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    How to Use a Planer

    Of course, you can buy boards that are already surfaced--smooth and ready to go. But they only come in certain thicknesses: usually 3/4 in. and 1 in. thick. And those thicknesses don’t always work in every project.

    A planer makes boards thinner, one perfect layer at a time. And if you want to work with rough lumber, which is available in a much wider variety of grain patterns and species, you’ll need a planer, and a jointer. Beware: The planer doesn’t flatten or straighten boards. The jointer does that.

    A planer doesn’t guarantee that a board will be flat. If it goes in curved, it will come out the same way. So make sure one face of the board is already flat, and run that side down against the planer’s bed.

    With the planer, at least one face of the board must be straight and flat to start with. If a board goes in the planer looking like a banana, it will come out looking the same way.

    The good news is that benchtop planers are pretty affordable, yet can handle boards up to 12 in. wide. Also, if the knives are properly installed (read the manual) and relatively sharp, the planer is dirt-simple to use and works like a dream.

    The flattening process does start with the jointer. Once a face is flat, put that face down on the planer bed or table.

    Then crank the cutterhead to make cuts in small increments. Repeat until the desired thickness is reached.

    Just like you do on the jointer, for best results you should run the board through the machine so the grain is running downhill in relation to the cutterhead. Think of petting a dog or cat, and you’ll get the concept.

    Don’t take off more than about 1/32 in. at a time with a benchtop planer. Measure the board first, and then use the planer’s built-in thickness guide or height scale to set the planer accordingly.

    All benchtop planers have some sort of indicator for how heavy a cut you are taking. You just stick the nose of the board in (with the machine off) and lower the cutterhead. Take only about 1/32 at a time with a benchtop planer.

    Support the board with your hands to keep it level as it goes in, then be ready to give it a little support and help on the way out. Sometimes the feed rollers have trouble pushing the board, especially toward the end. Feel free to pull on the back end of a board if it stalls.