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If you work with wood, the chances are that you will want a diverse variety of tools that are capable of tackling every aspect of woodworking.
One such useful tool is the wood router, but if you have never used one before, you may benefit from some detailed information and some tips for getting the most out of this piece of equipment.
In this guide, we are going to be exploring every aspect of these incredible tools and finding out what is the best router for a beginner.
What is A Wood Router?
A wood router is a commonly used tool for woodworking, but it can also be used with other materials as well.
This is a rotary power tool that works at very high speeds and is used primarily for creating fancy edges. The tool features a collet onto which you can attach various bits, depending on the type of cut that you want to make.
A wood router will also plunge into the material, giving the user the ability to hollow out any specific area without having to cut from the outside of the board.
In days gone by, a wood router would have been a hand tool, but modern devices are far more powerful and spin at incredible speeds giving a clean and easy cut through even hard pieces of material.
What Are Wood Routers Used For?
A wood router, as we have discovered, is mainly used for creating complex edges on pieces of wood, sometimes referred to as boards or stock, but there are many other applications for this versatile device.
They are excellent for making patterns in wood, or other materials and are often used in things such as cabinetry.
They are excellent for decoration and have the ability to create some awe-inspiring designs. If you want to engrave wood, especially for those who do wood-working as a hobby, then a wood router would be your go-to tool.
You might also use a wood router for moulding and trimming wood although you may hear this process is referred to by a different name, depending on where you come from.
Types Of Router
Depending on your needs, you might choose a specific type of wood router and knowing the difference between them all can prove to be very advantageous when shopping for your new tool.
In the main, there are six different types of router, each having been designed with its own specific purpose in mind.
- A plunge router gives you the opportunity to adjust the cutting depth while you are cutting while the base still rests flat on the material.
- A fixed base router has one position for the router bit which is locked into the base. The cutting depth will be set before you start using the tool, and this can not be changed during cutting. This can mean that some jobs are not possible with this type of tool.
- A palm router is a compact handheld tool that makes doing woodworking jobs a lot more convenient.
- A trim router, as its name might suggest is used for trimming and edging pieces of material, most commonly wood.
- A CNC router (computer numerical control) is attached to a router and can guide it using a computerised system – these are far more modern and advanced tools.
- Corded or cordless routers may be beneficial depending on your circumstances. A corded router takes its power from the mains whereas a cordless device will use a rechargeable battery.
One of the most common musings by those new to woodworking is what is the difference between a trim router and a plunge router? In short, a plunge router will work at a much higher level of power, and they tend to be far more robust pieces of equipment. They can be used to plunge into a piece of wood and are very precise.
In contrast, the trim router is used when you need to edge a piece of material, and they are significantly less powerful. But this does not mean that they do have an important role in the woodworking shop. So, next time someone asks you what is a trim router? You will be able to answer this question confidently.
Common Router Questions
Which Type Of Router Is Best?
The type of router that you choose will largely depend on how you intend to use the tool. There is no one type that is superior to the other because each type of wood router is used for a different purpose.
It is important to assess your needs and work out which kind of router will best meet them; we will look at some handy advice for choosing the right router for you a little later on.
Can I Use A Dremel As A Router?
Dremel is a woodworking tool brand that offers a selection of rotary tools that many people find to be indispensable in the workshop. If you own a Dremel, you may be wondering whether you can use this as a router.
The good news is that you can. If you are using a Dremel multi-tool, there is a handy attachment that can be applied to convert the device into a plunge router. This is great if you do not want to invest in a separate tool.
How Deep Can A Router Cut?
When looking at wood routers, you will often hear about the plunge depth, and this indicates the height change that the router can plunge down to the base plate.
In most cases, you can expect a plunge router to manage depths between 2 inches and 3.5 inches, but this will vary greatly depending on the model you have chosen.
How Do I Choose A Router?
As with anything, it is important to spend a little time looking at various products and getting to know what you should expect from a good router. There are some very high-end models, but there are also substandard pieces of equipment that won’t measure up, so it is wise not to rush out and buy the first tool that catches your attention.
