An Owner's Opinion Of Two Portable Planers

Delta 22-540DeWalt DW733I recently purchased a DeWalt DW733 12 1/2" portable planer. This purchase was made under duress. At the time I owned a Delta 22-540 12" portable and was so disgusted with its excessive sniping that I was almost afraid to spend more than 83 cents on another portable planer. As is often pointed out by other woodworkers you can engineer and build infeed/outfeed tables and extensions, bolt the Delta 540 down, put your left hand over your right eye while standing on 1 foot, and reduce the amount of snipe on the 540. I'm joking of course but not to far from the truth. I tried a lot of these snipe-eliminating suggestions and did succeed in reducing the amount of snipe, but what I was getting was still unacceptable to me. Additionally, my "portable" planer now took up as much shop space as my table saw. I have limited shop space and one of the reasons the portable was attractive to me is that I could sit it on a shelf then pull it out and use it when I needed it. I should also point out that I understand this snipe problem is not particular to the Delta 540 but exists in all of the "first generation" portables.

I'm a hobbyist and spend more time picking my lumber, planning my cut strategy, and trying to optimize my yield than a professional shop would. I had always used my Dad's old planer that doesn't snipe at all. I was taught to cut rough lumber to ¼-½" over finished size and then plane. This allows me to plane different parts of the same board to different thickness. It also helps to maximize cupped lumber because I can cut my narrower parts from these boards, rip and crosscut them close to final size, run these smaller easier to handle boards over the joiner taking off less lumber to get a flat side, then plane.

Well I moved 700 miles from Dad's planer and that's when I bought the Delta 540. I quickly realized that with this planer I had to plane all of my wood in advance so that I would only lose 6" of each board to snipe. If I tried to work the way I was used to (and believe in) I had to cut each piece 6" longer than finished size – not a viable option for someone trying to optimize their lumber usage.

Since the first time I used the 540 I hated it but I didn't return it because I didn't have the money or space for a 15" stationary planer, I needed to plane lumber, and I understood from reading and talking to others that this was "normal" for portable planers. I guess I'd just have to learn to deal with the waste but it irritated me every time I used it.

In my opinion the purpose of a thickness planer is to plane boards to a consistent thickness for the length of the board. Lots of people are happy with these machines and get defensive when I express my disgust (something I've been very vocal about). People also continue to recommend to others that they buy these planers. I've heard things like:

"You can build this to lessen the snipe" What if you bought a table saw and to get it to perform acceptably you had to make modifications, add pieces, re-engineer it, and it was still only OK – not Great? Would you be happy with it and recommend that table saw to others?

"What's the big deal with snipe? – just deal with it" – What if you bought a band saw and every time you cut a board on the band saw it ruined 6 inches of the length of the board. Would you say "I love my Brand X band saw, and I recommend it highly"?

"I can't afford to buy a better planer" Now you can!

I had to plane about 100 b.f. of maple and some oak during the upcoming weekend and was dreading losing about 10% of my expensive lumber to snipe. After agonizing over parting with $450 I made a decision. I'll go to Home Depot and buy the new highly touted DeWalt DW733 planer. First of all HD has a 30 day money back guarantee and so does DeWalt. I had already compared the DeWalt to the new Delta 560. And for a number of reasons I felt the DeWalt was a much better machine (plus Delta had already ticked me off with the 540 and I really didn't want to give them any more of my money for a portable planer).

I got home and hesitantly unpacked the new yellow monster. I was completely prepared to run screaming back to HD and demand my money back if something even hinted of snipe. I was also mentally preparing myself for this not working and having to spend $1000 or more for a 15" planer. The planer was securely packaged and in perfect order when I dragged it from the box. I sat it on a Workmate™ and inspected it. I was impressed with the fit and finish and everything was ready to go – no assembly required. The cutterhead assembly rides on 4 substantial steel posts. I familiarized myself with all of the controls, clamped it down, and turned it on. Pretty loud, but I don't think quite as loud as my 540. I'd like to be able to say that at this point I thoroughly read the owners manual.

I grabbed a piece of scrap pine about 3' long x 6" wide cranked the planer to height and fed it through. Hummm – no snipe. I was thinking this must have been a mistake and cranked to take another 1/32" off. No snipe again – OK I'm starting to get excited. I proceeded to plane that pine board down to less than a ¼" thick, I took off more than 1/16th on one pass. I never got any snipe. There's a pretty nifty "Stock removal gauge" on the front of the cutterehead/motor assembly that gives you a rough idea how much you're taking off with each pass. I doubt if this thing is pinpoint accurate but it worked. Still pessimistic, I thought OK, that was pine and a short board. Keep in mind that I hadn't even adjusted the infeed/outfeed tables. This was right out of the box.

I grabbed 3 red oak boards 4/4 rough, each 8' long and varying widths from about 6" to 10". I planed those boards down to ¾" in the wink of any eye. The 15amp motor has plenty of power and I was able to take off 1/16th at a pass without tearout (or course these were brand new knives). I only took off about 1/32 for the final passes.

I finally got some snipe. On a couple of the passes I forgot to lock the cutterhead. The cutterhead lock is one new feature that is responsible for eliminating the snipe. The lock is operated by raising/lowering a bar right above the motor on the feed side. It's very handy and quick to operate but takes a little getting used to. You flip up the bar to unlock the cutterhead, make the height adjustment with the turn crank, then flip the bar back down to re-lock. When I forgot to lock the cutterhead the planer sniped almost as bad as my old 540 – proof positive that the cutterhead lock does its job.

All of the controls on the DeWalt are very well thought out and convenient. The crank handle is big and easy to grab hold of but folds down flat for storage. ¼ turn takes off 1/64th and the amount removed with each ¼ turn is printed on a disk at the bottom of the handle. There is a unique "turret" style depth stop that has 3 settings similar to a depth stop on a plunge router. The ¾" stop was set accurately on mine from the factory.

I got the dust hood, which is made from formed sheet metal, not plastic. The hood bolts to a metal shroud on the back of the cutterhead. When I hooked the planer up to my 2hp dust collector something started flapping around the dust hood and made a really irritating noise. I found that air was being drawn in between the hood and the shroud and the hood side was flapping like the reed on a duck call. A piece of electrical tape fixed this. Although I used 4" pipe to my DC, the hood also comes with a reducer from 4" to 2.5" to fit most shop vacs. The dust collection worked amazingly well, and I just had some minor sweeping at clean up time. The hood costs and extra $30.

I haven't changed the knives yet. The DeWalt uses the "old" style knife lock with a rigid clamp the entire length of the knife and quite a few bolts along the clamp to hold it in place. A knife height gauge and wrench to change knives are included and clip into a handy little storage try on the outfeed side of the cutterhead assembly.

The following Saturday I planed that 100 b.f. of maple in precut pieces. I never experienced any snipe and the machine performed flawlessly. Throughout this article where I say "no snipe" I mean either virtually no snipe, or snipe so minimal it is almost imperceptible, and comes out easily with normal finish sanding.

The Delta 22-540 is gone – good riddance. I sold it instead of beating it to smitherines with a sledge hammer like I wanted to. My new DeWalt DW733 is a pleasure to use and I recommend it unconditionally. I now work in a snipe-free environment.

– Dave Warren, 8/1/97



© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
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