WHAT IS JOINTER?
The core purpose of a jointer is to flatten the wood. You can grab any piece of uneven timber and make it flat.
You use a jointer before moving on to a thickness planer so it’s your first port of call when you’re dealing with warped, bowed or twisted boards.
Not only will a jointer enhance the appearance of your lumber, it will increase its durability into the bargain.
If you could only choose one machine, a jointer would be preferable. The feeding mechanism makes them better at flattening out wood.
How Does a Jointer Work?
Jointers have an infeed and outfeed table. These are both aligned on the same plane.
They have a cutter head with knives. This is mounted between the tables.
The tops of the knives are known as the cutting circle. This is aligned so its flush to the outfeed table.
You then simply lower the infeed table so the depth corresponds with the amount of material you want to shave off.
Making sure the guard is in place, you pass the board over the machine and the part you’ve worked with will be neatly supported by the outfeed table.
The adjustable fence serves 2 purposes. It acts as a guide when you’re flattening a face. It becomes a support when you are jointing edges. This fence can be adjusted, usually up to 45 degrees.
Before we move on to our best benchtop jointer reviews, we’ll give you a snapshot of the different categories of jointer at your disposal. While the focus of today is the benchtop model, for context it pays to familiarize yourself with the full gamut of jointers available so you can see which would best fit your needs…
These closed stand models has an enclosed base which serves to protect the motor and cutter hand against dust working its way in.
Performance and durability are second to none with closed stand jointers. The bases make these jointers safe and stable while helping to tamp down noise and vibration.
There are 4 main sizes of closed stand jointers:
Open stand jointers are portable and perfect if you need to move your machine between the home workshop and the job site. This variety of jointer is very reasonably priced.
On the downside, as the name suggests, these have an exposed motor. They are also rather less stable and kick out a fair bit of noise.
Benchtop jointers, the focus of today’s article, are a downsized version of the closed stand tabletop jointer.
If you plan to work with smaller pieces of material on less ambitious projects, a benchtop jointer is absolutely ideal.
Benchtop jointers are not designed to cut anything more than 6 inches wide. They are simply not stable enough.
If you know you’ll be working with larger boards, a benchtop jointer is not for you.
A beefier version of a benchtop, tabletop jointers do not have an adjustable outfeed table.
They obviously lack portability and you’ll pay more for power and performance.
Who Needs Benchtop Jointers?
Put simply, if you’re in any way interested in woodworking and you don’t want to the pain of planing by hand, you’ll need to invest in a jointer.
No wood can be properly joined or finished until it’s planed straight with square edges. For joinery and furniture making, planing is the most basic operation and one you can’t sidestep.
Effectively, you are establishing a point from which all other measurements and cuts can be made when you use a benchtop jointer.
Although you can buy softwood ready planed, it still needs a pass or two after it’s dried out. Most hardwood is bought sawn, that is directly off the milling band saw.
So, whichever way you dress it up, any serious woodworker needs a jointer.
THE COMPLETE BENCHTOP JOINTER BUYING GUIDE
Buying the best jointer is first a case of determining which of the above styles would best suit your needs and the kind of projects you have up your sleeve.
It’s pointless buying a benchtop if you’re looking to plane bulky pieces of timber. Equally, it’s a waste of time to invest in a large free-standing unit if you’re a casual hobbyist with limited workshop space.
Once you’ve got the type of jointer firmed up, your options will by definition have whittled down just like the wood you’ll be planing.
Think carefully about budget. Buy the best jointer you can afford without compromising yourself financially. Again, lasering in on price will narrow down the choice further and you’ll already be halfway to your decision the easy way.
Take your time to study plenty of user reviews. Once somebody has parted with their hard-earned money, they’ll generally give a frank appraisal.
Beyond this, read reviews from professionals who have put these machines through their paces and don’t have a vested interest in any given manufacturer.
If you take some time in advance to do this, there are then 8 key things to consider to help you end up with the best benchtop jointer for your requirements if this smaller planer best gels with your needs…
What To Consider When Buying a Benchtop Jointer
- Size of Jointer
Before considering the size of the jointer you plan to buy, think seriously about the average size of material you’ll be working with. This will assist you greatly in determining what length and width jointer is the best choice.
The size of a jointer is given according to the length of the knives. The measurement corresponds to the widest board the jointer can comfortably handle. As a guideline, a jointer can deal with wood twice the length of its bed. To this end, blade and bed lengths are both instrumental when it comes to the size of the workpiece a given jointer can accommodate.
