What is the Difference Between a Jointer and a Planer

What is the Difference Between a Jointer and a Planer?

Among the many power tools in a home woodworking shop, beyond the table saw and chop saw, are jointers and planers.  For the serious woodworker, one or both of these tools can be indispensable for woodworking projects.

This article will define and distinguish between these tools in an effort to help you decide which to have, if not both, and what types of projects they will help you tackle.  Of course, if your budget can handle both, you are fully covered.  But if it can’t, we’ll guide you into the right choice for starters.

First, let’s learn what each is and what they do.

What is a Jointer?

What is a Jointer?

With a name like that, you’ll be expecting it has something to do with joining pieces of wood together, and you’d be correct.

A jointer is a piece of equipment that creates straight and square edges on your board so it can be joined with other boards to create a larger one.  If you think the edges of dimensional lumber being joined together for a tabletop, a desktop, or shelving, you’re on target. 

What Is The Main Purpose of a Jointer?

While you’d like to think the lumber you’ve just purchased at the local lumberyard is straight and square, serious woodworkers taking on serious projects will want to make sure it is.   A jointer can give them that certainly, and they’ll know the boards will join easily and without gaps and create a smooth and even surface for the new dining room table.  Flat surfaces on the tabletop or desktop are the desired result, and jointers help that happen.

It’s a starter for many projects as you prepare your lumber.  It will provide you with a perfectly flat face and serve to square up one edge of the wood that will side up to another to create an even joining with no gap.

But, you also want a flat surface once the boards are joined, which is where the second tool comes in.

What is a Planer?

What is a Planer?

Planers are a piece of equipment equivalent to a hand planer, only powered and planing the entire surface of a piece of lumber rather than a specific strip or joint.

A planer has a flatbed to support your board as it rides through the machine.  The cutting head of the planer is above the flatbed and runs the width of the bed.  Rollers feed the lumber along the flatbed under and against the cutting head, removing a layer of the wood as it moves through and out of the machine. 

What is the Main Purpose of a Planer?

The result is a smooth and uniform flat surface on the board.  Turning the board over and running it through the planer again creates parallel surfaces. 

The combined effect of jointer and planer use gives you:

  • Straight and perfectly square edges that join lumber together smoothly and without gaps; and,
  • Parallel surfaces on the lumber so that when joined are flat, smooth, and level.

Again, think new tabletop or desktop, or new shelves, or even a new benchtop for your workshop.  Speaking of benchtops, you can opt for a benchtop planer to save a little money instead of a floor model planer.

The Main Differences Between Jointer and Planer

Now that you know what each of these tools is, it becomes a bit easier to understand their differences. 

In the thickness planer vs. jointer discussion, those differences are pretty clear:

  • The jointer will give you a perfectly square single edge and flatten that single side, whereas the planer will give you consistent thickness and parallel surfaces.
  • Jointers have their cutting knives embedded in the table with the wood passing over them, whereas planers cut from above the wood.

However, each is very useful when working with rough lumber that you’ve purchased directly from the sawmill.

Are There Such Things as a Planer/Jointer Combo?

As a matter of fact, yes, there are.  They use a single cutter head to perform the tasks of each and convert from one to another as needed for your project.

They require less workshop footprint than separate machines and are less expensive than if you purchased each machine separately.  There is a time investment in converting from one to the other, though, and thus are not as convenient as moving from one machine to the other to move your project along.

They do require a 220-volt outlet and are heavy to move around.  Even though they are less expensive than buying each machine separately, they are nonetheless expensive.

What is Better – Jointer or Planer?

There is an easy answer to the jointer vs. planer question:  it depends.

What’s the project?  What type of lumber are you using?  Is it straight from the sawmill, or is it dimensional lumber purchased from a reliable lumber yard?

Separate and apart from the nature of your likely projects, many serious woodworkers believe you’ll be able to accomplish more with a planer on its own.  Additionally, there are other options for the work a jointer does, and any serious woodworker’s home shop already has a power tool for that purpose with a bit of imagination.

Can I Use a Table Saw Instead of a Jointer?

Funny, you should ask.  We recently discussed this very question in another piece, and instead of repeating ourselves here, check it out.  You’ll find it here.

It includes an excellent video where imagination and woodworking skills helped create alternatives to a jointer using your table saw.  The end result was the same and didn’t require another expensive piece of shop machinery.

Can You Use a Planer as a Jointer?

There are so many clever and skilled woodworkers who always seem to find workarounds to make up for limited tool inventory or poor wood, and in the wood planer or jointer discussion, cleverness once again shines.

The answer is yes, but with some limitations.  The key limitation is the size of your planer – the width of the bed and cutting knife and the thickness of wood that can be run through the chamber.

Rather than words, we found a video that demonstrates both the cleverness/skill aspect and the limitations.  You’ll find that video here, and it’s worth a watch.

Some Final Thoughts On Planers and Jointers

For those of you on a budget, this piece offers enough distinction between the two machines and their uses to make an informed decision on which to purchase first.  We say first because eventually, you will want both in your woodworking shop. You’ll likely tackle projects that require both – again, tabletops, desktops, and shelves.

A benchtop 13-inch planer can be found for between $300 and $400 at the large DIY stores and online retailers, with 16-inch models running much higher.  A jointer will run you between $250 and $400.  A planer/jointer combo can be found for between $350 and $750.

Of course, they do run higher for more well-known brands and larger capacities, too. 

But they will make excellent additions to join your table saw and miter saw and expand your shop’s capabilities substantially.  So be sure to keep them on your list.