What’s the Best Jointer? We review several excellent models to give you a range of models to choose from, plus we discuss jointers in detail and explain the difference between a jointer and a planer.
Intro | Best Jointer
Beginner woodworkers will usually start out with a few hand tools and as you become more involved in your woodworking projects, you start collecting more tools. If you’re serious about making furniture, you’ll reach a point where a jointer becomes something of a necessity.
I know there are some woodworking hobbyists who will insist that all you need is a good saw and a hand planer. I call these guys purists. They want to do things the way grandad did. So woodworking purists insist on spending hours doing everything by hand and spend years perfecting their craft. Fair enough, if that’s your thing.
On the other end of the scale are the woodworkers who want to take the shortest possible route. These woodworkers will buy pieces of wood that have already been machined to the correct thickness and are perfectly square. Some may even have all their pieces cut to the correct size. It’s then simply a matter of joining the pieces of wood together.
Though most hobbyist woodworkers, these days, lie somewhere in between these two extremes. You want to take pride in your work, knowing that you’ve applied your craft to perfection. At the same time, there’s no need to spend a month doing everything by hand when there are machines that cut this process down to a few days to a week – depending on how much time you spend in the shop and what you’re making.
Professional Jointer | Powermatic 1791283 (Model PJ1696)
So a benchtop planer or thicknesser is likely to be one of the first of the more specialized woodworking tools that you’ll want to buy. Then there’s the jointer and here many beginners become confused. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people asking the question “what’s the difference between a jointer and a planer?” on popular woodworking sites.
This article is going to answer this question and provide a good deal of insight into both jointers and planers. We’re also going to review some of the best jointers as well as few combination products that fulfill the function of both a jointer and a planer.
If you’re considering buying a jointer for the first time, your first question may be: “Why do I need a jointer?”
If you’re buying all your wood from a retailer that has already squared the wood up for you, you won’t need a jointer. All the work has been done for you, but you’re going to be paying for this. Whether it’s because of cost or, as is often the case, you want to take pride in doing it yourself, you’ll be buying your wood from a lumber merchant in a partially finished state. This meant that wood is basically raw and has been cut reasonably flat on all sides, but is nowhere near perfect. There are two categories of wood that has been squared for you – S2 and S4. Basically, this tells you how many sides have been squared. A piece marked S2 has been squared on two sides and S4 means it has been squared on all four sides.
When you’re joining two pieces of wood, you want the sides that are going to be bonded together to be perfectly smooth and square. This is the only way to get a perfect join. A jointer ensures that you get a smooth finish and the sides are 100% perpendicular. If you want the sides to be at an angle other 90°, most have adjustable fences so that you can finish a side to any angle. I’ll discuss the workings of these machines in full detail later in the article as well as planers.
For now, let’s get onto our review of the best jointers. There’s a selection of benchtop jointers at very reasonable prices, a standing jointer, and two combination planer/jointers that we’ll be reviewing.
Best Jointer Reviews
When choosing between the best jointers that we’ll be reviewing, there are a few factors that you’ll want to consider. Price is something that a lot of people look at first – there’s only so much that we can afford to pay. Space can also be an issue. For the small home shop, the Shop Fox W1829 and the Cutech 40160H-CT are going to be your best bet. Being benchtop jointers, they don’t take up much space and both are very reasonably priced. If you’re looking for a more industrial grade jointer and you have the space as well as the extra cash to pay for this machine, the Powermatic 1791317K is arguably the best you’ll find. This is a standing jointer, so you’ll need the floor space, though a jointer is not a particularly large machine. Even though the Powermatic 1791317K is a high-end product, suitable for a professional shop or serious hobbyist, it doesn’t cost as much as many other jointers in its class. It is, however, a good deal more expensive than the two smaller jointers that we’ll be reviewing.
A jointer and a planer go hand in hand. If you’re using one, you’ll probably be using the other. Since both machines work on similar principles, it can make sense to have a combination of the two in one machine. Essentially, both a planer and are jointer are an adaptation of a hand planer for a specialized purpose. Both use a rotating set of blades and it’s really the table differs. To save on floor space, you may want a combination planer/jointer.
