WHAT IS A ROUTER USED FOR?
Here are just a few of the standard operations you’ll have up your sleeve if you lay in a decent router:
– Joints (dovetails, half-laps, mortise and tenon, tongue-and-groove)
– Hinge slots
– Decorative grill work
– Drilling holes for dowel jointing
The list goes on but that should give you a general idea of the sheer breadth of applications where a router comes into its own.
The Components of a Router
The cutter shafts of a router are held by a tapered collet and a locking nut. Changing these is usually done using a pair of wrenches, one to hold the spindle and the other to tighten or loosen the locking nut. Often, you’ll get interchangeable collets for ¼ inch and 3/8 inch cutter shafts.
Normally, cutter shafts are made from high-speed steel. For production work and trimming laminate or resinous materials, carbide tips work best.
Now you’ve got an idea of what a wood router is and some of the tasks you might use it for, here’s a glance at the main types to choose from…
Controlling the depth of cut is very much dependent on the type of base you opt for. Getting this right is crucial.
When using fixed base routers, you need to set the depth of cut before you actually start shaping the wood. As the name suggests, this will remain fixed until you choose to reset it. You cannot manipulate it while you are cutting.
With the handles positioned close to the bottom of the base, fixed routers enjoy a very low center of gravity. The drawback of this is that you won’t be able to plunge into the workpiece.
The height is pre-set which takes the guesswork out of getting the required depth of cut.
Fixed routers are best for casual woodworkers and hobbyists. The restriction of moving only up and down means they are best reserved for edging work.
PLUNGE BASE ROUTER
A much more flexible router is the plunge base variant. Unlike the fixed base, you can tweak the depth of cut while you’re using it.
Thanks to the motor set between the spring-loaded base posts, you’ll be able to make adjustments to the depth you cut without needing to turn your router off. Simply unlock the knob or lever and move the motor housing up or down accordingly.
Due to the motor and handles being placed higher up, there’s a high centre of gravity allowing you to plunge into wood with ease.
Plunge base routers can feel a little unstable and they certainly require a little finesse. Overall, they can perform much of the work of a fixed base router and much more besides.
Plunge base routers are ideal for interior woodworking.
COMBINATION BASE ROUTER
If you want the best of both worlds without buying a pair of tools, invest in a combination base router. This 2-in-functionality saves you money while widening the scope of work you can carry out.
On the flipside, a combination router will take a little bit more effort to get to grips with. It’s more suitable for woodworkers with at least a little experience.
Whether you want to soften edges, divide boards, dovetail, rabbet or carve, there’s really not much you can’t do if you plump for a combo router.
Who Needs Wood Routers?
A wood router is indispensable for any woodworker or DIY enthusiast.
If you ever have call to hollow out areas of wood, plastic or metal, these wonderful power tools are second to none.
Whether you want to cut out edges or grooves, patterns or decorative moldings, there is nothing like a portable router to get the job done quickly and to stunning effect.
You’ll be able to round off edges on your furniture, bevel picture frames or even make signs with a router so you’ll be spoiled for choice.
From cabinetry through to jointing, rabbeting and an assortment of trim work, the best wood router is equally at home in your workshop or on the job site. In fact, a more accurate question might be, “Who doesn’t need a wood router?
THE COMPLETE WOOD ROUTER BUYING GUIDE
As with any power tool, there are a number of key points to double down on so you can end up with the most suitable piece of kit for your needs.
If you’ve decided on the type of base that would work best and generally absorbed plenty of information on routers, we’ll give you some advice in this brief buying guide that will help you focus on what counts.
Price always plays a part in any buying decision but, with power tools, it should certainly not be the only factor you consider. Bear in mind the old saying, “Buy cheap, buy twice.” This is not to say that you need to max out your credit cards or put yourself in financial jeopardy. You should, though, get the best router you can afford which meets all your requirements.
Read plenty of impartial reviews and visit online forums as well as genning up on user feedback. Use whatever resources you can to build up a clear picture of the pros and cons of any wood router you have in mind.
Now, then, for some basic tips to guide you on your quest for the best wood router…
What To Consider When Buying a Wood Router
The first choice you’ll face concerns the base.
If you’re just starting out, a fixed base router is a smart choice.You’ll need to set the depth of the blade before you begin cutting and you won’t be able to make any adjustments when your router is running. These lightweight routers are perfect for making edge cuts and molding. You’ll get less control but you can attach these routers to a table fuss-free.
