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Guide To Benchtop Planers for Small Workshops

While some woodworkers get by without one, a benchtop planer is usually a must for any woodworker. But finding a quality wood planer that will put a great finish on both hardwoods and softwoods can be difficult.

And, since there many types of planers, its worth noting that a benchtop planer typically features:

  • Straight or helical blades
  • Support for boards up to 13-inches (33 cm)
  • Single phase 15-amp motors
  • Adjustable height up to 6-inches (15.2 cm)
  • Single or two speed rate of feed
  • Dust collection ports for a clean cut
  • And maximum weight of 95-pounds

When choosing a benchtop planer it is important to consider all of these features. And, like any tool, plan to buy a bit more than you need today for future growth. Because re-investing in the same tool prevents investing in a new tool for other capability.

ProductProduct Desc.Shop
Best benchtop planer - overall woodworkerBEST OVERALL: The JET PWL-13BT combines a helical head and 2-speed capacity into a benchtop planer nobody else can match.CHECK PRICE
Best benchtop planer - valueBEST VALUE: The Dewalt 735X model features the rare 2-speed capability coveted by small shop woodworkers.CHECK PRICE
Best benchtop planer - budgetBUDGET PICK: The WEN PL1326 offers a unique spiral cutting head at an entry-level price (single speed)CHECK PRICE
Best benchtop planer - planer standPLANER STAND: Free up your benchtop with a planer stand with integrated mobile casters.CHECK PRICE
Best benchtop planer - planer standHEARING PROTECTION: Be sure to have hearing protection as planers are loud.CHECK PRICE

Buying Guide: Best Benchtop Planers

Woodworking Tools and Hardware Review

When choosing tools it is important to decide which features you need and which you won’t. 

And with benchtop planers your options, fortunately, are relatively limited. But that doesn’t mean rushing into purchasing what many inexperienced woodworkers do: the cheapest tool on the market.

Features to Consider When Choosing a Planer

Benchtop Planer Features

While even the best benchtop planers won’t have the same features as a full-size floor model that doesn’t mean they won’t perform well for home woodworking projects.

But when purchasing a smaller planer there are features you’ll want that can make your investment perform the best, including:

  • Adjustable feed rate is a must for woodworkers working with hardwoods
  • Helical cutter heads allow for less snipe, produce a better finish and can be replaced one head at a time versus an entire blade
  • Dust collection ports are a must for clean and efficient operation

Common Issues With Benchtop Planers

Benchtop Planer Dust

As you know, all tools have their issues.

And with benchtop planers you’ll need to consider:

  • Snipe is the tendency for any planer to cut the last few inches of a board thinner. While feed arms and tensions are meant to control this, with longer boards you’ll need to help support the boards with a feed roller.
  • Feed rates that aren’t adjustable mean a pine board will be cut at the same speed as an oak panel. Which means more passes through the planer for harder material.
  • Short warranties or imitation brands that seem cheap to buy, but will leave you stuck with no replacement parts later.

Helical Heads for Thickness Planers (And Why You Want One)

Best benchtop planer - helical head

Since most tools have a feature or two that distinguishes them its best to understand just why the hype.

And with helical cutter heads, as you can see above, the difference is all about the shape of the knives. First, a traditional planer will have two or three knives spinning in a circle and each hitting the wood the full length across. But a helical head will have only a few kives at a time hit the wood.

The benefits? Well, consider:

  • Snipe is reduced as the blades aren’t hitting the board as it enters or exits
  • The board is continually under pressure from the blades
  • Less vibration
  • Fewer blades to change if a nail is hit
Lastly, some planers can be upgraded. But the cost of a new cutter-head can set you back almost as much as buying up into a full floor model.

Best Benchtop Planers - Entry Level

Best Benchtop Planers Entry Level
Note: Check manufacturer for latest specs and warranty

Starting at the entry level of benchtop planers there are a good selection of brand name planers and a few off-brand planers on the market. 

