After a recent discussion about door planers on the
jlconline.com finish-carpentry forum, a fellow door hanger, Al
Constantin, and I decided we weren't qualified to judge which
plane was best for working doors because neither of us had used
all three of the most popular tools: the Bosch 1594, the
Festool HL850E, and the Porter-Cable 9118 Porta-Plane (formerly
the 126). But now we have, and here's what we learned.
Start With Snipe
Snipe — cutting a gouge at the beginning or end of a pass
— is one of the banes of portable hand planers. In
general, the longer the plane, the less likely it is to snipe.
Also, having the handle located at the rear of the tool seems
to enable smoother forward pressure while cutting, which helps
eliminate the problem.
At only 11 inches long, the Bosch is prone to snipe because it
has the shortest sole and the handle is directly above the
cutter (see Figure 1). It's possible to avoid snipe when using
this tool, but doing so takes care and attention.
The handle on the Bosch planer (top
right) is positioned above the cutter head, which makes it a
little more difficult to eliminate snipe. The handles on the
Porter-Cable (top left) and the Festool (bottom) are toward the
rear, which provides better user control.
The Porter-Cable, on the other hand, has a rear-mounted handle,
which helps to reduce — though not completely eliminate
— sniping. But we found we could get rid of snipe
altogether by adjusting the rear sole of the plane so that the
cutter shaved 1/64 inch when the front depth-adjustment knob
was set at zero. With slight forward pressure at the start of
the cut and slight rear pressure at the end of the cut, snipe
The Festool automatically cuts without snipe, thanks to the
length of the sole and to the rear position of the tool's
The handles on the Bosch and Festool planers include safety
lock-out switches. On the Bosch, the switch is located slightly
forward on the handle (Figure 2). This arrangement forces you
to change hand position at the same time you're pulling the
trigger. We found it best to start the tool, then change hand
position before cutting.
Figure 2.The safety lockout button on the Bosch
planer (top) is in front of the trigger, so you have to either
use two hands to start the tool or switch hand positions after
starting it. The Festool's safety switch is near the trigger
(bottom). The Porter-Cable has no safety lockout.
The safety switch on the Festool is easy to reach while
gripping the handle. The Porter-Cable has no safety switch.
However, the location of the motor on the Porter-Cable provides
some protection from the cutter — it's the only portable
power plane with the motor mounted on the side of the tool,
beneath the elevation of the cutter blade.
Because of its motor placement and because its fence is not
meant to be removed, the Porter-Cable is useful only for
planing doors and the edges of stock. In addition, the
left-side motor interferes significantly with the tool's
balance, which increases the learning curve. While operating
this tool, we were careful to keep our index finger on the
front edge of the fence and in contact with the face of the
door, which helped counter the imbalance of the tool and
ensured a consistent bevel angle (Figure 3).
Figure 3.The fence on the
Porter-Cable (top) cannot be removed, meaning this tool can be
used only for planing the edges of doors or lumber. The
Festool's fence (bottom) is not only fully adjustable, but it
can be taken off for surface planing.
Planing a consistent bevel on a door is essential: If the angle
of the bevel changes, the fit of the door might be affected.
The fences on both the Porter-Cable and the Festool are long
and wide, providing a secure surface against the face of the
door. Only the Porter-Cable fence adjusts in both directions,
and it's the only one with an adjustable stop, which allows
quick realignment of the fence.
The Festool has the widest fence of the three planes. This,
together with the weight and overall good balance of the tool,
contributes to a feeling of confidence when operating this
The Bosch fence is not as long as the other two fences, but
— considering the price of this tool — it's
The Porter-Cable uses a two-blade spiral cutter (Figure 4),
which makes the most aggressive and smoothest cut of any of the
planes, but it comes at a cost. If you hit a staple in the edge
of a door (not uncommon), you can toast a $100 blade.
Figure 4.The Porter-Cable's two-blade spiral
cutter (top left) produced the best cut of the three tools, but
replacements are expensive. Festool (top right) uses a single
spiral cutter, which makes a decent cut and is replaceable for
$20. The Bosch (bottom) uses inexpensive replaceable straight
blades, which leave a slightly wavier surface.
The Festool single-blade spiral cutter never balked and also
makes a smooth cut. Replacement blades are comparatively cheap
(around $20). The Bosch twin-blade replacements are
inexpensive, too, though they didn't cut quite as smoothly, no
doubt because of their straight design.
