How to Use a Benchtop Jointer

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To achieve precise and consistent results in your woodworking endeavours, you need flat, true boards. A benchtop jointer can churn out perfectly milled boards, as long as you know how to use it. Learn the uses, features, and parts of benchtop jointers and get set up for success.

We’ll also teach you some things to avoid and what to do instead. This article will explain further how to use a benchtop jointer.

Benchtop Jointer Parts

The best benchtop jointer will be a tremendous asset to your woodworking projects. Familiarizing yourself with with the parts of a benchtop jointer will prepare you to use it safely and effectively.

Cutterhead

The cutterhead is a cylinder installed horizontally just below the surface of the benchtop jointer. Square cutters or blades stud the sides of the cylindar in a spiral or helical pattern. As the cutterhead spins rapidly, the blades shave off wood.

The amount of material removed is dependent on the height of the infeed table.

Cutterhead Guard

A guard covers the rotating, blade-studded cutterhead for safety. As the board is fed into the jointer, it nudges the cutterhead guard out of the way and passes over the boards. Once the board passes the cutterhead, the guard slides back into place automatically.

Infeed/Outfeed Tables

Benchtop jointers have two tables, one on either side of the spinning cutting surface. The table on the right is the infeed table – this is where stock is introduced to the benchtop jointer. On the left is the outfeed table, and this is where the cut stock emerges after passing over the cutterhead.

Lowering or raising the infeed table determines how much material will be removed from your stock.

Fence

The fence on a benchtop jointer attaches to the table and acts as a guide while you are jointing wood. They are usually adjustable in two directions – the distance from the front of the benchtop jointer, and the angle at which they meet the tables.

How to Use a Benchtop Jointer

Jointers are used to flatten the edges and faces of your stock. Benchtop options are a lot cheaper and more convenient than their cabinet style counterparts. Here is how to use your benchtop jointer:

  1. Set up the benchtop jointer. Connect the unit to power. Make sure it is installed on a flat, sturdy, and level surface. Check that the cord is routed appropriately and does not pose a tripping hazard.
  2. Take safety precautions. Safety glasses should be worn when operating a benchtop jointer; they protect your eyes from dust and debris. Wear snugly fitting clothes and remove all dangling jewelry before you approach the machine.
  3. Adjust the fence angle. Most benchtop jointer fences can be adjusted. Refer to your user’s manual for instructions on how to set the angle required for your project. Generally, you’ll want the fence to be set at a 90-degree angle to the tabletop. If this is the case, you can check the angle with a carpenter’s square.
  4. Adjust the fence distance. The fence helps guide the wood over the spinning cutterheads. If you pass a thin piece of stock over the cutting surface in the same spot every time, that area will dull prematurely.  Periodically moving the board to different areas of the cutting surface will help the cutterheads on your benchtop jointer wear evenly.
  5. Set the depth of the cut. The infeed table of the benchtop planer can be raised or lowered using a knob or lever. Some outfeed tables are also adjustable. A lower infeed table will result in a deeper cut, removing more material. For a shallower cut, raise the infeed table. An indicator on the side of the jointer shows you how far the infeed table is below the cutterhead, measured to the nearest 32nd of an inch.
  6. Orient the board on the benchtop jointer.  Place the board on the table as if you were going to joint it, but don’t turn the machine on yet. Take a look at the angle of the wood grain relative to the table. If the pattern of the grain is moving up and away from the table, you need to reorient the board. If the grain slopes down, towards the infeed table, you’re good to go.
  7. Make your first pass. Turn on the jointer. Feed the board over the cutterhead, allowing the jointer to pull it along. Use paddles or push sticks to guide the wood. Longer boards need to be supported (but not lifted) as they come off the outfeed table. Otherwise, the weight will pull the trailing end of the board down, resulting in a noticeably deeper cut at one end of the board.
  8. Repeat as necessary. Making multiple passes and shaving off a small amount with each pass reduces the problems you’ll encounter and gives you more control over the process. With each pass, make sure that the board is oriented appropriately relative to the cutting surface.

What Not to Do With a Benchtop Jointer (And What to Do Instead)

Benchtop jointers are convenient and helpful tools, but they aren’t without danger or risk. Check this list for behaviors that might jeopardize your safety and replace them with the provided alternatives.

Finger Safety

Don’t let your fingers get within six inches of the cutterhead when the machine is on. Instead, use push sticks or paddles to control your work and keep your fingers safe.

Cutting Against the Grain

Don’t joint against the grain. Instead, orient the board so that the grain nearest the blade is sloping down and away.

End Grain

Don’t joint end grain. The rotational cutting action of a benchtop jointer will cause the fibers of the board to separate. Instead, cross-cut end grain using a chop saw or table saw.

Cutterhead Guard Removal

Don’t remove the cutterhead guard unless you are certain the machine can’t accidentally turn on. Instead, unplug the benchtop jointer before performing any maintenance. If you need to access the cutterhead, you can use a block of wood to prop the guard out of the way.

Conclusion

A benchtop jointer can flatten the face or edge of a board. To use a benchtop jointer, you will first need to adjust the fence and the infeed table. Multiple passes over the cutting surface may be necessary to safely and smoothly achieve your desired result.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.