It sounds a little cliche, but I never really felt like a real woodworker until I added a jointer and planer to the shop. There was just something about being able to take a rough piece of wood and bring it into square that made me feel like I had made it. Whether I could take that square piece of wood and turn it into anything amazing is pretty debatable, but it was a big step nonetheless!
Choosing the best jointer for your shop means taking a look at a lot of considerations. How much space do you have? What is your budget? What kind of materials will you be working with? Do you have a sleeping baby directly above your garage that you really really don’t want to wake up while you’re in the shop?
Well, maybe that last one just applies to me, but it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked as some options, like carbide cutter heads, can greatly reduce the noise generated by a jointer.
What to Look for in a Jointer?
Whether you’re new to woodworking or are just looking to upgrade your old jointer, there are a few things to look out for when choosing the best jointer.
As a side note, we recently wrote up a post comparing the jointer vs planer, so if you have any basic questions about either tool, feel free to take a look at that post.
If you’re lucky enough to work in a shop where space is of no consideration then lucky you! For the rest of use a tool like a jointer can be a tight fit with the length of the infeed and outfeed tables.
I own an older Grizzly 6-inch jointer with 48-inch tables. I feel like this size is a good mix that allows me to run longer boards through it yet is short enough to store it away against a wall when not in use. Adding a mobile base to the jointer is key for my shop as I don’t have anywhere to set it up permanently with enough room on both the infeed and outfeed ends.
Your smallest jointer size is going to be the benchtop jointer. In recent years there have actually been some pretty impressive benchtop jointers released!
You can now get these models with 6 or 8-inches of jointing capacity and helical cutter heads! The total length on these jointers is typically around 30 inches which is a good 2 feet shorter than the smallest freestanding 6-inch jointers. Some even include extenders for the infeed and outfeed tables for extra support with longer pieces of wood.
If you are working primarily with shorter stock, these can be a great option that can take up permanent residence on a benchtop or be attached to a wheeled cart to move around the shop.
6-inch Short Table Jointers
These are probably your most popular jointer on the market and are a great option for new or experienced woodworkers alike.
The 6-inch cutting capacity is enough to work with a wide range of dimensional lumber, and the 48-inch table length can handle longer lumber reasonably well and can still fit in most shops.
Long Table Jointers
Long table jointers, with infeed and outfeed tables ranging from 65 to 80 inches long, are perfect for larger shops. These jointers have cutter heads that range from 6-inches to 16-inches wide. These larger sizes open up a ton of opportunities for working with wider stock.
The cutting capacity on a jointer is measured as the width of the cutterhead. This matters when jointing a board’s wide face as it dictates how wide of material you can run through the machine. This can range from 4 inches on a small benchtop jointer to 20+ inches on large industrial level jointers.
While I make my 6-inch jointer work just fine there are certainly times I wish I had a couple extra inches of capacity. When it comes time to upgrade I will go with 8-inches at a minimum.
When doing larger glue ups on projects like bed headboards, tables, etc it is a huge advantage to be able to work with fewer, wider boards and having a wide jointer can make this possible.
Base model jointers come with either 2 or 3 straight knives on the cutterhead. These knives are all installed to the same depth and leave a nice finished surface when sharp.
Some of the downsides of straight knives are the noise and sharpening.
On both the planer and jointer, running lumber over a straight knife cutterhead is considerably louder than a carbide cutter head. Often the difference can be 10 to 20 decibels which can mean the difference in comparing the tool to a gas lawn mower versus a noisy restaurant.
Straight knives also require a lot more sharpening than carbide cutters. And if one knife gets a nick in the blade, then that means removing them, and resharpening or that nick will show up on each board run through the jointer.
Feel free to ask me how long you can keep running the tool before a nick in the blade finally bothers you enough to resharpen the knives!
Carbide cutter heads, on the other hand, are arranged with small carbide blades in a spiral pattern around the drum. If any single cutter head ever dulls or develops a nick, you can rotate it 90 degrees as each carbide insert can cut on all 4 sides.
The smaller cutting heads also make for a far smoother finished surface off the jointer. This is a lifesaver when it comes to sanding your pieces!
The downside of carbide cutterheads is there is a fairly significant price increase over the straight knife options. Luckily, if you already have a straight knife jointer or want to upgrade down the road you can buy new carbide cutterheads that can be retrofitted onto your jointer.
