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Choosing a Power Planer, continued

PLANER PROFILES

Bosch 3296K

This is an accurate, well-made machine. The front shoe rides up and down on sloped ways, and the depth-of-cut settings are especially easy to gauge. The 3296K comes with one of the nicest adjustable fences I've ever used. Chips can be ejected from either side of the planer, though the mechanism for changing sides was sticky on the particular tool I tested. This tool is powerful enough to make a 3/32-inch cut, but the exhaust chute tends to clog when you do it. The 3296K is comfortable for right-hand use, but the trigger safety makes it awkward for left-hand use.

Bosch 3365

This planer is small, light, and very maneuverable. Chips can be ejected from either side of the tool. The 3365 runs at a slightly higher rpm than other planers and uses a single blade. According to the manufacturer, this cuts your blade costs because when you hit a nail, you only ruin half a set. This tool runs so smoothly that I couldn't tell from use that it has only one blade. This model has a 10-foot cord and comes with a simple 90-degree fence. Chips can be ejected from either side, but the chute will clog if you cut too quickly. The blades are held in place by a single pair of set screws, so changes are quick and nearly idiot-proof.

Craftsman 27716

This retro-looking tool has indexed depth settings and easy-to-change bolt-on carbide blades. Chips are ejected to the right through an adjustable nozzle that can be aimed away from the user. This Craftsman planer comes with a single-piece 5-degree door beveling fence that screws to the side of the housing. The fence may not look like much, but it does the job. Unfortunately, this tool is under-powered for its size. The motor labored and the exhaust chute frequently clogged during full-depth cuts on 1 1/2-inch-wide joists.

DeWalt DW678K

The DW678K is big and powerful, though somewhat heavy. With a cutting capacity of 5/32-inch, it's tied with Festo for maximum listed depth of cut. However, this tool tends to clog during full-depth cuts, even on 1 1/2-inch stock. On the plus side, a removable sleeve in the chip chute makes it safer and easier to clear blockages. And the sleeve is reversible, so chips can be ejected from either side of the machine. This tool has a very comfortable grip, but if you're a left-hander, you need to be careful not to accidentally engage the trigger lock with the palm of your hand. I like the indexed depth settings and the way the parking foot locks up out of the way for cuts that start in the middle of a board.

DeWalt DW680K

The DW680K doesn't have every feature you can get on a power planer, but the ones it has work just fine. It's light and easy to handle, and the motor shows no strain during full-depth (1/16-inch) cuts. Although the chip chute only ejects to the right, it rarely gets clogged. This tool has a long cord, indexed depth-of-cut settings, and a parking foot that can be locked out of the way. It comes with a simple 90-degree fence and a sturdy metal case. The only thing I don't like about this tool is the trigger lock, because it's located in such a way that a left-hander could accidentally activate it.

Festo HL850E

If power planers were cars, Festo's would be a Rolls-Royce. It uses a single disposable spiral-cutting carbide blade. The head is removable and can be swapped out for optional heads that produce a variety of textured surface finishes. For example, I tried one that uses a convex blade to plane adze-like cuts in the surface of beams — something a timber-framer might like. The blade comes flush to the right side of the motor housing, so there's no limit to the depth of rabbet cuts. This means that the HL850E can plane all the way into an inside corner, like the joint between the baseboard and flooring. This tool is exceptionally quiet because it runs at a constant speed of 10,000 rpm. The standard dust bag actually works, and you can get an optional angle fence. This is easily the most versatile planer I tested, but at a cost of over $400, it's more planer than most carpenters can afford.

Freud FE82

The FE82 is a well-made tool with simple solid features. Cuts come out straight because the front and rear shoes remain parallel at all depth settings. It comes with a rigid 90-degree fence and a vacuum adapter. Blades are easy to change, but I didn't like the short cord or the way the parking foot gets in the way when you start cuts in the middle of the board. Except for the low price, there's nothing very special about this tool.

Hitachi P20SB

This tool is light, simple, and inexpensive. In terms of usage, it's a good general-purpose planer. But in terms of features, it's a throwback to the sort of planer I was using 15 years ago. It doesn't matter that the tool doesn't have a parking foot, and it's not a deal breaker that the chips only eject to the right. But the P20SB doesn't use the disposable carbide mini-blades that are now standard on nearly every planer; instead, you have to use a clunky knife-setting jig, so changing blades is more of a hassle than it should be.

