Harbor Freight - 3-1/4" Electric Planer (Item 95838) (Rating: 4)

I bought this electric planer with a 25% coupon off over a year ago to serve as a one-time beater tool for the wing chun dummy my buddy and I made. I decided on this plane over the other models, like the 91062 power planer that was recently reviewed, based on overall better reviews on the HF website, and a personal impression of better feeling on the controls when I was playing with it in-store, and the ability to easily connect a 1-1/4" shop-vac hose.

The planer was used for very rough work. And by rough I don't mean rough lumber, but abuse it rough to knock down the MDF lamination. My buddy and I pushed the sucker hard. Real hard. Harder than any Harbor Freight should be pushed by a bunch of old college buddies enjoying some time together. A few highlights of our use:
  1. The dust bag is useless, and we were very happy to find that some of my dust collection fittings worked for the dust port. With a ShopVac BucketMax connected, we collected the majority of the MDF dust that was flying everywhere.
  2. The stock blades shattered when we hit a nail (oops). Thankfully, replacement blades are readily available, and we replaced them with Makita blades which by the way, made a huge difference in the tools performance. It seem to cut with less stress on the motor.
  3. The planer had good power to push through the cuts, and we were far too aggressive in the depth of cut. We should have been more cautious about continuous run time because after 3 hours of non-stop use, the tool began to smoke. At first I thought it was toast and declared "well, glad it wasn't an expensive brand name plane", but it turned out the belt had overheated and was melting.
  4. After a call to Harbor Freight, I was happy to find that replacement belts were available in sets of 3, and I placed my order along with a few other toys. Replacement of the belt was straight forward and very simple.
  5. The next time, we we wiser and broke up the planing into several 1 hour sessions and managed to get the job done with no smoking belts.

The issues I ran into were more user error which fortunately, there was a way to recover from it with replacement parts. Factoring in all of the costs for the planer, replacement belts, and blades, I think I have under $60 sunk into a usable tool.

Since conclusion of the project, I've tested this planer out on a variety of soft and hardwood stock and have no complaints with the ability to power through. This planer doesn't see much use by me as I don't think many woodworkers have much use for an electric planer. But at least I have it as a fall back when I need to quickly spot remove material. If you're looking for a daily driver, I recommend you look elsewhere for better brand-name tools. But if you're looking at the DIY/home owner grade tool for occasional use, this may be a viable alternative.

UPDATE (12/13/2014) - All the comments made me quantify my rating. If I could assign partial stars I would rate it at 3.5 stars closer to the average. You are more than welcome to adjust the numbers accordingly to tell your own story. That number will quickly drop if you (a) plan on using it for more than 1 project like I did, (b) don't care about dust extraction attachments.

Performance:
  • Was it able to get the job done? I have to factor in user error for my problems and docked only 1 star. - 4 stars
  • Can I reasonably rely on this for my future projects? I'll be more cynical given the belt overheating and melting. - 1 star
  • Was the tool easy to use (good comfortable controls). No complaints about the ability to use the tool. - 3 stars
  • Was I able to connect some form of dust extraction solution. Being able to attach a standard 1-1/4" shop vac hose was the reason I was willing to take a risk with this planer, so I have to give this kudos. It also did a fantastic job of keeping the mess down LOW. - 5 stars

Longevity
  • Am I able to get replacement parts for repairs? Since I was able to, I'll give it an average rating. - 3 stars

Value
  • Do I anticipate relying on this tool regularly (1 = daily the time, 5 once in a blue moon). Having not used the planer since my project, I'm effectively equating this as a throw-away tool and will rate it high. Others will likely have a different opinion. - 5 stars
  • How much money did I save buying this vs. the average of alternatives I could easily pick up (~$100) (1 = 1%-20%, 2 = 21 -40%, 3 = 41 - 60%, 4 = 61 - 80%, 5 = 81 - 100% or up to half the price of the alternative). Total out of pocket costs came to under $60, so $40/$60 = 66.67%. - 4 stars

Average: 3.571428571 stars