I have a project that calls for a thickness planer, but I don’t have the money for one. Can I use a belt sander or any other common tools that most people own? – Jon Burgess
Chris Marshall: Many years ago, I was in your shoes. My first “hardcore” woodworking machine was a table saw, then a router, and slowly other things. The thickness planer was several buys down the list. They are expensive on the front end — starting at around $300 new for a 12-1/2- or 13-in.-capacity model. But, to answer your question: no, a belt sander won’t replace a planer for thicknessing stock. And other “common” tools like hand planes won’t do this job as efficiently or accurately, either, without a lot of practice. A thickness planer serves three unique purposes that other tools do not: 1) It makes the second face of a board parallel to the other face; 2) It smooths rough stock; and 3) It reduces stock down to the exact thickness you need.
Here’s some advice: save up for one. If you really want to get into woodworking, a thickness planer is worth the cost. Once you have it, you’ll never regret the expenditure, because you’ll be in control of your stock thickness like never before. Pair it up with a jointer some day, and every board you use can be arrow-straight, flat and any thickness you desire. It’s a wonderful step forward! Chances are, you can find a used thickness planer for a great price by checking Craigslist (or similar services) in your area. Or, try eBay. These benchtop planers have been around for a long time, and I’ll bet someone within reasonable driving distance is selling one in great shape for $150 to $200. Maybe even less. If that’s still cost-prohibitive, see if there’s a woodworking guild in your town or city, and join it. A fellow member might be willing to thickness-plane some stock for you for little or nothing. And, you’ll have a social network to start sharing information with, too.