Woodworkers achieve a lot of mileage with routers. You may have questions like “What is a woodworking router? What are routers used for?” A wood router is a great tool for making cutouts, duplicating a pattern, sharp edges, cut joints, decorative surface cuts, and more.
Seasoned DIYers and hobbyists know the difference a wood router can make on the quality of the end product. From simple round overs to fancy ogee edges, the best wood router kicks up the results a notch.
Most wood routers have adjustable speeds, but make sure the speed range suits your needs. Some DIY enthusiasts may need a fixed base router to get a smooth edge, while others prefer a dip base model that can carve flutes and a groove into the workpiece.
The quality of the tool is most important. This guide highlights the types of routers and router bits. It contains router basics information.
What is Wood Router?
A wood router is a power tool with a flat base and a rotating blade extending past the base. The spindle can be driven by an electric motor or a pneumatic motor. It routs (hollowed out) an area in hard material, such as wood or plastic.
Routers are most commonly used in woodworking, especially furniture making. They can be hand-held or attached to router tables. Some woodworkers consider the router to be one of the most versatile power tools available.
There is also a traditional hand tool known as a router plane, a form of hand plane with a wide base and a narrow blade that extends well above the base plate. CNC wood routers add the benefits of Computer Numerical Control (CNC).
What Does a Wood Router Do?
With a motor spinning bit over 20,000 rpm, a router can create shapes on the edge of a board or make raised panels for doors or trim.
There are two types of wood routers, one with a fixed base and one with a plunge base. On some models, you can switch between the two.
Most plunge routers and fixed routers have a few basic things in common. The shank of a bit fits into a non-adjustable chuck on a router called a collet. You can get most types of burrs with either a 1/4 “or 1/2” 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 will not pick up 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’s information to see which collet size your router is using.
Tip: If you are doing heavy routing with a 1/4-inch shank drill, make shallow cuts. Introduce the work slowly to avoid breaking the bit.
Types of Wood Routers
Anyone looking for a new router for their DIY projects has probably noticed the wide range of different styles available. Home improvement will have to choose between a fixed base router or a plunge router, and some combo kits are also available. Get to know each type to choose the best one.
1. What Is a Plunge Router?
This type of router moves up and down on spring-loaded bars. You can adjust the cutting depth without having to turn off the router. You can also set it to make cuts at a number of different depths.
If you decide between the two types of wood router, the plunge router has an advantage when starting a cut in the middle of a board. Place the router over the starting point, turn it on, and slide the rotary drill bit into the wood.
The housing allows controlled vertical movement during a cut, so you can plunge the drill into the surface of your workpiece without worrying.
Plunge routers make it easy to make through cuts, deep grooves, and mortises, as well as pattern and template work.
2. What Is a Fixed Base Router?
This type of wood router conforms by sliding up and down in its base. It’s easy to customize and works well for on-site projects.
In general, to adjust the depth of cut on a fixed base router, loosen a locking knob and either rotate the base or adjust a knob. With a fixed base router, it’s a little easier to make subtle changes but harder to adjust on the go.
Fixed base routers are great for shaping edges because they are easy to maneuver. Fixed-base routers are considered good general-purpose routers.
3. What is Combo Router?
Alternatively, router packages are available that allow you to swap bases, providing fixed-base and plunge-base capabilities in the same kit. Most of these combo kits switch quite easily, though they can be more expensive. Users won’t have to store two separate routers, but swapping bases can slow the workflow.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood Router?
Horsepower determines how powerful your router will be. Collets determine the size of the bit it can hold.
- Most routers deliver horsepower in a range of 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 with a range of 3 to 15 amps. Maximum horsepower should only be achieved and used for a short 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 “or 3/8” bits.
- If you are working with larger bits, make sure your router can operate at slower speeds.
- A soft start function gradually increases the speed of the router so that the tool does not jerk out of position.
- Some routers offer electronic variable speed (EVS) that allows you to select the ideal speed for different applications and bit sizes.
- Wood router guides can help you cut along the edge of a piece of wood or follow a template for dovetail joints, radius hinges, and more.
- Routers are powerful tools, and users need a safe grip on them to ensure proper control. Also, a comfortable grip helps users keep a consistent contact with the router, which helps ensure safe handling.
- Routers make a lot of dust. The high-speed cutting process removes tiny bits of wood and sends them flying through the air, creating a mess by the end of a long project. To avoid a lengthy cleanup, look for a router with a dust collection port that attaches to a shop vac or dust collection system.
How to Use a Router?
Understanding the answer to “What does a router do?” means properly using the tool. You could run a router quickly along a board to get done faster. However, if you take your time, the project will turn out much better.
As with many power tools, practice makes perfect:
- Try your technique on scrap wood to get used to the router. If possible, use the same wood and bit you’ll be using on your project.
- Always make shallow test cuts to determine a safe feed rate.
- Figure out the cut-speed and amount of wood to remove with each pass.
- Once you’re comfortable with the tool, use it to finish your woodworking.
