I doubt there’s anyone interested in woodworking who hasn’t wished at least once that they owned a thickness planer. Besides the substantial savings you can realize by turning low-cost, rough lumber into furniture-ready boards, there’s also the design advantages. When wood of a non-standard thickness is really the best option visually, a thickness planer makes that wood available, practical and easy to get.
Couple a modern benchtop thickness planer with a hand-held metal detector and you’ve got a terrific combination for salvaging wood from the “urban forest”. Shipping crates, pallets and even junked pieces of furniture become valuable resources when you can find the nails reliably, take them out, then plane the wood into excellent lumber for small and medium-size projects.
Back in the early 1990s I bought and eventually wore out my first thickness planer, and since then I’ve completed published shop tests on the category several times. One recurring problem with many thickness planers is the tendency to clog up with shavings when operating without vacuum dust collection. Typical planers rely on incidental air movement from the spinning blades to shoot shavings out of the machine. But when the shaving load gets too high, it can clog, marring the wood surface as it’s planed.
You can solve this problem by mechanically removing shavings with a vacuum system connected to your planer, but there’s a better option. For the last five years I’ve used the DeWALT DW735 thickness planer in my shop and it offers a major design improvement over the competition. In addition to a three-blade cutterhead (typical machines have two), and dual-speed operation, the DW735 includes an on-board fan that aggressively ejects shavings. Clog-ups are virtually impossible. I know from many jobs that the power of this fan-assisted system is more than enough to propel planer debris through a flexible hose connected to a cloth-topped waste can. At the moment, the DW735 is the best benchtop thickness planer I’ve used, but these things are always changing. The pace of competition is fast, and I expect someone else to up the ante soon in the thickness planer game. That’s the way the world goes these days, and it’s not a bad thing at all.