A tool that has long been an essential component of the carpenter’s toolkit but now also in its electrically-powered form is the hand planer. The handheld electric planer, also sometimes referred to as the power planer should not be confused with its larger bench-top cousin which is mostly known as a jointer planer in the UK but sometimes also referred to as a planer.
In this review of electric hand planers, we first examine what an electric planer is best used for before turning our attention to what features to look for when purchasing one. Following this, we then go on to examine which electric hand planers are popular with UK consumers.
What can I use an electric hand planer for?
For the DIYer or the woodworking professional, electric planers have three main uses:
- 1Firstly, and probably most obviously, the electric planer is primarily designed for removing a few millimetres of material from the surface of a workpiece, such as when levelling a surface or downsizing, by a millimetre amount, an oversized structure. The typical example of this that is often used is the shaving off of a few millimetres off the edge of a wooden door that has slightly expanded due to natural changes in its moisture content, and which have caused it to start 'sticking' on the door frame.
- 2The second use of the electric planer is to create rebates (also known as rabbets) in a workpiece, which are useful for certain types of woodworking jobs such as furniture building or window making.
- 3Finally, many electric planers have been designed with grooves etched into their underside that can be used to chamfer the edges of workpieces. This is particularly useful for making a wooden shelf, cabinet or similar, where smooth chamfered edges are desired for both safety and aesthetic reasons.
What to look for in an electric hand planer
Today there are a number of different brands and models of the handheld power planer that are available for purchase, each with its own particular features and technical specifications. Therefore, when looking to buy one, the DIYer (or tradesperson) needs to be aware of and understand the various options available on the machines in order to make the best purchase possible according to one’s needs and personal budget. So what features might the electric planer possess? Let’s take a peek…
Corded vs cordless
As is true of most power tools today, one of the key early decisions one has to make when buying a new machine is the type of system that will power it. With electric hand planers, the two key options are either mains-powered (corded) or the cordless variety that runs on a battery or two. Which type power system to subscribe to depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to, the degree to which the planer will be used, personal preference, the location of where the majority of the planing work will be carried out, availability of a mains power supply socket or access to a universal power tool battery system. So for example, if the majority of planing work will be performed outside, where access to a mains electricity power system is in short supply, then a battery-powered planer would most likely be the most convenient option. On the other hand, if a lot of hand planing work has to be carried out over a concentrated period, then not having to deal with ensuring that one has enough charged batteries at hand is a good argument for opting for a corded version of the power planer.
Once again as with most power tools, the higher the power rating of a power tool, the more one can usually do with the machine. In the case of the electric planer, a higher-rated power system means that more material can be shaved off with each pass of the power tool. In addition, more powerful electric planers can tackle harder woods with greater ease and produce a more refined finish. For corded mains-powered machines, power is measured in Watts (W) while for battery-powered devices, power is usually indicated in Volts (V).
Number of blades
Different makes of electric hand planers may have different numbers of blades and this is usually correlated with the quality of the machine. Better designed machines will have more blades as the higher number translates into smoother and more refined cuts. In general, basic planers will have a single blade while more professional machines will have 2 or more blades that rotate at high speed to facilitate the cutting action.
The planing width refers to the width of material that can be removed with each pass of the hand planer. This is determined by the actual width of the planer blade. Although, larger planers are in existence, the majority of consumer planers on the market today have a common planing width of 82mm. Although parallel passes of the planer can be used to cover a wider area, this tends to leave a noticeable mark on the material at the boundary of each pass (sometimes referred to as 'plough lines'). Therefore, anything wider than 82mm that needs planing would be better accomplished using a bench-top jointer planer or the planing facility of a planer thicknesser.
Maximum depth of cut
The depth of material that can be removed with each pass of the electric planer can usually be set on the planer in the order of fractions of millimetres. Each planer has a maximum depth that it can be set to which is usually in the range of 2-4mm and goes hand-in-hand with the power of the machine, so higher powered machines can plane off more material with each pass of the tool. Obviously repeated passes of the tool can accomplish the shaving off of greater depths of the material, so even low-powered planers with lower maximum depth settings can still ultimately achieve the same result as higher-powered machines albeit with less efficiency.
Maximum rebate depth
Electric hand planers usually come with a fence that can be attached to the machine to guide it along and plane only a small section of the workpiece by using only part of the width of the planer to do the cutting. This can be used to make rebates (also known as rabbets) in wood. With some specialised planers designed specifically for rebating, the depth of the rebate can be unlimited. However, with most regular electric power planers, the motor housing limits the maximum depth of rebate the planer can perform. Therefore, making sure that the planer of choice has the capacity to do the size of rebates required should be assessed before purchasing.
Most makes and models of electric planer are designed to rotate their cutting heads at a specific speed which is a function of power and structural design. In general, higher rotational speeds produce smoother more refined cuts and should be preferred over slower spinning machines.
