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Should You Have A Thickness Planer In Your Shop?
In terms of the operations it performs, the thickness planer may very well be the simplest power tool in your workshop. Yet, simple as it is, when teamed-up with other power tools, the planer gives you everything you need to transform all kinds of different lumber into useful, beautiful and fun projects.
It gives you greater freedom to work with hardwoods, softwoods, even trees from your back yard or logs from your woodpile. It's a great step toward achieving a totally self-sufficient home workshop. It's also a joy to use, easy to handle and quick to set up.
What does it do?
A thickness planer performs only two basic tasks, but it does these very well:
1:) It planes the surface of a workpiece so that it's smooth and flat. Sometimes this means it will remove a large amount of stock in several passes (for example, when you're planing a really rough piece of lumber). At other times, it can just as easily be set to take off just a tiny bit (when you want an extremely smooth, final surface).
2:) It will plane any number of boards to the exact same thickness.
How does it do it?
Actually, it's fairly simple (See Fig 1). By raising and lowering the height of the planer table, you can vary the amount of stock you want to remove in a single pass. As you place the lumber on the infeed portion of the table and slide it into the machine, the infeed roller grasps the wood and begins to push it under the rotating cutterhead. As the wood moves past the cutters, the outfeed roller takes hold and pulls the wood, keeping it moving at an even rate of speed throughout the cut. To achieve the thickness you want, merely run through the machine in successive passes, adjusting the height of the table with each pass.
It's really quite simple in design and purpose. It smooths and simplifies all kinds of projects you make from scratch. Underneath its unique capability to prepare the surface of your project wood is this ?rule of thumb?: The more cuts a thickness planer makes per linear inch of wood, the better the final surface will be.*
If you run soft wood (such as poplar or pine) through a thickness planer, you can feed it fairly quickly past the cutterhead. If you run hard woods (such as oak, ash or cherry) through the machine, you should slow down the feed rate, while at the same time, keeping the cutterhead revolving at optimum speed.
When smoothing very dense wood or wood that's highly figured with burls, knots or bird's-eyes, the feed rate should be as slow as possible and the cutterhead should revolve at optimum speed.
When your objective is to attain consistently thicknessed lumber for your projects, the key is a stable and controllable support table. Raising or lowering the table will allow you to produce lumber that's as thick or as thin as you need...plus...it will do this for you again and again, producing as many identically thicknessed boards as you may need for your project.