Wood routers are common for edging trim work or cutting joints and slots. It’s possible to get by without one, but people who have a go-to router in their tool lineup find it to be useful in more ways than one. Their hand held design, high speed and precision cutting capabilities make them a great option for anything from basic slot cutting to more decorative surface cutting.
Types of Wood Routers
There are a very variations to take into consideration when buying a router. For the most part, they are all either handheld or mounted to a table.
Palm routers are the smallest option and can be found in either corded or cordless designs. Palm routers are lightweight and easily maneuverable and are designed to be held with one hand. They are often used for trim work or other situations where you may need to work vertically. They typically have 1/4 inch collets. Light duty home users or contractors working with a lot of trim work will often use palm routers.
This is probably the most common design, and most capable routers will fall into this category. Two handed routers can vary in size and be very small and lightweight or a little bigger and heavier. They will use either a smaller 1/4 inch collet or a 1/2 inch collet depending on size. Corded and cordless options are also common here. Two handed routers are often outfitted with options for fixed and plunge bases and can also be mounted to tables in many cases. These can be used for any routing application.
Motor & Cutting Power
Wood routers operate at very high speeds compared to most other power tools. It’s not uncommon for a router to be able to spin at a no-load speed of 30,000 RPM or even higher. Faster speeds can help make smooth cuts with less roughness on the edges.
Variable Speed Motors
Some routers also have variable speeds, which allow you to fine-tune the speed to materials you are working with. Variable speed routers are preferable due to flexibility. Sometimes you may find you need to operate at a slower speed to prevent burn marks or operate at a faster speed to prevent rough cuts, and a variable speed motor helps you find that sweet spot. Different bit sizes can work better at different speeds as well. For example, larger diameter router bits usually work better at slower speeds and smaller diameter bits tend to work better at higher speeds.
Brushed vs Brushless Motor
Brushed motors are the more traditional approach for power tools. They can provide good power but the friction caused by the brushes can cause excess heat or noise during operation and can wear out more quickly from regular use.
Brushless motors are the newer approach and are becoming more common as tool manufacturers develop the electronics to control them efficiently. Brushless motors don’t have the friction to deal with that brushed motors do, and as a result can be more responsive during use, produce less heat, operate more quietly and last longer.
Some routers have a soft-start features which reduces the initial power and startup torque of the motor. This helps to keep them from jumping or twisting during startup, which makes them both more safe and more accurate at the start of a cut.
Collet & Bit Changes
Wood routers use a collet to secure the bits into place. Most smaller palm routers will have a 1/4 inch collet size and the medium to larger routers will usually have a 1/2 inch collet size. Some routers have both collet sizes, either implemented as separate collets that can be swapped out or by using inserts to change the collet size.
The collet size indicates what size bit will fit. There are bits with 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch shanks, so keep that in mind when selecting a router and bits.
Bit changes on routers are usually done with one or two wrenches and potentially a spindle lock. A spindle lock is a button that can be pressed to lock the shaft into place, and then you can usually use a single wrench to loosen and tighten the collet from there. If there is no spindle lock, usually one wrench is used to hold the shaft into place while the other wrench is used to loosen and tighten the collet.
Wood routers have a lot of bits available for many different purposes. Bit can be purchased individually or in kits. Kits are a good way to go if you just want to have a bunch of options available for when you need them. Individual bits are the way to go if you want to save money and just buy what you need.
Carbide vs Steel Bits
Carbide bits tend to cut a little more cleanly than steel bits, and are less likely to leave char marks on the wood. They can also stay sharper for longer and last longer in general. Carbide bits might cost a little more but it’s usually worth the upgrade price if you want the best results.
The part of the bit that is intended to rest on and guide the bit along the edge is called the pilot. Some bits have a fixed pilot which can work fine but might leave marks along the surface. Ball bearing guides are used to make the pilot roll along the surface during cuts which is less likely to leave marks.
These are the bits in a set from Bosch, for example. This set includes a lot of the common types of bits you’d expect to need at some point. Common types of bits include the following.
Straight Bits – For template cutting
Plunge Bits – For plunge cutting
Slot Cutting Bits – For cutting slots
Rabbeting Bits – For cutting rabbets and lap joints
Dovetail Bits – For cutting dovetail joints
Chamfer Bits – For bevels and chamfers
Cove Bits – For decorative edging
Ogee Bits – For details on furniture or moulding
Round Over Bits – For decorative edging and profiles
Flush Trim Bits – For trimming laminate and veneers
Edge Router Bits – For cutting recess along the edge of any materials
Routers can use different types of bases for different cutting applications. Some routers are packaged with multiple bases, but usually extra bases are found as accessories. Not all routers can support the different types of bases, so it’s important to understand what bases are available for the specific model of router you are looking at.