For a professional shop, this can be limiting in that you can only perform one task at a time. You can’t have one guy using the planer and another using the jointer. This is quite obvious, it’s one machine. It also takes some time to change the machine’s application. You need to change the table set up when alternating between using it as a jointer and a planer. Though the manufacturers have made this process quite easy and quick, so this shouldn’t be a problem. The real benefit is having one machine instead of two, which works out cheaper and saves on floor space.
When it comes to combination planer/jointers, we’ll be reviewing two fantastic machines. The cheaper of these two is the Grizzly G0675 Jointer/Planer which is a great machine and most will find it to be the perfect tool for their shop. If you want something a bit more powerful that can handle thicker pieces, the JET JJP-12 is going to be your best option, but you’ll be paying considerably more.
High quality 6″ benchtop jointer.
- Motor: 1-1/2 horsepower, 110V, 12 amp, single-phase
- Cutter head speed: 10,000 RPM, 20,000 cuts per minute
- Two-knife HSS cutter head provides clean cuts, fully adjustable fence with stops
- 2-1/2-inch dust port keeps work area clear of dust
- Includes free pair of safety push blocks, built-in mini impeller-driven dust collection fan and collection bag
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Shop Fox W1829.
Overview | Shop Fox W1829
Shop Fox tools are as common in professional shops as they are in the home shop or garage. The Shop Fox W1892 strikes a good balance between affordability and quality. Though, at first, it may be a little tricky to get used to. There are quite a few people who have said they had trouble understanding the user manual. Though once you get past that and start using the jointer, it’s a great little machine that’s very sturdy for a benchtop jointer, thanks to the cast iron table.
While this seems to me to be a well-made jointer with really good specs, I’ve seen some really negative reviews (mostly on Amazon) relating to the Shop Fox W1829. In all fairness, I feel I should address this first. As I said earlier, the owner’s manual is not the best and if this were improved I think many of the problems that people are experiencing would be negated. It seems like a lot of people simply don’t understand how the jointer works – particularly the blade and table adjustments.
If the guys at Fox Shop (Woodstock International Inc.) get to read this, take note – people don’t get the way you’ve explained things in the manual. It seems that the table, itself has been a cause of concern for some. One guy says he received one with a faulty (uneven) infeed table and this was swapped with one that had a sloping outfeed table. I can understand his frustration. While Fox Shop generally adheres to very strict quality standards, getting two faulty machines is a bit worrying. On the other hand, this doesn’t seem to be something other people have complained about. Perhaps it’s a question of expectations, the Shop Fox W1829 is an entry level jointer and is, therefore, not expensive. To my mind, it’s an excellent machine for its price. It works well and, if correctly set up, is as accurate as anyone could expect it to be.
For this class of jointer, the Shop Fox W1829 has a pretty impressive spec level. It’s powered by 1½HP, 12A, 110V motor. For a small benchtop jointer that’s quite powerful and you won’t have a problem working with hardwood, though carbide knives will be better for hardwood and I’m not certain if these are available for the Shop Fox. It has a 2-knife (HSS) cutter head, this is obviously not as smooth as a 4-knife setup – but then again, in this price range, you’re not going to get a 4-knife head. I don’t think many will feel the difference though. The knives rotate at 10000RPM, producing 20000 cuts per minute, so this is going to give you a really smooth finish.
Both the fence and table are made of cast iron with a precision smooth finish. Keep these waxed and they will give a super-easy gliding motion for years. Table size is 28½” long and 6¼” wide, the fence is 22⁷⁄₈” long and 4⁵⁄₁₆” wide. All this cast iron does add to the weight of the machine. At 80LBS, it’s not all that portable but this gives it a lot of stability for a small benchtop jointer. Even though it’s recommended to bolt it down (as with any benchtop tool), the extra weight means that it won’t slide around very easily or vibrate too much, even when it’s not bolted down.
The fence has stops for 45° and 90°. Adjustments take some time, the knobs are small and your fence can move around a bit. You need to check your settings periodically, to make sure everything is where set it. It has a maximum depth of cut of ⅛”. It also has a dust extraction port that does a fantastic job of keeping your workspace clean. A guard that covers the cutting head has become standard on most jointers and this is a great safety feature, it’s nice to see that Shop Fox is following this trend.
