Portable Power Planer for Shop Use?

Cabinetmakers tend to be dissatisfied with the performance of small hand-held power planers. For cabinet work you need real shop machinery. February 20, 2008

How many of you are using lunchbox planers in your shops? I had one years ago, and I used it to clean up wood after going through the larger planer, prior to glue-ups. The one I had really left a nice finish on the wood, so I only had to do minimal sanding.

I need to do something in my one man shop to help out with the sanding, and I am considering one of these machines. I have been thinking also about an open end wide belt, but not sure I am ready for that step yet, financially. The lunchbox planer seems like it may be a good interim step. Have others found this to be helpful?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
My opinion is that one of those little guys really can't keep up, even in a small shop. I used a Delta for a couple years when I first started out, and spent more time fiddling and fixing the planer than using it.

My two recommendations are much more expensive, but would yield much better results and be a better investment. The first is to put a spiral insert cutterhead on your current planer. The finish these things leave is exceptional and the cutting edge lasts a heck of a long time. I'm coming up on a year using the first edge of the carbide on my cutterhead and I run mostly hard and soft maples through the planer. The wood needs minimal sanding out of the planer.

My second suggestion, which is probably more practical long term, is to get yourself a widebelt. I went with the double drum sander and while it works okay, it's definitely not a widebelt. I don't know about those open ended units - they might be fine, but I'd be a bit apprehensive about plunking down good cash for one. If cash is tight, look at a drum sander to get by for now and save up a little to upgrade down the road.

From contributor A:
I agree with contributor J. I think adding a small planer into your mix is unnecessarily complicating your process, and may create more problems than it solves. When developing your business, when possible, look forward and not backward, and try to simplify steps and processes. I think switching to a good spiral cutterhead will give you better finish surface quality, and reduce the amount of sanding you need to do. Just as significant, it doesn't add another step in your workflow. Adding a widebelt - after implementing a spiral cutterhead - can improve your efficiency. However, you may find you don't need it right now.

From contributor O:
Even a four bladed planer produces a very nice finish that will need minimal sanding. The four blade planers are much better than the three blade planers. I started out with a 12" Delta portable planer, but it just couldn't keep up with the amount of lumber I was planing. (Although the finish was great.) I now have a 20" Grizzly that has four blades and produces a finish that is the same as the portable planer. And I can take a whole lot more material off in one pass.

From contributor N:
I have a small Delta planer. It comes in handy when and only when I do a small job, and the only hardwood available is hit and miss (or 15/16"). Usually 13/16" is available, as that's the size I use. If I have to plane down even a dozen boards, it takes forever. The whole time I'm planing and hand pulling the lumber out from the back end (so it won't stall or snipe too much), I'm thinking about buying a more powerful planer. But when I'm done, I swear I'll never buy 15/16" hit and miss lumber and I'm off the hook for a month or two.

From contributor T:
I had to decide what to do in the same circumstances. After I thought it through, I went to an open end 17" (Ramco) wide belt. I bought 35 and 50 grit for calibrating, using it as a planer, then bringing up the grit to my final finish... all on one machine. All my glued up panels go through this too. If it's extra wide, flip it around, run it again, and after a bit of practice, you'll not see the lap at all. I do not have any tear outs, no clipping, and every panel is dead flat. No sharpening of knives because of a nick, and the cloth belts last a long time; easily replaced when needed, and much quieter. I buy all my stock S2S to 15/16 or 7/8". Gets rid of all the dirt, unevenness, and is ready to go when I need to get a job out. The Ramco is a nice machine. Best part of this whole thing, it's all done on one machine... footprint is about 36" x 60". That's nice, too, in a 1200 SF shop!