How essential is a wood thickness planer?

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Stuart M

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I've interested in building a quality chess board and chopping board (for home use), and I've been watching a few videos of folk making these. A lot of them use expensive-looking wood planing machines, and these seem be work fairly flawlessly.

Can I achieve passable results with handheld planers? Obviously these boards would just be for personal use, but I would still want them to look fairly professional, but would consider making for friends / neighbours if they were suitable impressed to want to pay for one. To be honest, spending my days building chess board and chopping boards and selling them locally would be a dream...

I currently have a fairly cheap electric planer (unused, so far), and will probably look to add a couple of manual planers to my tool collections in the near future.

I'm thinking that an automatic planer is probably a luxury that I don't really need, but budget would be around £150 if I was to buy one.

Thoughts?

Thanks all!
 
Are you referring to a thicknesser? Chess boards and chopping boards can be dangerous through a thicknesser as it can catch and even explode! Mostly I think people tend to use a drum sander for that purpose- and they are not cheap though there are YouTube videos on how to build your own
 
If your looking at end grain chopping boards and end grain chess boards then I'd be wary, as post above, planing end grain is fraught with risk and problematic for cheap planer/thicknesser. Lots of sanding more likely better option.
 
Planing end grain is fraught with risk and problematic for cheap planer/thicknesser.

A few years ago a friend - who after watching several YT videos wanted to be a part of the chopping board maker crowd - ran a 8 inch width end grain board through his Triton thicknesser and absolutely destroyed both the machine and the workpiece. I wish I still had the photos he sent me of the aftermath but I'd definitely support avoiding doing the same thing!
 
A few years ago a friend - who after watching several YT videos wanted to be a part of the chopping board maker crowd - ran a 8 inch width end grain board through his Triton thicknesser and absolutely destroyed both the machine and the workpiece. I wish I still had the photos he sent me of the aftermath but I'd definitely support avoiding doing the same thing!
Lucky it was only wood and machine, if the blades shatter or the blade holder lets go it could cause serious bodily damage too!
 
I trust the OP was thinking of getting the individual staves to identical dimensions - a thicknesser is indeed great for that. Putting the finished end grain board would be terrifying.

On the plus side, a router sled with a spoilboard flattening bit is great for end grain.

Those end grain boards do need really consistent sizes pieces. I don't think a hand held electric planer will give anywhere near the accuracy you need. A hand plane with a lot of care would be fine, but precision is the difference between looking great and rubbish!

Do you have a mitre saw? Accurately cutting sections to the correct length after the first glue up will at least minimise the sanding or flattening of end grain you have to do.
 
I've interested in building a quality chess board and chopping board (for home use), and I've been watching a few videos of folk making these. A lot of them use expensive-looking wood planing machines, and these seem be work fairly flawlessly.

Can I achieve passable results with handheld planers? Obviously these boards would just be for personal use, but I would still want them to look fairly professional, but would consider making for friends / neighbours if they were suitable impressed to want to pay for one. To be honest, spending my days building chess board and chopping boards and selling them locally would be a dream...

I currently have a fairly cheap electric planer (unused, so far), and will probably look to add a couple of manual planers to my tool collections in the near future.

I'm thinking that an automatic planer is probably a luxury that I don't really need, but budget would be around £150 if I was to buy one.

Thoughts?

Thanks all!
For general woodworking a planer/thicknesser is about the most time saving and quality improving bit of kit you could buy.
Hand held electric planes are definitely not - they are for rough work, door fitting etc.
For your purposes there is a lot of other kit you need. Belt or RO sander perhaps?
You could consider doing it all by hand and passing on the machines. Either way a steep learning curve!
PS "chopping board" is often taken to mean end grain but for most purposes this not necessary. Butchers use end grain blocks but they tend to be massive and 3" thick etc.
 
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I trust the OP was thinking of getting the individual staves to identical dimensions - a thicknesser is indeed great for that. Putting the finished end grain board would be terrifying.

On the plus side, a router sled with a spoilboard flattening bit is great for end grain.

Those end grain boards do need really consistent sizes pieces. I don't think a hand held electric planer will give anywhere near the accuracy you need. A hand plane with a lot of care would be fine, but precision is the difference between looking great and rubbish!

Do you have a mitre saw? Accurately cutting sections to the correct length after the first glue up will at least minimise the sanding or flattening of end grain you have to do.
No not terrifying, I’ve done it quite a few times and all it needs is a sacrificial piece on one end to prevent breakout. Obviously you take fairly small cuts, I suppose it helped that my Minimax planer thicknesser is a good big solid one with Tersa blades, but all easy enough. Started off putting the board across the top till it was all down to the same level then put through the thicknesser, no drama, and no explosions and huge savings on time and work than other ways.
Ian
 
No not terrifying, I’ve done it quite a few times and all it needs is a sacrificial piece on one end to prevent breakout. Obviously you take fairly small cuts, I suppose it helped that my Minimax planer thicknesser is a good big solid one with Tersa blades, but all easy enough. Started off putting the board across the top till it was all down to the same level then put through the thicknesser, no drama, and no explosions and huge savings on time and work than other ways.
Ian
Big solid machine with tersa blade great, but OP looking at £150 max for a planer thicknesses, your tersa probably 4 times that cost new on its own!
 
there are YouTube videos on how to build your own
Yeah
I've watched a number of those, and tbh its not an accurate bit of kit. Handy yes to approximately flatten something, but you'll need to use a hand sander (random orbital etc) afterwards.