If you’re used to a high-end jointer, you’re probably going to find the Shop Fox W1829 a little frustrating to work with. Though for the hobbyist who doesn’t mind spending some time setting and checking your adjustments, this jointer is going to give you the results that you’re looking for. It’s a solid and tough machine, I can’t see it breaking easily. So when it comes down to it, the Shop Fox W1829 is worth every cent of its very reasonable price tag.
- Motor: 1-1/2 HP, 110V, 12A, universal
- Max. width of cut: 6-1/8″
- Min. workpiece length: 8″
- Max. depth of cut (per pass): 1/8″
- Cutterhead speed: 10,000 RPM
- Cuts per minute: 20,000
- Cutterhead diameter: 1-7/8″
- Knives: 2 (HSS), 6″ x 7/8″ x 3/32″
- Footprint: 18-7/8″ x 11″
- Table size: 28-1/2″ x 6-1/4″
- Fence size: 22-7/8″ x 4-3/8″
- Dust port: 2-1/2″
- Fully adjustable fence with 90° and 45° stops
- Includes free pair of safety push blocks
- Approximate shipping weight: 82 lbs.
Best jointer if you’re on a budget.
- Powerful 10 Amp 120V motor
- Spiral Style Cutterhead with 12 Carbide Tips
- Fence with 90 to 135 Degree Tilt
- Level adjustable beds
Overview | Cutech 40160H-CT
I’d place the Cutech 40160H-CT in very much the same class as the Shop Fox W1829. It’s an affordable small benchtop jointer with very similar specs. So it’s an entry-level machine for the home shop. If you’re not up to spending too much, this is a fantastic jointer of a high quality standard.
The specs differ slightly between the Cutech 40160H-CT and the Shop Fox. This machine has a longer table (30”) with a similar width of 6”. The Cutech has an aluminum fence with the same type of adjustment as the Shop Fox. So it’s not as stable as the expensive machines – you’ll need to check your settings from time to time. The fence has grooves in it. The experts say that this is to prevent the wood from sticking to the surface, because of the air gaps. I have to admit, I can’t tell the difference between this design and a sold surface when using the machine. This does reduce the weight however and the Cutech 40160H-CT weighs only 40LBS. This makes it a very easy machine to carry, but comes at sacrifice where stability is concerned. You will have to bolt this jointer to your bench because it will move quite easily if not bolted down.
It’s slightly less powerful than the Shop Fox, using a 10A motor opposed to the 12A motor used in the Shop Fox. Though I doubt anyone will notice the difference in practice. The blade rotation is excellent at 11000 RPM. Probably the best feature of the Powermatic 1791317K is the use of double-sided spiral (helical) cutters. Although these are HSS and not carbide, like those on the high-end machines and they use 12 cutting inserts which is less than the expensive helix jointers, this is the best system. Later in the article, I’ll tackle the blade vs helical cutter debate. In short, these cutters reduce tear out even when cutting against the grain, they are also quieter and provide for improved dust extraction. The helical design is the best at reducing scallop, which is why I prefer them. You’ll always get a smoother finish.
In all respects, the Cutech 40160H-CT has the same capabilities as the Shop Fox. It has a cutting depth of ⅛” and the fence can be adjusted between 90° and 135°, though there are no positive stops. It has a 2½” dust port and a spring-loaded guard so your fingers won’t come into contact with the cutting head.
VIDEO | Learn more about the Cutech 40160H-CT
If you’re in the market for an inexpensive benchtop jointer, this is as good as the best. It’s hard to say which is better – this model or the Shop Fox. A few extra inches of table length is a small advantage and the spiral cutters are superior. It’s lighter and this could be preferable for some. In the end, the Cutech 40160H-CT is one of the best in this price range with the expected limitations of a small benchtop jointer.
- Amps/ Volts : 10 AMP / 115V, AC
- Speed : 11,000 RPM
- CUTTERHEAD : Spiral
- Diameter : 2″
- Inserts : 12 Two-sided Inserts HSS
- Max Depth of Cut : 1/8″
- Max Cutting Width : 6″
- Overall Size 32″ X 12 1/4″ X 11″
- Table 30″ X 6 3/16″
- Fence Size 4 1/4″ X 19 3/4″
- Dust Port : 2 1/2″
- Weight : 40 lbs
Best jointer for professionals.