There are several things that you should consider when looking for your new wood router and primarily, how you intend to use the tool will be one of the deciding factors.
We have put together some useful advice on what to look for when choosing a wood router and we hope that this will make your decision far easier.
What To Look For When Choosing A Router
The following are things to consider when choosing a wood router for your workshop.
The size of your router is something to think about – are you happy with a rather bulky tool, or do you need something that is a little bit more compact and easier to handle?
In the main, there are three size categories for wood routers, each having its own advantages.
- A palm router is the smallest type of router and is ideal if you are looking for a compact handheld tool. But this does not mean to say that the performance is compromised, for such a small device, you would be surprised at the power they can kick out. They are, however, limited to using ¼ inch bits, so this means that they might not be suitable for bigger tasks. However, for trimming, decorative inlets, small dovetail cuts and other small tasks, they are the perfect tool.
- A full-sized router is on the other end of the scale, and you would usually find these huge power tools in a commercial workshop, but if you have space in your hobby workshop and want something incredibly powerful, then this might be right up your street. You will find that these tools are usually dedicated to a router table, which we will look at in a little more detail later on and are very bulky pieces of equipment that are ideal for bigger jobs.
- If you don’t want something as massive as a full-sized router but think that a palm router would not meet your needs, then there is a third option. A mid-sized router can manage all of the tasks you can do with a palm router but will also do larger dovetail work, circle cutting and templates to name a few things. They are able to use ¼, or ½ inch bits so are a lot more versatile, and this is one of the reasons that these are the most sought after types of router in the world.
One of the most important things to think about when choosing a router is the speed of the motor. There are some devices that offer a single-speed motor that turns the bit at a single RPM, and this is fine if you do not require something that can be diverse.
However, if you think that this will not be enough, you might choose to look for a tool that features variable speed controls.
Changing the speed of the motor is essential to ensure that you are able to use the tool safely but will also be useful when using different types of wood. The speed that you would use a router with beech might vary greatly to when cutting pine.
It may surprise you to learn that on average, router motor speeds can vary between 8000RPM and 30,000RPM, so the difference is vast.
The collet is a small shaft that is connected to the motor; this is where your router bits will be attached. However, the size of the collet will depend on the type of router bits that you can use with it.
In the main, you will see router bits that are either ¼ inch or ½ inch and the size of the collet will determine which of these you can use. In some cases, you will be able to use both, but as we mentioned earlier, a smaller model like a palm router will be limited to using ¼ inch bits.
Fixed Or Handheld
A handheld router is a great option if you need it to be portable and are excellent for using with larger pieces of material. However, they do require you to guide the tool yourself, and this requires a steady hand, a keen eye and an adequate level of experience to get right.
They are also very good for light carving, and you will get a better view of what you are cutting which is essential in ensuring that you have everything just right.
However, a fixed router in a router table can also have its advantages, depending on how you wish to use it. They are far better when you are working with smaller pieces of wood and rather than taking the tool to the material; you will guide the wood down onto the upturned router.
We touched on the plunge depth a little earlier, but this is an important factor to think about when purchasing a wood router.
Unlike a fixed-base router, on which the base is stationary, a plunge router will feature a spring-loaded base that can be moved while you are cutting the wood, often people will use these tools as they are far more versatile.
However, it is important to look at the plunge depth of the model you are considering. In the main, you can expect the plunge depth to be anywhere between 2 and 3.5 inches but this is going to be different depending on the brand.
Plunge Lock Mechanism
When looking at the various features of your tool, it is important to check the functionality of the plunge lock. This is a mechanism that is used to lock the plunge depth at the desired level.
For the most part, you will find the plunge lock conveniently located on one of the handle grips making it far easier to access. This is usually operated using a twisting motion, but on some models, there may be a small lever. It will largely be down to your personal preference and which you will find more straightforward to use.