Hitachi P20DA

This is a very interesting new tool, a 12-volt cordless planer. The P20DA is about the same size and weight as Hitachi's corded model, though the location of the battery makes it noticeably tail-heavy. As you would expect, it's significantly less powerful than a corded tool, which is why the maximum depth of cut is only 1/64 inch. The tool does a good job making light finish cuts, but isn't up to planing framing stock. The manufacturer claims that it will plane 100 feet of 1 3/4-inch stock on a single charge. That seems about right: I tested it on the edge of a 2x12, and it cut 112 feet before the battery gave out. Unlike Hitachi's corded model, this one uses disposable carbide mini-blades.

Makita N1900B

This tool is nearly indistinguishable from the planers Makita was making 15 years ago. It's a simple, straightforward machine without a lot of bells and whistles. Like its predecessors, the N1900B clears chips well and comes with a short 90-degree fence. Unlike the original model, this one takes standard carbide mini-blades. It's reasonably powerful for a 5 1/2-pound tool, but in its factory configuration it is limited to a 1/32-inch cut.

Makita 1050DWA

This planer proves how deceiving looks can be. When I opened the box, I thought it was a toy, but once I started using it, I was impressed by how well it worked. I was especially impressed by the amount of work it can do on a single charge. According to the manufacturer, it can plane 140 feet on a single charge, but I managed to get 232 feet planing the edge of a 2x12. The 1050DWA is smaller and lighter than Hitachi's cordless model but is limited to making 2-inch-wide cuts. The narrow cutting width is a reasonable compromise, given that no cordless planer is really up to making 3 1/4-inch cuts. I wouldn't use the 1050DWA to straighten framing, but I could see buying one to scribe cabinets or plane the occasional door. At $290, it's definitely a luxury item, one that's easier to justify if you're already using Makita's 12-volt system.

Metabo 0882

This tool exhibits the same European sensibility that Festo's and Bosch's planers do. It has precise indexed depth settings and a front shoe that's always parallel to the rear shoe. The chip chute ejects from either side and can be switched by flipping a baffle. The spring-loaded parking foot is better than most in that it's heavy enough to stand up to abuse but doesn't get in the way because it retracts when you push down on it. This tool has plenty of power, even at the full 1/8-inch depth of cut. The 0882 has an exceptionally long cord and comes with a 90-degree fence. My only complaint about this planer is that it doesn't come with a case.

Porter-Cable 125

The best thing about this tool is that it's powerful and capable of making nice deep cuts. It's also a plus that it comes with an adjustable bevel fence. The shoes on the planer I tested, however, went out of parallel at maximum depth of cut. As a result, deep cuts tended to be bowed cuts. You have to rotate the control knob multiple times to move between minimum and maximum depth settings, and the numbers on the depth scale overlap, so it's easy to lose track of exactly where you are. This tool is light and well balanced, but a safety makes it awkward for left-hand use. Exhaust is to the right side only. It's a minor point, but the fence fit so tightly in the molded plastic case that I had to pry it out with a screwdriver.

Porter-Cable 126 (Porta-Plane)

After having been around for years, the Porta-Plane was discontinued a couple of years ago. However, there was such an outcry that the manufacturer brought it back as the model 126. Unlike most of the planers I tested, this tool is designed to plane long narrow pieces of stock — in particular, the edges of doors. It has a 16-inch base and a long, nonremovable fence that tilts from minus 15 degrees to plus 45 degrees. An adjustable stop allows you to preserve preset angle settings. The front shoe moves smoothly up and down by moving a lever on the front of the housing. The base is only 2 1/4 inches wide, but that's plenty for most doors. The Porta-Plane takes a spiral-cutting head that is easily removed for sharpening. Except for the cap on the end of the motor housing, this is an all-metal machine.

Virutex CE96H

When I was in boat-building school, I once joked that someday I'd throw away my old-fashioned compass plane and replace it with a power-driven model. That got a good laugh, because at the time there was no such thing as a power compass plane. But several years ago, Virutex introduced the model CE96H. It's just like any other power planer except that the base is made from a thin, flexible sheet of metal. As a result, the base can be adjusted to follow inside and outside curves. The minimum concave radius it can do is 17 3/4 inches; the maximum convex radius is 15 3/4 inches. Although it's power driven, it still takes finesse to use this tool. That said, if you're one of those rare carpenters who planes a lot of curves, this might be the planer of your dreams.

PLANER SPECS

Manufacturer

Model

Street Price

Weight (lbs.)

