Woodworking Tool Reviews

How Does A Wood Planer Work? How To Sharpen Wood Planer Blades?

Hands of a carpenter planed wood, workplace

If you have years of experience in woodworking and are a professional in the trade, then you probably already recognize the words “wood planer” and you probably have a pretty good idea about what this particular tool is used for. If you are new to woodworking however, you may be a little uncertain.

Wood planers can be super handy for your woodworking project and can add a bit of an extra professional touch to anything you set about doing. It makes your wood smooth and beautiful and can even be used to make your corners look a little bit nicer. Overall, it’s one of the easiest power tools to use and get the hang of as a woodworker, but first you have to understand what it is.

What is a Wood Planer?

A wood planer can smooth out any piece of wood you may decide to work with. Put simple, a wood planer shaves your wood down and gets rid of any rough or too thick area. It’s a little like running a hot knife across butter, except requires a little more force. 

A wood planer is perfect for professional use or at home, DIY projects. It can reduce thickness and make a surface smooth super easily and can even be used on some laminate materials. Not only can your planer be used in your woodworking projects, but it can also be a great little tool to have around the house if your floorboards don’t line up or your bottom cabinets get stuck. 

History of the Wood Planer

Contrary to what you may think when you see the design of modern wood planers, this woodworking tool has been around since the Romans and even Ancient Egypt! 

Although they may not really resemble more modern wood planers, archaeologists have dug up ancient planers that were used by the Romans and look pretty similar to the typical hand planer. The main design remains unchanged: an iron core covered in wood with an iron wedge used to smooth down the wooden plank. 

In the 19th century, Leonard Bailey began to make wood planers fully cast in iron. These wood planers look more similar to modern wood planers, but you can definitely still see some differences. These planers were so good though, that the company known today as Stanley Works ended up buying the patents and producing them commercially. 

How Does a Planer Work?

Now that you know a little bit more about the best wood planer to buy, what it is, and what it does for your woodworking project, it’s time to learn how to use it. If you manage to find a wood planer that you like without getting a bit of a headache, then good for you! It can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to deciding which type of wood planer to purchase so if you’ve already made the call, then you’re one step ahead.

If you haven’t already purchased a wood planer, that’s alright. You might as well know how they work first and if you don’t think you’d ever end up using it, then it’s better to find that out beforehand.

For the first time using your wood planer, then you’ll have to set your table to the right height. This may take a couple of different tries but that’s alright. Once you’ve got the table set, you shouldn’t have to change it again, so take the time to make it the perfect height before reaching for your wood planer.

Now, if you’ve got an electric planer, don’t forget to switch it on. Unsurprisingly, it will work better that way, but you’ll be surprised how often someone may forget their planer isn’t plugged in. After getting it plugged in and set up, all you have to do is feed your wood into the planer. 

On electric planers, there should be an in-feed roller that comes into contact with your wooden plank and takes it right on through the machine without much hassle. If you have a manual planer, then you’ll be doing all the brunt work, passing the planer over the wood until it’s as smooth as you want it to be.

Of course, one thing to always keep in mind when running a planer over your wood is which direction the grain of the wood flows. If you run the wood through the planer incorrectly or against the grain, you could ruin your board and have it come out with more chips and damage than when it went in. Keep the blade running the same way as the grain no matter what in order to get the best results. 

In order to ensure your board face is smooth and flat instead of smooth and crooked, it’s a good idea to have a reference face on one side of the board. This works if you already have one face smooth and just want to smooth out the rough side of the board as well, but what if both sides are rough and in need of planing?

If you have a jointer, this makes it all that much easier. A jointer and a planer is a great combination for your woodworking projects. Run the board through the jointer and you’ll immediately have your reference face of the board. After that, you can run your plank through the wood planer as normal and come out with a completely smooth plank.

Types of Wood Planers

There are a couple different types of wood planers available today. There is, of course, the traditional hand held version that closely resembles Leonard Bailey’s from the 19th century, but there are also electric planers. In most cases, an electric wood planer will cost more than a hand held, but there are some exceptions. If you’re purchasing a collectable hand held planer, for example, or searching for one of Bailey’s original designs, it will cost more.

