Last Updated on April 12, 2023 by Barry Gray
I admit I do reach for my wood router more times than I expected. I find it a handy tool capable of delivering the result I want in a little time. Yet, I know not everyone has a router to hand, so what happens if you realize it would be the perfect tool but don’t have one?
I know some people would think the only solution is to head on out there and purchase one, but perhaps you don’t have the time or even the cash to do this. At that point, I know a percentage of people would allow their projects to grind to a halt, and I hate that idea.
So, because I’m not too fond of the very thought of projects sitting there half-finished because you feel you don’t have the equipment, I’m going to do something about it.
You see, there are some alternatives out there that you could use even if you do not have a wood router available. My hope is that one of these alternative ideas will prove to be something you can work with, even if you need to adapt and change a couple of things to get it all working.
So, let’s get to work with showing you the different alternatives you have available to you.
What is Wood Router Capable of Doing
But first, let me quickly address the question of what a router is and also what it’s capable of doing. That will then allow you to see how other tools in your arsenal could be adapted to get the same results.
A wood router is capable of performing a variety of tasks. It does this by spinning a bit at a very high speed; the jobs it can perform depend on the bit and how you use it.
A router has the ability to:
- Round off edges
- Cut fancier edges than you thought possible
- Chamfer edges, such as a tabletop
- Mold and round off edges of other materials aside from wood
But the cutting aspect goes beyond the ability to just do edges. A router can be a fantastic tool for cutting carpentry joints, and you can also have a plunging ability on a router that works to hollow out parts of the wood with blinding ease.
As you can see, a router can be used in various ways to get different end results, which is why you may need to use several tools to get the same outcome.
However, I have a few ideas as to what you can use in order to achieve those results.
The Old Ways Can Still Work
But first, let’s just think back a bit, as there was a time when wood routers were not invented. Now, clearly, different projects and bits of wood had curves and all sorts of things, so it’s obvious that other methods existed.
And here’s an important thing. The old ways of doing things will still work. Sure it means things take longer since you don’t have the advantage of a power tool designed to do a specific job. But it does mean you should not give up just because you appear to not have the easy option available to you.
Now, I admit that does mean you need to get real hands-on, but I will also give you a couple of power options later on that may allow you to cut one or two corners.
Honestly though, I think we are guilty of reaching for the power options too quickly at times. I feel there’s something magical and almost rustic when we are forced into doing things the old-fashioned way. Let’s get real here, the old way has been capable of producing some fantastic things for far longer than power tools, so they must have been doing something right.
Your Manual Alternatives to Wood Router
So I’m going to focus on the manual options, which are clearly the old ways people used to cut and carve out pieces of wood before the router was invented.
It does mean the need to have different planes, saws, and chisels, but if your mind allows you to experiment, then there’s no reason you cannot make various joints and cuts that are similar to a wood router.
The hand plane will quickly become your best friend, and for a good reason.
The first option, and the one I would go for, is the router plane. Immediately you will have an idea of what this tool can do just by the name. Also, the results it can achieve should impress you, and it will do so in quite a short period of time.
Honestly, a router plane is a fantastic tool, and it comes in either a wood or metal cast. In this instance, I would use a router plane when trying to produce joints. It works incredibly well even when you have been using a chisel to carve out the joint, as a router plane will then smooth the area down by a substantial amount. I also appreciate how it will only remove thin slices of wood rather than gouge into it.
Another plane to think about is just your standard plane. However, you need to understand the limitations that come with it. Focus on using a normal plane when you need to remove some wood from the edge of a board. In addition, your standard plane can also do a decent job of rounding off some corners, but patience will be required to get a good outcome.
While those are the two main types of plane I would use as a wood router alternative, there is a third option out there, and that’s the radi-plane.
The radi-plane could prove to be the best option when dealing with corners. It comes with two blades, and even though it takes some time to get used to handling it, you should have no problem achieving a rounded corner similar to what you would have achieved with a router.
Finally, there’s the rabbet plane, which is a great way to cut grooves. Actually, it used to be one of the most popular ways of achieving grooves before the wood router came along.
I just think this plane is one of the coolest hand tools around. It’s easy to set some depth to it, and it will be highly effective at carving out a slot in the wood, just as a router would be able to do.
However, I admit it takes longer, but you will get there with carving out that slot, so if that’s what you want to achieve, this could be the perfect tool.
A Mallet and Chisel
Another option is to use a mallet and chisel, but this works best when you have a set of chisels allowing you to play around with different widths.
While this approach can prove effective, I feel it lacks some of the finesse you would achieve with a wood router. However, that is also the reason why you would then need to bring a plane into the equation to try to get that smooth finish.