- Helical cutterhead with 4-sided carbide inserts provides smoother, quieter cutting and finer finish than conventional systems
- 66″ long adjustable infeed and outfeed tables provide more working surface
- Fine/quick adjustment lever on infeed table for precision cuts
- Extra-long 38″ two-way tilting fence with positive stops provides quick positioning for 90° or bevel cuts
- Enlarged sheet metal stand provides a sturdy base
- 1HP motor offers plenty of power
- Fence controls are center-mounted for convenience
- Push button switch is lockable to prevent accidental starting
- 4″ port for dust collection
- Standard Equipment:
- 1HP TEFC Motor
- Two push blocks
- Dust collection port
- Cutterhead guard
- Industrial push-button switch
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Powermatic 1791317K.
Overview | Powermatic 1791317K
So far we’ve covered two of the best jointers for the beginner or occasional home user. If you’re interested in a more professional-grade machine, the Powermatic 1791317K is going to be the best jointer for your purposes. It costs about three times as much as the other two, so you’d expect it to be in a different class. This, it certainly is.
This is a floor-standing jointer and weighs a whopping 328 LBS. It’s not a portable job site machine, you’re going to position it in the shop and leave it there. It also has extra-long infeed and outfeed tables, each measuring a 32½”. With the width of the cutting head, this gives you a total length of 66” for both tables and a width of 7¼”. This jointer is excellent for long pieces of wood but does occupy a fair amount of shop space. The table is at a very convenient height of 31½”.
The Powermatic 1791317K uses a 1HP motor and can run on 115V (13A) or 230V (6.5A). The cutting head is belt driven with an easy tensioning lever and rotates at 6000 RPM. If you’re used to a standard 2-4 cutting knife jointer or planer, this power and RPM may seem absurd. This is until you come to realize that the Powermatic 1791317K uses a helical cutter with a total of 40 knives. With 40 knives spaced over a length and width of 15”, each revolution of the cutting head is doing a lot and you’re going to get a perfectly smooth finish with a cutting depth of up to ½”. What’s more, these are 4-sided carbide cutting inserts, so they’re as strong as it gets and each knife can be rotated four times for an extremely long usable life. With the knives placed at exactly 14°, it provides a perfect shearing action. This is the best cutting system that you’ll get. It’s going to last a long time, reducing maintenance costs and it will give you a perfect finish every time.
The fence is 38” long and 4” in height, offering fantastic support. It can be adjusted to the left and right with positive stops for 45°; 90° and -45°. The adjustment levers are strong, very easy to use and lock the fence perfectly into position. There’s no shifting like you find on cheaper jointers. Once you lock the fence or the table in position, it’s going nowhere and you won’t have to constantly check if anything has shifted while you work. As is to be expected, it has an excellent cutting head guard for safety. Like every component on this jointer, the on/off switch is industrial-grade and emergency stopping is a touch away. It has a 4” dust port, requiring a 450 CFM dust extractor.
The Powermatic 1791317K is a solid piece of machinery and is definitely one of the best jointers for the professional shop or serious home woodworker. For ease of use, accuracy, and speed, it’s worth paying extra for this top-notch jointer.
- Number of Knives : 40
- Helical Knife Size (L x W x T) (In.) : 15 x 15 x 2.5
- Cutterhead Speed (RPM) : 6,000
- Cutting Capacity (W x D) (In.) : 6 x 1/2
- Table Size (L x W) (In.) : 66 x 7-1/4
- Table Height from Floor (In.) : 31-1/2
- Infeed Table Length (In.) : 32-1/2
- Outfeed Table Length (In.) : 32-1/2
- Fence Size (L x H) (In.) : 38 x 4
- Fence Tilt (Deg.) : 45 Forward, 45 Backward
- Fence Positive Stops (Deg.) : 45, 90, -45
- Dust Collection Minimum CFM Required (CFM) : 450
- Dust Port Outside Diameter (In.) : 4
- Motor Power (HP) : 1
- Motor Phase : 1
- Motor Voltage (V.) : 115/230
- Prewired Voltage (V.) : 115
- Motor Current (Amps) : 13/6.5
- Recommended Circuit Size (Amps.) : 20/10
Best Combination Jointer and Planer
Having one machine to do both jobs has its obvious advantages. Even though the two combination jointer planers that we’ll be reviewing cost more than any of the jointers that we’ve already reviewed, the fact that it does the job of a planer and jointer does make it cheaper than buying the machines separately. Both the combination machines we’ll be reviewing are large floor-standing units.
