DeWalt DW735 thickness planer vs. a cheap one (review)

The guys at Tegs Tools were looking for more exposure online, and after some back-and-forth, we agreed on me reviewing a DeWalt DW735 planer for them. They gave me the planer free of charge. The cool thing is, unlike tool manufacturers, they were pretty easy going as to how I review the planer.

I'll be comparing it to my cheap 12.5" Mastercraft planer that I bought five years ago for $200 (Canadian) when it was 50% off sale at Canadian Tire. By comparison, the DW735 sells for over $700 Canadian, or about $600 US. I have never seen the price on it discounted by much.

Dust collection

Most portable planers use a very similar design, but the DW735 is quite different from the rest. One of the things different with this one is that it has an internal blower to help clear out the chips.

When operated without any dust collection attached, the blower shoots the chips a long way, with the chips spreading out over five meters away!

It also puts a huge amount of dust in the air, so the use of dust collection is advisable.

By contrast, the Mastercraft planer has a dust chute that will plug up immediately if you plane anything substantial without dust collection attached. It needs a fair amount of suction to get the chips out. One of these dust collectors might not have enough suction.

But by removing the chute and adding a piece of plywood instead, the planer can be used without dust collection.

Planer shavings are often long and spindly. These can really plug up a cyclone.

But the blower in the DW735 ends up shredding the shavings, which makes them less likely to plug up a cyclone and also makes them pack together better, so the dust collector fills more slowly.

So the blower in the 735 is good if you use it with dust collection, but makes the planer impractical to use without.

I was curious how much pressure the blower put out, so I used a simple manometer (a U-shaped hose with coloured water in it) to measure the static pressure of the blower. The pressure is equivalent to a full 38 cm of water column. That's more than twice as much as this cheap dust collector and slightly more than my homemade dust collector

Looking into where the chips come out, the blower's impeller is made out of plastic (a sturdy plastic, no doubt), but given that it breaks up the shavings, I would imagine the plastic would wear out eventually. It could also be a problem if the planer pulls a loose knot out of the wood.

Noise comparison

I did a noise comparison between the DW735 and the cheap Mastercraft planer. Without a hose hooked up, the DW735's blower is incredibly loud. When planing, both planers get substantially louder, but the DW735 is louder. I'm guessing the solid steel cylinder head of the Mastercraft planer makes less noise than the triangular head on the DW735.

Height adjustment

The height adjustment mechanism of the DW735 has four big screws on the corners, on which nuts inside the top of the planer turn. The nuts are coupled together by a chain (looks like a bicycle chain). This makes for a very solid mechanism to hold the planer head, which should reduce snipe. In past experiments I determined that snipe is mostly caused by the head moving up and down slightly as the feed rollers roll on and off the ends of the piece of wood that's planed.

By comparison, on the Mastercraft planer, there is a threaded rod on either side of the planer head, coupled by some not-very-substantial looking bevel gears below the table.

When I originally tried my Mastercaft planer, I noticed boards came out a fraction of a millimeter thicker on one side vs. the other, so I opened it up, disengaged the gears, and adjusted just one side so it was level. John Heisz had the same problem with his planer.

As far as I can tell, the DW736 needs no such adjustment.

Testing for snipe

I planed a piece of hardwood on both sides on the DeWalt, then took another similar piece of hardwood and did the same on the Mastercraft planer.

Measuring the size of the "step" on both ends, both sides, from the DeWalt, I got readings of .002", .002", .002" and .0025" (0.002" is 0.05 mm)

For the Mastercraft planer, my readings were .003", .005", ,003" and .0025".

The DeWalt has less snipe, but given how much more solid the height adjustment is on the DeWalt, I expected the difference to be bigger.

But for the Mastercraft planer, the snipe was 5 cm from either end, whereas with the DeWalt, the snipe was 6 cm from one end and 8 cm from the other.

Though the snipe is less deep from the DeWalt, it's also further from the ends, which means more wood is wasted if you want to cut off the snipe. So to that extent, the snipe on the DeWalt is worse than the Mastercraft.

I should add that I had to run these tests twice. The first time, I wasn't careful enough about making sure that there weren't any planer shavings under the wood. Those planer shavings add springiness under the wood, so the wood itself also moves up and down as it engages the rollers.

