Woodworker's Best Friend: The Router

Associated Expert

Versatile Power Tool Gives your Projects the pro touch

Whether you use it for carving decorative edges, sign making, seamless joints or other wonders, a router is simply a must-have tool if you want to give your woodworking that finished, professional look. What's more, you'll find routers are easy to learn-and that their value and versatility grows as your skills grow. Once you see the quality and detail they can add to your projects, your mind will likely race with possibilities. We know devotees who began with a single router and ended up with 4 or more.


Another Great Tool? Tell me More!

As with every tool, there are several varieties of routers. First, there are two basic types of routers: a stationary router and a plunge router. (There are actually three types: the third being the D-handle router, which is a stationary router with a D-shaped, pistol-like handle for easy operation.) Plunge routers have the ability to bore deep into wood while the machine is in motion, creating grooves at specific depths. Stationary routers, which are great for creating custom edges, are set to a specific depth that cannot be altered until you turn the machine off. We recommend getting comfortable with a stationary router first, then moving onto the plunge router.

Jane Tip: for the best possible outcome, place the stationary router on a router table for maximum control and efficiency. They can be purchased at a home improvement store for around $100.00.

Rating the Router

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So, now that we have you interested, you need to know how to shop for a router. The most important thing about any power tool is, well, its power. Routers are ranked by horsepower, and we don't recommend buying a router with less than a 2HP motor. It's good to have a little more oomph just in case you want to take on heavier-duty projects and tougher woods.

Another factor to decide upon is the number of speeds your router has. Less complicated models come in a single speed, but we tend to like those that have a variable speed, so we would recommend going for a router with a few settings. Like a drill, a router is designed to accommodate interchangeable bits used for different projects. Larger bits need to be operated at slower speeds, otherwise the bit can break or burn off.

The diameter of the collet is the last thing you will need to take under consideration before you head off to the home improvement store. The collet is the part of the tool that the bit fits in to and it comes in two sizes: ¼ or ½ inch. Bits that are ¼ in diameter are much more common and less expensive than the ½" variety. This is probably because ½" bits are less likely to wobble within the router. A good thing to note: ¼" bits can fit into a ½" collet, but not vice versa. Some routers have both ½" and ¼" collets, solving all of your problems. Okay, so maybe not all of them?

Jane Tip: When you turn on the router, you may find the tool pulls to the left; this is because the bits rotate clockwise at a high speed.

A Bit about Bits

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Here is a rundown of the most common router bits and how they can be used:

  1. Corner Rounding Bit: This t-shaped bit takes the edge off sharp corners
  2. Rabbet Bit: Resembling a block, a rabbet bit makes step-like cuts
  3. Dovetail Bit: You guessed it; the bit looks like a dovetail, and is used to carve interlocking joints.
  4. Ogee Bit: This is the bit that shapes a lot of crown molding.
  5. Veining Bit: This pencil-shaped bit is used for carving; ideal for sign making.


Safety Check!: Always unplug the router before changing bits.

How to Use the Router

First and foremost, it's imperative that the surface you are using the router is flat. Clamping the wood to your workbench is not only keeps the surface flat, but also keeps it from shifting, ensuring even cuts and your safety. Also, apply even pressure to the surface while the tool is in motion, remembering to let the tool do the work for you.

Shop Around

Before you plunk down $100 to $300 for a router, do your homework. Research the kinds of woodworking projects you are interested in pursuing by looking at different styles of furniture or design. You may feel confident enough to jump right in with a plunge router, skipping the learning stage on the stationary router.

Ergonomics is an important factor of any tool, and getting a feel (literally) for different styles is crucial. Visit several stores and handle many different brands. It is likely one is more comfortable than another. It's important that your hands are within reach of the on/off switch so that you can stop your work immediately if need be.

Remember, if a tool feels too cumbersome in the store, it won't be any easier once the machine is turned on. Having control of your tool is essential for precise, neat-looking work, so don't be afraid to lift, press or squeeze your prospective router at the store. The displays are there for a reason!

Routers Rule!

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Once you purchase your router, devote some time getting to know your tool. Practice on scraps of wood and test the different speeds and bits. (It's a good idea to practice each time you start a project, just to make sure the settings are exactly as you want them and that you familiarize yourself with the process.) Through your experimentation, you will not only get better at your routing skills, but you will get ideas for additional projects. The possibilities are endless!

Your new tool will likely encourage you to take on a host of woodworking projects that you never thought possible. Good luck and send us pictures of your creations!

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