Adjustability – Fine-Tuning Depth
The cutting depth relates to how far into the wood the tool will cut, and this could vary by just millimetres, so it is crucial that you have the ability to fine-tune this as needed. In some cases, being out by the smallest amount can affect the overall outcome of the project.
What’s more, when you change the height of the cutting bit, this might also have an impact on the shape that you will cut, so this is worth bearing in mind. You will want to make sure that the tool is easily adjustable and that the options are versatile and detailed.
If there is a lot of sawdust flying around your workspace, it stands to reason that this could be off-putting and may cause you to make a mistake when cutting, especially if the dust is settling on the cutting surface.
However, the good news is that many modern routers now come with a dust extraction vacuum built-in and this will remove any dust keeping the workspace clear.
You should check if the model you would like to buy has this feature as it can be invaluable in getting the best final result.
Having any tool that is uncomfortable to use can put you off using it, and this can then become a wasted investment. Finding a user-friendly tool is important for so many reasons, and it is even more essential if you are going to be using the tool frequently.
Fortunately, there are many models that have comfortable handle grips which can make a huge difference to the experience.
Wood routers usually feature two handles, one on either side and this allows for the easiest movement of the tool. However, there are some models whose handles are not large enough for the user to get a comfortable grip on, so it is important to try out the handles before you commit to buying.
One of the key features of a wood router is the collet, and it is important to understand its function.
The collet is a small metal shaft that is connected to the motor, and it is onto this that you will attach the router bits. The size of the router will have an impact on the size of the collet that comes with it. Smaller models may feature a ¼ inch collect, whereas those on the larger end of the scale will have a ½ inch collet. Routers in the middle of the range where size is concerned may come fitted with a ⅜ inch collet, and the size will depend on what bits you are able to use with the tool, so it is important to take note of this.
There are some routers that come with an interchangeable collet so that you are free to use a variety of different bits.
There is an incredible number of router bits that you can use with your tool, and each one can be used in a different way, so it is important to make sure that you have the right ones for the job.
You must also be sure to check that the bits you are buying are compatible with your tool and will fit onto the collet according to its size.
Popular Router Bits
Listing every type of router bit would require a completely separate post, especially if we were to discuss how each one can be used. However, we have listed some of the most popular router bits which will best serve you, especially when you are just getting started on your woodworking journey.
- Straight router bits are used to cut straight down into the wood and are often used when you need to make a groove in the material. They can come in a variety of sizes.
- Rabbeting bits are very common and are used to make rabbets in the wood. This is a type of cut that is normally used to join two pieces of wood together.
- A flush trim bit is ideal for cutting along the edge of the material to create an exact fit for another piece. They provide a very smooth cut.
- A round over bit, as their name may suggest creates a rounded edge on the piece of wood. This is often used in furniture-making and gives a very smooth finish.
A router table is a useful addition to your workshop if you wish to install a fixed router. A handheld tool certainly has its advantages and can be very useful when you are working with larger pieces of wood and for specific applications.
However, a router table may be one of the best things you have ever invested in, and there are many reasons for this. These tables allow you to install the router upside down so that the cutting edge is facing upwards, thus allowing you to bring the wood down onto it to make your cut.
There are several benefits to using a router table, most notably that you will get a far greater level of precision when using the table since you will not be relying on your own ability to remain steady. With the router bit in a single position, you are able to move the wood across it with great ease.
You will bring the wood to the router rather than bringing the router to the wood, and this can make a world of difference. One of the major advantages of this is that using the router will be far safer and there is less chance of sustaining an injury, as you might when using a handheld tool.
However, it is important to remember that when using any power tool, fixed or not; there is a chance of injury so the correct safety precautions should always be taken such as wearing protective equipment and not using the tool if it is in any way defective.
Router tables also give you a greater level of versatility thanks to being able to work with much smaller pieces of wood.
A wood router is one of the most essential tools in any workshop and will prove handy for a number of applications including moulding, pattern making and decoration. There are several types of wood routers and choosing the right one for your needs will depend on a number of factors.
This beginner’s guide to wood routers gives you all the information you will need to get started using this versatile and unique tool.