Are Helical Head Jointers and Planers Worth the Extra $'s

  • Advertise with us

« back to Power Tools, Hardware and Accessories forum

Forum topic by gerrym526 posted 12-03-2020 01:21 AM 971 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View gerrym526's profile


299 posts in 4778 days

12-03-2020 01:21 AM

I’m building a new shop and have to replace my jointer and planer machines with new models. Sold the old ones I had to make moving from another state easier.

In doing my research there seems to be a lot of buzz (hype?) around the improvement helical head kits bring to the tools-and they are in most cases significantly more expensive than traditional knives machines. The advertising pitch seems to be around quieter and smoother cuts. I always wear ear protection, so machine noise is a non-issue for me. And my previous machines with standard knives gave me a smooth finish as long as I took the time to sharpen the knives or replace them when they got old.

Would appreciate hearing from you jocks who have had experience with both types of cutting blades-standard and helical-in jointers and planers.

Are they really worth more money, and in your opinion-why?

Thanks for the help guys.

-- Gerry

26 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


3586 posts in 2767 days

#1 posted 12-03-2020 01:28 AM

I had a Insert head in a jointer when they first came out. It did well with exotics or dirty woods but it eventually let me down. It’s really difficult to face thinner boards flat because of the down pressure. It’s carbide so never as sharp as Hhs. I have a planer with a insert head my current jointer has straight knives.
My comparison isn’t quite fair because my jointer is made buy Oliver they made the finest woodworking Machines.
The planer is made in Taiwan so it shaded buy the jointer. I often clean up the planer marks with the jointer.
I say no it’s not worth it.
Good Luck

-- Aj

View iminmyshop's profile


359 posts in 2963 days

#2 posted 12-03-2020 01:54 AM

The wood surfaces are left MUCH smother and the noise is much less. I would NEVER go back.


View YouthfullMind's profile


75 posts in 1121 days

#3 posted 12-03-2020 02:09 AM


View Andre's profile (online now)


4105 posts in 2775 days

#4 posted 12-03-2020 03:11 AM

Started with HSS blades after the first Helical Carbide machine would never go back.

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View Bob5103's profile


186 posts in 1803 days

#5 posted 12-03-2020 05:40 AM

Absolutely Yes.

View therealSteveN's profile


6972 posts in 1543 days

#6 posted 12-03-2020 05:58 AM

As soon as Byrd made one for planers, I had gotten one. I had heard for years that they were a waste of $$$$$$ on a jointer. Then I used one a guy I knew owned. Then I got the jointer too. I have saved a small bit of my hearing with the lower decibles related to them, and my jointed edges, and faces are better than ever when I used straight knives. There just isn’t any comparison on planed or jointed wood.

Keep in mind, they do cost almost a 1/4 more per machine. People wouldn’t be spending that kind of $$$$$$ if they were junk, or did a poor job. The more people buy them, then the more people see them, and also buy them. The growth of them has been exponential due to that. That is the true reality of helical, carbide cutter, heads.

-- Think safe, be safe

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6732 posts in 3462 days

#7 posted 12-03-2020 12:05 PM

Just a comment about the noise reduction. I know you said it isn’t an issue. My experience was this, I always wear ear protection. But when I ran the planer (with knives) it was the only tool in the shop where I had to wear my shooting muffs due to the howl made, I did have a pretty stout DC…so it was loud. After I installed the Byrd head, I was able to just wear the same ear plugs I wear with every other tool, it made that much difference. Otherwise, do I think they are worth it? Absolutely yes! On the jointer, setting the knives correctly was (for me) a real test of my patience and I found it to be the most frustrating job I had in the shop. That disappears. Plus with the carbide cutters last so long for many hobbyists it may a one rotation in a lifetime.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Ocelot's profile


2775 posts in 3607 days

#8 posted 12-03-2020 12:18 PM


-- I intended to be a woodworker, but turned into a tool and lumber collector.

View Robert's profile


4299 posts in 2450 days

#9 posted 12-03-2020 12:25 PM

I have a planer with knives and a jointer I converted to helical head.

In 4 years I’ve rotated the cutters twice. In that time I would have had 5-6 knife sharpenings. And you have to keep an sharp extra set on hand.

The advantage for me is when I’m jointing boards for a panel, I alternate faces so running against the grain is not the issue it is with knives. That said, you can’t totally ignore grain direction.

A helical head on my 20” planer is well north of $1K.

While not an absolute necessity, for the extra cost don’t buy one and figure on converting later.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View dbw's profile


495 posts in 2606 days

#10 posted 12-03-2020 01:20 PM


-- Measure twice, cut once. If you cut it too short get a wood stretcher.

