The good news is that technology and free market capitalism have brought small thickness planers into home-shop affordability. The bad news is that without the 5-digit price tag, 24-inch wide planning capacity or 3-foot infeed and outfeed beds of an industrial production planer, there’s a lot of things to keep in mind with these inexpensive marvels. The typical hobbyist thickness planer is 12 to 13 inches wide and can handle stock up to several inches thick, which is darn respectable. But the most common problem with small thickness planers is, of course, snipe.
Snipe is the defect left on a piece where the initial and departure ends of the board are over-planed for the first and last few inches of length than the rest of the board in the middle. This is caused by insufficient support on the board during infeed and outfeed because of the anorexic in-and-out feed tables on most portable planers. The workpiece doesn’t enter the machine level and steady; the far end (away from the planer) droops, rocking the end in the planer up off the bed slightly and into the cutter head, until the end in the machine gets to the second set of feed rollers. Then, the two rollers on either side of the cutter head manage to keep the workpiece flat and true in the machine.
The Snipe Fixes
There are three simple fixes for snipe. One, mill the board longer than finish to account for the fact that you will lose several inches from both ends to cut the snipe off… not necessarily cost effective when using expensive exotic lumbers. Two, if you have the real estate available in your shop, build long, sturdy infeed and outfeed tables precisely at the height of the planer’s bed. Three, use the “hold the end up” technique when feeding and catching stock through the planer.
The easiest, least costly and least space consuming is option three. The technique is to put a slight amount of upward pressure on the far end of the stock, forcing the infeed end down against the planer bed. This is held until you feel the second set of feed rollers (the one’s on the opposite side of the cutter head) grab the stock. The technique is repeated in reverse on the exit side of the planer as well.
Mike @ Doobly-Do Wood Works firstname.lastname@example.org