How to Select a Wood Router Tool

Routers are a handy, versatile tool for woodworkers and a variety of DIY projects

Wood Router - Select Wood Router Tool

Woodworkers get a lot of mileage out of routers because they are a great tool for making cutouts, duplicates from a pattern, sharp edges, cut joints, decorative surface cuts and more.

This guide highlights the specific types of routers, including details about their power ratings, applications, and tips on router tables and bits.


Routers typically have either a fixed base or a plunge base, with a few models that allow you to swap between the two.

Plunge routers

  • The housing allows for controlled vertical movement during a cut, so you can plunge the bit into the surface of your work piece without worry.
  • Make it easy to make through cuts, deep grooves and mortises, as well as pattern and template work.

Fixed base routers

  • Great for edge shaping as they are easy to maneuver.
  • Considered a good, all-purpose router.

Power, Capacity and Applications

Horsepower determines how powerful your router will be, and collets determine the size of bit it can take.

  • Most routers deliver horsepower in a 1 ½ to 3 ½ range, with a range of 3 to 15 amps. Maximum HP should only be attained and used for a short period of time.
  • Routers are available with ¼-inch and ½-inch collets, which indicate the size of the bit shank they can accept.
  • Routers with ½-inch collets are more versatile as ½-inch shank bits are available in larger diameters, and some routers come with adapters that can accept ¼-inch or 3/8-inch bits.
  • If you work with larger bits, make sure your router is capable of working with 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.

Router Type Specs Advantage Recommended Use

Fixed base

Interchangeable Bases

Laminate trimmer (or Trim Router)

Plunge base

Rotary tool

Router Tables

You may find that a router table is necessary when securing the work piece to your bench takes more time than you’d like.

At its most basic, a router table mounts the tool upside down so its bit projects above the surface.

  • 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, or as elaborate as a split-fence system that permits individual adjustment of the infeed and outfeed sides.
  • 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 certain that it won't deflect 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.

Advice on Bits

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 cost more, their larger cross-sectional area minimizes deflection due to lateral pressure, and the increased diameter provides more clamping surface for the collet, making bit slippage less likely.

It's a wise decision to hold off buying a bit until you have a need. Some of the most popular profiles include round-over, V-groove, flush-trim, chamfering and cove. Each has a wide range of radiuses.

Follow these tips:

  • 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.
  • Pitch and debris on the bit dulls the cutting edge and causes overheating. A mild household cleaner often does the trick. Soaking the bit overnight in a sealed kerosene container usually does the trick for the worst cases (remove bearing first).
  • Leave sharpening of bits to professionals (look under Saw Sharpening in the Yellow Pages).The larger the bit diameter, the slower it should spin.

Here's a table with operating guidelines:


Up to 1”

Up to 24,000

1 to 1 1/4”

6,000 to 18,000

1 1/4” to 2 1/4”

12,000 to 16,000

2 1/4” to 3 1/2”