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This may be an opinion question...

Someone recently gave me an old electric planer similar to

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And I'm wondering whether there is any task where it would really have an advantage over other tools such as hand planes, a thickness planer, a belt sander, etc.

LATE ADDITION TO THE QUESTION: How would one of these do for the frequently-asked question about initial paint removal from boards being recycled? The blades are certainly a lot cheaper than those of a "lunchbox" planer if the paint makes a mess of them. On the other hand, it has little to no dust collection, which could be hazardous if there's lead in the paint. Just a thought...

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  • i had been wondering this myself - I bought one years ago and it's been sitting pretty much unused for at least 5 years. Ended up pulling mine out last week to dispose of. Apr 26 '16 at 22:16
  • Related to your inquiry: woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/3929/…
    – Matt
    May 28 '16 at 4:34
  • I've used it to take off more than 1/8 of a cabinet stile that needed to fit against drywall. Plane close to the line and then finish with the belt sander. When the cabinet is too big for or for some other reason a table saw is not an option.
    – Joshua
    Jun 26 '16 at 1:57
  • "What is an electric planer (hand tool) good for?" UMM, Planing faster then using a hand plane. Avoiding breaking a sweat. Taking off too much material.
    – Alaska Man
    Jan 15 at 21:07
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And I'm wondering whether there is any task where it would really have an advantage over other tools such as hand planes, a thickness planer, a belt sander, etc.

Electric planers are coarse tools for coarse work. As such, you won't see one used by a fine furniture maker for anything beyond the rough dimensioning of stock (removing gross amounts of twist, waney edges, etc.), if indeed he/she uses one at all. I might use one for removing a dirty surface of a board prior to running it through a powered planer/jointer, just to save the wear on my planer knives.

Usually these are used by job sites for rough dimensioning of things. For example, I used one once to trim the protruding tops of some deck joists prior to screwing down deck boards. If you have a stud that's just a bit too wide to fit in a space, trim it down with an electric planer. And the list goes on.

Historically, the job of the electric planer was done by a scrub plane.

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  • I like the analogy to a power-assisted scrub plane; that sets expectations pretty well.
    – keshlam
    Apr 26 '16 at 21:31
  • 1
    I read that last line backwards at first..."Historically, the electric planer was used to do the job of a scrub plane," and started imagining Roy Underhill using one.
    – rob
    Apr 27 '16 at 1:21
  • I recently purchased a cheap power planer to quickly remove the rough surface of some hardwood. my expectation was that it would function like a scrub plane, and it did this admirably. The work went very quickly, and I wouldnt hesitate to use it again. You do have to be careful, and I would only use it for fine woodworking if (1) you're familiar with how handplanes work in principle and (2) you take very light cuts. The plane can dig in and mess up your work fast if youre not careful!
    – aaron
    Apr 27 '16 at 11:18
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I'm not sure you're going to find a ton of woodworkers using these for fine woodworking or furniture construction, but they are commonly used by construction workers/general contractors for things like shaving down doors, evening out floor joists, etc.

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  • Ah. A roughing tool. That makes some sense.
    – keshlam
    Apr 26 '16 at 20:11
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    When I'm shaving doors (and frequently putting a bevel on) the finish is anything but rough. Though the examples of shaving joists/studs/etc are certainly rough. Apr 27 '16 at 1:03
  • A friend of mine uses it for shaping oak planks for the hull for his 10 meter motor ship. They are several meters long and several centimeters thick. You do not want to do that by hand. I have seen him wear out an electric hand planer; and after a quick check to see what was broken (and mendable) he brought forth his next electric hand planer. It looked like he was used to the wood winning over the steel once in a while.
    – LosManos
    May 31 '16 at 20:10
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They're frequently used to plane doors (for fitment), they're much faster than sanding, and don't require the precise setting up needed to trim with a circular saw.

The finish they leave is not incredible, but not bad to get prettied up. They're also very good at making showers of sparks and bad, bad sounds when you hit an embedded nail. For better results, tie a magnet to a string and dangle it over the area to be planed.

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As with all tools, it depends. The cheaper ones or ones used by construction workers for timber framing are not suitable for woodworking. Surface quality left by electric planers varies. They are not all equal. Some even have spiral blades that leave a very smooth finish that requires little to no sanding.

As for uses, a high-end electric planer, such as Festool or Mafell will leave a better quality edge than most trim routers with a bevelling router bit. They can also cut rabbets easily and quickly for inset panels or cabinet backs. For sneaking up on a final dimension I would still use a good handplane, but an electric planer is actually safer for getting a straight edge on longer pieces than a medium sized jointer which is limited by infeed and outfeed table lengths.

So, yes, a good quality electric planer has uses in a woodworking shop. The better ones have good dust collection, too.

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I love mine. I have built several long boat oars and spars over the years and an electric hand plane is the ideal roughing out tool. I use them to reduce cross section/taper over long lengths and for making square stock round or oval (using a spar gauge).

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