• icon-wishlist
  • icon-cart
Details
Details

Choosing the perfect router

A router is an essential power tool in every wood workshop. Whether you're a professional woodworker or a DIY enthusiast working with wood, having this tool makes certain tasks easier and improves the quality of your creations.

Before undertaking a woodworking task, it's important to find a power routing tool that matches requirements. The first step to understanding this class of machines is finding out the different parts and what they do.

Key Parts of the Router

A router consists of many different parts including: 

  • Motor: This is an electric motor that drives the spindle of the tool. Rated in horsepower, the power of router motors usually ranges from 0.5 HP to 3.5 HP. More powerful units are heavier and can carve wood faster and more efficiently.
  • Handles: Two arms or knobs on the sides of the tool. These provide firm grip and control and, in some models, used to push the machine down into the material it's cutting.
  • Trigger: The on/off switch for the tool. Usually located on one of the handles but sometimes placed on the body of the tool.
  • Lock-on switch: Locks the power switch in the "On" position so users don't have to press down the trigger to keep the tool running.
  • Variable speed dial: This control allows users to adjust the cutting speed of the tool depending on the density of material and type of bit used. Motor speed for routing machine ranges from 8,000 rpm to 30,000 rpm. When routing, run larger bits at lower speeds.
  • Collet: Also known as the chuck, this part holds the bit in place. Some have interchangeable collets with adapters.
  • Base: The solid bottom of the tool, usually covered in hard plastic or rubber to avoid marking the surface of the wood. It may also have access holes for fastening the tool to a router table.
  • Depth stop: Feature of plunge routers that allows the operator to adjust how far the cutting bit will fall. With this feature, users can control the distance between the body of the tool and the base plate.

Different Sizes of Routers

There are three different sizes of routers: palm, mid-size, and full-size routers.

Palm Router

This is a compact unit equipped with a motor that provides up to 1 HP. It uses a collet that can fit 1/4" bits and is ideal for DIYers new to routing machines. The small size makes them highly maneuverable and suitable for carving decorative inlays and trimming as well as making small dovetail and mortise joints.

Mid-Size Router

This is the most popular size category. Machines in this class have motors with power ratings between 1-3/4 HP and 2-1/4 HP. They use 1/4" and 1/2" collets and are suitable for a wide range of tasks including panel and circle cutting and dovetailing.

Hobbyist woodworkers and professional shops can also use them for template designing. They're available with different bases.

Full-Size Router

This is a production-class tool that is bigger and heavier than mid-sized units. Power output in this class ranges from 3 HP to 3-1/4 HP.

This heavy-duty unit is ideal for large diameter cutters.

Different Base Styles of Routers

Routing machines come in several base styles.

Fixed Base Router

When mounted to a routing table, this tool is useful for edge routing tasks like cutting small mouldings.

In place of a depth stop, it uses a ring on its base to adjust cutting depth or collet height.

Plunge Base Router

This is a more versatile base design that can also handle other tasks besides edge cutting. The motor moves up and down a column of spring-loaded piston rods connected to the base.

The handles of a plunge-base routing machine are higher than those of a fixed-based one. This design helps the operator get a firmer grip on the heavier tool.

Use this tool to cut deep furrows and sculpt decorative features.

Combination Base Router

A routing tool with a combination base comes with two interchangeable bases. It can use a fixed-base setup for handheld operation and a plunge-style base permanently attached to a router table.

This 2-in-1 design means that a woodworker can spend less on tools and still have a versatile tool that can handle all routing tasks.

  • Fixed base router
  • Plunge base router
  • Combination base router

Considerable Features When Comparing Wood Routers

The key features to consider are motor power, speed, depth adjustment, and collet size.

Motor Power

While many use horsepower to judge the power of a router motor, amperage is a more accurate measure. Like all cordless power tools, Amperage-hour (Ah) is the metric to use for comparison for battery-powered routing machines. This determines battery capacity and how long the tool will run.

Speed

A routing tool with a higher maximum speed is not necessarily better than one with a lower speed. While faster units produce cleaner cuts and shapes, lower speeds are more effective when carving dense materials.

Variable speed is a more important feature than a very high maximum speed. Soft starting is a good optional feature to have. Tools with this feature start at a slower pace before ramping up to preset speeds. Using a router that starts out at its maximum speed makes for a jarring experience.

Depth Adjustment

The ability to finely adjust cutting depth is essential when performing tasks that are more advanced than edge trimming. Typically, plunge-base models offer finer depth adjustments than fixed-base ones.

Collet Size

Collet size determines the kinds of bits a routing machine can take. A 1/2" collet provides a better grip than the 1/4" collet in smaller tools.

Usually models with 1/2" collets also include adapters for 1/4" collets.

Pro tip

Consider routing efficiency when shopping for a cordless router. This is routing length per Ah. Look for a model rated at 20 feet per Ah or higher.

Advantages of a router table

This piece of woodshop equipment makes working with a mid-sized or large routing machine more convenient. Without one, the carpenter has to secure every piece of wood in place before working on it. This is a time-consuming process that using a router table eliminates.

To ease workflow, add features such as a fence to guide cut wood, a dust collector, a slot for a mitre gauge, and a lift for raising and lowering the router.

Pro tip

Find a table with a flat, solid top that can hold the router. Cutting will be inaccurate and inefficient if the tabletop sags under the weight of the machine.

A Bit About Bits

Manufacturers classify bits by size, material, profile, and design.

Size

Out of the common bit sizes, 1/2" varieties are the biggest, sturdiest, and stiffest. They cut smoother too, since they're less prone to vibration.

Material

Most bits are made of high-speed steel or carbide-tipped. Both materials are very strong and long-lasting.

Profile

There are hundreds of varieties of bit profiles. The most commonly used ones in woodshops are round over, chamfer, cove, V-groove, dado, dovetail, and rabbeting.

Design

A bit can either be edge or non-edge. An edge unit has a replaceable wheel bearing that acts as a fence. This is especially useful when carving edge mouldings. Non-edge ones require external fences attached to the workpiece or built into the router table.

An anti-kickback bit has a limiting extension around its shoulder to prevent the wood from pushing too deeply into the cutting edge of the bit.

Suggested products

See all routers