- Use a push stick when your wood is nearly through. It will protect your fingers from the bit.
Safety Tip: Recklessly running wood through the router could injury you, the project or the tool. Always carefully run the wood against the spin of the blade. Slow and shallow cuts are key.
Feed a table router slowly from right to left for best results. The wood goes in against the direction the blade is spinning. You should feel light to moderate resistance as you work. The resistance means the router is doing the work. Feed speed is determined by the wood and the type of cut you’re making.
If you push the material with the spin of the blade, it’s called climb cutting. This is dangerous and should be avoided. The blade might pull the material from your hands. It could even pull your hands or fingers into the blade.
If you’re working too fast, you’re force-feeding the router. Force-feeding stock means the bit touches the wood fewer times per cutting pass. Avoid doing this. It often bogs down the machine. Put another way, it slows down your router in a way that you can hear it struggling.
Force-feeding gives a rough surface. It also leaves wavy lines called chatter marks. They’re unattractive and you’d need to sand them off for a smooth finish. Working slowly means you’ll have less to polish up when you’re done.
Feeding wood too fast could give you these unwanted results:
- Snap the bit off at the shank
- Damage your router
- Overheat the bit and char the wood
- Give you an uneven cut and chatter marks
- Damage your project
- Injure you
Make shallow passes for the smoothest results. Try to resist the urge to make a cut in a single pass. The larger the bit, the deeper the cut. Work even slower on harder materials. For a successful deep cut, you’ll need to make more shallow passes.
Read on for specifics on using a router to smooth edges or cut grooves in the wood. These are two common uses for a table router or handheld router.
How to Cut Grooves and Rout Edges?
To cut a groove with a router, follow these steps:
- Set up the cut. Use a guide fence if needed.
- Adjust the bit so it’s cutting somewhere around 1/4-inch deep.
- Run the wood through the router to make the cut.
- Raise or lower the bit and repeat until you’ve cut a groove to the depth you want. A handheld router needs the bit lowered. Raise the bit on a table router where the bit faces upward.
Tip: Listen to the machine. Any change in sound gives you clues. The pitch changes when you’re working the machine too hard by feeding too fast. The router may also sound different when your bit is dull and needs replacing. Over time, your ears can help guide your router technique.
Follow these steps to rout the edge of a board with a bit that has a bearing:
- Set the bit to the final depth of cut and leave it there.
- Start routing. Hold the router bearing near the edge. The bit should only cut 1/3 or 1/4 of its final width.
- Rout the edge. Gently run the board through.
- Move the bearing in so it’s half the distance to the edge and repeat.
- Don’t worry about a wavy edge for the first few passes. It’s not possible to make a straight line as you cut a base.
- Clean up the edge in the final pass. Guide the pilot along the edge of the board to smooth it.
How to Minimize Splintering When Routing?
When you’re routing a board, you do all four sides. The end of a board often splinters when you rout it. The culprit is the transition from routing end grain to routing side grain. One of the challenges of learning how to use a table router is getting a smooth and un-splintered edge.
Minimize splinters while cutting by trying one of these methods:
- Using light passes, start cutting on the end of the board. Then work your way around it.
- Rout the side of board next.
- Rout the other end, then the last side.
- You’ll rout away damage from the end grain when you rout the side grain.
More advanced users can try this to eliminate splintering entirely:
- Clamp a piece of scrap wood along the edge of the stock you’re routing.
- The side grain on your woodworking project is protected by the scrap wood.
- The scrap board will splinter instead of your project.
- This gives the wood the support it needs at the base. In many cases, it keeps piece from splintering.
When you’re doing other finishing work and know how to use a trim router, it’s important to go slowly. Splintered laminate won’t give the same finished look. By carefully guiding your router along the edge, you can get a smooth finish on your work.
7. How to Use a Router Fence?
Learn how to use a router guide to get straight lines with unpiloted bits. Straight bits, also called unpiloted bits, have no guide bearings on the end. They’ll only cut in a straight line when you guide the router against a fence. Always use a router guide, or fence, when using unpiloted bits.
Router bits that have bearings are called pilot bits. Pilot bits work in handheld or table-mounted routers. You can use them with or without a fence to guide the workpiece. Before using a router fence, make sure there is no wood waste on the work surface. Debris could interfere with the wood from lying flat and flush against the fence.
Run test cuts before routing your final piece. Use the same scrap wood and bit that you plan to use on your project. Feed the router from right to left if the fence is between you and the router. Feed-in the opposite direction if the router is between you and the fence.
Follow these steps to use a router fence:
- Set up the fence so the amount of exposed bit along the cutting edge is small.
- Push the material flat against the fence and down to the work surface as you run it through the router.
- Always use consistent pressure and speed. Work at a slow and steady pace. Patience is key.
- Control the cut depth by changing your bit height. Make sure it only cuts a little at a time.
- The rotation of the bit pulls the router tight against the fence.
- Adjust the bit to cut a little deeper after each pass.
- Stop when you’re reached the depth of cut or groove you want.