How To Properly Use A Surface Planer

How to Properly Use a Surface Planer


In woodworking, you will encounter a variety of equipment and tools. Each of these have their own potential thereby allowing you to build and accomplish a project faster and with better results. But no matter how huge the potential of a tool is, it will not produce quality results if you do not know how to properly operate it. An example is using the surface planer.

At first glance, you may be intimidated by the appearance of a surface planer due to its size and setting controls. The opposite may also happen where in you may find that it looks too simple for a woodworking machine. The surface planer is used to make a board stock thinner or smoother by shaving its surface so that both sides become parallel to each other.

In any case, your unfamiliarity with how the wood planer should be operated may cause problems along the way. You may find the parts and settings confusing at the first few uses. You may even waste good wood pieces because you failed to understand the way the machine works. Fortunately, you can easily solve this problem by learning from experienced woodworkers on how the surface planer should be operated.

What You Need

  • Surface Planer in good working condition
  • Board Stock with at least one flat surface
  • Pen or pencil for making marks on the board stock
  • Dust collector machine
  • Appropriate ear protection

Step By Step Instructions on How to Use a Surface Planer

The surface planer, as its name suggests, is used as a surfacer, which you use to mill and square up lumber still in its rough state. However, it also has a different function, which is as a thickness planer that reduces a board stock’s thickness. The following steps will discuss the steps on the proper use of this equipment whether you intend to use it as a surfacer or thickness planer.

Step 1: Identify and educate yourself about the setup of the surface planer.

A: Familiarize yourself with how the surface planer operates.

A Familiarize Yourself With How The Surface Planer Operates

The basic set up of a surface planer includes a housing that encases a set of blades located in the middle and a couple of rollers in front and behind them. As you pass a board through the machine, the first set of rollers grabs it then passes it through the blades, which skims off material from the board. It then goes through another set of rollers as it comes out of the machine.

If you plan to use the surfacer as a thickness planer, the procedure is simple. In a single pass, the machine can skim off 1/16th to 1/8th inch, which is already considered as an aggressive amount. To achieve the desired thickness, pass the board through the machine a number of times.

B: Set up the crank and know the thickness of the board you will work on.

B Set Up The Crank And Know The Thickness Of The Board You Will Work On

Adjust the blade height in order to skim the desired thickness from the board. Raise or lower the blade height by adjusting the crank located at the side of the planer. But before you can do this, you must know the thickness of the board. You can measure it using the right tools or just make a feel of its thickness. If you decide to measure the thickness of the board, just set the acquired measurement on the height gauge you can find at the side of the machine.

But if you want to just gauge the right height for the board, it can be done by putting the piece through the machine without turning it on. Lower the height and as soon as you feel that the rollers are already touching the board, you can set it at that height. After which, back off the board a little bit. This signifies that you are already at the board’s surface. By doing a half turn, you will skim off approximately 1/16th inch from the wood.

C: Choose the desired finish.

C Choose The Desired Finish

The surface planer offers two types of finishes namely, the finishing cut and dimensioning. When you switch between these two, you make the rollers move faster or slower, respectively. For the finishing cut, you achieve a finer finish since there are more cuts done per inch. On the other hand, the dimensioning provides fewer cuts per inch and thus, a rougher finish.

D: Decide whether to use a depth stop.

The depth stop is a control that allows you to set the depth so that you do not go beyond how much you intend to take off. Once you set the depth, it will prevent the wheel from turning as soon as it already has skimmed off the desired thickness from the board. If you do not want to utilize this control, all you have to do is set the depth at a low dimension that you would not reach.

For example, if you want to cut exactly an inch off the board, set the depth stop at this measurement. Once the machine cuts off that much from the board, you would not be able to turn the wheel anymore.

On the other hand, if you do not have a particular thickness in mind that you want to cut off, you can just set the machine at the lowest possible measurement.

E: Do not forget the dust collection.

E Do Not Forget The Dust Collection

If you do not want to end up with a huge mess of dust in the workshop, you must connect and turn on the dust collector machine when the surface planer is operating. Dust collection is important since the surface planer ejects a huge amount of dust at a high velocity. Thus, make sure that you have a dust collector in good working condition properly attached to the surface planer.

Step 2: Test how the machine works.

Step 2 Test How The Machine Works

Once you have learned how the surface planer is set up, the next step is to test the machine. Draw lines on the surface of the board using a pen or pencil to track the progress. Now, run the board through the machine to get an idea how it works.


  • The surface planer only works on boards with at least one of its surfaces being completely flat. This means that if you want to run through a board that has hills and valleys on the top surface, its bottom surface should be flat.
  • This is important since this will serve as the reference of the machine for what it will do on the top surface. What happens is the machine reads the part of the board that lies on the bed of the planer then interprets it as a template that must be followed when cutting the top surface.
  • If both of the board’s surfaces are not flat, the planer will just accentuate the imperfections of the board.
  • When running a board through the planer, there is an issue called snipe. This is where a minor difference in the height of the cut board is observed. This occurs as the blades cut extra on the last few inches of the wood. If you observe the mechanism of the machine, the roller grabs onto the board as you pass it through then pulls it up to the blade. As it goes out, the roller does the same mechanism again.
  • To prevent sniping, pull the board’s other end up as you pass it goes in the planer. Hold it at that position as it passes through the first roller. Then as it exits, lift the wood so that it would not get pulled into the blade.
  • Do not expect the surface planer to magically turn a twisted piece of wood board into a perfectly flat one. Any woodworker knows that the outcome you get is as good as the material that you use. If you use cupped or twisted wood boards, then it will be difficult to achieve the best results.

Step 3: Wear ear protection once you are ready to operate the surface planer.

Step 3 Wear Ear Protection Once You Are Ready To Operate The Surface Planer

Before you turn on the surface planer, make sure that you put on the right ear protection since the machine emits a high level of noise which can damage your hearing.

Final Words on Using a Surface Planer

Whether you are a first time user of a surface planer or a beginner in woodworking, learning how to use the machine before you handle it will serve you a multitude of benefits. Not only will you ensure a safe operation of the wood planer, but it will also guarantee a productive experience in whatever project is at hand.

Bear in mind that the outcome of a project not only depends on your skills and patience but also on your knowledge on using the tools that you use in woodworking. So equip yourself by knowing how to properly use a surface planer.

Did you find this tutorial helpful? Please let us know in the comments section. Feel free to share this article with your family and friends who you think need some help operating a surface planer. Add Media