Benchtop jointers are one of those woodworking tools that there is a lot of discussion about. Some carpenters say you don’t need one, some say you do. If you’re going to get a wood jointer, you might as well get the best jointer you can buy. Determining whether you need a benchtop jointer or not, that’s ultimately up to you. However, we hope to give you a bit of information on the best benchtop jointers that’ll help make your decision easier.
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How Wood Jointers Work
It’s still a thing, but it’s not as prevalent as it once was – the job foreman, after inspecting a delivery of lumber in which he found too many boards that weren’t straight, calls the lumber yard and makes them take the lumber back. On a smaller scale, an independent carpenter might have to make the best of some imperfect wood pieces, because he may not have the option to send the lumber back.
This is why every woodshop needs a jointer. Wavy lumber can be straightened, in a manner of speaking, imperfections eliminated and warpage can be overcome with the help of a good jointer. But what kind, what brand, what quality level? These are the types of questions you should be asking when looking for the best jointer.
Let us straighten things out for you (no pun intended). Here is a list of the best jointers for general use. Some of these jointers be more suited for DIYers and weekend carpenters and some are worthy of professionals, but all represent an honest value.
Top 7 Best Wood Jointers (Benchtop Jointers)
1. Powermatic 54HH Six Inch Jointer – Overall Best Jointer
Best Feature: Helical Cutter Head
The mere appearance of this handsome yellow and silver machine suggests professional quality before you even lay the first board on it. Among jointers, it’s a Cadillac, Beemer and Lincoln Continental all rolled up into one.
This Powermatic 54HH six-inch jointer features a helical cutter head with 40 four-sided indexable carbide knife inserts. Why is a helical cutter head a good thing? There are four benefits:
- Cutter placement is perfect, every time.
- The indexable inserts are inexpensive and easy to replace.
- The helical cutter head is quieter.
- The helical cutter head creates less “tear out” of material, resulting in a smoother finish than with straight-knife cutters.
The inserts require no adjustment once they are installed. If a knife insert becomes nicked by a nail or any metallic bit imbedded in the wood, the user can simply rotate the insert for a fresh edge and continue working.
Oversized infeed and outfeed tables are mounted on dovetailed ways for strength and stability. The fence is 38 inches long, with positive stops at 90° and 45° right and left. According to product literature, the fence is machined with precision to ensure perfect flatness of the cut. The infeed and outfeed tables are likewise ground to perfect smoothness, because if the jointer ain’t straight, neither will the wood coming off of it.
With the fine / quick adjustment tool on the infeed table, users can easily set up their cut for depth. Speaking of the tables, the overall length of 66 inched makes the Powermatic one of the longest jointers on the market. That’s great for being able to use long boards, not-so-great if space in the workshop is at a premium.
The motor on this precision tool is one-horsepower, and it drives a non-slip “V” belt for maximum performance. If adjustments to belt tension are needed, the motor is mounted in a way to provide easy access to belt pulleys. Standard operation is with 115-volt house current, but it can easily be converted to 230-volt service.
OSHA requires dust collection systems capable of moving 450 CFM. The Powermatic has a four-inch dust port that connects to vacuum systems for dust removal.
Overall, this is the best benchtop jointer on the market. There’s almost nothing bad about this jointer. A well-made quality wood jointer that any woodworker would be happy to have in his woodshop.
Powermatic jointer vs. Jet jointer: A lot of the “best-of” lists for wood jointers include the Jet jointer. The jet jointer is more than double the price of the Powermatic jointer and isn’t nearly as good of quality. The fact that it is listed leaves us to conclude that the “best-of” lists we’re seeing are dubious, or that they’re seeing something we’re not. We’ll let you decide. Our recommendation – avoid the Jet jointers you see out there on the market.
2. Shop Fox W1744 12-Inch Heavy Duty Jointer – Best Heavy Duty Jointer
Best Feature: Accepts Boards up to 12 Inches Wide
The Shop Fox W1744 is to other jointers what a Mack truck is to a Mini Cooper. It’s monstrous, it’s massive, it’s humongous. It’s big. At 13 inches by 83 inches, it’s the biggest jointer on our list, but the most impressive thing about it isn’t its overall size but the fact that you can feed boards up to 12 inches wide through it.
The four-knife cutter head is 3.75 inches in diameter and produces smooth, true cuts in several different orientations. With a cutter head speed of nearly 5000 RPMs, the W1744 can sail through all kinds of cuts.
