Two New Benchtop Planers

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Benchtop Planers

The problem with standard planers isn’t just that installing fresh knives costs time and money, but that knives don’t stay fresh for long. A stray staple, grain of sand, or even a hard knot can create a nick, resulting in a raised line that will haunt you until the blade is shifted or replaced. Many woodworkers settle for a less than perfect cut.

Insert-tooth technology offers an alternative. Instead of two or three long (full width) knives, the machines featured here use 26 small, square-shaped cutters (inserts) that can be changed individually. Now, fixing a nick is a two-minute operation: remove the chip deflector, loosen the set screw and rotate the damaged insert to expose a fresh edge.

Until now, woodworkers wanting this convenience had two options: installing an aftermarket cutterhead ($500) or buying a $3,000 stationary machine. Now there’s a third: benchtop planers equipped with segmented cutterheads. Surprisingly, these cutting-edge machines cost about as much as a straight-blade planer. To investigate the claims about segmented cutterheads, we put the Rikon and General to to the test. For comparison purposes, we ran pieces of the same boards through the shop’s straight-bladed DeWalt DW735x.

There is a difference between these two planers and pricier planers. On most high-end cutterheads, the inserts are arranged along a spiral; a few also use curve-edged teeth for smoother shearing cuts. The Rikon and General employ a less costly means to the same end: a six-sided cutterhead with a staggered tooth arrangement that mimics a helical cut.

Benchtop Planers

One other difference between these two cutterheads and pricier versions is that the inserts are sharpened on only two edges. The unsharpened edges are used for registration (making change-outs a cinch), but another pair of fresh edges would have been appreciated. 

Compared to our freshly-set DeWalt, the Rikon and General left more tool marks on straight-grained stock (see photo above) but it’s important to remember that a planer isn’t a finishing tool. These marks quickly disappeared with a light sanding. We didn't appreciate the insert-tooth advantage until we planed some curly maple. The new planers weren’t perfect but they edged out the Dewalt. Neither created any deep patches of tearout that might trash a treasured board. Feeding boards against the grain resulted in significantly less tearout with the segmented-head planers than the straight-bladed competitor.(This isn't something that you'd want to do, but with figured stock, like crothches and burls, it's unavoidable.)

Bottom Line
A straight-blade planer can hold its own at first, but when a nick happens, the new planers take the lead. The ease with which you can replace the damaged tooth is downright revolutionary. 

If you're looking to buy a new planer, or forsee reclaimed or figured wood in your future, these models offer two affordable entries into cutting-edge technology. When the included HSS teeth wear out, consider stepping up to carbide. From there, you'll be ready to run hundreds of feet of stock. 

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