I'm not being critical of diy drum sanders really, they are very handy, especially on interlocking grains, or twisty stuff like yew where its impossible to thickness without tearout. Pretty much any type of drum sander is a real boon there.

It can be difficult if people dont put their home location on their sig, so you see stuff that is ideal in a want, but is it close to them, who knows.
So they could miss out on a bargain or the ideal thing they need/want.

eg nice jet 10/20 drum sander here. Needs some attention but ideal, and only £100 start price
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/27641647...JZniNuQAigF3j6erhZ7v5bAHrc|tkp:Bk9SR5ahzrPXYw
 
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You would not get the results you would be looking for from a £150 machine so could you just sand to required finish using a RAS ?

Not sure if you've made a typo or I'm misunderstanding - do you mean sand after using an RAS? I'm assuming an RAS is the same as a mitre saw.

Anyway, definitely not averse to a bit of sanding and definitely an option I'd consider.


How about a router sledge on runners?

Don't have a router yet, but been looking at various options!

Are you referring to a thicknesser? Chess boards and chopping boards can be dangerous through a thicknesser as it can catch and even explode! Mostly I think people tend to use a drum sander for that purpose- and they are not cheap though there are YouTube videos on how to build your own

It sounds like I don't know the difference between a drum sander and a planer.

If your looking at end grain chopping boards and end grain chess boards then I'd be wary, as post above, planing end grain is fraught with risk and problematic for cheap planer/thicknesser. Lots of sanding more likely better option.

I don't really understand the 'end grain' thing, so guess I need to do a bit of reading on this.

And yes, a bit of sanding never hurt anyone!

I trust the OP was thinking of getting the individual staves to identical dimensions - a thicknesser is indeed great for that. Putting the finished end grain board would be terrifying.

On the plus side, a router sled with a spoilboard flattening bit is great for end grain.

Those end grain boards do need really consistent sizes pieces. I don't think a hand held electric planer will give anywhere near the accuracy you need. A hand plane with a lot of care would be fine, but precision is the difference between looking great and rubbish!

Do you have a mitre saw? Accurately cutting sections to the correct length after the first glue up will at least minimise the sanding or flattening of end grain you have to do.

I've sene videos where both individual staves and whole boards where put through, but as above, I guess I'm not recognising the different machines being used.

No mitre saw yet, but it's probably my next purchase.

For general woodworking a planer/thicknesser is about the most time saving and quality improving bit of kit you could buy.
Hand held electric planes are definitely not - they are for rough work, door fitting etc.
For your purposes there is a lot of other kit you need. Belt or RO sander perhaps?
You could consider doing it all by hand and passing on the machines. Either way a steep learning curve!
PS "chopping board" is often taken to mean end grain but for most purposes this not necessary. Butchers use end grain blocks but they tend to be massive and 3" thick etc.

My understand of sanding / planing and the various options is obviously a bit limited, and I've probably not been giving it the importance it deserves, so need to read up a bit on this.

Thanks for all the responses!
 
I've got an erbaurer planer/thicknesser (was around £200) and it does what I need it to. I've planed 4x4inch oak for example to build a big 4 poster bed along with loads of other things. It obviously isn't a £4000 machine but it works well enough for what i need it to. still pretty heavy to move though.

The only issue i have had is they made it to break after a certain amount of time as the bearing on the one side of the cutter is a needle bearing with no seal. It was always going to fail at some point. I've since replaced it with sealed bearings on a carrier that I've modded into the machine.

with sharp blades I wouldn't tell the difference between the finish of this machine and any other. You just won't be able to take as deep cuts as a big machine.

Some cheap machines aren't great but I don't believe you have to spend thousands, and you can get good cheaper machines if you choose carefully. I was making picture frames on the weekend with my evolution rage3 mitre saw. Put a new 48t blade in and spent a little time setting it up and it was cutting the mitres absolutely perfectly each time with no tear out. Probably the best mitres I've ever achieved to be honest. I don't think I could have done any better with a saw twice the price.

I do have an electric plane I was given, but I don't use it at all. I find my old no4 and no5 so much easier to use as well as being less noisy and dusty. Get a decent old one. If I'm correct my stanley plane is from 1945! Leave to set it up correctly and you'll be able to take super fine shavings and leave a finish that is better than sanding.
 