When using a hand held planer, you will need to rely more on your own strength than the will of the machine to get your board smooth. You’ll definitely feel a bit more like a traditional woodworker for the early centuries, but if you don’t mind the extra work, then a hand held planer is a great option.

There are different types of planer power tools other than just hand held or electric as well. For example, there is the shoulder planer that has a blade at the edge of the planer instead of in the middle. There is also such a thing as a chisel planer, a molding planer, a grooving planer, and even a metal planer. 

You can purchase a different planer for specific uses or woodworking projects, or just get a simple, traditional planer. In fact, unless you’re doing very specific woodworking and you know that you need a certain wood planer for a project, a regular wood planer would work just fine for just about anything. 

Surface Planer vs. Thickness Planer

If you’re looking at an electric planer, then you’ll notice that they are often marked as either a surface planer or a thickness planer. Some companies may use the terms interchangeably, but there are some differences that are worth noting.

A surface planer may look a bit more complicated, but its design allows the planer to be used on all surfaces. The surface planer is better for producing a reference face than a thickness planer is and works great at creating a nice smooth surface.

In general, a surface planer has a more focused target and won’t work over as great an area as a thickness planer might. You’ll find that a surface planer also tends to make more shallow cuts.

Both the surface planer and thickness planer can look quite similar.

Let’s move on to the thickness planer which might be better than a surface planer in some situations. A thickness planer takes down the thickness of a board in a smooth, even manner. The thickness planer is good for producing a consistent thickness throughout a board. However, take note that the thickness planer may not do as great of a job at creating a reference board as the surface planer might.

The thickness planer will cover a wider area at a time since its goal is to be consistent and trim down excess thickness, so it comes with a few more blades than the surface planer.

Another unique part of the thickness planer is its base. When you get a table thickness planer, it often has a base where you can position the wood. This way, you’ll have more space while you’re working on the wood.

How to Sharpen a Wood Planer Blade?

Now that you’ve got yourself a wood planer that you’re using, there will come a time when the blade gets dull and you need to sharpen it. Luckily, you can go months or even years before this needs to be done depending on how often you use your wood planer and what kind of projects you use it for.

There is, of course, always the option to just purchase new blades from the store, but this will be more expensive than you may like. It is possible to do it yourself though if you don’t want to spend a lot of extra money though and would rather re-sharpen the blades at home. Keep in mind that it isn’t particularly easy, though, and will require a bit of hard work.

First off, make sure you are cleaning the blades regularly. Sometimes resin can get stuck on the edge of the blade and make it seem dull when really, all it needs is a good cleaning. If you’ve done this and your planer still needs to be sharpened, then proceed ahead with the next options.

Use Sandpaper

You can use sandpaper to sharpen a planer blade. The sandpaper will leave little marks on your blade, but as long as you don’t mind, it’s a pretty good method. If you do mind, then you can always buff out the blade afterwards and make it nice and smooth again.

In order to do this, you’ll need a razor knife, a screwdriver, a polishing or buffing compound, a leather strip, and three types of sandpaper: 220, 320, 400, and 600 wet/dry.

Cut the sandpaper into thin stripes and then start with the 220. Put the sandpaper on a flat surface and move the blade across it five or six times. Do this on both sides of the bevel plane and then switch to the 320 grit sandpaper. Repeat the process on both sides of the bevel plane, slowly going from the 220 grit to the 600 grit sandpaper. 

After you’ve finished with the sandpaper, take the buffing compound and rub it onto the leather strip. Use this on both sides of the blade, but be careful as it will be very sharp. Test the blade by cutting through a newspaper. If it comes out smooth, the blade is sharp. If not, try smoothing the blade some more and cleaning it.


Purchasing a wood planer can really upgrade your woodworking skills and come in handy for your woodworking project. It helps smooth out any plank you may have and can make big projects a little easier. You’ll have to give it a little maintenance and keep it clean, but wood planers are reliable and easy enough to use, they shouldn’t be any hassle at all.