Last Updated on March 31, 2023 by Barry Gray
I see a wood router as a major time-saving device when it comes to achieving specific results in various projects. It feels as if you have the ability to produce some elaborate designs and shape edges or even cut grooves in seconds. Oh, and then there’s the accuracy that often comes with it as well.
Basically, any individual who plans to work with wood regularly needs to have a wood router by their side. But which one you use depends on the task at hand. If you need to get into the middle of a board, a plunge router is the only option as a fixed router can only work from the edge.
But enough of me spending time talking about how good this tool can be, and let’s address the main point of all of this: the different types of wood routers that are out there on the market.
You see, it’s not just a case of you having one wood router to choose from. Instead, different brands have sought to produce various routers, with some having very specific jobs they can do.
That means it makes sense for you to become aware of what it is that the router can do before you go ahead and make that purchase. After all, there’s nothing worse than believing you have the perfect tool only to then discover it comes up short.
So, over the course of the next few minutes, I aim to stop that from happening to you. By the end, I think you will have much better insight into a wood router’s capabilities and the different versions you need to consider checking out.
The Fixed Base Router
So the first version I want to mention is known as the fixed base router. It’s known as this because the body and base are all together. If that doesn’t make sense at this point, then you will have a better understanding when I talk about the other main type of wood router.
For me, a fixed base router is really an all-rounder, and it does have a tendency to keep things nice and simple when it comes to its functions. For that reason, I see it as the perfect router for people new to using this type of tool, and I believe anybody will be capable of picking it up and producing some pretty impressive results.
The key here is that the router bit sticks out of the base at a pre-determined level. That does offer you a great degree of consistency, and you can change the depth before you start.
I love this aspect because you don’t have to worry about things moving around and getting an uneven finish. The fixed base is not going to move up and down, and neither is the bit, resulting in a smooth, uniform outcome.
I find that a fixed base router is usually the model that most people start out with when it comes to this type of tool. It does tend to be easier to control, and the limitations on what it can do actually helps you become accustomed to how to get the most out of the router.
However, to get the most out of it, you do need to understand how to use the tool.
How to Use a Fixed Base Router
Aside from setting your desired depth regarding the bit, using a fixed base router is not difficult at all. Actually, its functions are quite limited, but I do not see that as a real problem.
First, most people will clamp down on the piece of wood they plan to work on. That stops any movement because you can only get a poor outcome if the material moves around too much. So, use clamps to ensure that does not happen.
But then there’s the movement of the router to allow it to work as you intend. This is something that is easy to do, and I believe any individual should have the ability to produce things with their router right from the outset.
Here, you can use either the piece of wood you are working on as your guide or use a fence on a router table. Either will suffice, but you should know that you can only work on the edge of the stock rather than delving into the middle. That’s the domain of the other type of router I will mention shortly.
And then there’s the speed. Check the model you either own or have an interest in buying. Try to ensure it comes with a variable speed because that allows you to have absolute control over the end results.
I just prefer the ability to slow things down when I’m trying to round off more delicate corners with the router. It reduces the risk of making an absolute mess of things and potentially damaging a large part of your project.
The Pros of a Fixed Base Router
I see a fixed base router coming with many real positives.
First, they are straightforward to set up and use. I love that part because it means you can take it out of the box and start getting results. Also, the fact you set the depth of the bit and can then get consistent results is a huge deal.
There is nothing worse than trying to get a sanded down, smooth, consistent finish to a project only for your tool to let you down. That will just not happen when it comes to a fixed base router.
Also, a fixed base router design involves your hands being lower down on the tool. That offers you better control over what the router is doing, making it more likely you will achieve a superior end result.
The Cons of a Fixed Base Router
But I admit it’s not all plain sailing when it comes to a fixed base router. It has some negatives, and I think you should also know about them before using the tool.
The biggest issue is that you need to start from the edge of the material. That does limit the options you have available with the tool, but there is a way around that, and it’s to look at the other type of wood router that is most prominent on the market.
The Plunge Router
The other main type of router is known as the plunge router, and I think you can guess a major difference with this model just from the name.
One of the major differences is the way in which the housing of the plunge router moves. That increases the movement options available to you, resulting in you being able to move this router off the edge of the stock and work even in the middle of boards. This does increase the number of projects you can work on with your plunge router.
This is all possible thanks to spring-loaded bases, and the router bit then comes down vertically onto the surface. You have absolute control over how the router bit drops down onto the stock, and you can see how this one movement is entirely different from the fixed base router.
But I also love the ability to adjust the plunger router even when it’s working. You can achieve this by altering the lock system on the casing, which then means you can make adjustments to the bit and how it then produces a different result.