A planer (called a jointer in the US) is used to flatten a side as a reference side (you might do top and one side for example) it will take out all bumps to give a flat surface - this is because the blades spin in the table - ie the table gives you your flat reference point and the blade trims off any excess...

A thicknesser (known as a planer in the US) thicknesses (or rather it thins!) - as you put wood through, the flat side is down on the infeed / machine / out-feed path and the blades spin above the wood - this means that the distance from blade to table remains constant, so the top side becomes a mirror of the bottom side - if that was flat because you used a planer first, then you end up with a parallel flat side and as you adjust the height of the blades so you choose the eventual height of the wood... you keep putting the piece through taking off a few mm until you get down to your desired size...

however:
- it can be a fairly crude approach, so anything fragile or end grain in particular can be caught and get damaged...
- it mirrors the under-side of the wood, so if that is not flat you bake in a parallel shape above, so a banana shaped piece of wood will still come out banana shaped...

a drum sander is similar in principle to the thicknesser, but with a drum of sandpaper rather than blade - therefore, more capable of dealing with fragile pieces.
 
I've interested in building a quality chess board and chopping board (for home use), and I've been watching a few videos of folk making these. A lot of them use expensive-looking wood planing machines, and these seem be work fairly flawlessly.

Can I achieve passable results with handheld planers? Obviously these boards would just be for personal use, but I would still want them to look fairly professional, but would consider making for friends / neighbours if they were suitable impressed to want to pay for one. To be honest, spending my days building chess board and chopping boards and selling them locally would be a dream...

I currently have a fairly cheap electric planer (unused, so far), and will probably look to add a couple of manual planers to my tool collections in the near future.

I'm thinking that an automatic planer is probably a luxury that I don't really need, but budget would be around £150 if I was to buy one.

Thoughts?

Thanks all!
I used a wee lumberjack planer which would do a chess board etc but they are a couple of hundred seconds hand. But I made a flattening jig for £20 for bigger pieces. Like the one in this pic
 

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For the sort of money you're talking about here you will not get a signature or decent planer to do chopping boards for sure there are also issues with doing shopping boards sicknesses because you may force the board apart.

To be honest mate chessboards and chopping boards you need a damn good saw for a cabinet or one of the Dewalt or Bosch or similar because obviously you need to cut the wooden into strips and so on and the only way to do that easily is with a good table o rcabinet saw.

Because of the restrictions of your budget I would probably recommend that you make a simple sledge up to hold a standard electric plane or router and use that they're very simple to me and they are plenty of plans online and if you can't find a set of plans just to look at the YouTube videos because common sense will show you what you need to do. They work really well as I built one originally two views on my two machines and I was able to playing down many different wits of wood by simply losing the sledge across the substrate as I said they were really well. You just need to make sure that you build it strong enough and that you don't put too much pressure on the plane as you go across let the machine do the work, not you.

The best way I found to make mine was using 4020 aluminium extrusion and some wheels that would fit into the V spot in the extrusion and hold it all tight and square, I use this system up until last year when I was able to finally buy myself a decent jointer with a 30 cm width and a separate thicknesser, I know you can buy combined units but I prefer to have one unit for each task and I built mine onto a swing top workstation because I never use them together at the same time. It allows me more space in the workshop by having the two machines on one small workbench.

So until budget permits, either use this method and run round the edges with a router or use a table sort to do the size and then bevel them off on a router

What I have found with the jointer since I've purchased it I've been able to make all sorts of wood from scrap and now nothing gets thrown away until I've seen if I can make something out of it from using the jointer it's a brilliant machine and I've lost them. Wondered to myself why I never bought one before especially with the price of wood in Spain which is 456 times more expensive than in the UK even if you can get it here.

Good luck with the chessboards I love watching the guys making chopping boards as well . Some of the work they put in is absolutely incredible to say they are more works of art than an actual chopping board and I'd find it very difficult to cut my vegetables up on one.
 
Hello Stuart, I've made a few chess sets and boards. The wooden boards are fairly simple to make using accurate machinery and invariably the pieces will fit each other exactly. I now use a Hammer planer/thicknesser and table saw for wooden boards, as in the first photo. Prior to getting these machines I had difficulty achieving a professional finish using only a hand plane and it took many hours of work. Consequently I resorted to using stained glass for the squares. There is no end to the colours and contrasts available and many are very attractive. A gadget to cut exact squares can be easily made from a piece of scrap MDF which you might find thrown out at the back of IKEA. Then all you need is a glass cutter, available for less than a fiver on Ebay or maybe get a better quality one from Tempsford at £20+. The 64 squares are laid onto a piece of MDF, cover them with with a 2 mm piece of toughened clear glass and then apply a wooden frame. The second picture shows a board I made some years ago. Its framed with oak inlaid with some banding made up from mahogany, maple and birch cut on a bandsaw. The underneath of the board is veneered with oak.
As a last point, whatever you do don’t try applying this method for your chopping boards! All the best, IanA
 

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