But on the other hand, I do love the fact that you have the ability to remove only small notches from the wood with a chisel. I admit it takes a bit of skill and some practice to achieve this, but it can lead to some impressive results.
If you plan to use a chisel, I must stress the need to take your time. Of course, you have the ability to choose different chisel widths depending on your needs, and you are, in a sense, in control over the depth. However, it will be time consuming, so patience is the key here.
When it comes to manual options connected to a wood router alternative, I see combining both chisels and planes as your best approach.
After using the manual options, you can grab some sandpaper and smooth off some rough bits to get a better end result. Seriously, I would go out there and try it by just messing around with some spare bits of wood and see the results you can achieve. I think you will be pretty surprised at what’s possible with some patience.
Your Power Tool Options
But I don’t want you to sit there thinking you must absolutely go down the route of manual tools as a workaround for not having a router. Instead, you can use other power tools to at least partly replicate some aspects.
Now, I know this does mean you will do things faster than you would manually, so I can understand why this approach is so appealing. So, here are the methods you can use should you find yourself needing a wood router but don’t have one lying around.
A Table Saw
I know if you have ever used a table saw that you will probably be sitting there thinking there’s no way it can copy a router. Well, that’s not entirely true.
Instead, it would be best if you merely adapted your table saw with the correct blade to then be in a position to get the types of results you were hoping for. I do admit that this is also something you need to take your time with. After all, it’s very easy to go in too deep or cut too much in seconds when using your table saw.
Your primary focus is on using the table saw to cut grooves in the wood. For this, you need to think about adding a dado blade to your table saw. The only problem here, for anybody who knows their dado blades, is that you have two options, the stacked blade, and the wobble blade.
But to explain things a bit better.
Choosing the correct blade will make a difference to the marks the blades made in the wood. Take the wobble blade as an example. The name itself is misleading as it doesn’t actually wobble. However, it does move in a side-to-side manner, with the outcome being a wavy mark in the wood.
A stacked blade is different. Here, blades are indeed stacked up, and the outcome is it achieves a broader cut than just a single blade.
If you intend to cut grooves into the wood, these blades on your table saw are one of the best available options.
Also, if you need to cut a wider groove than the blade allows, then it simply takes some additional cuts that are overlapping to get a wider result. I know this takes time, and it can be a pain lining everything up, but achieving this outcome with relative ease is possible.
A Dremel Tool
Another option, and one I would recommend, is to use a Dremel tool. This rotary tool is fantastic at carving out intricate pieces of wood, and you usually have a number of different bits you can add to the tool to get different results.
The array of options is astonishing, but the Dremel tool is still not perfect. It’s only a workable solution if you are looking at small pieces of wood needing to be removed. The tool is simply too small and lacks the power to tackle larger jobs.
But even though it is lacking in size, I still believe this Dremel tool can perform admirably, up to a certain point.
You need to keep in mind that the size of the rotary bit means small cuts will pose no problem. It can undoubtedly create larger, longer cuts, but it will take time. That’s the reason why I would look at using other methods when trying to create a longer cut.
Remember how I said earlier on that a router can be used to make rounded or chamfered edges?
Well, a sander could be the perfect power tool that allows you to still get that same sort of end result.
Now, I must admit that a sander is incapable of delivering a crisp edge to that curve, and it’s certainly different from what a router can achieve, but it is still possible to get close to that result.
I think the sander is the perfect solution if you want more of a rustic look, as the curve edges will undoubtedly be softer than you would expect. However, the rustic look and feel allow you to get away with that.
One Tool Not to Use
So the idea of using a table saw, and Dremel tool as an alternative to a wood router is interesting, and you may now be looking at other power tools and trying to work out how to adapt them accordingly.
However, there’s one power tool I would always avoid when it comes to attempting to carry out the same tasks as a router: the drill.
Now, I’m not saying that the drill is utterly incapable of doing various tasks similar to a router. Instead, I feel it’s more to do with the ability to retain absolute control over what’s happening.
The drill and router will have a different RPM, and that’s going to make a difference. I know you could easily add a core bore bit to your drill to remove wood, but I just believe it would take an individual with a whole lot of skill to achieve the same results with a drill.
Of course, you could go ahead and try it out, but you may end up making a complete mistake.
And those are your different options when it comes to an alternative to a wood router. As you see, you aren’t short of ways to get around missing this tool yet still achieve the same end result.
Of course, these alternatives don’t quite have the same impact as the real thing. However, my aim here was never to get you to switch away from using a wood router. They are just too good at what they do for you to move away from them.
Hopefully, you will feel you have options should you find yourself in that situation I mentioned at the outset. You no longer have to abandon your project and add it to that pile of things that just weren’t quite finished. Honestly, that’s the biggest tragedy of all, so if I’ve been able to stop that happening, then I think my job is complete.