The Difference Between a Jointer and Planer

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Duration: 4:55

Beginning woodworkers all ask this basic question: What is the difference between a jointer and a planer?

The answer is simple, a lot! And is there such a thing as a Jointer Planer? No!

So, what is the difference?

Each machine does a completely different surfacing operation.

A jointer flattens a face or straightens and squares an edge, and a planer thicknesses wood.

Whether you need one, the other, or both can easily be answered by knowing how they work, what they do, and how much wood surface preparation you pay your lumberyard to do for you. And honestly, you probably could be a great woodworker without either machine. They are just time savers. Heck, you could use hand planes!

Ultimately, you need to convert your wood stock to usable pieces for your projects. A wood jointer and a planer will help you get there.

  • What a Jointer Does & How It Works
  • What a Planer Does & How It Works
  • Different Levels of Lumberyard-Produced Surface Preparation

  • What a Jointer Does & How It Works

    A jointer is used to make the face of a warped, twisted, or bowed board flat. After your boards are flat, then the jointer can be used to straighten and square edges (guard removed for photo).

    Jointer and Planer, not Jointer PlanerThere’s an infeed table and an outfeed table. The tables are aligned in the same plane. A cutter head with knives is mounted between the tables, and its cutting circle (tops of the knives) is aligned flush with the outfeed table.

    The infeed table is lowered to a depth equal to the amount of wood you want to remove. Passing a board across the running machine (with the guard in place) removes the wood, and the cut portion of the board is then supported on the outfeed table. A fence is used as a guide when flattening a face, and as a support when jointing board edges. The fence is adjustable for different angles, typically up to 45-degrees.

    WWGOA does offer instructional videos on how to use a jointer. Also, be sure to see our guide on how to master the jointer.

    What a Planer Does & How It Works

    A planer is used to make a board that’s been jointed flat equal thickness from end-to-end. Mechanically, it’s more complicated than a jointer, but functionally it’s simpler.

    A flattened board is placed on the planer table (bed) and pushed in. The machine’s feed roller grabs the board and pulls it through and past a rotating cutter headset above the bed, which removes wood. The distance the bed is set from the cutter head is the resulting thickness.

    All planers have limits to how much wood they can remove in one pass, so to achieve your finished thickness will likely require multiple passes.

    Want to see a planer in action? Check out this unique video that offers an inside view of a wood planer.

    Different Levels of Lumberyard-Produced Surface Preparation

    Your lumberyard can do none, some, or all of your required surface preparation to the boards you purchase. The more they do, the more it costs, and the less control you have.

    You could take this to the extreme, give them a cut list, have them size all the pieces, but you’d go broke and have no fun woodworking. I’ll start by telling you how both machines are used to surface rough lumber, and then give three more scenarios where your lumberyard does increasingly more of the work for you.


    Jointer and Planer I buy my lumber rough (no surfacing), or surfaced hit & miss, which is how almost all the lumber I buy today comes. That removes 1/16″ and planes the wood so it’s easy to see the grain and color.

    The pieces I need for my projects are “inside” the boards I buy, and I have to machine the boards to make my pieces. I have much greater control over the shape and flatness of the wood I use when I machine a rough-cut board just prior to using it in my project. One thing is for certain with surfaced wood, it will not be the same size and shape tomorrow.

    Sizing rough lumber requires a jointer to flatten one face, and a planer to cut the thickness. To cut the width you use a jointer to square and straighten one edge, and then rip the width on a table saw. I rip my boards 1/32″ wide, and then joint off the last 1/32″.

    For more helpful tips, read my easy-to-follow guide: 9 Steps to Sizing Rough Lumber.

    Surfaced Two Sides (oversized)- S2S.

    Jointer and Planer Example: You ask your lumberyard to surface your 4/4 boards to 13/16″ even though you know you will eventually use them as 3/4″ thick boards. They surface the boards using a doubled head planer that cuts both faces at the same time and does a pretty good job of flattening.

    Doing the surfacing this way can save you a lot of time. Then just prior to using your boards in your project you will “kiss” the boards down to 3/4″ to clean up any rough surfaces left from the lumberyard machining, remove any dirt and oxidation that might have accumulated over time, and provide a fresh surface, which is critical for gluing. With this type of surfacing, you’ll need a planer for final thickness-ing, and a jointer to straighten edges.

    Surfaced Two Sides (final thickness)- S2S.

    Jointer and Planer All is the same as above but this time your lumberyard surfaces your boards to their final thickness.

    All you need now is a jointer to straighten edges.

    S2S with Straight Line Rip – SLR.

    Jointer and Planer All is the same as S2S but this time your lumberyard cuts one edge of every board straight and square.

    You can now manage without either machine, but even so, having a jointer to remove saw marks and smooth edges is nice.

    Think your planer isn’t big enough? Check out these tricks for using a small planer and watch this video on how to get the most out of smaller planer.

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    Remember, it’s not Jointer Planer. A jointer can be used to make a board’s face and edge straight and true. A planer makes your boards uniform in thickness, with two parallel faces. The operations aren’t interchangeable between the two machines.

    Owning both machines gives you the greatest control over the flatness and smoothness of the wood you use in your projects. My jointer is a monster at 12-in. wide and 84-in. long. It’s really nice for flattening long and wide boards, but may be overkill if your projects will be small. My planer is 13-in. wide making it the perfect companion to my wide jointer.

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    5 Responses to “The Difference Between a Jointer and Planer”

    1. Robert

      I so appreciate the clarity of your presentations. This one is very informative. A great service to folks just starting into woodworking.

    2. tom jirak

      A jointer can make a reference edge 90 degrees from an adjacent side. You can’t get that from a planer.

    3. CHARLES

      George, with the greatest of respect, I have to say this is one of the most confusing explanations of a jointer (planer) and planer (thickness planer) I have seen from anyone, especially for new woodworkers.
      “And is there such a thing as a Jointer Planer? No!
      A jointer flattens a face or straightens and squares an edge, and a planer thicknesses wood.”
      First off, the rest of the world calls it a “jointer” a planer, and a “planer” a thicknesser or thickness planer why, because it is in fact, a planer and a thickness planer. Who knows why, but only here in the US and Canada, North America in general, is a planer called a “Jointer” and a thickness planer called a “planer”? Somehow the nomenclature got separated from the actual function of the machines here. This is very confusing to many that are new to woodworking. Jointing is typically cutting or flattening the long or side edge of a board to an already planed or flattened face of the board. Jointing can be done in several ways using different tools, one way is to use a fence as an attachment on the planer (Jointer). I have had to explain this to many people new to woodworking at my local woodworking store that are confused as to the use and function of a “jointer” and “planer”. I don’t care what they are called perse, I have just found it simpler to explain their actual functions separate from their names which has led to many A-ha moments with the people I’m explaining this to. I hope this helps others too. All the Best, Chuck

      • Customer Service

        Hello Charles,

        Thank you for your feedback. I have forwarded your comment to George and the WWGOA experts. We value your opinion, and it will help with the development of our online streaming community. We will continue to listen and work hard for your complete satisfaction.