Jointers vs Planers: Unlock the Secrets of Woodworking Mastery

Ever found yourself scratching your head at the lumberyard, trying to pick between a jointer and a planer for your next woodworking project? You’re not alone. Both tools are staples in a woodworker’s arsenal, but they serve very different purposes.

Jointers vs Planers: What’s the Difference?

You’ve probably stood in your workshop, staring at a piece of rough lumber, wondering whether to reach for a jointer or a planer. It’s a common crossroad for woodworkers, and knowing when to use each tool is crucial for the perfect finish.

Jointers are all about creating flat surfaces and true edges. Imagine you’ve got a warped or twisted board; you’d run it over the jointer’s cutter head to flatten one of the broad faces first. Once you’ve got a flat reference face, you’d then square up one edge. That’s right, a jointer gives you two flat planes that are perpendicular to each other, which is indispensable when you’re aiming for precision in your projects.

On the flip side, planers take the baton from the jointer. They’re designed to make the opposite broad face of the wood parallel to the one you just flattened. You’ve got a flat and square board from the jointer, but it’s likely it’s not the thickness you need for your project. That’s where the planer comes in. By adjusting the cutter head, or raising the table, you can shave the wood piece by piece until you’ve reached the desired thickness.

  • Jointer: Creates a flat surface and true edges
  • Planer: Ensures parallel faces and final thickness

Remember, while the jointer deals with face and edge, the planer’s domain is thickness. What’s more, trying to use a planer to flatten a warped board can be frustrating and futile because planers are designed to cut the wood to a consistent thickness. So if your board is twisted, it might come out of the planer still twisted, just thinner.

Here’s the thing. In a perfect world, these two tools work hand-in-hand. You’d start with the jointer to straighten and square your stock and then move on to the planer to bring it to the final thickness. Having both tools is like having a dynamic duo in your workshop, each playing a critical role in the transformation from rough lumber to a perfectly milled piece ready for your latest masterpiece.

Understanding Jointers

When you’re tackling a woodworking project, you know how crucial it is to start with quality material. That’s where your jointer steps in as a foundational tool. Jointers are all about precision and creating a flat surface, which is the first step towards a perfect piece of woodwork. It’s the tool to grab when you’re faced with warped, twisted, or rough lumber.

Your jointer comes equipped with infeed and outfeed tables, and a rotating cutter head between them. Imagine you’re running a bowed board over the cutter head; the jointer systematically shaves off the high points until you’ve got one flat face. You’ve now created a reference surface, which is pivotal for further milling.

But don’t stop there! Rotate that board 90 degrees and push its newly flattened face against the jointer’s fence. As you run it through, you’ll form a square edge, true and straight, essential for joining pieces together seamlessly. This edge serves as your guide when making rip cuts on your table saw, ensuring your cuts are precise and your project fits together flawlessly.

Remember, accuracy is key. Pay attention to the alignment of your fence and the depth of cut. Even a tiny misalignment can throw off your entire piece. Adjustments should be made with care and tested with scrap wood. After all, you’re not just making cuts; you’re setting the stage for excellence in your final creation.

In essence, jointers are your first line of defense against the unpredictable nature of wood. While they can’t alter thickness uniformly — that’s a job for planers — they provide the indispensable flat surfaces and edges you need to work with confidence. With your jointer at the ready, rugged lumber is transformed, revealing the hidden potential within each unique piece.

Understanding Planers

While jointers are your go-to for creating flat surfaces and squared edges, planers have a slightly different superpower in the woodworking realm. They take what the jointer has begun and continue the transformation of rough lumber into material that’s consistent in thickness and smooth on both faces.

Like a co-actor in a play, the planer works in tandem with the jointer to ensure your woodwork has a professional finish. Imagine running your hands over a piece of lumber that’s been through the planer – it feels uniformly smooth, and you’ll know it’s perfectly parallel. That’s the magic the planer brings to your shop.