Plunge base routers are similar in design. With these, you can still set the cut depth but, as you plunge the bit into the cut, the router base will lie flat on the surface of the workpiece. This allows you to go deeper into the wood and you can make adjustment while you’re working. These plunge style routers are perfect for interior woodworking.
For a win-win, you can opt for a wood router with both a fixed base and plunge functionality.
Trim/Palm Routers: These small routers have engines up to 1 or 1.5HP. This style of router is easy to manipulate and can be used one handed. They are capable of working with larger pieces despite their size. They are understandably not cut out for heavy milling but cope well with fine joinery
Mid-Sized Routers: With engines from 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ HP, medium-sized routers call for a 2-handed grip. These come with either a fixed base or a plunge base. Mid-sized models work well with heavier milling. They’re great for dovetailing, mortising and profile cuts
Large Routers: For heavy-duty routing, step things up to something with an engine of 3HP or more. These have all the advantages of the combination routers we mentioned earlier. If you’re a beginner or hobbyist, steer clear of these bulkier machines. If, on the other hand, you have the space to accommodate it and routing needs like table mounting, this is the ideal solution
In addition o considering the horsepower of the engine, think about the amperage…
A 15-amp motor is all well and good but if you use your router at the highest available output for extended periods, you risk burning it out.
As with all aspects of buying a wood router, there’s no right or wrong answer. Think about exactly what sort of projects you want to undertake and make sure you opt for a motor in line with those needs.
- Variable Speed
The majority of the routers we reviewed are variable speed and with just cause.
Being able to increase and reduce the speed according to the material makes for easier operation and gives generally superior results. You’ll also be better placed to deal with knots and knobs on the workpiece more effectively.
The greater the spread of speeds, the more control you’ll exercise so scope out routers with a nice wide variable speed.
- Cutting Depth
Consider both the cutting depth of the routers you have in mind and also the ease with which you can make adjustments. Look for models with levers or clamps on the side to simplify what can be a tricky procedure.
- Variable Speed
- Router Bits
Router bits come in a staggering array of shapes and sizes to suit all applications.
From beading to chamfering, rabbeting to coving, pay careful attention to the type of work you’ll be undertaking and focus on getting the right bits for the job.
You can buy yourself a router table which allows you to secure your tool bit up so the wood can slide neatly across the table and onto the bit or blade.
You can buy a freestanding table or one that sits on your existing workbench.
These tables serve to transform your router into a shaper and spindle molder so if you’re looking to take on projects like this, investing in a good table makes sense.
- Spindle Lock
While not all routers have a spindle lock and it couldn’t be considered a deal-breaker, it’s worth looking for models with this feature.
Swapping out the blades and changing the settings is simplified with a spindle lock. Consider this the icing on the cake rather than a crucial component.
- Router Bits
Now you have an idea what to consider when you’re looking for the best wood router, a brief look at some handy hint to help you use and maintain your new tool…
USAGE AND MAINTENANCE TIPS
Fortunately, the wood router is among the safest and simplest portable power tools to use.
As with any tool, keeping it clean and dust-free is imperative. Pay close attention to any ventilation holes and make sure to clear away any shavings from these areas.
When you’re not using your router, it’s wise to store it either on a high shelf or inside a cabinet.
Check the collets on a regular basis for any burrs or grit. You should also clean them from time to time using thinners.
If you’re not using the router, it goes unsaid you should turn it off. This is particularly critical when you’re making adjustments to the depth of cut.
When it’s time to change the cutters, always unplug your router.
Always hold your router firmly with both hands. Feed the cutter carefully and methodically. If you feed too quickly or make excessively deep cuts, you’ll end up overloading the motor and taking longer to get an optimal finish. You can get a sound idea of the feed rate you need by listening to the sound of the motor. Admittedly, this is not something you’ll be able to do straight off the bat but it’s a skill you’ll swiftly master.
Avoid dull cutter bits at all costs. They’ll cause overload and lead to shoddy results.
On the maintenance side of things, wood routers are blissfully easy to take care of. Aside from cleaning and occasionally tightening the screws, all you’ll really need to do is occasionally inspect the brushes for wear and tear then replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions as required.
Follow these simple pointers and your router experience should be stress-free.