This model uses parallelogram beds instead of dovetailed stays, representing an improvement in how the users makes adjustments (although the parallelogram’s superiority is not universally agreed-upon).
That point becomes moot if the tables never have to be adjusted, and given the precision of the W1744 jointer, adjustments are likely to be few and far between. But if adjustments are needed, the parallelogram tables have a depth scale on the infeed table that allows the table to be calibrated without the need for shims.
For various shape cuts, there are positive stop bolts that allows the operator to easily transition from finish to final cuts. Each positive stop controls the stop or bottom range of table movement and is held in place throughout the cut by a lock nut.
The W1744 is not only big, it’s heavy, hitting the scales at a whopping 970 pounds. The cast iron infeed and outfeed tables represent a lot of mass that will damp down a lot of vibration. With 12-inch wide hardwood being pushed through the machine, excess vibration can affect the precision of the cut. The fence on this beast is nearly four feet long, and you can use long planks – with proper support – with confidence.
3. Porter-Cable PC160JT Variable Speed Jointer – Best Benchtop Jointer for Budget-Conscious
Best Feature: Good Performance at a Good Price
For a jointer that can be here today and gone (stored away) tomorrow, the PC160JT does a very nice job for the money. With an infeed table that’s flat within 2/1000 inch over a 12-inch distance, you can trust your project to this little dynamo. It’s not a free-standing jointer (total table length 32 inches) but it has the performance of one, for a fraction of the money.
Most jointers have variable speed capability. This is important, because depending on the type of wood you’re using, and type of cut you’re going for, the right speed is crucial. Essentially, the softer the wood, the slower the speed you should use, and the deeper the cut, the slower the speed. Push speed – the speed at which you feed the wood piece into the jointer from the infeed table is important as well.
This compact Porter-Cable bench jointer has a prominently-placed speed dial that you can’t miss. The speed control on this jointer is a true variable speed control, working like a radio’s volume control, changing speeds in infinite increments, instead pre-set detent positions. The minimum speed is 6000 RPMs and the maximum speed is 11,000 RPMs without a load. That’s a wide range, and the user should find that very helpful as he works with a variety of wood species.
It uses a two-knife cutter head that is easy to service. A jackscrew makes leveling easy and a cutter head lock makes changing blades as safe as it is quick. This unit is ideal for edging, flattening or face jointing. The 32-inch length isn’t as restrictive as you might think. The fence is center mounted, and resists tipping and / or tilting as boards are being moved through the machine, so, using reasonable caution, you could run a board five or six feet long through it.
Some might say the best thing about the PC160JT is the fact that it weighs only 35 pounds. Since a jointer isn’t likely to be a piece of equipment that you use all day long every day, it’s nice that you could stow this on a shelf or under the workbench when you’re not using it.
Best Feature: 1.5 HP Motor
First off, what is this Shop Fox thing? No, Shop Fox is not a household name, or a name you hear thrown about when the good old boys meet for breakfast before their work shifts. Shop Fox originated in 2001 as an extension of Woodstock International, which isn’t much older (Est 1989). But they’ve established themselves as a supplier of quality products. The tools and machinery produced by this company have been well-received, as is this Shop Fox W1829 jointer.
In order to make imprecise pieces of wood more precise, the machine that’s doing the work must itself be flat and perfectly straight, and the Shop Fox is. Expertly machined to tight tolerances, this jointer is reliable for all types of functions.
This jointer can produce straight, flat faces on a workpiece and properly square it for a host of purposes. The cast iron table is small enough to be portable, measuring 28 1/2 inches, but it’s sturdy enough to use with some fairly long boards. The maximum width is six inches, which you will find is pretty standard for the jointers on our list.
For a benchtop jointer, it has an impressive power plant. It contains a 1-1/2-horsepower, single-phase motor and a two-knife cutter head that operates at 10,000 RPM and makes 20,000 cuts per minute. No spiral helical cutter head, but for 90 percent of your projects, this two-knife cutter will be more than adequate.
A fine-adjust, in-feed table knob enables you to precisely control the cutting depth without having to do a lot of head-scratching. The fence is easy to adjust and has preset positions for common angles, like 90°, 45° and 135°.
The W1829 features a built-in mini impeller that draws the dust and wood chips away from the cutter head and blows them out the 2-1/2-inch dust port. A dust connection filter chute, sized to fit a standard galvanized trash can, is included.