But with any of these benchtop planers you’ll find:

  • Mix of three and two knife configurations
  • Range of 12 to 13-inch widths
  • One to three year warranties
  • Cost range generally from $300 – $500

Top Three Features For Entry Level Planers

While entry-level planers will all work, when it comes to buyers remorse a few features you’ll want to make a decision on include:

  1. Number of knives because a 3 headed cutter will have 50% more cuts than a 2 headed cutter.
  2. Dust ports are a must to keep the cutter head and your shop clean
  3. Warranty to support replacement parts years down the road.

Lastly, the heavier the machine generally the less vibration. So while a light planer is more portable, it will have less mass to absorb the vibration of the knives hitting the wood.

Top Picks for Entry Level Planers

  • Best Overall goes to the Dewalt DW734 
  • Runner-up is the WEN PL1303
  • Budget Pick is the Craftsman CMEW320

Best benchtop planer - DW734

BEST ENTRY LEVEL BENCHTOP PLANER

Dewalt has cornered the market in benchtop planers by offering two planers that check the box for performance AND budget.

And in the budget category the DW734 offers a 12-1/2 inch planer that checks the boxes on all of the key features:

  • Heavy weight machine for reduced vibration
  • Three knife cutter head
  • Three year warranty
  • Dust port

Review

Overall the Dewalt DW734 has all of the best features of an entry level benchtop planer. And while it doesn’t have a helical head or adjustable speed for most home woodworkers it will perform fine.

Working with a lot of hardwoods? Consider the two speed upgrade DW735 that will slow the speed rate and handle hardwoods with less chipping and a smoother finish.

Pros

Cons

Best benchtop planer - WEN PL1303

RUNNER UP: BEST ENTRY LEVEL BENCHTOP PLANER

While WEN has been around since 1951, it is only recently catching on as a popular option to (generally) higher priced brands. And, for many woodworkers that might not have the budget (or frequency of use) to justify a higher priced brand it is a great option.

Within the small field of compact planers this model offers an appealing set of features, including:

  • 3 knives
  • 10,000 rpm
  • 2.5 and 4-inch dust collection ports
  • Full 13 inch cutting width and a 2-year warranty

Review

For an entry level thickness planer the WEN does offer a few features, and at a solid price point, that make it worth considering. While generally just a few dollars less than the Dewalt, you’ll enjoy a slightly wider planer width and, at almost 15 pounds lighter, more portability.

Pros

Cons

Best benchtop planer - Craftsman CMEW320

Best budget benchtop planer

If you’ve ever spent time in a Sears tool aisle you’ve likely run across the almost century old Craftsman brand. 

And while they aren’t a top manufacturer of woodworking tools like table saws, drum sanders or other tools they do have a quality, budget friendly planer that includes a 3-year warranty.

Key features:

  • 2 knives
  • 8,000 rpm
  • 12-inch capacity
  • Lightweight at 61 pounds

Review

For an entry level thickness planer the WEN does offer a few features, and at a solid price point, that make it worth considering. While generally just a few dollars less than the Dewalt, you’ll enjoy a slightly wider planer width and, at almost 15 pounds lighter, more portability.

Pros

Cons

Best Thickness Planers (Standard Duty)

Best Benchtop Planers Standard

Most woodworkers with experience in planers know that a few features not found on entry level planers are a must for a better quality project.

And moving up to the next level of benchtop planers you’ll find a few features that are worth the upgrade:

  • Adjustable feed rate on one model
  • Full 13-inch support on most models
  • Warranties up to 5 years
  • Increased weight

Standard Thickness Planer Review

One planer rules this class of benchtop planers.

And as you can guess from the feature chart it is the Dewalt DW735X:

  • Ability to slow down feed rate to 14 fpm is a must-have feature for hardwoods
  • At almost 100 pounds it is built to last and absorb vibration
  • And it leaves the other planers in the dust, literally, as having a higher price but with entry-level features

Best benchtop planer - Dewalt DW735x

Best standard benchtop planer

If you’re just not sure which benchtop planer is best for your shop then stop and take a hard look at the DW735X. 