Features / Specs:
- Motor: 2-1/2 HP, 220V, single-phase, 9.9A, 3400 RPM
- Jointer table size: 12-1/2″ x 40-15/16″
- Cutterhead knives: 2 HSS
- Knife size: 10-1/4″ x 11/16″ x 1/8″
- Cutterhead diameter: 2-9/32″
- Cutterhead speed: 6500 RPM
- Maximum depth of cut: 1/8″ (jointer), 3/16″ (planer)
- Maximum width of cut: 10-1/4″ (jointer), 9-3/4″ (planer)
- Maximum planer cutting height: 8-1/4″
- Planer feed rate: 16 FPM
- Planer table size: 9-3/4″ x 23-1/8″
- Cuts per minute: 13,000
- Fence: 5-7/8″ x 35-7/16″
- Bevel jointing: 0° – 45°
- Power transfer: Poly V-belt
- Floor to table height (jointer): 33-3/4″
- Dust port size: 4″
- Overall dimensions: 46″ L x 27″ W x 38″ H
- German designed and engineered
- Weight: 350 lbs
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Grizzly G0675.
Overview | Grizzly G0675
Considering that this is a professional-grade machine that functions both as a jointer and planer, it’s not at all that expensive. With a solid construction and German engineering, it’s a reliable and durable machine. It is a large floor-standing machine, weighing over 300LBS and might be somewhat bulky for a small shop or garage.
Using a 230V, single phase, 2½ HP (9.9A) motor, the Grizzly G0675 has the power to spare. The cutter head is driven by a poly V-belt at 3400 RPM, providing 13000 cuts per minute. The cutter head utilizes 2 HSS blades (10¼” X 11¹¹⁄₁₆” X ⅛”), this is a reasonable size giving you a 9¾” planer width and 10¼” jointer width. Though these specs aren’t up to those of the best industrial machines. A planer width of basically 10” is on the bottom end of the scale and I would have preferred to see at least 3 (preferably 4) carbide blades, two HSS blades is more what I’d expect to see on a smaller machine. Though you’ll probably be able to convert this to a helical cutter (at a cost) and this would make it one of the best jointer/planers around. These conversions are becoming very popular despite their cost.
Converting from a planer to a jointer is really simple and only takes a few seconds. Everything is hinged and flips into place. When set up as a planer, it has a table size with a width of 9¾” and a length of 23⅛”. The maximum cutting depth for the planer is ³⁄₁₆” with a maximum cutting height of 8¼”. The planer feed rate is 16 FPM. Flip everything over into the jointer position and you’ll have a table that’s 40¹⁵⁄₁₆ long and 12½” wide, that gives you a lot to work with. The cast iron table has fine grooves which are supposed to allow the wood to move easier over the surface. The 35⁷⁄₁₆” by 5⁷⁄₈” aluminum fence also has a grooved finish and can be adjusted from 0° to 45°. Setting your fence position takes some time as it moves from side to side – it doesn’t just slide in a squared position. Though once you have the fence in position, it locks perfectly and gives you accurate results. Your table height when using it as a jointer is 33¾”.
All the adjustment dials and knobs are reasonably good quality and easy to use. It has a single on/off switch with quick emergency stopping. A large 4” dust extraction port is also provided. You may want to check your available floor space with a machine of this size, it has a length of 46”, width of 27” and a height of 38”.
The Grizzly G0675 is exceptionally cheap for this caliber of machine. The knives and fence do, however, hint at some cost-cutting. Though the general impression is that of a high-quality machine that will withstand the working conditions of most small to medium shops. For the home user looking for a combination jointer/planer, this is likely to your best option. While it’s a big machine, it’s not as big as many others and it’s very affordable.