How to Use a Plunge Router
Using a plunge router is straightforward.
The key is to place the router bit over the area where you intend to work. Remember that the housing is elevated at this point, and you can adjust the bit to know how deep it will go into the wood.
When you are ready, you plunge the router housing down onto the surface, bringing the bit down and making contact with the wood. The motor powers the bit, and as like before, I would suggest buying the best possible router that has a variable speed. It just makes life so much easier when it comes to the control aspect.
I tend to find most models make the adjustment aspect as easy as possible, and even people new to the idea of a plunge router should not run into too many difficulties. Of course, this varies from model to model, but that has been my general experience of using this particular tool.
The Pros of a Plunge Router
A plunge router has a number of clear benefits, and the main one is the ability to work anywhere on the wood and not just on the edge of the stock. This is huge, and it allows you to carry out different jobs than you could do compared to a fixed base router.
Also, a plunge router is so easy to adjust and to line up. I love how you can make those adjustments while it’s in use, so you don’t feel as if it’s too much of a stop-start thing.
But there’s something else I need to mention regarding a positive.
When you lower the casing down onto the stock, the bit will remain at that level while in use. It means you get the same consistency as you do with a fixed base, but you have that added bonus of working even in the middle of a board.
I think that’s an excellent thing, and it allows you to make more intricate designs and cut out parts that you would have otherwise struggled to do.
The Cons of a Plunge Router
For me, the only real negative when it comes to a plunge router is that they tend to cost more money than a fixed base. However, if you do intend to work regularly with wood, then I feel it’s an excellent investment, and I don’t see it as a significant problem.
Aside from that, I struggle to find any real issues with a plunge router. It does the same things as you can do with a fixed base router, but with that added bonus of dropping down vertically onto the stock rather than being stuck to the side.
Other Types of Routers
Those are the two primary types of routers to choose from, but that’s not quite the entire story. Instead, you should know that some routers are designed for lighter use than others, which you need to take into account when making your purchase.
A Heavy-Duty Router
So, first, we have the heavy-duty router, and what you have here is a tool that represents the most powerful and heaviest versions on the market. You will also often find that a heavy-duty router will have the biggest collet as well.
What this larger collet translates into is that it can hold larger router bits, with some capable of holding up to 1 ½”. That’s huge, indicating the types of projects you can work on with this router.
However, I don’t see a heavy-duty router as being one that your beginner or average home woodworker would need. Instead, it’s more for a professional while you will find that these routers can put up with far more usage and punishment than other models on the market.
A Medium-Duty Router
If I drop down a level regarding how much punishment a router can take, we then have more of a medium-duty router. What I love about these tools is that they can do all of the hard work, a bit slower than a heavy-duty tool, but can be used for more delicate work as well.
I see a medium-duty router as being more versatile than any other option out there because of this. Also, the router bit size does become more restricted with a medium-duty router, and don’t expect it to go above ½” in size.
Now, that does mean you will work on smaller projects or be aware that it will take longer for you to get the types of end results you were looking for. However, I find a medium-duty router to be a highly effective tool, and it’s actually one of the tools I would consider owning.
A Light-Duty Router
Finally, we have the light-duty router, and you can probably guess where I’m going with this one. For me, a light-duty router could be the perfect tool for a hobbyist at home and also for people new to using routers.
The collet here is even smaller than you get with a medium-duty router, and it will only ever really go up to around ¼” as the maximum size. Now, I know that sounds minuscule, but I promise you will still be amazed at what you can do with this machine.
It does come with a weaker motor, so be prepared for jobs to take longer to finish. However, you will still get there even if you must stop every once in a while to prevent the motor from burning.
Which Router Would I Choose?
Those are the different types of routers on the market, but which one would I choose or suggest to people? Well, it often comes down to your budget.
I feel that the plunge router does open up more options, and you don’t have the same restrictions as you do with a fixed base router. However, if you only ever intend to work on the edge of boards or trim, then a fixed base is the ideal tool.
Also, I would tend to go for more of a medium-duty router. I don’t think most people working at home would really require a heavy-duty router, and you would be wasting money getting those larger router bits just to try to make full use of the tool.
I find all of that to be pointless. Having more power is not always a good thing, so you need to weigh up on what you intend to do with your projects to then ascertain which router is the best option.
So those are the different types of wood routers that I believe you need to know about when you intend to work with wood regularly. As you can see, you have several options, but there are not too many, making it almost impossible to decide which one to purchase.
Of course, my approach is to end up owning the different types over time. I know that’s not the perfect solution for everyone, but if you are a serious woodworker, then I think that’s the road you need to go along.
But before you go ahead and buy a new router, I think you should check out these articles on the site.