Cord Length

Motor Rating

Max. Depth of Cut

Width of Cut

Length (front to back along the base)

Bosch

3296K

$179

6.4

6' 8"

6.5 amps

3/32"

3 1/4"

11 1/2"

Bosch

3365

$109

10'

5.0 amps

1/16"

3 1/4"

9 7/8"

Craftsman

27716

$139

7.8

10'

5.5 amps

1/16"

3 5/8"

10 3/4"

DeWalt

DW678K

$249

9.2

9' 4"

7.8 amps

5/32"

3 1/4"

12 1/2"

DeWalt

DW680K

$161

5.5

9' 4"

5.2 amps

1/16"

3 1/4"

11 3/8"

Festo

HL850E

$436

8.6

12' 8"

7 amps

5/32"

3 1/4"

13 5/8"

Freud

FE82

$109

6.5

7' 6"

6.2 amps

3/32"

3 1/4"

11 1/4"

Hitachi

P20SB

$114

6.1

8'

3.4 amps

1/32"

3 1/4"

11 5/8"

Hitachi

P20DA

around $250

6.4

n/a

cordless 12-volt

1/64"

3 1/4"

11 5/8"

Makita

N1900B

$139

5.5

8' 9"

4.0 amps

1/32"

3 1/4"

11 1/2"

Makita

1050DWA

$290

4.6

n/a

cordless 12-volt

1/64"

2"

9"

Metabo

0882

$225

14'

6.5 amps

1/8"

3 1/4"

11 1/2"

Porter-Cable

125

$149

5.5

9'

6 amps

1/8"

31/4"

11 1/4"

Porter-Cable

126

$399

10'

7 amps

3/32"

2 1/4"

16"

Virutex

CE96H

$325

7' 8"

6.7 amps

1/8"

3 3/16"

9 1/2"

Manufacturer

Model

Max. Rabbet Depth

RPM

Blade Type

Standard Accessories

Place of Manufacture

Bosch

3296K

15/16"

13,000

standard inserts

steel case, angle fence, rabbeting depth stop

Switzerland

Bosch

3365

5/16"

18,000

standard inserts

90-degree fence, vacuum adapter

Switzerland

Craftsman

27716

3/16"

16,000

Craftsman-brand blades

5-degree door beveling fence

USA

DeWalt

DW678K

1"

12,000

standard inserts

metal case, rabbeting depth stop, 90-degree fence

England

DeWalt

DW680K

1/2"

15,000

standard inserts

metal case, 90-degree fence

England

Festo

HL850E

unlimited

10,000

Festo spiral inserts

plastic case, dust bag, rabbet depth stop, and 90-degree angle fence

Germany

Freud

FE82

1/8"

14,000

standard inserts

case, dust collection nozzle, 90-degree fence, rabbeting depth stop

Spain

Hitachi

P20SB

15/64"

15,000

Hitachi-brand blades

case, straight guide, blade-setting gauge

China

Hitachi

P20DA

15/64"

13,000

standard inserts

battery, charger, plastic case, 90-degree fence, 2-amp hour battery

Japan

Makita

N1900B

11/32"

15,000

standard inserts

plastic case, 90-degree fence

USA

Makita

1050DWA

9/16"

9,000

Makita inserts

plastic case, 90-degree fence, battery, charger, dust bag, 2-amp hour battery

Japan

Metabo

0882

7/8"

12,000

standard inserts

rabbet depth stop, 90-degree fence, dust collection nozzle

Germany

Porter-Cable

125

7/8"

14,000

standard inserts

plastic case, bevel fence, rabbeting guide

Italy

Porter-Cable

126

n/a

23,000

removable spiral head

metal case, permanent fence ­15 degrees to +45 degrees

USA

Virutex

CE96H

n/a

16,500

standard inserts

fence

Spain

PLANER MANUFACTURERS

Bosch S-B Power Tool

Chicago, IL

877/267-2499

www.boschtools.com

Craftsman Sears Power Tools

Garland, TX

800/377-7414

www.sears.com/craftsman

DeWalt Industrial Tool

Hampstead, MD

800/433-9258

www.dewalt.com

Hitachi Power Tools

Norcross, GA

800/546-1666

www.hitachi.com/powertools

Festo ToolGuide

Santa Barbara, CA

888/463-3786

www.toolguide.net

Freud U.S.A.

High Point, NC

800/472-7307

www.freudtools.com

Makita U.S.A.

La Mirada, CA

800/462-5482

www.makitatools.com

Metabo

West Chester, PA

800/638-2264

www.metabousa.com

Porter-Cable

Jackson, TN

800/321-9443

www.porter-cable.com

Virutex

New York, NY

212/989-9868

www.virutex.com