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What is a Helical Cutterhead: An In-Depth Guide

What is a Helical Cutterhead: An In-Depth Guide

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A helical cutterhead is an advanced cutting tool commonly used in woodworking machinery, such as a planer, jointer, and jointer-planer combo. It is designed to provide superior performance compared to traditional straight blades, offering benefits such as improved surface finish, reduced noise level, and enhanced dust collection. While there are numerous benefits associated with incorporating a helical cutterhead into your planer or jointer, they come with a higher price tag. Is investing in a helical cutterhead worth it? In this article, we will explore the specific benefits and features of helical cutterheads to give you a comprehensive understanding of their value.

helical cutterhead

What is a Helical Cutterhead?

A helical cutterhead consists of a cylindrical shaft that features multiple small cutting inserts arranged in a helical pattern along the circumference of the cutterhead, with their cutting edges angled slightly to the path of the workpiece. This angled positioning creates a shearing action during the cutting process. These inserts are positioned in a helical pattern along the shaft, which means that instead of punching the workpiece at 90⁰, they engage gradually as the material passes through the machine. This reduces the noise and impact, resulting in a smoother cut.

Moreover, these inserts are usually made of carbide, a durable and long-lasting material known for its sharpness and wear resistance. Each insert is secured in a pocket or seat on the cutterhead, allowing for easy replacement or adjustment. This unique configuration enables the cutterhead to provide efficient cutting with reduced noise and vibration, resulting in a smoother surface finish and better overall performance.   

insert arrangement

A helical cutterhead has primary applications in areas where there is a need to produce smoother finishes on difficult woods. Helical cutterheads are commonly used in thickness planers to plane rough lumber to a consistent thickness. The smooth cutting action and reduced noise make them well-suited for this application, especially when working with hardwoods or highly figured woods. In jointers, helical cutterheads are used to create flat and smooth surfaces, remove twists, and prepare board edges.

More importantly, helical cutterheads are often favored by woodworkers engaged in fine woodworking and cabinetry projects where attention to detail and a high-quality finish are paramount. The ability to produce smooth and tear-out-free cuts makes them invaluable for creating furniture, cabinets, and other intricate woodwork.

Pros & Cons of a Helical Cutterhead

A helical cutterhead features some benefits but also comes with its own set of challenges. Next, let’s delve into these aspects in detail.


Improved cut quality

A continuous and even cutting action is ensured throughout the material by the staggered placement of the carbide inserts. The shearing action contributes to a smoother surface finish on the wood, with fewer marks and imperfections compared to straight-knife cutterheads. This is particularly beneficial for projects where a high-quality finish is desired, such as fine woodworking projects.

Reduced tear-out

Helical cutterheads are less prone to causing tear-out, especially when working with figured woods and challenging wood types that have gnarly grain, burls, or bidirectional grain runout. The carbide inserts in helical cutterheads are positioned at an angle in relation to the movement of the workpiece and are curved to ensure that their intersection with the workpiece takes place in a single plane. This unique configuration allows for all cutting action to be performed through a shearing cut rather than a chopping motion, which greatly minimizes the likelihood of wood fibers being lifted or torn. This results in cleaner cuts with smoother surfaces and reduces tear-out in woodworking projects.

Improved dust collection

Helical cutterheads are designed to produce smaller wood chips and dust, making it easier for the dust collection system to capture and remove them efficiently. The helical arrangement of the carbide inserts helps to direct the chips away from the cutting path, reducing the risk of clogging and improving overall dust collection efficiency.  

Sound reduction and less vibration

The helical arrangement of the carbide insert knives is set at an angle to each producing a canceling effect that reduces vibration, resulting in smoother and quieter cuts, and reduced noise and vibration as well during the cutting process. This creates a more comfortable working environment for woodworkers.

Convenience and longer cutting-edge life

For one thing, the knives are always carbide on a helical cutterhead and have four cutting edges, each of those edges will stay sharp about ten times as long as the high-speed steel knives. Therefore, you won’t be changing them nearly as often and when you do, you don’t have to remove the cutters, you just loosen them and rotate 90 degrees as they wear or chip to expose a fresh cutting edge in seconds and tighten it down, there automatically realign, without the need for jigs to align them with each other. This prolongs the overall lifespan of the carbide inserts, and generally, the knives will last up to 40 times longer lifetime than straight-blade knives.

For another, the frequency of replacing or rotating carbide inserts on helical cutterheads varies depending on how often they’re used and the type of wood being worked with. Nevertheless, because of their multi-edge design, you only need to rotate the inserts when they lose their sharpness, and typically, replacement is only needed after four edges become dull or damaged, which results in cost savings in the long run. This also makes maintenance simpler compared to sharpening and adjusting multiple straight blades in a traditional cutterhead.


Initial cost

Helical cutterheads are generally more expensive than straight-knife cutterheads. The precise engineering and advanced design of the helical cutterhead provide superior finish and durability, which contribute to their higher upfront cost.

Increased effort in feeding

One notable difference with helical cutterheads is that they require more effort to feed through the machine. This is because there is always at least one knife in contact with the wood, creating constant resistance to the feed motion. As a result, more force is needed to push the board through the machine compared to straight-knife machines. Meanwhile, the constant resistance encountered when using a helical cutterhead leads to the need for more horsepower in planers and jointers.

Higher power requirement

The utilization of helical cutterheads may exert a high load on planer motors, particularly on consumer-grade machines. This increased load can be attributed to the continuous shear cut they provide compared to the intermittent chops of traditional cutterheads. Additionally, carbide inserts, which are frequently utilized in helical cutterheads, could not perform as well in terms of sharpness as high-speed steel(HSS) knives.

Final Thoughts

In summary, helical cutterhead is a valuable tool for woodworkers looking to achieve superior results in their crafts. It offers several benefits, including improved surface finish, smooth and quiet operation, reduced tear-out, longer cutting-edge life, and ease of maintenance. Check your cutterhead before purchasing a new one, when there are signs of deterioration in the face quality of the wood, more noise during operation, and increased effort to push the wood through, replacing a helical cutterhead with a new one can help you solve these problems effectively.

Regardless of the initial cost of a helical cutterhead, the decision to purchase one is always worth the investment in the long run. If you are looking for a cutting tool that encompasses all of these advantages and are willing to pay a bit more, investing in a helical cutterhead can prove to be a cost-effective choice, particularly when working extensively with challenging wood types such as white oak, these advantages can offset the initial investment by reducing the frequency of replacement for standard straight blade inserts. 

FindBuyTool supplies fine planer/jointer helical cutterheads with top-quality tungsten carbide insert knives mounted. Our upgraded helical cutterhead with 56 tungsten carbide inserts and 4 rows is designed specifically for models DW735, DW735X, and DW735-XE, which will leave the least tear outs and superior cutting quality. The body of this helical cutter head is made from premium steel and black oxidized for long-lasting rust protection. In addition to that, our helical cutterheads also fit major brands such as Jet, Makita, and Grizzly. We provide you with perfect surfacing quality that you do not need to sand, and dramatically reduce the noise by over 50%. If you cannot find a cutter head for your machine model, we also provide an option for a custom cutter head.

findbuytool helical cutterhead
findbuytool helical cutterhead