With normal wear, eventually you will need to change the knives. Thankfully, all the tools now have knives that are reversible, allowing you to use both edges of the knife for longer wear before discarding them. We changed the knives in each machine and found all to be pretty similar in their method. After removing a series of screws, you simply flip the knives around and place them on index pins. The Makita is the only exception to this indexing system and was the most tedious to deal with.
All of the newer-style indexing blades have a handy feature that allows you to "shift" the knives sideways in the head in case you encounter nicks in the knives. With this great feature, you can get more life out of your slightly dinged blades by taking the damaged spots out of alignment to avoid grooves or raised lines in the wood.
A nice safety feature that all the planers have is a head-lock that keeps the spindle from moving when changing the blades. Blade change varied between 15 and 25 minutes per blade between machines for the first change.
By our testing, the best machine was the DeWalt DW735. It's a powerful tool that cuts smoothly and is easy to use. The three-knife, two-speed cutterhead provides versatility, and its powerful chip blower worked great. We liked its compact and rugged design for carting from job to job, and its solid metal base made it easier to set up versus the other models with folding tables that needed adjusting. Both in the shop and on the road, the DW735 is a capable, well-built planer–a real smooth operator and the top tool in our test.
For a great planer to use exclusively in the shop, I would choose the Craftsman 351.217590. It's the biggest tool with some nice extras, such as a chip blower and dust collection filter bag. The most unique feature was its digital readout thickness-setting system, which gave us accurate results without manually measuring every final pass. This three-knife, two-speed machine performed right at the top, but didn't win because of the extra adjustment needed and the difficulty of lugging it around to jobsites.
Our next choice was the heavy and relatively old-school Delta 22-580. It is clearly a precision machine that still performed great despite its two-knife cutterhead and low number of cuts per inch. Its features include a two-speed drive, manual cutterhead lock, the only full-range settable depth stop, and a unique zeroing indicator.
The DeWalt DW734 is a decent tool that performed in the middle of the pack. It has a manually locking, three-knife cutterhead design that performed well, planing wood smoothly and accurately. Although it lacks some of the other features shared by the top machines, such as the two-speed feed rate, it is still a good machine worth considering, especially on a budget.
Although the Steel City 40200 did not blow our doors off, it does have some desirable features, such as a three-knife cutterhead, two-speed feed rate, and among the most durable top bars for return passing. Its portability is aided by the fact that it's the second lightest. Although it performed adequately, we felt there are better tools for the price.
We were disappointed with the new Ridgid R4330 planer. We liked the unobtrusive, side-mounted crank handle, but the machine lacked the benefit of a two-speed feed rate. Falling short of expectations–especially on the power test–made this a lower-rated performer.
The Makita 2012NB was the lightest and most compact tool by far, but its performance also was on the light side. It strained and shuddered during the power test, forced to slow down as its lowest cuts-per-inch rate had the tool trying to take bites that were too big. This machine could have benefited from a two-speed feed rate or a three-knife cutter head to provide more versatile and powerful performance.
–Brent Hull is a historic restoration and millwork contractor. He owns Hull Historical in Fort Worth, Texas.
Sources Of Supply
Delta 22-580: $429
DeWalt Industrial Tool
DeWalt DW734: $399
DeWalt DW735: $549
Makita USA Inc.
Makita 2012NB: $479
Ridgid R4330: $379
Sears Holdings Corp.
Craftsman 351.217590: $530
Steel City Tool Works
Steel City 40200: $419