For all of its great features, the W1829 is nonetheless a “prosumer” item, and needs to be treated with kid gloves to ensure durability and reliability. The aluminum alloy fence will have a tendency to “drift” out of alignment after repeated uses. Getting it back into square is simple, but the user does have to check more often than he would with a more expensive unit.
Best Feature: Digital Readout
The first of two Grizzly jointers on our list, this is the high-tech wonder that makes the other jointers envious. The first thing you’ll notice about this massive industrial grade jointer is the electronic display. In fact, this is the first-ever jointer with a digital height readout. That takes the guesswork out of the equation, or the “squint work” of trying to read a tiny scale in a shadowy workshop.
This is clearly a stationary machine that’s not going anywhere. At 42 inches wide, 83 inches long and tipping the scale at 800 pounds, you’d better like where you park it, because it’s going to be a booger to move. But that’s what you want in an industrial-grade jointer.
Since this model already had the sweet digital readout sitting up high, watching over the cutting process, it only makes sense to include the best type of cutter head. So they packed it with a four-row helical spiral cutter head with 36 indexable solid carbide inserts.
They didn’t scrimp on the power plant either. It features a hulking three horsepower, single phase, TEFC (totally enclosed fan cooled), 220-volt motor with a shaft speed of 3,450 RPMs, which converts to 7000 RPMs (without a load) on the cutter head. For seamless seams and edgeless edges, the combination of the helical cutter head and the power at its command can turn warper, imperfect wood into a work of art.
The maximum cutting width is eight inches – not the widest in our group, but a cut about the standard six inches. This model uses a parallelogram adjustment system, which many woodworkers consider the ultimate. The fence is heavy and center-mounted, making it easy to work with long boards.
The switch controls are conveniently mounted on a pedestal and the on-off switch is equipped with thermal overload protection. Just so this handsome devil stays that way, all painted parts are powder coated for superior adherence and durability.
Best Feature: Rolling Base
This bad boy is portable, not in a “pick it up and tote it somewhere” kind of way, but rather a “let off the brake and roll it,” kind of way. Grizzly’s smallest cabinet-mounted jointer can make its home anywhere on the shop floor with its three-wheel transport system.
For what the manufacturer lists as a “small” jointer, it has more length than you might expect at just under 48 inches. With a sturdy center-mounted fence (29 inches long), you can reasonably expect to shape boards as long as six feet, if proper precautions are taken. The maximum width is a typical six inches.
The motor is a one-horsepower, single phase motor that draws 14 amps. So, it delivers a lot of power, but requires a lot of power. The unit ships pre-wired for 115-Volt house current, but it can be set for 230-Volt service.
The cutter head is not helical, but it is a three-knife version, which produces marginally cleaner cuts than would a two-knife head. With no load, the cutter head spins at an impressive 5000 RPMs, and the unit is capable of 15,000 cuts per minute.
The infeed and outfeed beds slide on dovetailed ways to ensure easy adjustments while still maintaining perfect squareness in all planes. The fence has stop points at 45°, 90° and 135°. The G0813 has a nice adjustment handwheel, a lever on the infeed side, and an ergonomically designed oversized handle for complete control.
The Grizzly disposes of sawdust and particulates via a four inch port. Depending on the size and production level of your woodshop, you should determine the dust mitigation system that works best for you. Whether this consists of connecting to a shop vac, a sophisticated industrial central vacuum system or simply dumping the sawdust into a big barrel, dust collection is an important function.
(OSHA has strict standards for wood dust, which poses a hazard to human health in several ways. It is a Group 1 carcinogen, it can exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma, it constitutes a fire hazard and could potentially contribute to a dust explosion and if it accumulates on floors or standing surfaces it poses a slip hazard.)
Best Feature: Helical Cutter Head
A benchtop jointer with a helical spiral cutter head is a great combination of performance and mobility. That’s what you get with the Rikon 20-600H.
The cutting head is a six-row helical style with 12 HSS, two-insert cutters. This will make a cut finer than frog’s hair. Plus, it’s driven by an 10-amp motor rated at 20,000 RPMs (no load) for all the power you should need for various species and thickness of woods.
The Rikon has a single table, made from high-density aluminum that has been milled down to perfect flatness, and an adjustable fence with stops at 90° and 45°. A quick depth setting mechanism helps keep the workflow going.
