A thickness planer is a very useful tool in the world of woodworking. It is great for making one side of a board parallel to another, trimming away at rough stock, and making wooden boards the appropriate thickness for the task at hand.
Generally speaking, thickness planers are very simple to use. However, just like with any such machine out there, especially when it comes to a machine with sharp blades, there are some essential tips and tricks that you need to know, both to produce the best results and to keep yourself safe from harm.
In this article, I’ll share 12 such tips.
#1: Make Sure the Table Is in Good Condition
Something that can really mess with the end result when using a wood planer is if the table itself is not flat, even, or if it is damaged. If you have a warped or uneven table, which is where the wood sits as it passes through the cutter head, the wood itself will end up being uneven.
If you notice any low spots, warping, or unevenness, you will need to contact the manufacturer.
#2: Regularly Maintain the Table
To allow the wood to glide smoothly along the planer’s table, you want to clean it with mineral spirits on a regular basis, with the aim being to remove any and all dirt, grime, and anything else stuck on that may prevent the wood from moving freely.
After having cleaned the table, apply a thin coat of paste wax for maximum glide.
#3: Set the Infeed and Outfeed Higher
For those of you who don’t know, snipe is when a board is cut deeper on the ends than in the middle, which is of course something that you don’t want.
To avoid snipe from occurring when using a planer, set both the infeed and outfeed tables at roughly 1/16-inch higher than the planer table.
#4: Clean the Rollers Regularly
The rollers are essential to the function of this machine, as they are what pulls the wood through the cutter head. They can start to lose grip over time, though.
That’s because debris from the wood can build-up on them. That, in turn, decreases their functionality, with the result being that wood may stall or even burn inside of the planer. Regularly use mineral spirits to clean everything off of those rollers.
#5: Keep Everything Free of Sawdust
One of the biggest enemies of the planer is sawdust. Sawdust can get into all of the nooks and crannies, it can clog up important parts, clog moving parts, and even get into the motor, which can result not only in reduced functionality but in some cases may even cause the motor to burn out or catch fire.
Therefore, whenever you are using a thickness planer, always use dust extraction and collection tools. Additionally, whenever possible, use compressed air to blast sawdust out of the essential components, especially around and in the motor.
#6: Clean the Elevation Screws
If you don’t regularly clean the elevation screws that allow you to change the height of the table, eventually they can get stuck, with the result being, well, the inability to change the height of the table.
Use mineral spirits and compressed air to clean these regularly.
#7: Replace Motor Brushes Regularly
The motor brushes should be checked at least every 100 hours to see if there is a lot of wear on the carbon faces.
If the carbon faces are shorter than 1/4-inch, they will need to be replaced.
#8: Do Regular Blade Maintenance
One of the most important components of a wood planer is the cutter head, also known as the blades. Clean them regularly with mineral spirits.
If you know how to do so, sharpen the blades regularly with the appropriate tools as well. If the blades have been worn down past the point where sharpening can make a difference, the blades will need to be replaced.
#9: Learn to Plane Short Pieces
You will rarely find a planer that can easily handle short pieces of wood. Chances are almost 100% that your planer is not designed to handle wood shorter than 12 inches. However, there is a trick that you can use to plane pieces shorter than that.
Simply take another piece of wood that is roughly the same size and shape as the piece you wish to plane, and then stick them together using double-sided tape. This will create a much longer piece that you can easily feed through the planer. Once you are done, simply remove the tape and the other piece of wood.
#10: Learn to Plane the Narrow Side of Flat Stock
So, you have a thin piece of wood and you want to plane the narrow edge. However, you cannot just stand a single piece of wood on its side, especially if that side is very narrow. It will fall over, and the planer may have problems too.
Therefore, to plane the narrow edge of a piece of wood, you will want to make a bundle, preferably with multiple pieces that are identical and all need to be planed in the same way. Making a bundle of at least four or five pieces will create enough width to form a stable base, thus allowing you to plane narrow edges with ease.
#11: Learn to Plane Very Thin Pieces
The minimum distance between the blades and the planer table dictates how thin of a piece of wood can be planed. Most planers cannot handle pieces of wood that are less than 3/16-inch because the table cannot be moved up far enough to allow those thin pieces to reach the cutter heads.
What you can do here is make an auxiliary bed to raise the actual bed or table. Get a piece of plywood that is the same length and width as the table. Make sure the plywood is laminated, and then use a pair of cleats to attach it to the bed.
This will increase the height of the table, thus allowing for the planning of thin pieces.
#12: Make Sure That One Side Is Smooth
If you truly want the best results when using a thickness planer, a good trick is to have at least one side already smooth. If the bottom of the wood, the part that sits on the table, is not smooth, the wood can rock back and forth while passing through the cutters, which will of course result in warping and uneven cutting.
However, something that you can do in the event that your wood is warped on all sides is to create a sled, and then glue the wood being planed to the sled, which effectively creates a flat and stable base.
There you have it folks, 12 essential tips on wood planer use and maintenance.
If you follow all of these tips, you should always have a well-tuned and functional machine that is capable of accomplishing nearly any task you throw at it.