Pros: Carbide blades, Motor, Fit Finish, Snipe Control, Simplicity, Durability
Cons: Price, Noise, Height Crank, Key Switch
I bought this to replace my ageing DeWalt on the jobsite. I was always impressed with the DeWalt (when compared with the old Delta it replaced), but the Makita has really raised the bar in my opinion.
I've only had this planer for five years and I'm quite happy with it. It is my third portable planer I've owned, and by far the best.
I chose the Makita based on my positive experience with their power tools. All I was looking for was a durable and well made portable planer.
Most reviewers in magazines seem to bemoan the lack of features on the Makita. I found the Makita's simplicity it's greatest asset, especially after having problems with the DeWalt.
The good stuff:
-Fit & finish are excellent. Controls are smooth and feel well engineered.
-Motor runs cool, no matter what load you put on it. I can't say the same for my DeWalt, which overheated it's belt once. Even after running it straight for 1 hours non-stop with resinous pine, the motor housing only just felt a little warm. It appears to have a bigger fan and housing than the DeWalt.
-NO SNIPE LOCK! Yes, that's actually a good thing! The Makita is machined to very tight tolerances and the materials used are high quality. This just proves that good materials and workmanship are all you need.
The snipe lock on my DeWalt actually damaged the planer, after repeatedly using it one spot on the support rods, it actually BENT THEM !!! It bent them so much that, it became extremely difficult to move the head up or down in that region. The four vertical rods that support the planer head are all permanently bowed. After repeated use, the snipe lock also became ineffective. I'm not a believer in snipe locks.
-Solid, one piece aluminum top. The top I believe is another key item in ensuring that the planer stays accurate, and can do without a snipe lock. It's nicely cast and well machined. Being flat, it's useful enough to stack stock on it while you're doing a run. I personally prefer it to the roller style, as one guy can stack while the other feeds.
-Lightweight (relatively), with top carry handles. The Makita weighs only marginally less than the other planers, so I don't see a huge advantage here.
-The best feature is the disposable carbide knife system. I will never go back to a re-sharpenable steel knife system. For starters, changing blades seems too easy. Everytime I change the blades I feel I've missed a step. In reality, all you do is loosen some cap screws, snap out the blade, and snap in another one, then re-tighten the screws. No jigs, no special holders, etc. Much, much easier than my DeWalt or previous Delta that had springs holding the blades.
The carbide blades also seem to last significantly longer than regular HSS re-sharpenable steel blades. You can run a few boards through with small nails or staples, and the blade won't get nicked.
The argument that re-sharpenable blades save you money in the long run can't be validated in my opinion. It costs me $18 to get a set sharpened (plus the time of pickup / dropoff). The Makita disposable blades aren't cheap, they're $40 for a set. But each knife set has two edges, so that works out to about $10 per edge. Factor in the working life (about 3 times more than regular HSS), and regular steel blades seem more expensive and full of hassle.
The cutterhead also has proven durable. It is made from steel (something I would normally expect on any planer). Beware of competing models (like the DeWalt), as many use aluminum heads and stripping the blade attachment bolts can happen if you're not careful. Kudos to Makita for sticking with a proven material choice.
-The depth of cut gauge is just a pin that rides up and down. Unlike other planes that have it marked out supposedly telling you exactly how much is being planed off, the Makita has no markings. For once I agree with Makita's decision to go simple. The pin basically acts as a relative go no-go gauge. Once you understand it's purpose, it's indespensible. It's mounted a good distance outside the infeed roller, so you can gauge how much you'll take off without having to actually stick the board in the machine. Being just a gravity pin, it won't mark or catch the board either. Simple. Effective.
-Finish quality is excellent with the carbide blades. I really didn't find it any better or worse than the other planers out there with sharp steel blades.
-Makita has a power switch that uses a removable key to lock / unlock your planer. This key is tiny, and it can fall out if you bump it or accidently rub up against it. Makita must know this, as they include an extra key. It's just too easy to lose. I decided to just glue it permanently in-place. For worksites that require lock-out tag-out procedures, I use a cord plug lock box.
-The repeatable depth stop is hard to see. It's black, and hidden in the shadow of a recess, so sometimes you forget it exists. It's not 100% repeatable, but I have yet to see any portable planer where the depth stops actually work as advertised. This is something Makita could've left off. It seems like an afterthought only to match the competition.
-The crank is somewhat small. I would've like a larger one with a bigger knob. The designers were forced to make it small so it would flip over and fold into the top for transport. A liveable compromise.
-Those wonderful rubber rollers that don't make infeed marks on stock are still a pain when you plane resinous woods like teak or pine. It doesn't matter who makes the planer, you still have to stop and clean them regularily to prevent slippage.
-Feed speed is ok, but it could be just a tad faster. A second gearbox would probably have added too much to the cost. Powerwise, this planer behaves just like all the rest on the market. A 120v 15 amp motor only has so much power, so a wide board with dull blades are going to bog it down.
-The price is not competitive. No wonder you don't see these planers in the big box stores. I doubt many consumers would be convinced to buy one when they looked at the features compared to the competition. The Makita appears overpriced, and recognizing the quality and simplicity is not readily apparent. The Makita is not overpriced for what you get, it's just that it doesn't follow the current rules of marketing.
-Snipe, yes there's snipe. It's actually very well controlled - the best I've seen in this class. If all you do is plane 3 foot boards, then any planer on the market will have acceptable snipe. Unfortunately, I typically plane 10 foot boards from re-claimed antique wood for custom floors and trim. The reality is that a 10 foot board, hanging off of a planer that only has a distance of 8 inches between its rollers (and rubber rollers at that), is GONNA HAVE SNIPE. Live with it and learn to work around it. Don't buy a planer just because of snipe performance or the fact it has a snip lock.
-An external dust collector hookup is extra, and it's pricey too. I paid about $60! It's just a piece of molded plastic (it does look good though), and it attaches easily with just two thumbscrews. You could probably make your own.
-Noise. Makita claims it has the quietest planer on the market. This is probably true, when it's not running under load. The motor & head is extremely smooth and vibrationless when just turning freely. As soon as you stick a board in the planer, I find it is just as loud as all the other planers on the market. Get ear protection.
The Makita is a top notch machine. It's simplicity is it's strength. The blade change system is effective and the fit and finish are excellent.
If you're looking for a machine that will do it's job reliably and without fuss look no further.
The Makita seems expensive for what you get (features wise), but over time you'll find that you made a wise investment.