> 6-Inch: The smallest jointer is perfect for home woodworkers but can also serve a turn for contractors. These jointers are generally inexpensive and pretty user-friendly. If you want to work with pieces bigger than 6 inches, you’ll need to rip them down first. The benchtop jointers we’ve reviewed today are all 6-inchers
> 8-Inch: Stepping up a gear, 8-inch jointers boast bigger knives and they’ve got longer beds. These are pricier, weigh more and allow you to work with more substantial pieces of lumber
> 16-Inch: Skipping up to the larger industrial jointers, these are real powerhouses with much longer knives offering a very broad scope of work. If you have a large workshop, a jointer like this is an investment rather than a luxury
- Cutting Depth
The cutting depth will impact the number of passes you need to make in order to obtain a completely straight board.
½-inch to ¾-inch cutting depth is usually more than enough, especially with benchtop jointers.
Think about what work you’ll be carrying out, how important speed and efficiency are and focus on a jointer with an appropriate cutting depth.
- Bed: Length and Width
The size of the bed influences the price of the jointer as well as performance.
6 to 8 inches of bed is adequate for most regular planing requirements although you’ll find jointers with beds from 4 to 16 inches wide.
Since the jointer can normally handle timber twice the length of the bed, you should also take its length into account. You can, however, pick up bed extensions if you only occasionally work with lengthier pieces.
Both of these factors are also affected by the amount of space in your workshop. You need to make sure you have room for the jointer and also sufficient space to maneuver the wood as you plane away.
Design of fences varies considerably but smooth operation is paramount.
Angling the fence is simplified if there are positive stops. Most fences can be angled between 45 degrees and 135 degrees with positive stops at 45 degrees and 90 degrees.
The fence should be flat, rigid and durable. Read user reviews for any commentary on this aspect. Buying a jointer with a shoddy fence will seriously diminish your enjoyment and lead to poor planing results.
Since your aim is to create flat surfaces on wood, the tables should be absolutely flat and parallel with the knives.
In general, longer tables give you a straighter joint. That said, if you’re working with small and intricate pieces, it makes no sense to prioritize a long table. The same is true if you are suffering from space constraints.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s a case of doubling down on the type of table that works best for you.
Jointer motors range from 1HP to 2HP.
Don’t discount the smaller 1HP motors as they are more than fit for purpose with benchtop jointers.
Watch out, too, for the voltage. Jointers designed for home use need standard 110-volt or 220-volt single-phase outlets. Hulking great commercial units need 440-volts.
For the purposes of these benchtop jointers, you’re in safe hands with single-phase motors.
Spiral cutting heads making use of 4-sided cutters in a spiral shape are becoming the industry standard.
These jointers shave off wood in a slicing motion maximizing efficiency and kicking out much less noise than a straight-knived counterpart.
Jointers with spiral heads also leave far fewer tooling marks. This, in turn, brings down your finishing time.
- Dust Collection
Evidently, using a jointer generates a great deal of dust and debris.
Look for a jointer equipped with an integrated dust collector or one you can hook up to your shop vac. We’ll look now at why safety in the workshop is so important and keeping things dust-free is a critical part of that operational safety…
USAGE AND MAINTENANCE TIPS
Using a jointer can be dangerous in large part because they don’t seem dangerous. It’s easy to let your guard down.
The truth is that one-quarter of all workshop accidents involve planing machines so you really do need to watch your step.
- Wear eye and ear protection at all times
- Don’t wear jewelry, loose clothing or long sleeves
- Keep the guard in place and properly adjusted where applicable
- Make sure your hand stays away from the back of the board as it passes over the cutters
- Use push blocks so that your hands are 6 inches from the cutterhead
- Steer clear of jointing any stock less than 12 inches long
- Check the depth of cut before you fire up your jointer
- Make certain the knives are sharp
- Stand to one side of the jointer and not immediately behind it
- Let the cutterhead reach full speed before starting your cut
While that looks like quite a list, they are really just basic safety precautions that any sensible woodworker will take.
Focus your full attention on the job at all times and using a jointer will be incredibly rewarding, effective and perfectly safe.
You’ll need to keep your jointer clean and free of debris but there’s not too much by the way of maintenance to bother you beyond making sure the knives are sharp.
You also need to make certain that the infeed and outfeed tables are parallel to one another. Any sign of humped or hollowed edges on your boards and you need to sort out the tables. Use a straight edge or carpenter’s level to check up. Simply adjust the screws and make necessary adjustments.
Check out some great tips on detailed jointer tuning here.