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Power Planer or Hand Planes

SteveFord's picture

I'm working on filling out my tool collection, and got a little extra cash for Christmas.  My question is, should I get a small set of hand planes or a power planer?  I want to get both, but have neither.  The only other variable is that I don't have a dedicated work bench right now as space is tight.  I'll have more space in six months to a year and will be able to have a dedicated work bench then to make working with the hand planes easier.   I've also considered getting some sharpening stones, and maybe a grinder.  So many tools, so little money...


Steve Ford 

roc's picture

 The short answer is  . . (post #169528, reply #1 of 4)

 The short answer is  . . .


If you are like most people here you will need both.

>a set of planes or a power planer<

That is a little optimistic.  A good hand plane can easily cost four or five hundred dollars for one.  Unless you fudge some how, fettle old good quality planes, buy used planes at a better than normal deal etc., buying several cheeper planes for five hundred dollars may be a waste of money.

Here are three good enough to better quality hand planes to start :

Who said anything about $500 you may ask ?

This is one planer I would look at :

PS: you asked which first didn't you ?  OK I would say in spite of not having a bench to get the hand plane first.

Why :

  • It is more fun to look at and goof with a hand plane even if you are not in the shop using it.
  • You can set it in the house on the coffee table and it will inspire you and if you get a Lie-Neilson it has brass bits and that is extra cool to look at.  ( the significant other in your life may frown on putting the ninety pound power planer on the coffee table to look at to inspire you when you are not in the shop.

:   )

  • Starting out with learning how to handle hand tools  AND SHARPEN THEM is going to pay off big time in the future.  Starting out with a big power tool is going to instill expectations of "set the machine, push the button, get the reward nearly instantaneously with little skill or attention on your part " .  It doesn't work that way with hand tools and so it may take quite a mental adjustment when you do get around to the planes.

I am sure the practical folks here are going to say you can build your bench with the power planer and so is smart to get that first.  They are right.  Get the hand planes first anyway.

:   )


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

cblouin's picture

I'm quite happy with the (post #169528, reply #2 of 4)

I'm quite happy with the following power planer:

Which was about  half the price of the other one. I got a good power planer first because I wanted to mill from rough lumber and bypass the really expensive (and quite limited in selection) lumber from hardware stores. A good hand plane or so is a very valuable asset as well. In my case, I got lucky and found a #5 in the tool chest of my wife's grandfather which is working as new after about 5 hours of cleaning and tuning. I wish that I had a #4 as well. In theory, you could plane rough boards by hands, but the power planer is faster and brings things to thickness (which is very important). 

It is difficult to get started because money and space can be tight, and it is easy to get wrapped up about what you don't have. I sympathize.

However, sharpening stones are a must. I got a combo 1000X/4000X from Lee Valley. Practice on an old set of chisels. I also recommend the Lee Valley honing guide to help you sharpen faster and more precisely (,43072,43078). Hand sharpening is more important, in my opinion, that getting new gadgets because it is necessary to get good performance from the most basic woodworking tools. 

You'll need a truing stone later down the road, but this can wait until your stones are starting to lose their flatness. The grinder can be useful, especially if you need to reshape things or sharpen tool in really bas shape. In this case, it is a casual purchase of about $60 (hardly noticeable once you've got paid for everything else before).

Finally, I made a bench out of framing lumber. Which was a simplified and smaller version of this one ( Total cost was ridiculously small, I think $40-50 in lumber and $80 in pipes and clamps.


Good luck, I wish you more space in 2012: this is an even harder problem to deal with than cash to buy tools.

RalphBarker's picture

The shopping list (post #169528, reply #3 of 4)

I, too, would say yes to both hand planes and a good thickness planer. But, don't forget to include a jointer on your shopping list. You'll need the jointer (or, hand planes) to true up one face on your boards, and to get a good 90° angle on the edges. Once that is done, the thickness planer comes into use to reduce the thickness of the stock to what you want. Remember, the feed rollers of the planer will compress the board flat, then feed it past the cutters. Thus, if you start with a slightly cupped board, for example, you'll end up with a still-cupped board, just thinner, unless you true one side (the side that goes on the bottom in the thickness planer) first.

Thus, priority-wise, I'd suggest hand planes first, then jointer, then thickness planer.

Note that a sled can be used with a thickness planer to get a true face on boards, but holding the board and supporting it on the sled gets complicated, and potentially dangerous if not done properly.

blopar's picture

There are some good (post #169528, reply #4 of 4)

There are some good suggestions in the previous posts, there is no question that at some point in your wood working journey you will need to be proficient in the use of hand tools. Power equipment can do a lot but there is no better way to sweeten a joint or fit a drawer than the use of a hand plane and chisel. I am a big believer in developing basic bench skills first, learning to plane a board flat and to thickness with a smoothing plane will teach you a great deal and will vastly improve your overall skill set when it comes to power tools. Understanding and becoming competent in sharpening those tools is a skill that will make working wood so much more enjoyable not to mention easier.

That said, I echo the suggestion of  planes(chisels) , jointer and planer first as opposed to the thicknessing planer first. The jointer and planer work in tandem without one the other is ineffective. It is true that you can joint or flatten a board with a planer and sled but attempting that on a board longer than 3-4 feet is dangerous.

Good luck!