Tool of the Week: Thickness Planer

By Patrick Dunn

Have you ever needed a piece of wood to be just a wee bit thinner for your project? Hardware and lumber stores will never be able to carry every thickness of wood. If you need anything outside their range of options, then you’re going either to have to fork over a couple more bucks to have the piece custom milled or you’re going to have to do a little woodwork yourself. Luckily, thickness planers make this work pretty simple.

A thickness planer allows you to work a board down to just about any thickness you like with relative ease and not a whole lot of required skill. These planers in general have a good bit of variation across makes and models, but all of them are composed of at least two main parts: a cutting head and a set of infeed/outfeed rollers. While the rollers draw the piece through the machine, the cutter head removes a consistent amount of material from the entire width of the piece. Depending on the size and motor of the planer, a piece could be trimmed to size in a single pass or may have to be passed through the planer a few times before reaching its required thickness.

While in days past, you might only find a thickness planer at a sawmill or professional woodshop, the do-it-yourself movement has largely allowed these planers to be available to even a novice woodworker. These scaled down, portable versions, however, are nowhere near as powerful nor as accurate as their far more expensive, professional cousins.

More often than not, the thickness planer is usually the one tool that can separate a casual DIYer from someone who has truly committed to the cause. Without the help of one of these beautiful machines, your projects will either always be limited to the standardized stock at the stores or you will forever be paying extra for someone to do your milling for you.

This is why our Dewalt, 12.5” thickness planer is perhaps one of our most prized tools at The West Seattle Tool Library. We purchased it in near perfect condition from a retired, West Seattle union carpenter about 7 months ago and it has seen steady use from our membership ever since. The real trick to keeping these planers working smoothly is simply to make sure you keep the blades sharp and the whole contraption as clean as possible. With the proper care, tools like these can last a lifetime.

The thickness planer is one of over 1,000 tools available now at the West Seattle Tool Library, which is free to use and run primarily on user donations. If you or someone you know you would like to be involved in The Tool Library, please consider attending one of our bi-weekly meetups or becoming a member.

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