This is a really powerful dynamo for something that’s only 30 inches long. The maximum cutting width is a pretty-much-standard six inches. And at 36 pounds, you can take it with you, store it on a shelf or stow it underneath the workbench.
Operator safety is ensured by a spring-loaded safety guard, an on-off switch right up front, and a dust discharge port on the left end of the unit for connection to most any dust collection device (preferably a suitable shop vac).
This comes with a very generous five-year warranty, one of the best warranties of any jointer on our list. It does not apply to parts that routinely wear out – like the blades – and it only applies to defects, not to things that wear out prior to the conclusion of the five-year period.
What is a Jointer?
A jointer belongs to the category of stock dressing machine. Stock dressing machines includes jointers, table saws and planers. A jointer’s function is fairly simple, it’s designed to take stock and smooth it out so it’s straight and flat.
A jointer is essentially a tool that contains cutting blades (cutterheads) attached to a rotating disc. The disc works similar to a planer and as it spins it shaves off small slivers of wood. It is set by adjusting the infeed table and outfeed table. These are the two planes on which the wood rests. The outfeed table is kept flush with the cutting blade. The infeed table is lowered to the depth of the cut. The workpiece is is pushed from the infeed to the outfeed and the difference between the two is the amount that’s cut.
Although it is mostly designed for edge-jointing and face-jointing, a jointer can also perform a few other jobs. Some of the less common jobs a jointer can be used for are cutting chamfers, bevels, tapers and rabbets. A jointer is not a mill and isn’t used to adjust thickness. However, a jointer can take care of any boards suffering from a bow, twist, crook or cup.
How to Use a Jointer
Although a jointer is a relatively simple tool, it takes a long time to learn how to use a jointer effectively. A lot of woodworkers get frustrated with jointers because the amount of skill it involves. It truly takes a delicate hand and a lot of finesse to be able to use a jointer well. To learn the fundamentals about how to use a jointer, please see this handy guide. Also, be sure to exercise safety when using a jointer as well.
What to Look For in the Best Benchtop Jointer
In order to get that dramatic, seamless woodgrain finish on a table, cabinet, door or paneling, the wood pieces have to fit snugly, up and down their entire length. No matter how good the boards may look when you pick them up, they won’t fit together the way you need for them to without the help of a good jointer. The best jointer will have a flush face and allow for perfect alignment.
A jointer is an essential tool for any woodshop (any woodshop worth having). There are a lot of choices, with a huge range in prices, so picking the best jointer does have its challenges. Hopefully, this brief guide on jointers will help.
Closed Stand Jointers
These are the big jointers, the serious ones (with serious price tags). They have enclosed, fixed bases that shield the motor and moving parts from dust and grunge. They’re likely to last longer than you do, and they’re indispensable for big jobs and big lumber.
Open Stand Jointers
They’re pretty much the same as closed stand jointers, but instead of a closed cabinet underneath, they have legs. The motor is exposed and therefore the noise is greater, but the performance above is about the same. The important advantage to an open stand jointer is that it’s light enough to transport to the job site, yet still freestanding.
For the ultimate in portability, a benchtop jointer is the one to go with. It has its drawbacks, of course – the obvious being that you have to have a bench or worktable to support it. The power on these is less, but it’s still enough to do the work. You shouldn’t expect a benchtop jointer to last a lifetime, but a 10-year run with relatively steady work is not out of the question.
Helical Cutter Head vs. Knife Cutter
Overall, you’ll be better pleased with the super-smooth cut of a helical cutter. But you might not need that much precision, if you’re doing rough framework or working on things that won’t show. Helical cutter heads are serviced by replacing the inserts when they get dull. It’s a little more effort with a knife-type cutter.
Fence and Tables
The fence is what you place your board on and press against to achieve the straightest cut. The fence and the infeed / outfeed tables must be sturdy, but more importantly, accurate. You want your 90° angle to be 90°. If the information is available (and it may not be), check the posted accuracy for variances. It shouldn’t be much at all, like maybe 2/1000ths of an inch per linear foot.
You can stir up a conversation among woodworkers about whether dovetailed table beds are better than parallelogram-shaped beds. We’re going to recommend the parallelogram, because the adjustments are easier to make, and no shims are needed, because of the way the pieces adjust. Overall, it’s not a huge advantage, and if a jointer catches your eye that has the dovetails and everything else is what you want, go for it.
Looking for a the best chop saw? We have an article on that too.