Following a wiggly scribe line often means having to adjust the
depth of cut on the go. Bosch has a top-mounted
depth-adjustment knob above the front sole, and it's difficult
to operate that small plane with one hand on the
depth-adjustment knob (Figure 5). In fact, Bosch recommends
that users not change the depth of cut while planing. With this
tool, the best technique is to make repetitive passes for the
deepest cuts first, and then, once you've closed in on the
scribe line along the entire length of the door, make long
Figure 5.The depth adjustment knob on the Bosch
(top left) isn't meant to be changed while planing. Twisting
the Festool's front handle (top right) changes depth of cut;
the green switch locks the setting. On the Porter-Cable
(bottom), you can adjust cutting depth while operating the
planer without moving your hands.
Ingeniously, depth adjustment on the Festool is accomplished by
twisting the front handle, just like on a motorcycle. A switch
near the handle will lock the cutter at the desired depth,
making it possible to change settings while planing.
Porter-Cable has the best depth-control adjustment system. The
depth lever on the front of the plane is within easy reach of
the fence, so you can alter the depth of cut without changing
the position of your hands on the tool.
Porter-Cable 9118 Porta-Plane Kit
Maximum depth of cut
Width of cut
3 1/4 inches
3 1/4 inches
2 13/32 inches
Length of base
11 3/16 inches
13 3/4 inches
Maximum rabbet depth
no rabbeting or chamfering capabilities
Belt-driven motor; dual dust ports (right- or
left-hand), includes vacuum adapter; two mini
tungsten-carbide reversible blades ($13/pair); three
chamfer V-grooves for different widths
Belt-driven motor; dual dust ports (accepts dust
bag or vacuum hose on either side of tool); single
replaceable spiral cutting blade ($21); single V-groove
on base for chamfering
Direct-drive motor; two-blade sharpenable spiral
$137 to $160
$420 without fence ($68 for fence)
$399 to $429
Robert Bosch Tool Corp. 877/267-2499
Festool USA 888/337-8600
Porter-Cable Corp. 800/487-8665
Dust collection may not always be required on new-construction
sites, but it is always an issue when you're working on
owner-occupied remodeling sites. Dust control is also becoming
more of a health issue, and catching dust at the source can
help cut down on cleanup costs.
I've had clients complain even when I'm hanging doors in the
driveway and the dust gets on the front lawn, not to mention on
a freshly washed car or through an open door. On single-door
jobs, cleanup can take as long as hanging the door, so having a
reliable dust-control system is important.
Porter-Cable's 126 has been the door hanger's tool of choice
for decades, but unfortunately neither it nor the newer 9118 is
equipped with a dust port (though we've imagined a few simple
ways of fashioning one). The Bosch has dual dust ports, so the
bag or vacuum hose can be mounted on either side (Figure 6).
The dust bag works well, too, unless the port clogs.
Figure 6.Both the Bosch (top) and the Festool
(above) have adjustable two-side dust ports; the Porter-Cable
has no dust collection.
The Festool's dust-control system is even better: The large
ports never clog, and they can be switched to operate in either
direction. The large bag collects nearly all the dust. When you
use a tool-triggered vacuum, the Festool doesn't leave a speck
of dust behind.
Planer cords will snag on the end of a door or a door bench,
which pulls on the planer, interferes with the cutting action,
and, in some cases, produces a divot. Both the Festool and the
Bosch suffer from this problem, while the Porter-Cable planer
has a very clever knob on the back that guides the cord to the
outside of the door, so it never snags.
Cord length is also important: The longer, the better. Bosch's
cord is 8 feet long, Porter-Cable's is 10, and Festool's is 13.
(If your cord is snagging, try taping a short length of coat
hanger to it, right at the back of the handle, so you can
control how it drapes.)
Because the Bosch is the smallest and lightest of the three
tools, it's easy to handle overhead or while holding the tool
in one hand and the workpiece in the other. We found it was
good for touch-up and minor adjustments to doors after they
were already swinging. It's well-priced and adequate for
hanging the occasional door, but it's not quite up to
production door hanging.
I've been using the Porter-Cable for a long time, which is
probably why I'll stick with it. I've learned how to live with
the imbalance of the side-mounted motor, and I love the
depth-control lever, the spiral carbide cutters, and the
dual-pivot fence. I'll work on designing a vacuum shroud and
port on the right side of the tool.
After struggling with snipe from the other tools, Al thinks
the Festool is the most comfortable to use and the overall best
choice. For the price, it comes with a good carrying case
capable of holding the plane, the fence, and all necessary
cutters and accessories.
Gary Katz,a finish carpenter in Reseda, Calif.,
moderates the jlconline.com finish-carpentry forum and is a
regular presenter at JLC Live. Thanks to Al Constantin, a
door-hanging specialist in Southern California, for assisting
with the testing for this article.