No surprise that the Mastercraft isn't that good at clearing all the chips, but I was surprised at the number of chips that ended up on the table on the DeWalt. I was expecting the blower to be more effective at clearing out the chips, but the amount of chips that fell on the table was about the same on both planers.

(Later tests revealed that the 2.5" hose and cyclone on my small dust collector restricted airflow out of the DeWalt planer too much.)

The reason the snipe is further from the ends on the DeWalt is that the feed rollers are further away from the cutter head.

I don't know why they put the feed rollers further away, there would certainly be plenty of room near the cutter head for the rollers.

I was disappointed with the DeWalt having nearly as much snipe as the Mastercraft planer, but looking at the planed surfaces with some light shining on it at a shallow angle, I can see some lines across the wood (vertical in the picture) indicating some slight waviness in the cut from the Mastercfaft planer, so the head appears to be moving up and down a tiny bit as it cuts.

You might say these lines are from individual knife cuts, but they are far too far apart for that.

On the piece of wood planed on the DeWalt, this sort of line is much harder to see, so the more sturdy mechanism holds the head steadier as it planes.

On the piece or wood planed on the DeWalt, this sort of line is much harder to see, so the more sturdy mechanism holds the head steadier as it planes.

Two feed rates on the DeWalt

The DeWalt planer has two feed rates, the fast one making 96 cuts per inch, the slow one feeding half as fast, resulting in 197 cuts per inch.

With the wood as smooth as it was from the high feed rate, I was wondering what the point of the low feed rate was. But then I remembered when I built this ramekin tray out of birdseye maple, I found feeding the wood across the jointer very slowly and removing less material resulted in much less tear-out.

I didn't have any birdseye maple at hand, but I tried some figured maple, and at the slower feed rate (top left in image) there is less tear-out than at the higher feed rate (top right). The cheap Mastercraft planer had worse tear-out than the DeWalt at the high feed rate. It feeds about as fast as the DeWalt on the high feed rate, but with two knives on the head, it probably makes about 60 cuts per inch vs 96 for the DeWalt. Click image to enlarge.

But even a cheap planer can do better if it's only taking off a fraction of a millimeter at a time.

You can also see some ridges lengthwise on the pieces. I have only been planing a few pieces of wood in this planer to test it, and I already nicked the knives on the DeWalt. I read online that the DeWalt knives get dull very easily. Given how little it took to get the knives nicked, I'd say this is probably true.

The DeWalt planer also has this very useful gauge on the front showing how deep it is cutting, a feature found on some other planers as well, but lacking on my Mastercraft planer.

The maximum depth of cut on the DeWalt is 1/8" (3 mm), and there is nothing to stop you from trying to take that much off the entire width of the planer (though the manual says not to do that). My cheap planer can take off a maximum of 3/32", and there is a tab in the middle that limits depth of cut to 1/16". The 3/32" can only be taken off either side of that.

The limited cut depth on the cheap planer isn't much of a problem when planing flat wood down, but when starting with non-flat wood, being able to take off 1/8" at a time from the high spots is a very useful feature.

Overall, the DW735 is definitely the better planer, but it isn't necessarily better in every way. The cheap planer, if you can catch it on sale, costs less than half as much as the DeWalt. But it depends on your perspective. If you aren't familiar with planers and are afraid to mess with them, spending more on the DeWalt is the wiser choice. But if you prefer to sharpen the knives (either yourself by or sending them for sharpening), you can save a lot of money on the planer and the knives by going with a cheap planer. However, other cheap planers also use disposable knives — a feature you may or may not prefer.

That said, the very cheap Mastercraft planer is not without issues. Aside from needing adjustment to make the head parallel (that I mentioned earlier) on John Heisz's planer, the gearbox between the motor and the feed rollers failed (see his planer autopsy)

More about the DW735 planer on the web:
    Jay Bates talks about his DeWalt 735 planer
    John Heisz's DeWalt 735 planer stand with chip collection
    John Heisz's planer blade sharpening jig

Also many thanks to Tegs Tools for providing me with this planer for free and being very relaxed about how I review it.

Does it make sense to swap or flip just one knife on a DW735 planer?
It's recommended that you can reduce the effects of nicks in the blades by shifting one of the knives to the side a bit. What about just swapping one knife when they get dull? I did a test. Looks like its a worthwhile strategy. Not as good as changing all three, but I can change one at a time three times as often for the same price.

Back to my Woodworking website.