One of the top tools for any woodworking shop is a thickness planer. Here is some helpful information on 12″ class planers.
If you're in the market for a thickness planer then you probably have a lot of questions. The appeal of owning the right planer is that it can save you time and money relatively quickly. For one thing a good planer will allow you to buy cheaper roughsawn lumber or use your own.
Wood dealers charge a premium for S4S lumber. Another draw is that you can easily get your stock to exact dimensions with a good thickness planer.
A good planer is going to put a nice smooth surface on whatever wood you run through it so choosing one that doesn't leave snipe or scalloping is critical. Otherwise you'll be doing a lot of sanding.
Think of buying a benchtop planer as an investment that pays dividends in lumber savings. By using it to surface less-expensive, roughsawn stock, you free yourself from buying costly presurfaced lumber. Although these machines get the job done, don't mistake them for heavy-duty planers with beefy 3-hp and larger motors, which can chew through hardwoods quickly and handle deeper cuts without bogging down. Benchtop planers have universal motors and typically work best removing 1⁄16 ” or less at a time, thus creating longer work time to surface lumber. That said, a benchtop model works great for most home shops that aren't working on a production-like schedule. To make sure you get the right planer, we put 11 benchtop models through extensive testing to sort the smooth operators from the roughnecks.
Only a few of the tested planers relieve you of the burden of power sanding or heavy scraping to remove scallop marks or snipe (the scooplike gouges on the ends of a board created when it's when gripped by only one feed roller.) To check cut quality, we ran poplar and red oak through each machine, removing 1⁄16 ” with each pass. We then rubbed chalk on the just-planed faces to reveal scallop marks (photo) caused by the cutterhead knives. With sharp knives, a few machines produced turned out boards that needed only light sanding to remove any barely noticeable scallops. On the rest of the models, it took sanding with coarse sandpaper to remove the scallops, and then with finer grits to erase the sanding scratches just to match the unsanded surface quality of the category leaders.
Read about the feature to look for when buying a planer and see reviews on some good ones at woodmagazine.com