Infeed and Outfeed Table Adjustment Mechanisms
Most jointers have traditionally been built with the infeed and outfeed tables sliding up and down on an angled dovetail. As the table is raised or lowered, it moves toward or away from the cutterhead at an angle. While this method has been used for years, it can get a bit finicky to bring the beds into parallel. At times shims will be required on either bed to get them exactly right. The big upside though is this is a cheaper method than the other option.
The other option being parallelogram beds. Parallelogram beds are controlled by adjustment screws which can make fine tuning an easier process. While these beds do cost quite a bit more a ton of woodworkers now swear by them and say they will never go back to the old style of jointers.
If you’ll be edge jointing a lot of tall boards then the fence size on the jointer will definitely come into play. A longer, taller fence will give far more stability and ensure you are able to get a clean 90-degree face on your boards.
The Best Jointer Options
Here are the best jointer options for some of the most popular sizes and classes of jointers.
Best Overall Jointer: Jet 8″ Helical-Head Jointer
The Jet 8″ helical head jointer checks absolutely every box that I’m looking for in a jointer.
The 8-inch capacity and long beds make cutting a variety of stock a breeze on this jointer. The helical heads will reduce downtown, noise, and leave a finish that almost won’t need any sanding to bring to a smooth, finished surface.
This jointer also comes with a 2hp motor which will ensure you can handle any type of larger stock that you throw at it. The infeed and outfeed tables are adjusted with flywheels which, if you’ve ever spent any time adjusting a jointer table with those long levers, eliminates the need to spend time bouncing the lever up and down to try and get the tables in the perfect location.
The one downside of this jointer, along with almost all helical head jointers, is you can’t use the jointer to cut rabbets on the end of boards. Although I have never actually met a woodworker who has cut rabbets using a jointer so I’m not sure how big of a loss this really is.
Best Benchtop Jointer: Rikon 6″ Benchtop Jointer with Helical Cutter Head
This was really a tossup between the 6-inch and 8-inch Rikon models but ultimately I went with the 6-inch. The 8-inch feels a little underpowered for running full width hardwood boards. Although it is incredible that you can buy an 8-inch benchtop jointer with a helical head and can stay well well below $1,000!
Back to the model at hand though. Once again I’m amazed that you can now buy a benchtop jointer with this much capability and for an extremely affordable price!
This jointer’s small footprint of only 30 x 17 inches means this jointer can fit into almost any woodshop or even live under a bench! And then to throw a helical head on top of all that is pretty darn cool.
This Rikon jointer is powered by a 10 amp motor which is more than enough power for the 2-channel cutterhead setup.
The one big complaint with this jointer, as is the case with many benchtop jointers, is the fence quality and accuracy. With a thin, aluminum extrusion style fence it can be hard to keep true at 90 degrees and the adjustment screws can cause issues as the whole fence will move as they are tightened.
With that said, if you’re ok trimming your edges on the tablesaw to ensure a true, 90-degree edge then this jointer is a great buy for the price.
Best 6-inch Short Bed Jointer: Grizzly G0814-6″ x 48″ Jointer
This jointer is an old classic and the upgraded version of the model I still use in my shop. While this jointer won’t win many style points, it is an overall solid machine that will cut true and last you for years.
The 1.5hp motor is plenty big to run 6-inch wide hardwoods through it. Mine has never once bogged down in all the years I have been using it.
The cast-iron tables and fence can take a bit of work at times to keep in parallel, but once they are set, they will be good to go for quite a while.
This jointer comes with a set of 3 straight knives, which, as discussed earlier, have their drawbacks but are a lot friendlier on the wallet. If you’re looking for a solid jointer that will fit into smaller shops, it’s tough to go wrong here.
Best Wide Jointer: Powermatic 12″ Jointer, 3 HP with Helical Cutter Head
And lastly, the jointer that almost any woodworker would dream of owning. The gold standard in woodworking, Powermatic, and their 12″ wide, 3hp, helical cutter head equipped dream jointer.
If you have space (and the budget!), it is hard to go wrong with this jointer. The parallelogram table design makes for quick and easy infeed and outfeed table adjustments to keep your cuts straight.
This machine is a beast, though at almost 900 pounds, so if you’re picking this jointer for your shop, make sure you have a good spot to put it because it probably won’t be moving much after that.
Final Thoughts on the Best Jointer
Adding a jointer to your shop is, hopefully, a buy it for life type of purchase so ensuring you are picking not only the best jointer for today but the best jointer for your woodworking as your skills grow is important. Luckily, there are a ton of great options out there for almost any shop size and budget.