Planers feature a cutter head similar to jointers, but it’s their flat, typically wider bed and a different method of operation that sets them apart. You’ll find an adjustable roller system that precisely controls the wood as it feeds through, shaving off thin layers to reach your desired thickness.

Remember, the planer won’t correct a curved or twisted board. That’s where your earlier work with the jointer pays off, setting the stage for the planer to do its job. By the time your wood reaches the planer, you should’ve established one flat face, and now the planer will create the parallel opposite.

During your selection process, you might encounter different planer types:

  • Thickness Planers, designed to handle wider boards and bring them to a consistent thickness across their length and width
  • Hand-held Planers, great for on-the-fly adjustments and smaller projects

Here are some quick planer tips:

  • Always ensure the wood has a flat reference face before planing
  • Feed the board with the grain to avoid tearing
  • Make multiple light passes rather than one heavy cut to achieve the smoothest finish

Equipping your shop with both a jointer and a planer allows you the flexibility to tackle all facets of dimensioning lumber. The intrinsic relationship between the two ensures that your starting piece is flawless, setting a solid foundation for your woodworking projects.

When to Use a Jointer

As you delve further into your woodworking journey, you’ll find that precision and alignment are crucial to ensure that your projects don’t just look good but fit perfectly. The jointer is your go-to tool when it’s time to work on long edges or flatten faces of rough lumber—an essential step before you can proceed to the planer.

You’ll recognize it’s jointer time when you’re faced with warped or twisted boards. Here’s a simple checklist to guide you when to reach for your jointer:

  • When the wood isn’t laying flat on a surface
  • If you need to straighten the edges before gluing them together for wider panels
  • Before you plane the wood when you only have one face flat

Remember, it’s the jointer that gives you that perfectly flat reference face and straight edge. Without a flat face, you run the risk of a planer following the imperfections and potentially worsening it. Use the jointer to create a base that you can trust, ensuring that everything that follows from cutting to assembly goes as smooth as the wood you’re working with.

Imagine you’re building a bookcase. You’d want those shelves to be seamless and the sides to be flawlessly perpendicular. This is where the jointer shines—straightening and squaring up your boards to ensure everything aligns just right.

When setting up for a pass through the jointer, make sure the infeed and outfeed tables are correctly aligned, and the fence is square to the tables. This will guarantee the accuracy of your cuts. Take multiple light passes rather than one heavy cut to avoid unnecessary strain on the tool and wood. Patience here will pay off in the finished quality of your project.

Don’t forget about safety. Always use push blocks or push sticks to keep your hands away from the cutterhead, and make sure you’ve got proper dust collection in place. A shop is a place of creation, and treating it with respect includes maintaining a safe environment.

Working with a jointer requires practice to master the technique. Yet, every time you use it, you’re one step closer to turning those rough and untamed boards into the foundation for your next masterpiece. Whether you’re crafting a dining table or a simple picture frame, starting with straight and true wood from your jointer makes all the difference.

When to Use a Planer

After you’ve created a flat reference face and a straight edge with your jointer, it’s time to reach for the planer. Planers excel at making the opposite face of the board parallel to the one you’ve just jointed. This is crucial when you’re aiming for uniform thickness throughout your lumber, which is essential for creating components that fit together seamlessly. If you’ve ever admired a table with perfectly flush panels or a door that hangs just right, you can bet a planer had a hand in that precision.

You’ll want to use a planer:

  • When you need consistent thickness across several boards for your project
  • After jointing one face and edge, to ensure the other face is co-planar
  • To smooth out saw marks or imperfections on wood surfaces after they’ve been flattened by the jointer
  • When milling multiple pieces of stock to match thickness for panel glue-ups or tabletops

Remember, running twisted or bowed boards through a planer without jointing them first can duplicate the imperfections on both faces; always start with the jointer to avoid this pitfall. With your lumber perfectly parallel and smooth, you’ll find that assembly is more straightforward, and your pieces fit together as they should, with a level of professionalism that’s unmistakable.

