November 2, 2015

Ridgid R4331 13 in. Thickness Planer - Review

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While a surface planer isn't an essential tool, having one really starts to open up the doors to some interesting projects. This is especially true if you're an unrepentant wood scavenger like I am. Anything that looks interesting, regardless of its condition, I will take. I have a pile of chestnut that looks like it has sat out in the woods for the last hundred years (probably because it has). It's mushy, rotted and completely filled with nails, but I know (I just know) that there is some good material in there, enough for a bedside table. But anyway, a surface planer is a tool that allows you to clean up rough-sawn lumber and to customize the thickness of your material. Ridgid sent one of their R4331 13-inch planers for me to test out and I've been giving it a good work over. Here's what I think...

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First off, the Ridgid is very easy to use and understand. The depth of plane is controlled by a knob at the upper right, the planing carriage is locked in place with a lever, and the on switch is, well, the on switch. That's really all you need to know to get the basics down. It's a fairly standard set-up, although some planers that I've used in the past didn't have the lock, so you just had to invest confidence that the carriage didn't jiggle down a little. The depth knob is clearly marked which way raises and which way lowers. It also tells how much movement is in each turn (1/64 per 1/4 turn).

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The Ridgid has a safety key which is nice because this is not a tool you want to mess with. There is really zero margin of error when you're dealing with three 13-inch long razorblades. The safety key is a piece of plastic that needs to be inserted into the switch in order for it to activate the motor. When not in use, I've been tucking it way up high. With the little ones running around, I greatly appreciate this feature. They've never done anything stupid with my tools, but why take the chance?

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Removing the safety trigger also made me feel better when I was fussing with the blade adjustments. After unplugging the tool AND removing the key, I was pretty convinced that it wasn't going to kick on while my hands were buried in its guts.

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And the blade adjustment is another piece worth mentioning. After using the planer for a while, it's inevitable that the blades will become nicked, maybe a small nailhead in the wood or a pebble or whatever. When this happens, a small ridge gets planed into the board. The Ridgid planer allows you to off-set one of the blades to solve this. It's a simple process and doesn't even require full removal of the blade. Just loosen the screws and push the blade over a bit. The blades are also double-sided, so between that and the ability to shift them around, when they come to the end of their life, you should really see it coming.

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Another neat feature to the Ridgid is the Repeat-A-Cut feature, which is really nothing more than a stop for the carriage. You can set it to a handful of depths and when it's engaged, you can't manually lower the carriage beyond the set point (up to 1-3/4-inch). Usually boards are planed for a project so getting them all the same width is important. While I was still checking with a ruler, his feature takes some of the fussiness out of the process.

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The dust collection is really good too, and you need it. I did one pass with no vac connected and what a mess that was. It's like it was snowing. With a vac set up, just about 100% of the dust is collected. I still wouldn't advise setting this up in someone's dining room, but in a driveway, it'll be pretty clean.

The Ridgid also comes with a T-handle hex wrench that turned out to be really handy. It fits the vac port lock, the dust carriage (which needs to be removed in order to fuss with the blades), as well as the blade bolts themselves. On the T-handle are two magnets which help grab and move the blades. Don't want to be blindly grabbing those with your fingers...

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Is there anything wrong with it? Well, I really couldn't find much. This really falls under the "nit-pick" category but the foam gasket between the vac hood and the vac port ripped the first time I removed the cover. There's no loss of function, but it did cause one of those "oh, man....really?" moments.

It's also covered by Ridgid's lifetime service agreement and a three-year limited warranty, so if you get one, make sure to register it.

(please note that no cats were harmed in the writing of this review. I removed the safety key as soon as Marlowe started to get interested in the planer. He has grown up surrounded by tools and is fearless around them...and we all know what curiosity did to the cat....)

At Home Depot

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at November 2, 2015 9:00 AM
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