View CaptainKlutz's profile


3991 posts in 2463 days

#11 posted 12-03-2020 03:45 PM

Are Helical Head Jointers and Planers Worth the Extra $’s?

IMHO – Maybe.

Here is my decision matrix:

1) Cost justification:

- IF use jointer/planer tools daily, and need to change knives weekly or monthly?
Segmented cutter head will be less expensive, with shorter payback period.

- If use these tools once a month, and change knives every 6 months or less frequently?
Straight knives will be less expensive, or required many many years to justify cost difference based only on usage.

This category has different rules/outcome based on type of machine under consideration: hobby or industrial.
Popular hobby market Dewalt 735 planer has a horrible reputation for blade life (less than 50 bdft at times). And even with light use it can require new blades more often. This tilts the cost justification to segmented head more quickly. Not all lunch box planers have this issue, nor have segmented cutter heads available; which makes cost comparison harder within lunch box planer models.
Industrial 15-20” planers will run 1000-5000 bdft between knife changes, and it takes much higher lumber use to make segmented head cost less, or pushes out the break even time frame dramatically with low/hobby use.

Making this even more complicated: For some hobby wood workers, an Industrial grade straight knife planer canbe better overall cost trade off, compared to segmented head lunch box planer.

2) Lumber used:

- If you machine primarily figured lumber, rustic (knotty) lumber, hard/dense species (Mesquite/ironwood/etc), or process man made plywood edges on jointer?

Segmented head will have less tear out, stay sharper longer, have reduced cost to fix a nick, and reduces post processing requirements.

- If you machine mostly straight grained domestic wood, and only work with figured woods occasionally?
Smooth, straight grain woods do not stress cutters enough to require use of segmented head. Segmented head becomes a luxury item.

3) What is your wood preparation process?

- If you sand everything after milling, maybe even using wide belt sander?

Segmented heads are notorious for leaving subtle witness lines that require 100% sanding. This can also require higher initial grits to remove the lines compared to straight knives. If you don’t add color via stain/dye these witness lines may not even be noticed, and don’t require as much post sanding.

- If you often use hand tools, or desire to have finish ready surface after milling without sanding?
Fresh straight knives leave the better as-is surface finish. Witness lines created by small nicks can be removed with card scraper, and often avoids sanding entirely. Use of hand tools reduces finish sanding process to nothing, or a quick scrub to equalize surface for consistent absorption of stains/dyes.

Last but not least:

Forum opinions are like box of chocolates: never know what you are getting. :-)
The individual making this comparison drastically changes the outcome. Wealthy working individuals with large incomes, will always value quickest solution towards goal over money; and have a higher acceptable time threshold for payback justification of the head types regardless of amount of wood processed. Less affluent individuals will be more willing to spend time plane/sand wood of figured species when straight knives show tear out. It is very hard in any forum to know who is making the comparison, and if their values align with your values.

Beware, Not all straight knives are same.
The Tersa system is much easier to change knives than conventional system, and offers steel types tuned to wood being machined.
Powermatic introduced the 15S planer that uses a special spiral straight blade 708816, which reduces tear out on figured woods; but retains the advantages of straight blade like in low volume wood shop.
Can also get different grades of steel (including carbide tips) with straight knives, which changes the frequency of knife changes, and entire cost accounting exercise.

Beware, Not all segmented heads are same.
There different types of segmented heads, each with minor differences. While it can be said all segmented heads handle figured wood better than regular straight blade, not all segmented head types provide the same performance. Byrd heads have shear cut, and can create visible ‘scoops’ on softer woods. The spiral heads with cutters perpendicular to cut, do not have this shear action; and handle figured woods differently. There are also differences in HP requirements between the segmented heads, that make like comparisons between them harder.

Thanks for reading to end.

Best Luck on decision!

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View PBWilson1970's profile (online now)


167 posts in 363 days

#12 posted 12-03-2020 04:35 PM

That was a well-done post! Thanks for taking the time.

-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning.

View gerrym526's profile


299 posts in 4778 days

#13 posted 12-03-2020 05:21 PM

Thanks for all the very useful input to my decision making process guys.
Lots to think about in making my decision, but the good news is that I have lots of time-won’t be moving into the new shop until Feb-and, supply chains are in chaos with Covid, so most tool supply houses don’t have any jointers or planers that I might want in stock until the new year.

-- Gerry

View rustynails's profile


926 posts in 3498 days

#14 posted 12-03-2020 05:46 PM

Yes ….

View pottz's profile


13709 posts in 1954 days

#15 posted 12-03-2020 06:34 PM

total improvement on cut and sound reduction.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

showing 1 through 15 of 26 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics