The thickness planer choice--to buy or not to buy?
Recommend this product?
If you are just getting into woodworking, you know there is a large front-end investment. However, most of us justify the initial investment cost by purchasing tools and building a piece of furniture or completing a project ourselves, and comparing the price to what it would have cost to hire a professional or buy that dresser from Pottery Barn. When you look at it that way, it doesnt' seem so crazy to pay $200-$300 for a tool or piece of equipment.
However, when you look at the price you pay for S4S lumber(surfaced 4 sides--that's lumber that is square and parallel, and finished on all four sides) each time you want to build a project, that can really put the kabosh on your projects and the flexibility of what you can do. However, when you can buy "green" lumber (freshly milled, needs to be dried) or "rough cut" (not yet surfaced or squared), the price of lumber can drop drastically, and you can have some options to use exotics that you otherwise might not use.
For this reason, I consider a planer to be one of the first 5 tools a new woodworker should invest in: tablesaw, planer, jointer, router table, and a good jigsaw. Further, I think the planer is one of the most important, particularly if you live in the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, or other places where you should have ready access to green or rough cut lumber.
With a planer, you can trim down your rough cut lumber to your desired thickness. Further, a planer will make one face (the broad side of the board) parallel to the opposite side of the board, and will generally provide a smooth surface--unlike the ridged surface provided by freshly milled lumber.
So, if you're convinced the woodworking bug has bitten you, and you're ready to dive in, I guess you are going to ask: Which planer should I get?
The Ten Million Dollar Question: Which One?
Okay, you decided that you NEED a planer. How can I argue with you? After all, I have one, so I have to agree with you: you NEED a planer.
However, you can sink tons of money into a thickness planer, they come in all sorts of colors and have all manner of different features. So how do you know which one is the right one for you? Just like any product, it's all in the features that you really want or need--all of which is determined by what you want the tool to do. However, with thickness planers, I think there are some specific features that can help you make your decision.
Width: In general, your standard benchtop (or "lunchbox") planer is going to be able to handle stock no more than 13" in width. Some models will only handle 6" or 10" stock. This is a very important consideration, especially if you are planning on gluing up large panels that you want planed down to a consistent thickness, or if you plan on using lots of wide boards. If you are wanting anything larger than a 15", plan on spending at least $1000, and getting a shop model that has its own integral stand.
Ease of Blade Change: This is VERY important. As you use the planer, the blades are going to dull. If it takes you 45 minutes, a 6-pack, and the New Sailor's Curse Thesaurus to change the blades on your planer, you are unlikely to change the blades when you should, and its performance will suffer.
Dust Collection Capability: If you can hook your planer up to a shop vac or dust collector, the performance will be greatly enhanced, and you won't be sweeping your floor nearly as much. These things can produce more sawdust than you can imagine. Plus, if that sawdust accumulates under the hood, it's likely to cause small pock marks in your surface as the sawdust gets pushed back under the spinning blades.
Motor: If you're buying a benchtop model, you are going to be getting a universal motor in your planer. That's just life. Universal motors are louder, and do not have the life expectancy of the preferred induction motor. However, they pack more horsepower in less space--thus, most beginners are going to be getting a planer with a universal motor. Just remember to wear your earmuffs when planing.
Okay, so get on with the review!
Enough intro chatter. Is the Ryobi any good? Well, as long as you aren't expecting a Cadillac on a Chevette budget, you'll be happy with the Ryobi planer.
My Ryobi planer is about 6 years old, and has shown itself to give great results on white oak, pine, walnut, poplar, maple, and even some osage orange. It handles straight grained wood very well, and leaves a great surface with little tearout.
The thickness readout is very accurate, the machine is built well, and I get very litte snipe if boards are adequately supported on infeed and outfeed. The blades tend to have a long life and last much longer than I would expect, even when planing notoriously tough wood like white oak or osage orange.
Blade change on this is easy. The planer even came with its own wrench to make the changes easy. It's not my favorite job, but it's better than other models such as the Ridgid in its class (although the finish probably isn't as good).
The price. Ryobi is definitely known for being the introductory priced competitor. For the money, they are usually very serviceable tools. This planer is no exception. For the money, it's a tool that will serve a beginner woodworker well for several years . . . but you will outgrow it.
Yup, it's LOUD. Picture a Cessna or Piper Cub taking off in your woodshop. Now multiply that by two. Just don't forget to wear the ear protection.
No dust collection. Before I got a dust collector, this never crossed my mind. Now, I really wish that I had DC capability on my planer. This is probably my biggest gripe with regard to this planer, as it throws shavings everywhere, and the finish can sometimes suffer.
The bottom line:
If your budget is on the very low end, don't be afraid to pick up a Ryobi. If you have the extra bank, consider the DeWalt 3 blade thickness planer. Make it a little more palletable by buying a gently used or factory reconditioned unit on ebay. While I can't knock my Ryobi, I really wish that the DeWalt 735 had been around when I purchased mine. I have seen the DeWalts for around $350 on sale, and have been tempted. Even at $450, it would be a good deal. However, for the $175 I paid for my Ryobi, I really can't complain, and would recommend it to anyone on a tight budget.
If you are a beginning woodworker looking for your first planer, this is an ideal choice. I bought mine 2 years ago and have used it extensively to plane down hundreds of board feet of red and white oak that I bought from mills. The finish that it leaves is the best in its price range, and the blades are quite durable as long as you don't get carried away by taking off too much wood at once.
I compared the Craftsman and DeWalt models before settling on the Ryobi, and I just could not justify the large difference in price at the time. If I had to make the decision again, I would certainly buy the Ryobi once more if price was the deciding factor. Otherwise, I would buy the DeWalt 735.
If money was no option, a floor model planer would be in my shop.