- Three high-speed steel knife cutter head provides rapid cutting and a superior finish
- Parallelogram design keeps the table close to the cutterhead for improved finish and allows for precise depth of cut adjustments
- Extra large aluminum extruded fence with centered controls for quick adjustments
- Extremely quick changeover between jointing and planing functions. Fence does not need to be removed
- Powerful 3HP induction motor easily handles the toughest jointing and planing tasks
- Heavy-duty, one-piece steel closed stand includes mounting tabs for increased stability
- Built-in dust chute with 4″ dust port used for both jointing and planing operations
- Large handwheel for quick and precise adjustments of planer table
- Heavy-duty cast iron tables with a machined finish to ensure accuracy and flatness
- Magnetic switch provides safer and more reliable operation
Documents for the JET JJP-12 :
Overview | JET JJP-12
If you’re up to spending quite a bit more, the JET JJP-12 is going to offer you much more than the Grizzly G0675. Firstly this is a 12” jointer/planer (the Grizzly is only 10”). It also has a number of other advantages, the cutting knives being one of these. The Jet is even heavier (600LBS) and has a larger footprint – 55” X 34” X 40”. Though this is to be expected as it has a larger capacity. The Jet JJP-12 is a serious contender for the best jointer/planer in every category.
The powerful 3HP induction motor is superb with fan cooling for extra durability. If you look at the specs listed on the Amazon site, you’ll see that the JET JJP-12 is rated at 115V. This is an error, this is a 230V (single phase) machine and you’ll need the correct power circuit capable of handling the 12.5A load (at least 15A 230V). This power translates into 5500 RPM at the 12” 3-knife cutting head. It gives a remarkably smooth finish for a conventional blade setup. Jet offers a conversion for helical knives if you want to upgrade to the best of the best.
When converting from a planer to a jointer, the guys at Jet have the best system with spring loaded hinges that make it effortless and really fast. When used as a planer, you have really good material thickness capability of 8¾”, which is slightly more than the Grizzly and you obviously have the advantage of a maximum 12” width and a good table length of 21¼”. The rollers are excellent with rubber protection on the outfeed rollers and a really good feed rate of 20 FPM. I should probably mention that neither the Grizzly nor the JET JJP-12 have infeed and outfeed tables, which is a mild disappointment. The cutting depth is adjustable between ⁵⁄₃₂” and ⅛”, which is the pretty much the standard for these machines. There’s a good deal of safety with anti-kickback fingers on the intake rollers and a magnetic on/off switch.
The jointer is equally as impressive. Not only do you have the 12” cutting head but it has a nice 55” length on the cast iron table. Both the infeed and outfeed tables are independently adjustable. This is nice to see, many jointers only have adjustments for the infeed table. As one would expect, it has a maximum cutting depth of ⅛”. The aluminum fence has a good length – 43” and a height of 6”. The adjustment levers for the fence are very conveniently located and easy to use, though it has the same movement that plagues so many jointers. You have to spend a little time lining up the fence to the table, though this isn’t really a big thing once you’re used to it. The fence can be adjusted from 0° to 45° and an easy to read angle gauge makes this an effortless task.
At this price, you’d expect the JET JJP-12 to be a high-grade industrial machine and you’d be correct in this. It’s built to an exceptionally high standard with features to match the best combination jointer/planers. While it may be on the expensive side for some home shops, it’s equally suited for the small shop or garage as it is for the professional woodworking shop.
