Pros: Solid and not particularly expensive
Cons: Fence is hard to adjust and feed tables are small
The Sears Craftsman Jointer/Planer 21768 is a decent little tool. It is sturdy, small, and not terribly expensive. It should meet the needs of most home workshops.
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Those that read my review of the Sears Biscuit Joiner will know that I sometimes impulse buy, and that it has come back to haunt me. They probably also realized that since I do so much biscuit joinery, I probably own a jointer/planer. Well the Sears Craftsman 6-1/8 in. Jointer/Planer is the one I use, and strangely enough, it was also an impulse buy. However, this time it did not end in tears.
Once again, the odyssey started when I stopped in at the local Sears after another sucky day at work. Having to pass a Sears store on the way home has proven expensive more than once. This time I saw a real bargain. The Sears Planer was factory reconditioned and on sale for less than half the price of a new model, and it came with an extended, 3-year warrantee. I examined it, it seemed in good shape, and I decided to give it a try.
A jointer planer is a tool that is used to give a piece of wood a flat, smooth surface. More importantly, it makes sure that the surface is exactly at right angles to the adjacent surface. This true face/ true edge concept is an essential part of fine woodwork.
The planer comes ready equipped with two blades, a metal fence, a big red plastic guard, and two plastic pushers. It probably comes with adjustment tools for the fence, but mine was lost in translation. Screwdrivers and an allen key worked fine. The instruction book that comes with the planer is well written and very clear. That was a welcome change.
Out of the box, the planer is a heavy plastic base with a cast iron table. You can adjust the height of the right side (as you look at it) of the table using a large plastic faucet-like turn handle at the right end of the tool. The left side of the table is set at a fixed height. In between is a flat roller, mounted with two razor-sharp cutting blades. The roller spins so that wood fed from right-to-left feeds into the rotation, so the work is pushed back toward you rather than pulled away from you. The top of the cutting blades is set to exactly level with the fixed-height left table. In essence, each pass through the planer removes a thickness of wood equal to the difference in height between the two tables.
A heavy metal fence sits along the length of the table, level with and just above the back of the blades. The first job of using this planer is to attach and adjust the fence. The fence can be set from 45 degrees toward you to 45 degrees away from you, but the most normal and useful setting is 90 degrees.
The clamps that fasten the fence are a bit stiff and uneven and it is hard to slide them smoothly. You want the fence to be an EXACT right angle to the table. Using your very best set square, you set the fence close and tighten it a tad. Then you repeatedly check for square and tap the fence lightly to adjust. You have to check the fence in several places along its length, and adjust the clamps accordingly. When you are sure you have it, hold a flashlight against the fence behind the square and look for light between your square and the fence. Once you are sure, tighten the clamps and check it all again.
Setting the fence the first time took me well over an hour. However, you only need to adjust it after installing blades or using a different angle, and most folks will never use a different angle. Since any error in this fence setting will be reflected in every piece of wood you process, it is worth spending the time to get it right.
The next thing you attach is the big red guard. It covers the entire blade from front to back. A small plastic turn handle allows you to set a stop. You insert a piece of the wood you are about to cut, let the guard rest against it, and tighten the stop. Now the guard will only move far enough for the wood to pass. It keeps the rest of the blade safely covered, and acts to press the work piece against the fence.
The planer has an on-off rocker switch on the front panel, and a large 4" hole in the back for a dust collection system. For the record, it has a 10 amp 1 1/2 HP belt driven motor, spinning 8000 rpm. Since you have two blades, then this tool delivers 16,000 cuts per minute. In theory, the maximum cut is 1/8". In practice, for safety and smooth cutting, you would normally want this to be less that 1/16". Normally, it has a one year warrantee.
Now in reality, setting the fence was actually the third thing I did with the planer. Since it is a benchtop tool, I needed to find it a home. I decided to use it with my big B&D workmate. First I cut a rectangle a little bigger than the planer's base out of 3/4" plywood. Then I cut a 2x4 the same length as the plywood. With my router, I cut a 3/8" rabbet in two adjacent edges of the 2x4 slightly wider than my workmates top plate. I bolted the rabbet side of the 2x4 to the center line of the plywood using carriage bolts. I added a couple of hefty wood screws right through the plywood for good measure. Then I bolted the planer to the top of the plywood.
Now, I can put the planer on top of the workmate and tighten it up. The "vice" worktop slides snugly into the rabbets, and firmly holds the planer to the workmate. This tool generates so much torque, I was not willing to secure it relying on the vice grip alone. When I am not using the planer, it is easy to lift it off the workmate, and put it on my tool shelf.
The second thing I had to do was protect the cast iron work table against my damp basement. I now use a custom liquid that I get from my local tool store, but the first time I used ordinary automotive turtle wax. The instructions that come with the planer describe exactly how to do this.
Once I had everything set up, tightened and adjusted, I plugged the planer in and turned it on. I immediately jumped through the roof. Crimeny Jicket, this tool is LOUD. It also generates so much sawdust (actually planer dust I suppose - it looks like wood that went through a paper shredder) that you must collect the debris somehow. I just plug the 4" hose from my shop vac straight into the back. As if having the LOUD planer and the loud shop vac running simultaneously is not enough, the noise goes into high gear when you actually start cutting wood. Forget protecting your hearing. If you don't wear earmuffs, you can't even think. And believe me, when you have a pair of razors spinning at 8000 rpm inches from your fingers, you really need to think.
By the way, the previous paragraph is not a complaint against Sears. All planer/joiners are loud. It's the nature of the beast.
Feeding the wood through is actually quite easy. Using the nice plastic holders provided, you push the wood through the blade, being careful to push it back against the fence, rather than down onto the table. By holding a face tightly against the fence, you force the cut surface to be at right angles to it. The only trick is not pushing down at the very end, and causing a divot in the wood. This does take a bit of practice, so I normally cut the wood a little long before I plane it.
Now the table is quite broad and will take a board 6" wide easily. I often just accept the boards as bought, but for detail work, I will plane one face smooth. It is far more usual to be planing the edge of a board for biscuit joining. Here you often plane both edges. The trick is to keep the same face of the wood against the fence on each pass, so that the two edges are square to the same face, and thus parallel to each other. In time you learn other tricks, like reading the grain so you can pick the feed direction to minimize tearout.
When planing the edges of boards wider than 6", its a good idea to add a plywood or MDF extension fence to make the existing fence higher, and provide better support. Never ever try to use the planer on a short piece of wood, or try to run the end of a board through it. You will ruin the work for sure, and you are just begging for a serious injury. I have a nice divot taken out of one of my plastic pushers to remind me take my time and not to try anything stupid.
All told, once it is set up and working, this planer performs very well. My only complaint is that the feeding table is a little short. Wood lengths of 4-5 feet are about the maximum without adding an outfeed table or roller.
Since I work mainly with softwoods, the planer blades seem to last forever. However, no matter how soft the wood, sooner or later you are going to have to do something about the blades. In theory, you can take them out and sharpen them. In practice, it's easier to just buy new blades. Sharpening is fraught with pitfalls, and new blades are cheap. Since I had a service contract, I just handed my planer back to Sears the first time they needed sharpening. After a few days I got it back all spiffy, clean, greased and polished and with nice new sharpies.
I congratulated myself on avoiding a difficult job. After ruining the next few pieces of wood I planed, I was not so happy with my choice. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong, but an excellent video I got on power tools from the local library explained it. Sears had set the blades slightly higher than the outfeed table. This caused them to grab and tear out a chunk as the end of the wood leaves the infeed table. So, I gave up and adjusted the blades myself. (At least the new blades were free.)
Adjusting the blades is a tedious, time-consuming task that you should allow at least an afternoon to do. Read the manual, and look for tapes, DVDs and books in your local library. I won't bore you with the details here. However, as far as I can tell, it is no harder on the Sears Craftsman planer/joiner than it is on any other. They are all a pain in the donkey.
The Sears Craftsman 6-1/8" 2 Blade, Bench Top Jointer/Planer 21768 is a decent little tool. It is sturdy, small, and not terribly expensive. It should meet the needs of most home workshops. If I was picking one today, I think I would look for one with longer infeed/outfeed tables, and a more sophisticated fence. On the other hand, if I saw the deal I got on this one, I would probably buy it again.
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Check out some of my other tool reviews:
Sears Craftsman 5 piece Wood Chisel Set 36859
Sears Craftsman Circular Level 39891
Sears Craftsman 6 amp Biscuit Plate Joiner 17501
Sears Craftsman 48" heavy duty aluminum level (39898)
Makita 3/8" Cordless Driver-Drill 6095D
Senco Air Free 18-Gauge Brad Nailer AF25
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