Most if not all routers come standard with a fixed base standard. The fixed base allows you to set a specific height for the router bit and it will stay locked in that position during the cuts.
Plunge bases are very common as well and many routers come packaged with an optional plunge base. Most routers also have some sort of plunge base available from the manufacturer even if it’s not packaged with the base model. Plunge bases allow you to plunge the router bit downward actively during a cut, and they can be used for many applications such as groove cuts and template work.
This type of base is more of a specialty and not all routers have one available that will fit. An offset base will offset the bit location so that you can cut grooves really close to a corner or angles surface. If you think you will need an offset base, make sure to find a router model that supports it, as not all do.
A common use for routers is to use them to cut templates with a guide. Routers seem to vary in what types of guides they can support, so it’s best to look at each individual model and determine what types of guides they will work with. If a guide base isn’t included with a router, usually an aftermarket option is available.
Calibration & Alignment
Wood routers usually don’t require a whole lot of calibration or alignment like some other tools. For the most part, you will just want to make sure that the collet centers the bit properly and to not use any bent or warped bits. For this reason, most routers are pretty easy to unbox and start using without much time spent to set them up.
Not all routers are designed to be mounted to a table, but many are. Usually the larger, two-handed routers will be designed so that they can be mounted to a table. Look for mounting holes on the fixed base to see if the base can be mounted to a table. Mounting holes won’t always be the same standard size, so this is a good area to research a little more before buying if you intend on mounting your router to a table.
Some routers have an LED light, usually one or more, located on the bottom of the motor housing and directly above the bit. These lights can be pretty helpful to provide better visibility during cuts. The routers with at least two LED lights underneath seem to perform the best and offer the best lighting. If visibility is a high priority you may want to look for this feature, but it’s not a necessity.
Weight & Portability
Portability isn’t usually an issue with the routers we’ve looked at. Most of them are reasonably sized and can be transported easily enough, even the larger more powerful routers. Of course, the palm routers will be the most portable due to their smaller design. If you will be leaving your router in your shop, you shouldn’t need to worry about portability as much.
Wood routers can be dangerous if used improperly. There are some safety features built into most routers these days that can help make them safe to use along with proper typical safety precautions.
Grips are important for controlling a router safely. Most palm routers are designed with comfortable grip so you can hold them one-handed safely. Larger routers have two solid handles to help hold and control them during cuts.
A soft start feature will reduce torque on startup and reduce the feeling of the tool jumping when starting up. This adds to safety by making the feel of the tool more predictable.
Dust collection on wood routers can be hit or miss. Routers that have better dust collection capabilities will usually employ some extra pieces on the base that close the base off and allow it to connect to a hose for a dust collection system. When using a system like this, the dust can be sucked away from the work piece while making a cut which keeps the area clean and also helps with visibility when making cuts or doing template work. These types of systems are usually optional and not all routers are packaged with the dust collection accessories.
The different routers on the market seem to come with a varying lineup of accessories. Some will include extra bases, extra sub-bases, dust collection components, collet inserts or multiple collets. Some have cases and carrying bags and some don’t. Here’s a quick list of accessories to look out for.
Extra Bases & Sub Bases
Almost all routers have the fixed base included. Plunge bases are usually options. Offset bases are more rare. Some routers included additional sub base plates in different sizes or shapes.
Some routers include multiple collets or an insert for adapting 1/2 collet to 1/4 inch collet.
Some routers include pieces that can be added onto the base for dust collection purposes.
Cases & Bags
Some routers or kits come with hard cases or soft carrying bags. These can be handy for keeping track of all the parts if you have a lot of accessories for your router and transport it or store it often.
Most routers will include the wrenches you need to change bits. Depending on if the router has a spindle lock, it may be either one or two wrenches.
Warranties for most power tools are at least 1 year. For routers it’s no different. Most of these routers that we cover, as well as most others out there, will have a 1 year warranty or longer. This is usually long enough to find any manufacturer defects or workmanship issues, which are usually what’s covered by a warranty.
As you can see, there’s a few options to consider if you decide to purchase a wood router. Hopefully this guide helps clear up a few things so that you can make a good decision and get back to working on your projects with the proper gear.