because you don’t even need a source of electricity.

However, there is of course a trade-off to keep in mind. Although bench planers are really not portable at all, they are still convenient due to their ability to handle large stock with speed and precision.

Hand Plane in Use


If you are wondering how much a manual hand planer will cost, you can find these for under $50 no problem, even half that price sometimes. Electric hand planers will cost a little more, up to $200 or $300 for a good model.

Due to the increased size, power, and additional features that bench planers have, these can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, depending on the model.

Extra Features

Manual hand planers don’t really have extra features, and even those that allow for depth adjustment require you to make that adjustment manually. Electric hand planers allow for easy depth adjustments, but only to a certain degree.

If you are looking for features such as dust management, dust extraction, precise adjustments with a wide range, as well as infeed and outfeed tables, the only real option to consider is the bench planer.

Smoothness of Result

The other thing to consider here is that bench planers may not always produce a super smooth end result and may force you to use a sander to smooth out rough spots.

This is generally not a problem that occurs with handheld models.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

When it comes down to it, if you are working with smaller pieces, you want a smooth result, you don’t want to consume too much power, and you want something portable, the hand planer is the better option. Of course, you can go with a manual planer, but they do take much longer to accomplish anything than the electric version.

That said, if you plan on planing lots of large boards, you need to do it fast, you need plenty of power, you want precise depth adjustment with plenty of extra features, and if portability is not your main concern, then the bench planer is the better option. To learn how to use this machine should you decide to get it, read this article. First, though, you might want to check my recommended thickness planer models.

Lastly, if you need to do a lot of planing on pieces that a bench planer won’t work on, use a power hand planer. One situation where you might want to use that one would be when planing wide boards.


The bottom line is that all three of these tools, manual hand planers, electric hand planers, and bench planers all have their uses, their advantages, and their drawbacks.

Which one you choose depends on what your needs and preferences are, so choose wisely!