- Style (Type) :Planer/Jointer
- Helical Knife Size (L x W x T) (In.) : 12 x 1/35 x 1/8
- Cutterhead Diameter (In.) 2-3/4
- Cutterhead Speed (RPM) 5500
- Planer Cutting Capacity (W x D) (In.) 12 x 5/32
- Planer Table Size (L x W) (In.) 21-1/4 x 12
- Jointer Cutting Capacity (W x D) (In.) 12 x 1/8
- Jointer Table Size (L x W) (In.) 55 x 12
- Fence Size (L x H) (In.) 43 x 6
- Fence Positive Stops (Deg.) 90, 45 R
- Fence Tilt (Deg.) : 90 – 45 R
- Dust Collection Minimum CFM Required (CFM) : 400
- Dust Port Outside Diameter (In.) : 4
- Motor Power (HP) : 3
- Motor Voltage (V.) : 230
- Prewired Voltage (V.) : 230
More about Jointers and Planers
Having reviewed our selection of the best jointers and planer combinations, here’s some additional and (I hope) valuable information. In this section of the article, we’ll give you even more information about both jointers and planers, which should help the beginner distinguish between the two and help you decide which of these machines would be the best for you. Though, ideally, you’d want both or a combination machine. Then we’ll move onto the question that so many are asking these days: “Is it worth getting a helical cutter for my planer or jointer?” I’ve seen this question raised many times and have, therefore, decided to include a section dedicated entirely to the subject of conventional cutting knives vs helical cutters.
What is a jointer?
In a sense, a jointer is a specialized planer. It uses the same rotating mechanism with blades attached to it as you would find on a planer. Though a jointer works differently and is designed for an entirely different purpose. A jointer is used to smooth the edges of the piece and to give it a perfectly square edge. Though it can also be adjusted to cut at an angle for chamfering.
To achieve this, the jointer has an infeed table and an outfeed table with the rotating blades placed between them. All jointers have an adjustable infeed table and some may have an outfeed table that can also be adjusted. By adjusting the height of the infeed table, you determine what your cutting depth will be with each pass.
A jointer will have a fence rail to keep the piece at the correct angle relative to the cutter. In the upright position, the fence will ensure that the piece is finished to an angle that’s exactly 90°. The fence can also be set at any angle (usually with positive stops at 90° and 45°). By passing the piece over the cutter at an angle, you’ll chamfer the corner that makes contact with the knives. With each pass, the chamfer will increase in size proportional to your table (cutting depth) setting.
These days, most jointers have spring loaded protectors that prevent the blades from making contact with your fingers as you pass the piece across them. The fence can also be set to allow only the width of the piece to make contact with the blades. In the absence of blade guard, this is the best way to ensure that you work safely. Most jointers will also have dust extraction ports so you can connect a dust extractor to the machine. This is important because these machines produce large volumes of wood shavings and dust.
In conclusion, I’ll sum all this up by saying the primary purpose of a jointer is to square your pieces of wood perfectly and produce accurate chamfers. You can use a jointer to plane a surface but it has no thickness settings and usually, they won’t have the same width as a planer.
What is a planer?
We first need to distinguish between a hand planer and a planer in the context of a wood thicknesser. Traditionally, a planer is a handheld device. These days, electric hand planers have a set of rotating blades that remove small increments of wood from the surface, depending on the blade setting. You pass the planer over the wood to create a smooth even surface. Though a planer (that’s not handheld) is a very different machine.
A planer also uses a set of rotating blades or knives – 2-4 knives on a cylindrical drum with a diameter of a few inches. The planer has a table with infeed rollers and outfeed rollers, the rotating knives are positioned above the table. You place the piece of wood into the infeed rollers and these will automatically pass the wood through the machine. The rotating blades will then remove a small layer of wood from the surface, usually up to about ⅛”. The outfeed rollers then feed the wood out of the opposite end of the planer.
A planer is used to cut the wood down to the desired thickness and ensure that the surfaces are parallel, meaning that it is of an equal thickness on both ends of the board. For this reason, a planer is often called a thicknesser. The distance between the table and cutter can be adjusted to determine how much wood is removed with each pass, you pass the wood through the planer as many times as is required to get the exact thickness that you require with minute precision.
The width of the board that you can pass through the planer is determined by the width of the cutter, up to about 20” for large machines. There are two designs that a planer can use – open-ended or closed-ended. An open-ended planer has a single upright pillar that holds the cutter head – leaving one side of the planer open. This means that you can pass wood through that’s wider than the cutting head – the remaining width will be on the open side of the machine. With an open-ended planer, you’re able to thickness wood that is twice the width of the cutter. You pass one side of the board through the planer and turn it over to pass the other side through. With a closed-end planer, the overhead cutter is supported by columns on both sides. This gives the machine greater stability and, therefore, better accuracy. Though you are limited by the width of the machine as to what width piece you can pass through the planer.
