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How to Choose a Router For Woodworking

If you’re a woodworker, you’ve probably considered buying a router, or perhaps you already have a basic model which may no longer suit your needs. With the wide variety available, it can be confusing to make a choice, and there’s no single model that’s perfect for every job. So, most professional woodworkers (and even serious amateurs) usually decide to buy more than one router.

While many routers available today offer two different bases (a stationary base and a plunge router base), for most beginners, a quality stationary base model will take care of quite a number of tasks, and it can be mounted in a router table should you choose to invest in one down the line. If you only invest in one router, choose a model that is at least 2-HP and variable speed (as larger cutting bits should use slower speeds).

Deciding on which router to buy has alot to do with what you will be using it for.

For light duties such as hobbies, crafts, light decorative woodworking and laminate trimming, a small router or trimmer of 1HP or less would fill your needs quite well. Higher horsepower units are larger and heavier, making it more challenging and unwieldly for delicate work.

For most other tasks, a 1 3/4 HP (or more) router with a 1/2-in. shank is recommended. This size of router is ideal for working with hardwoods, mounting on a router table, and general purpose shaping. The 1/2-in. shank gives the bit more stability when cutting denser materials, and also allows you to use a wider range of bits.

Miscellaneous Features

Collet Size represents the maximum bit shank diameter that can fit into the router. Most light-duty routers have a collet size of 1/4-in. and many heavier-duty routers have 1/2-in. collets (with adapters to accept 1/4-in. bits).

Variable Speed routers allow you to control the speed of the bit. Small bits should be used at a high speed. Larger bits are dangerous to use at high speed, and should be used at a much lower speed (indicated on the bit packaging).

Electronic Soft-Start routers take advantage of their electronic variable speed (EVS) control to startup the router slowly, preventing the jerk that is often associated with starting a non soft-start model.

Quick-Change Cutters are a feature that some routers have that allow you to change the bit using only a single wrench or spanner to loosen the collet. This is done by pressing a button or lever that locks the rotation of the router shaft. Models without this feature require the use of two wrenches: one to hold the shaft from spinning, and the other to loosen the collet.

Plunge Depth is a feature on plunge routers. The depth quoted on the router will be the maximum depth the body can move towards its base starting at its maximum height. Note that the depth quoted is not always realistic, since the quoted depth does not take into account the bit height: Most “normal” bits in plunge routers will not cut wood until it is plunged an inch or so!

Plunge Stop or Depth Stop is a feature allowing you to pre-set the maximum plunge of the router. This allows you to make repeated plunges all to the exact same depth.

Dust Extraction is a highly desirable feature on a router. An operating router can produce copious amounts of sawdust that can result in poor visibility, and alot of cleanup time spent afterwards. Having a router with some form of dust extraction allows you to connect your shop vacuum or dust collector to remove the dust as soon as it is produced, instead of sending it flying.

The Base Plate is the portion of the router that slides against the wood being routed. Ideally, the facing of the base plate is replacable, since it can become damaged through normal use.

Miscellaneous Accessories

Template Guides are metal (usually brass) discs that attach to the router’s base, resulting in a sleeve that projects downwards. A template is fixed to the wood to be worked and the guide follows the contours of the template, allowing the bit to rout the wood below in the shape of the template. Different templates require different diameter guides, and therefore most guides are sold as kits of various diameters.

Router Tables allow you to attach your router under the table, so the bit protrudes up above the surface of the table. This allows you to quickly rout profiles on multiple boards with only one setup.

A Side Fence or Edge Guide is an accessory that allows the router to follow the edge of the wood, so you can rout parallel to the edge.

Choosing Router Bits

The materials from which bits are manufactured play a big role in the life and performance of the bit. Router bits are available in:

High-Speed Steel (HSS) bits are relatively inexpensive and are good for general routing in softwood and light plastics.

Carbide-Tipped bits are more expensive than HSS, but they stay sharp much longer and are a better choice for hardwood and other hard materials.

Solid Carbide is normally the most expensive bit material. They’re usually small and designed for specific applications such as mortising, laminate trimming or pattern cutting.

How To Use a Router

Always read the manual that came with your power tool! Always follow the safety percautions, especially while you are getting acquainted with your tool!

Tips

Always select the bit with the largest shank diameter that your router will accept. The larger the shank diameter, the more securely the router holds the bit, and the more stable the bit’s body becomes as it spins.

Keep your router clean by keeping the air intake areas cleared of sawdust. Clogged intakes can cause the router to overheat and damage the motor, or start a fire in the worst case.

Heavily used motors may require its brushes serviced or replaced. Some routers have easily accessible brushes, however others are “buried” inside. If your router is not operating as expected, check the brushes, or bring your router to a technician to have it serviced.