A router is a powerful tool used by woodworkers for numerous tasks such as creating elaborate designs, making joints, routing out grooves, shaping wood edges, and internal cuts into fairly hardwood or plastics. For newbies and expert woodworkers alike, this is one tool that should never miss in a carpenter’s toolbox. A wood router can create an impressive array of shapes, designs, and indentations on your favorite furniture.
However, before making this essential purchase, you need to research widely on types of routers, features, how they work, the various brands, etc. Do your homework well enough to ensure that you make an informed decision and avoid making impractical purchases. In this guide, we will outline the different categories of wood routers and their features. We’ve also included a detailed guide on choosing the best wood router for your specific needs.
Types of Wood Routers
There are several types of routers categorized according to various functionalities, designs, and features. The two basic types of wood routers are the fixed-based style router and the plunge router. Others include combo router kits, heavy-duty, medium-duty, and light-duty routers. There’s also a specialized wood router known as the CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) router. All the mentioned types of wood routers have their advantages and disadvantages, with each guaranteeing excellence at a particular application. Let’s go over each category and determine what sets each apart from the other routers; so you understand the best router for your needs.
A Fixed-Base Router
Fixed-base routers feature a basic design that has the body and base set together, making it ideal for beginner carpenters. When working with a fixed-base router, start by setting the exact cut depth before commencing work. The depth should remain consistent throughout the session. The wood to be cut is typically clamped firmly on a worktop to decrease movement. Consequently, you can’t work vertically outside of materials from the top; you can only start from the edges. Although the router comes with a stationary base, it’s still adjustable. Relaxing the collar and tuning the control buttons can adjust the depth of the bit.
- The handles are typically positioned farther down the router’s body, enabling your hands to be close to the base and the workpiece.
- Doesn’t allow the router’s bit to cut outside of the materials – the designs made over the surface always start from the edge.
- Not compatible with most jigs and templates
A Plunge Router
Plunge routers are excellent power tools that cut from above thanks to their spring-loaded bases. They are designed in a specialized way, allowing for the lowering of the spinning router bit into the material. You can change the depth of your plunge router even when working by loosening the lock system and adjusting the base in the desired direction. When working with a plunge-base router, the base is placed on the workpiece with the bit directly above it. The motor is then turned on, and the bit lowered onto the workpiece. The main advantage of a plunge router is allowing the woodworker to cut the workpiece at any point when needed. The versatility of this model makes it more costly when compared to fixed-base routers.
- Creates a wide range of designs appropriate for different jigs and templates.
- When the router is lowered to a particular depth and fixed in place, it works like a fixed-base router by ensuring consistency.
- Maybe a little expensive compared to fixed routers
Combo Router Kits
Wondering what to buy between the fixed-base and the plunge router and can’t decide? Most brands are now offering combo kits that comprise one motor and two bases – the fixed and plunge base. The combo router kits are specially designed to alternate easily, but you’ll have to dig deeper into your pocket to own one. While users won’t have to purchase two routers, changing bases can slow the workflow.
Heavy-Duty, Medium-Duty, and Light-Duty Routers
When used for a router, ‘duty’ refers to the size and power of the router, which impacts its effectiveness for particular jobs.
Heavy-duty routers are the most commonly used hand routers. It features a big collet that can hold in place router bits of over 1½ inches.
Medium-Duty Routers pack moderate weight, making them suitable for light applications. Also, medium-duty routers can be used comfortably for regular applications.
Light duty routers are referred to as semi-proficient tools, ideal for proficient carpenters. They are small and lightweight and only use small-sized bits due to their small collets.
What to Look for When Buying a Wood Router
It’s one of the most significant features to evaluate when shopping for a router. Ensure that your router has a motor rate of 2 HP and above – it allows it to push larger cutters through the stock.
Electronic Motor Feedback
This is a crucial feature that allows the router to function at a constant speed to prevent it from bogging down or getting stuck when the load capacity increases.
Type of Motor
There are two main types of router motors – single-speed motors and variable speed motors. You can’t control the power output with a single-speed router, and it’s only perfect when used with small bits. When working with huge bits, use a variable-speed router since the cutting speed should be lower. A variable-speed router allows you to customize the power output, thus allowing you more creativity in detailing your workpieces.
The most suitable bits to fit in your router measure a quarter or half an inch in diameter. While the ½ inch diameter bits cost more, they are the best since they are firmer and less noisy. To be well equipped, buy a router that uses both bits.
Firm and Comfortable Grip
A firm and comfortable grip will allow you to be productive for lengthy periods and save you the agony of developing a painful wrist.
Expect a lot of dust when working with a router. Therefore, working with a router with an inbuilt vacuum port will save you lots of cleaning time. You’ll also keep yourself safe from various health hazards caused by breathing in fine dust particles.
Micro-fine Depth Adjustment
Micro-fine depth adjustment is a feature that lets you create very tiny, clear-cut depth modifications for better accuracy, efficiency, and versatility.
Make sure that your router can cautiously accelerate to a predetermined speed. If your router does not have a soft start, the sudden increase in power can jerk the router out of your hands, causing a safety hazard.
Most routers need two wrenches for making the desired bit adjustments. However, if you are using a spindle lock, all you need is to hold the motor shaft in your preferred position, where you’ll only need one wrench.
Your router is unusable without bits. There are many types of bits in the market, each with a specific purpose. Make sure you choose bits that suit your intended purpose.
Mounting your router on a working table gives you more control, consistency, and comfort. You can either make or buy one. If you have an inverted router, have it mounted under the table with the cutter sticking upwards through the top.
Power Switch Proximity
The power switch should be within your reach. If possible, the power switch should be positioned such that your thumb can turn it off without removing your hand from the job.
Wood Router Safety
Wood routers are very dynamic tools that can cause grave danger if not handled properly. Here are a few tips on how to use and care for your router:
- Start by reading the manufacturer’s manual before you begin working with it. Router users are advised to always start with this step, even for the pros. You never know what may have changed.
- Always switch your router off when not in use.
- Take the battery out or unplug it when changing the bits.
- Normalize holding your router with both hands. The larger machines produce a lot of power and function at very high speeds, which can be disastrous if it were to slip from your grip.
- Wear appropriate clothing and recommended protective gear when working with routers. Goggles will protect your eyes from the dust and debris produced when cutting wood. Some materials will require you to wear a mask to avoid inhaling hazardous material.
As you prepare to evaluate your options, remember to buy accessories compatible with your preferred router. While there are some universal accessories from various manufacturers, some advanced accessories are model or brand-specific. Make sure to select a router that’s suitable for your particular application.
A small wood router is perfect for those looking for detail in their work. Nonetheless, a large and versatile machine is most appropriate for users with volumes of work. Never skimp on the quality of the product. However, a product’s price doesn’t always equate to quality. So, do not make the mistake of deciding the quality of a router using price at first glance. You don’t want a router that’ll get damaged after a few weeks. Buy a router that will stand the test of time.