Jointer or Planer – Which Is The Right Tool For You?

a thickness planer

In a follow up to our recent ‘Best Benchtop Jointers in 2016 top 5 review article‘, we are looking at a popular question that beginner woodworkers have. Namely, whether to purchase a Jointer or a Plainer, or more fundamental still, what the hell is the difference.

Having the right tools is important no matter what craft you pursue. Not only will it make your life easier, the results you can expect will be much better too.

Therefore, there comes a stage in any woodworker’s career, (whether home hobbyist or working craftsman) where you begin to consider installing a jointer and/or a planer into your shop.

Jointers & Planers – So whats the difference?

While to most beginners the tasks between the two tools seem interchangeable, (so much so it is even possible to buy combined jointer/planer machines), they are in fact different in terms of their function.

The Jointer

closed stand jointer 2

As you may have read in our top 5 jointer review article, a jointer creates flat surfaces along the faces and edges of a piece of lumber.

When you purchase wood from the yard, they will mostly come as rectangular boards. The jointer allows you to ‘shave’ these boards into a variety of thickness, widths, and lengths.

Essentially, the primary job of a jointer is to ensure that two wood pieces can be joined together easily.

The Planer


The planer’s job is to cut the wood into the desired thickness or to its desired parallel face.

Similar to the jointer, the modern planer is a power tool that utilises a cutter head for leveling the surface of the wood. The piece of lumber travels from one end of the tool, passing through the cutter while escorted by a guide wheel.

How to decide whether you need a Planer or a Jointer

The following tips will help you decide what kind of tools your projects require. These steps will help confirm whether you need a planer or a jointer.

Image Credit:

The Wood Finish

There are many places you get your wood from for your project. However, the majority of craftsman will visit their local lumberyard.

There you will find a vast array of wood, however one label that will crop up often will indicate the number of pre-surfaced or finished sides that the wood being sold has.

For example, an S4S labelled piece will have all four sides finished. When a piece of wood has had no finishing made at all, it is known as rough wood or rough lumber.

The majority of beginners buy S4S wood as you can get to work on it straight away without needing to pass it through a jointer of a planer.

However, for S2S pieces, the edges will very often be rough. This is where you will need a jointer to smooth them down, particularly if you plan to join them to other pieces.

If you buy rough lumber you will likely need to use the planer or jointer on all 4 sides of the wood to bring it into a workable condition.

imperfect wood
Image Credit: Wunder Woods

Related Article: Best Biscuit Joiner, find out what type of biscuit joiner suits your woodworking needs!

Imperfect Surfaces and Edges

If the wood you have has rough surfaces or edges you will again need to run them through your tools before you begin.

Where the surface is stained, has bumps, or features uneven edges you will need a jointer to smooth them out.

Moreover, if the wood you have bought has any holes or scratches, you will need to utilise a planer to remove them first, before employing the use of a jointer to smoothen the surface.

Twisted Wood

If the board’s two edges do not stay flat on a plane but twist away from one another you will need to use a jointer to rectify the situation.

A shorter board will normally have a smaller degree of twist and should be an easy enough job on a good jointer. Longer boards that are fully twisted may take you some time.

twisted wood
Image Credit: Wood & Shop

Bent Wood

Again the jointer should be used here. If the wood has bent along the length of its surface, running it through a jointer will make the piece flatter.

A planer under these circumstances will merely treat the wood surface passing through the curve; it will not flatten it out.

the type of wood project
Image Credit: Architecture art designs

The Type of Project

The type of project you are pursuing will also determine the tools you will need.

If you are building something where long pieces of wood need to fit neatly together, you will need a jointer to ensure everything connects flawlessly.

However, if you are using wood where the thickness has to be adjusted, you will need a planer to reduce the wood size.

Furthermore, for tasks demanding two parallel surfaces on a side, you will need a planer.

Bottom Line

Essentially, many woodworking projects will require the use of both machines at one point or another. Therefore, it is beneficial to select the right jointer or planer before you begin. Alternatively you may opt for a combined machine if the budget allows.

Head here to view our top 5 best benchtop jointer reviews.

Image Credits: Architecture Art Design, Wood & Shop, Wunder Woods

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