Planers can often have extended infeed and outfeed tables to make it easier when feeding wood into the machine. They will usually have dust extraction ports.
Conventional Knives vs Helical Cutters
Also known as spiral cutters, helical cutters are the latest big news in woodworking circles. Most planers and jointers can be adapted to this fantastic new way of doing things and many newer machines are using them as the standard design from the manufacturer. Because converting your existing jointer to a helical cutter is a fairly costly affair, many people are wondering if helical cutters are worth the cost.
My immediate answer will be a resounding yes. To understand why I say this, let’s first take a look at how a helical cutter works.
Since the dawn of electric planers and jointers, these machines have used a set of 2-4 straight knives connected to a cylindrical rotating drum. While this method is effective at removing wood fairly evenly, there’s always some degree scallop – those wave-like indents that occur as the knives scoop pieces of wood from the surface. By using more knives (up to four) and increasing the RPM, scallop can be reduced and will be almost invisible – but it’s always going to be there to some extent. Another problem with these knives is that of tear out – particularly when you work against the grain.
To counteract these drawbacks, engineers have come up with the helical or spiral cutter. Instead of using only a few blades, they now use many. Anything from around 10 up to more than 40 small blades are arranged in a helical pattern along the cylindrical cutter head. The dimensions of the cutter remain the same, but by increasing the number of blades in this pattern, you get astounding results. Each of these small blades shear only small amounts of wood instead of cutting long strips with each pass. Because there are so many knives (often called cutting inserts), the finish is much smoother and there is absolutely no scallop. The fine shearing action also prevents tear out, each blade is only removing a very small amount of wood. So even when working against the grain, you will get a perfect finish.
So the working properties of helical cutters are far superior, but does it make financial sense? At first, this may seem expensive, your helical cutter costs more than conventional knives. However, after you’ve paid for the conversion, it’s going to save you money for the rest of the machine’s life. First, let’s look at blade replacement. At best, conventional blades can be double-sided, meaning that you can rotate the blade once and use the other side before discarding the blade. Because a helical cutter is made up of many square blades, it’s possible for these to be four-sided. Meaning that each blade or insert has four sharpened sides and can, therefore, be rotated four times before the blade has to be discarded. Reason number two is when your blade is damaged, like when you hit a staple or nail in the wood. When a conventional blade is nicked, the entire long blade has to be replaced (or turned around). With a helical cutter, only the insert that’s damaged needs to be replaced – a single small blade (usually less than a square inch) isn’t expensive at all. In fact, it’s dirt cheap.
By now you should be convinced of the benefits of using helical cutters, but there a few less obvious reasons why people prefer these cutters. They are a lot quieter than conventional knives. The fact that they produce very small shavings makes them much better for your dust extractor. The long shavings that are produced by conventional knives easily become entangled in the dust port or pipe, the small pieces produced by a helical cutter get sucked up like sawdust. Finally, blade changes are a breeze. Each blade is held by a single screw and fits into a slot. You change a blade in few seconds and there’s no aligning or adjusting.
Okay, with all this good news, there must be a downside, right? One disadvantage that has been brought up is that the helical cutter needs more power and the motor might strain. If you buy a machine that’s designed with a helical cutter, this obviously won’t be a problem – the engineers have taken this into account. Though even with the conversion, you shouldn’t experience much difference. This is because the helical cutter doesn’t to run at the high RPM of standard knives. So the conversion kit includes a gear set that reduces the RPM and thereby increases the torque. So the power difference will be very slight and it may mean that you can’t cut as deep. But, in most cases, the difference will be unnoticeable.
So this is my opinion, if you’re choosing between a new machine with a helical cutter or conventional knives – go for the helical cutter. Though check how many blades (cutting inserts) they’re using. Small cutters with 10-12 inserts might be slightly better than standard knives, but if the price difference is too big, it might not be worth it. A helical cutter with more than 30 knives is fantastic. If you’re considering a conversion, my only answer is: do it, if you can afford it. You’re going to save in the long run. Again, look for a decent helical cutter with as many blades as possible, cheap alternatives aren’t that much better than the conventional knives.