In your shop, as you feed the board through the planer, you’ll hear the steady hum and watch as the machine shaves off thin layers with each pass. It’s a rhythmic process that, bit by bit, brings the wood closer to your final vision. Adjust the depth of cut to be less aggressive for a finer finish, especially on hardwoods that can be prone to tearing.

Handling planers requires focus on feed direction and support for the boards, especially as they exit the machine. Proper technique ensures smooth operation and avoids snipe, the unsightly gouge that sometimes occurs at the end of a board. Keep your pressure even and your motions steady, and you’re sure to get the results you’re after.

Planers are your path to precision thickness, and that’s why they’re an indispensable tool in your woodworking arsenal. Just like a reliable friend, they help you refine and perfect, taking your projects from good to great.

Jointers vs Planers: Pros and Cons

When you’re balancing the merits of jointers and planers, it’s all about understanding what each can bring to your woodworking repertoire. Knowing their individual strengths and limitations is key to optimizing their use in your projects.

Jointers are champions of creating that initial flat surface and straight edge necessary for every subsequent step. Imagine you’ve got a piece of lumber that’s playing the role of a warped prima donna. The jointer steps in, calms the situation, and sets the stage for everything to follow. Here are its standout advantages:

  • Achieves flat surfaces on warped or curved boards
  • Straightens edges for a perfect glue-up
  • Essential for edge-to-edge joining

However, even jointers have their flaws. They won’t make the opposite face of the board match the surfaced face nor will they guarantee uniform board thickness. Also, bigger jointers can be expensive and require more space.

On the flip side, planers bring their A-game by ensuring the perfectly surfaced face your jointer created now has a twin. This is how you achieve that silky-smooth, uniform thickness across your boards, making them ready to fit elegantly into your project. Other pros of the planer include:

  • Provides uniform thickness to multiple boards
  • Smooths faces after jointing
  • Helps in dimensioning rough lumber quickly

But a planer won’t fix a board that doesn’t have one flat face, as it operates from that reference face created by the jointer. There’s also the risk of planer snipe, which you’ll need to be vigilant about.

In sum, your garage shop thrives when these two work in tandem. It’s like having a dynamic duo where each has its special moves, and together, they bring out the best in your wood. Remember, always start with the jointer to establish a flat reference face; then bring out the planer to get that uniform thickness and smoothness that’ll make your woodwork sing.


You’ve seen how jointers and planers each play their unique roles in the woodworking process. They’re like dance partners moving in sync—jointers setting the stage with a flat surface and straight edge, and planers following up to ensure uniform thickness and a smooth finish. While they have their individual limitations, it’s clear that when you use them together, you’re able to achieve the precision and quality your woodworking projects demand. So next time you’re in your workshop, remember the strengths of your jointer and planer and let them work their magic side by side.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a jointer used for in woodworking?

A jointer is used to create a flat reference face and straighten the edges of a board, which is crucial for ensuring accurate cuts and joins in woodworking projects.

What is the purpose of a planer?

The purpose of a planer is to make the opposite face of a board parallel to the jointed face and achieve a consistent thickness throughout the length and width of the board.

Can a planer make a board flat?

A planer can make a board’s face smooth and parallel to the opposite face, but it cannot flatten a board that does not already have one flat face created by a jointer.

What are the advantages of using a jointer?

The advantages of using a jointer include creating perfectly flat surfaces and straightening edges, which are the first steps in preparing wood for fine woodworking projects.

Are jointers necessary for all woodworking projects?

Jointers are essential for projects that require precise dimensions and flat surfaces, but for rough carpentry or when working with pre-surfaced lumber, a jointer may not be necessary.

What limitations do planers have?

Planers have the limitation that they cannot correct boards that are twisted or cupped; they require one flat face provided by a jointer for proper operation.

Why should jointers and planers be used together?

Jointers and planers should be used together to fully prepare a board for woodworking projects, with the jointer creating a flat reference face and the planer ensuring uniform thickness and a parallel opposite face.

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