Not only does it have class-leading capability, it is one of the most popular and (per the manufacturer site) reviewed planers on the market.

Key features

  • 14 and 26 feet-per-minute speed
  • 3 blades
  • 3 year warranty
  • 92-pound weight
  • Cast aluminum base
  • 13 inch capacity

Review

Since planers have the heavy duty task of taking a wide swath of wood off a panel there are conditions that make for better performance.

And, the number one feature is the SPEED of feed.

While 26 feet per minute, the standard in thickness planers, seems fine it is a bit fast for most hardwoods. Which is why woodworkers will opt for the DW735X over similarly priced and brand-competitive planers.

Pros

Cons

Best Helical Head Benchtop Planer

Best Benchtop Planer Helical Head

When it comes to the higher end benchtop thickness planers you’ll find a discussion always starts around spiral or helical head planers. 

And, simply said, these planers move from 3 knives to 25 or more arranged in a spiral around the cutting head.

So what’s the advantage? Well, consider:

  • Continuous contact with the wood surface
  • Reduced motor strain as less wood is removed at each pass
  • Replacing just one or two knives if you hit a nail

However, beyond a higher price, these planers are similar in function to the standard-duty planers.

Helical Head Thickness Planer Review

Moving up to a helical head design you’ll find one of the professional planer line-ups from JET Tools as the class-leading entrant. But, for the budget minded woodworker a WEN helical head planer is available with an entry-level price.

The verdict? If you have the budget a JET is a top pick over every other planer as it has both the helical head AND the coveted two-speed feed rate.

Best benchtop planer - Jet JWP 13BT

Best Benchtop Planer

For woodworkers that are familiar with the next grade of floor planers the JET Tools brand is likely one you are familiar with.

And to differentiate from the small-form benchtop planers they offer two features combined into planer that makes them unique:

  • Helical cutting head
  • And two speed feed rates

So while the DW735 has adjustable speed, it lacks a helical head.

And where lower priced units like WEN have a helical head, they lack dual speed settings.

Review

This JET planer is really the unique planer in the benchtop category since it checks the box on:

  • 3 year warranty
  • Brand recognition
  • Spiral head
  • 2 speed setting
  • Dust ports
  • 13 inch capacity

Pros

Cons

Best benchtop planer - WEN PL1326

Best Budget Planer

While not every woodworker can afford a premium JET helical head, if your plans are to move to this style of cutter head then one manufacturer offers a budget friendly solution with the WEN PL-1326.

The draw back? This model doesn’t have a two speed configuration. But, with a helical head it was the distinct “middle ground” advantage of alternating contact with the wood.

Review

While there are “camps” of woodworkers around brand names and only sticking to a Dewalt, JET or other manufacturer the WEN brand has been around a long time.

And for the budget price, this WEN is easily the best planer around $500.

Pros

Cons

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What brand of planer is best?

When looking at the best brand of planer you’ll want to consider the brands time in business, reputation and warranty. And, for planers, two of the top brands in benchtop planers are Dewalt and JET Tools that both offer up 3 year warranties and highly rated planers with the top features.

How do I choose a benchtop planer?

While there are a dozen features of a benchtop thickness planer the decision comes down to needing a two-speed feed rate, helical vs. spiral heads and opting for a brand name with a warranty (and parts down the road). With most planers offering 12-13″ of width, similar depth of cuts and 3 knife configurations there are few differentiating features.

Is a helical head planer worth it?

Since a helical head planer is generally a few hundred dollar upgrade over a standard 2 or 3-knife cutter head its a luxury for some woodworkers. But, as it offers a cleaner cut with less strain on your motor it is a feature to consider if your budget allows.

Summary

When it comes to finding the best benchtop planer for your workshop don’t overlook the other tools that will help make your investment the best it can be:

Last update on 2022-08-16 at 05:32 / Images from Amazon

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