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Helical vs straight blade planers

rivers's picture

I've been woodworking for 35+ years but now am retired and am spending more time in the shop.  I mainly do furniture projects and am considering updating my entry level thickness plainer which has served me well over the years. My question is--are helical planers that much superior to straight blade planers that they justify the additional cost?  They are quieter but is the finish which they produce superior?  Is there less chipout? I'm considering a 15" Machine.  Any help you tool junkies can give in helping me make this decision would be appreciated.

Len Rivers

DonStephan's picture

No experience, but wanted to (post #159676, reply #1 of 3)

No experience, but wanted to let you know there are apparently two types of helical cutters.  On both, I think the cutter inserts are arranged spirally around the shaft.  On one, the cutting edges are rotated so that one corner begins cutting first - a true shearing action.  The other type allegedly has the cutting edges parallel to the surface of the table, so that the cutting action is the same as on a traditional cutting head, essentially with a number of short cutters rather than long ones.  Think I saw this on PW blog.

3fingerjack's picture

Spiral, Helical & Shelical (post #159676, reply #2 of 3)

Hi Len,

I have a 15 year old Laguna XSD 12" Jointer/Planer. It came with straight HSS knives and did a decent job. The planer feed rate generates 72 cuts per inch. The planed surface was pretty smooth so I could start sanding at 100 or 120 grit. You can find planers with higher cuts per inch which equates to a smoother surface. However, I was frequently getting nicks having to sharpen the HSS knives. I could have converted to carbide knives, but had read about helical cutters and was tempted. I eventually converted my cutter head to a Byrd Tools Shelix cutter head.

There are several variations of spiral/helical/shelical cutter heads and some are better than others. Some use a flexible HSS straight blade wrapped in a spiral around the cutter head, others use numerous small carbide cutters set at varying angles to the cutterhead. I suggest you use a good search engine to see what sounds best for you.

I chose the Shelix because it provides true shearing and uses four sided carbide blades. When one blade gets nicked you just turn it 90 degrees to expose a fresh side. It's much quieter than the straight blades. The feed pressure is dramatically reduced because of the shearing action. I notice the reduced pressure most while using the jointer but also note I can take bigger bites when using the planer without straining the 3HP motor.

The Shelix provides a superior surface, without tear out when planing highly figured woods. I've read some complaints from guys who say the surface of a board planed with a helical cutter ends up wavy or scalloped. My planed surfaces are not wavy/scalloped. Dust collection is supposed to be better with the shearing cutting action because you get shavings versus chips as generated by straight blades. I never had a problem with dust collection while using my straight blades but have noticed the shavings from the Shelix are very light. If you use your Shelix sawdust for mulch in the garden you better do it on a calm day and work it into the soil because a little breeze will carry it away quickly.


"There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them." George Orwell

jtarva's picture

Helical vs straight blade planers (post #159676, reply #3 of 3)

I recently bought a Grizzly 12 inch jointer G0609x with a helical cutter head to replace an old 8 inch Delt jointer. Because I didn't want to take wood from the helical cutter head on the jointer and run it thru my 15 inch planer with standard blades, I installed a Byrd Shelix cutter head on my Grizzly planer. The improvement in surface with the helical cutter heads is dramatic. There are no more ripples. There is no longer a need to hand plane the surface to get rid of planer ripples. I don't think that I call tell the difference between the two heads. They both give excellent surfaces. The marked decrease in noise is a nice bonus. The conversion of the planer blades was about a 6 hour job but went very smoothly thanks to excellent printed instructions from Grizzly. You do have to ask for the instructions because, for some reason, they don't sent them automatically.