Dust collection system
Like other woodworking tools, electric planers often produce a lot of sawdust and debris which can make for a messy work environment if not dealt with expediently. The best way to deal with this waste is to have some sort of dust collection system integrated into the power tool itself. This usually comes in the form of a dust collection bag that can be attached to the planer or the ability to attach a vacuum system to the power tool to aspirate the sawdust away. Well-designed machines will also provide the choice of ejecting the sawdust and debris from either side of the planer to maximise its versatility and so that it can be used by both right-handed and left-handed operators.
V grooves under the shoe
Most planers will have one or more grooves located on the underside of the front shoe of the planer. These are designed for chamfering the corners of workpieces, one of the principle uses of the electric planer.
Finally, well-designed handheld power planers will have a retractable foot on the underside of the machine usually integrated into the rear shoe. The purpose of this is to prevent the accidental damaging of the blades or of the surface on which the planer is placed if it is accidentally put down while the blades are still spinning.
Popular CORDED Electric Hand Planers in the UK
|Corded Electric Planer|
|Bosch PHO 1500|
|Bosch GHO 26-82 D|
|Black & Decker KW750K-GB|
Popular CORDLESS Electric Hand Planers in the UK
** Weight depends on size of battery used
Electric Hand Planer Reviews
Bosch PHO 1500 Review
The PHO 1500 from Bosch is the German company's contribution to the electric hand planer category for the DIYer. It represents the company's most basic model of electric planer, coming with a minimum of features and accessories but which is also inexpensive. As one has come to expect from Bosch equipment, the PHO 1500 is excellent quality, both in build (even though built in China rather than Germany) and function.
Feature-wise, the Bosch PHO 1500 is powered by a 550 Watt motor, which is relatively under-powered compared to its competitors. However, the no-load speed on the device is 19,500 rpm which makes it one of the highest belt rotation rates in this hand planer category and partly explains why the Bosch electric planer generates such a nice finish on the workpiece. Unsurprisingly given its low power, the maximum cutting depth of the machine in any one pass is a low 1.5 mm. Deeper planing will require more passes of the Bosch planer in contrast to higher-powered competitors that can take off more material at once. For less material removal, the depth setting on the PHO 1500 can be reduced by 0.25-millimetre steps to a minimum cut depth of 0.25 mm.
The single blade on the Bosch PHO 1500 is replaceable, something that is not always seen on electric hand planers of this price, and the blade-changing process requires the simple use of a hex key to loosen a couple of screws before the blade easily slides out. The planing width on the Bosch PHO 1500 is the standard 82 mm, the same as just about every other consumer electric hand planer out there, so getting replacement blades should not difficult. The Bosch blade itself is the more robust tungsten carbide type, which ensures a long working life. It is also reversible so its rear edge can be used for cutting when the front edge has become worn. Like most modern-day electric hand planers, the Bosch PHO 1500 incorporates a spring-loaded parking rest, that allows the machine to be put down safely even when the blade is still spinning.
The Bosch PHO 1500 electric planer can also be used to make rebates, although only to a maximum depth of 8mm before the machine's body prevents it from going any deeper. In addition, the Bosch PHO 1500 has three different size grooves on its underside that also allow the machine to be used to make chamfers.
The weight of the Bosch PHO 1500 is a relatively low 2.4 kg, making it one of the lightest electric planers available, while the noise generated by the machine is relatively moderate especially when compared to older machines. Ultimately, the Bosch PHO 1500 works well and produces a nice finish on a range of wood types including the more difficult hardwoods.
On the more negative side, one of the biggest complaints with the Bosch PHO 1500 is that it comes with practically no accessories. Most poignant is the lack of a dust collection container, which means the ample amount of dust and debris typically produced by planers is discharged into the surroundings, making clean-up a bit of a nightmare. Indeed, it can take far longer to clean up the workspace after a planing session than it does to do the actual work. A Bosch dust bag is available for purchase separately, but this seems like an overpriced accessory, decreasing the value-for-money one gets when buying this Bosch planer. Fortunately, a vacuum cleaner can be attached to the device to prevent a mess. However, one has to make sure that the right vacuum hose size or adapter is available to make the connection. Importantly, unlike other electric hand planers, the vacuum port on the PHO 1500 is only accessible on the right-hand side of the power tool. This can make it troublesome for left-handed individuals to operate the planer, since either sawdust will exit the planer in their direction or, if one is connected, the dust collection bag or vacuum hose will get in the way.
Other useful accessories that also need to be purchased separately, adding to the overall cost of the machine, are the parallel guide and the rebating depth guide. In addition, we always advocate for power tools to come with their own carry case for ease of storage and transportation, however, the Bosch PHO 1500, comes with no such case and finding a third-party one that fits is difficult. A final minor grievance with the Bosch PHO 1500 is that the power cable is slightly shorter than what we would have liked to see on an electric hand planer.
Overall, the Bosch PHO 1500 is a high-quality planer from a reputable company that performs its function well and produces an excellent finish. It is part of Bosch's green line of power tools which have been designed for the non-professional user, and represent machines that will perform well and last when used infrequently. However, in its current form, the Bosch PHO 1500 comes only as a skeleton tool, requiring the user to purchase somewhat essential accessories independently. Although the tool itself is exceptionally good value for money, the additional purchase of these accessories can rapidly take the overall cost of the Bosch planer to the level of a premium-priced tool.