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What is the best way to plane boards to the same thickness?

I was recently using and researching a bit into bench-top planers like: https://www.ryobitools.com/products/details/13-surface-planer-with-rapidset-blade-system

My first thought was there would be some minimum thickness "stopper" that could be locked in for a given project, and then I could start shaving a bit off a handful of boards until they reached that thickness.

It appears this and other planers don't offer such a feature (or have I just not found it)?

Thinking about another way to achieve the goal: it seems I could pass all boards through, lower the height of the cutter head, pass them all through again, lower again, and so on, with the final height being the same. That way seems like more work-especially if the starting thicknesses are significantly different.

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    You're aiming for equal thickness correct? If so this is thicknessing. Terminology 101: the various dimensions of a board are length, width and thickness. – Graphus supports Monica Jun 4 '18 at 15:51
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    Yes, and thanks for the edits to clarify that! – owenfi Jun 5 '18 at 21:12
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Benchtop planers frequently do have positive stops at predetermined intervals. The Ryobi AP1300, for example, has them at 1/4" intervals. I don't know about the 1301 model, but it's certainly something to look for. If the planer doesn't have these stops, or you want to plane to a thickness not corresponding to one of the stops (eg, 5/8" on the AP1300), then the approach is basically what you had come up with... it's not really a lot more work, since each board has to go through the same treatment anyway you cut it. It does take some more organization though.

but the bigger questions is : Do you really need every piece to be the same thickness? Do they really need to be interchangable?

  • The project at hand was replacing a few boards in a floor, it seems intuitive that if I was building something like a table I would want them to be the same, so that it would be square and even on both sides? Is there an alternative approach to accomplish that? – owenfi Jun 5 '18 at 21:18
  • So for floor boards they definitely all need to be the same. But for furniture they generally do not - parts and joinery can be made to fit. This is much more the case for hand tool work, but is still often true for power tool setups. Eg, in a basic square table, the aprons should all be exactly the same length, approximately the same width, and the thickness is largely irrelevant - as long as the front face of each apron is aligned with the legs and top in the same way on each side. Does that make sense? – aaron Jun 6 '18 at 12:08
  • Perhaps a bookcase is a more clear example: each shelf must be the same length and approximately the same width (depending on the design), but there is no need for each shelf to be the same thickness as long as each housing joint (eg, dado) is cut to the exact thickness of each particular shelf. If you are not a factory, there is no need to act like one :) – aaron Jun 6 '18 at 12:10
  • Yep, those examples make sense (had to look at a diagram to verify apron, but upon doing that it seems obvious). The top would still "need" to be the same thickness if it was multiple boards, but not as important for parts that are not flush to one another. – owenfi Jun 6 '18 at 19:32
  • bingo. sometimes this is manifest as a one-sided tolerance in both dimension and angle. For example, there is no need for the bottom (free) side of the apron to be perfectly square to the sides, or for the back to even be perfectly parallel to the front - those parts will never be seen, let alone measured! The other part of this is always working from a consistent "reference face" or "reference edge" (good terms to look up for further reading). Rob Porcaro over at www.rpwoodwork.com/blog has had a lot to say about these things over the years. – aaron Jun 7 '18 at 12:12
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I work with a lot of pallet wood and frequently many of the boards will be different thickness.

I could pass all boards through, lower the height, pass them all through again, lower again, and so on

This is exactly what I do. My planer does not have set stops so I cannot 100% accurately come back to the same thickness every time. So that is why I do exactly what you said when I want to have the same thickness for a group of boards. This is also why I try and make sure I do all the boards in one "session" so I do not have to remember where I am in the process.

Collect all the boards I want to do at once and work one side at a time. Passing them all through at the same thickness. Lower the height and repeat until I am happy with the results. This can mean that I am passing boards that are not getting cut at every pass. I still put the board through though to be sure.

If you have access to a joiner it certainly works well with this process as you can use that to try and get one side and adjoining edge true before planing the other side.

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