Woodworkers get a lot of mileage out of routers. You might have questions such as, “What is a router for woodworking? What are routers used for?” Wood routers are a great tool for making cutouts, duplicates from a pattern, sharp edges, cut joints, decorative surface cuts and more.
This guide highlights the types of routers and router bits. It includes router basics and information about router tables.
Safety Tip: When operating any type of wood router, wear safety glasses and hearing protection. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
What does a wood router do? Using a motor that spins bits over 20,000 rpm, a router can create shapes on the edge of a board or make raised panels for doors or wainscotting.
There are two types of wood routers, one with a fixed base and one with a plunge base. A few models allow you to switch between the two.
Most plunge routers and fixed routers have a few basic things in common. The shank of a bit fits in a nonadjustable chuck of a router called a collet. You can get most types of router bits in either a 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch shank.
Smaller routers often use a 1/4-inch collet. Larger ones can usually accept both sizes. A router with a 1/4-inch collet won't take a 1/2-inch bit. Most 1/2-inch collets are removable and can be replaced with a 1/4-inch collet. Check the manufacturer specifications to see what size collets your router uses.
Tip: If doing heavy-duty routing with a bit that has a 1/4-inch shank, make shallow cuts. Feed the work slowly to avoid breaking the bit.
What is a plunge router?
- This type of router travels up and down on spring-loaded rods. You can adjust the depth of cut without having to turn off the router. You can also set it to make cuts at a series of different depths.
- If you’re choosing between the two types of wood routers, the plunge router has an advantage if you start a cut in the middle of a board. Put the router over the starting point, turn it on and push the spinning bit into the wood.
- The housing allows for controlled vertical movement during a cut, so you can plunge the bit into the surface of your work piece without concern.
- Plunge routers make it easy to make through cuts, deep grooves and mortises, as well as pattern and template work.
Fixed Base Routers
What is a fixed base router?
- This type of wood router adjusts by sliding up and down in its base. It’s easy to adjust and works well for projects on site.
- To adjust the depth of cut on a fixed base router, you generally loosen a lock knob and either turn the base or adjust a knob. With a fixed base router, it's a bit easier to make fine changes, but harder to adjust on the go.
- Fixed base routers are great for edge shaping because they are easy to maneuver. Starting in the middle of the piece you’re working on with a fixed-based router can be difficult, though.
- Fixed based routers are considered good, all-purpose routers.
Power, Capacity and Applications
Horsepower determines how powerful your router will be. Collets determine the size of bit it can take.
- Most routers deliver horsepower in a 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 range, with a range of 3 to 15 amps. Maximum horsepower should only be attained and used for a short period of time.
- Routers with 1/2-inch collets are more versatile than those with 1/4-inch collets. Some routers come with adapters that can accept 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch bits.
- If you work with larger bits, make sure your router is capable of working at slower speeds.
- A soft-start feature brings the router speed up gradually so the tool won’t jerk out of position.
- Some routers offer electronic variable speed (EVS) control, which allows you to select the ideal speed for different applications and bit sizes.
- Constant speed sensors on some routers check how fast the bit is spinning. To maintain the pace, despite changes in the wood, the sensor adjusts the speed as needed.
- Wood router guides can help you cut along the edge of a piece of wood or follow a templates for dovetail joints, radius hinges and more.
When securing your work piece to your bench takes more time than you’d like, you may find that a router table is necessary. At its most basic, a router table mounts the tool upside down so its bit projects above the surface.
- There are two key considerations when buying a router table. First, ensure that it will hold your router. Second, make certain that the top is flat. Push on the top to make sure that it won't bend under the weight of your router.
- A router tabletop that isn't flat is as useless as a stretchy tape measure. Both make accurate work nearly impossible.
- Added refinements include mechanisms for raising and lowering the router, a miter gauge slot, provisions for dust collection and a fence to guide the cut.
- The fence can be as simple as a straight piece of wood clamped to the edges of the table. An elaborate split-fence system allows for individual adjustment of the infeed and outfeed sides.
- Because the router table holds the router, your hands will be free. Being able to hold the piece you’re working on more securely give you more control over tasks like edge profiling.
So, what are routers used for? Routers can use hundreds of types of bits. Each bit has a different purpose or decorative design. Common types of router bits include flush trimming, chamfer, round over, rabbeting, dovetail and cove. Most woodworkers buy bits as they need them.
Carbide-tipped bits cut cleaner than high-speed steel. They also tend not to char the wood. Carbide-tipped bits stay sharper longer, but can require a greater upfront investment.
Bits designed to shape the edge of a piece of wood often have a bearing called a pilot. Guiding the pilot along the edge of the wood allows the router to cut more accurately. Ball bearing guides are far better than solid steel pilots. Solid steel pilots will mar the wood as you cut.
Many bits, including those designed to cut grooves through the wood, don't have router guides. To guide cuts with these types of bits, attach a fence to the router or clamp a fence to the project. You can also use a template and guide bushing.
Entry-level routers accept only 1/4-inch diameter bits, while more powerful units feature an interchangeable collet that can also grip bits with a 1/2-inch diameter.
Although bits with larger shanks are more costly, their larger cross-sectional area minimizes deflection due to lateral pressure. The increased diameter provides more clamping surface for the collet, making bit slippage less likely.
Knowing what bits can do can help you decide how to choose a router tool.
- When removing large amounts of material, make multiple passes. Doing so will put less strain on the router and bit, plus produce a cleaner cut.
- The larger the bit diameter, the slower it should spin.
- Pitch and debris on the bit dulls the cutting edge and causes overheating. You can usually clean a bit with a mild household cleaner. For the worst cases, soak the bit overnight in a sealed kerosene container. Remove the bearing first.
- Keep bits sharp, but leave sharpening of bits to professionals. A dull bit will cut poorly and tends to burn the surface of the wood.
Types of Router Bits
Straight and Spiral Router Bits
Straight router bits come in a variety of sizes. Spiral router bits provide a smoother edge.
Recommended For: Straight bits are good for template routing. Spiral bits are good for plunge-cutting.
Joinery Router Bits
Joinery bits include dovetail bits, chamfer bits and rabbeting bits.
Recommended For: Routs a flat-bottom groove with sloping sides. Most often used with a jig to cut dovetail joints in drawers.
Slot Cutting Router Bits
These router bits make a small slot in the woodwork.
Recommended For: For cutting trenches, grooves and panel slots in cabinetry.
Flush Trim Router Bits
Flush trim router bits are available in downcut and upcut styles.
Recommended For: Trims laminates and veneers. Ideal for clean template work.
Edge Router Bits
These decorative bits include cove and ogee bits.
Recommended For: Routs a recess along the edge of the board. Routs a radius on a piece of stock. Ideal for windowsills, shelves and chair rails.
When you can answer the question, "What is a router for woodworking?", you'll be well on the way to finished projects that look more professional and beautiful. Selecting the right router and bits will make woodworking easier.
Ready to find the types of wood routers you need for your woodworking project? The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.