Routers are considered the most versatile of woodworking power tools, and are indispensable for any craftsman, newbie to pro. Here’s what you need to know about how they work, what they do, and how to buy one.
Weekend DIYers won’t find a use for a router for around the house, but once you begin making and building items that require a certain level of precision and craftsmanship, you’ll need to invest in a router.
What Is a Router?
No, we’re not talking about Wi-Fi here! Woodworking routers are power hand tools that consist of a motor that turns a spindle at very high speeds. A router bit is attached to the spindle, that then removes wood very quickly. You control the router with two hands, grasping the vertical handles on opposite sides of the device.
You can pick up a great new router like this one from SKIL for a bit more than $ 100. Craigslist is always stocked with good used routers for even cheaper. Look for a fixed-base router, which is a better all-around tool compared to a plunge router (which makes plunge, or up and down, cuts). The SKIL includes an interchangeable base so you can switch between the two bases if needed.
Steve Ramsey has a great video (shown above) that introduces the router to beginning woodworkers.
Smaller handheld routers are called trim routers and are used for more delicate work on smaller pieces of wood. These are commonly used by finish carpenters and can be valuable for hobbyists and model makers.
What Routers Do
Most cabinets and wood furniture pieces have been cut and shaped by a router. They are used to profile edges, cut grooves, trim wood flat, drill holes, recess hinges, cut joints, and perform many more tasks.
A router table is a stationary woodworking tool that inverts your router and provides a space for the spindle to protrude from the top of the table. A router bit is attached to the spindle and spun at speeds between 3,000 and 24,000 rpm. Router tables are great for cutting grooves, dadoes, joinery, and working with small narrow stock. Check the video above to see a router table in action.
The selection of router bits is almost more important than the router itself. Router bits are the key to performing specific tasks like joinery, shaping edges, and making straight cuts.
As your proficiency with a router increases, so will your collection of router bits. This set of 24 router bits is $ 27 on Amazon and includes straight bits, round over bits, and profiling bits.
How to Use a Router
Routers can be used by woodworkers of all skill levels, but it’s a powerful tool that should be used with caution each time.
When using a router, always use safety equipment including eye protection, a dust mask, and hearing protection. Pieces of wood and small particles will go airborne, even with the use of a vacuum system.
First, pick and install your router bit. Loosen the router collet (which is a sleeve that when tightened secures the router bit to the spindle) and slide the end of the router bit into it. The standard router bit and collet size is 1/4”.
Always securely grip your router with both hands and keep the base flat against your work piece.
The router bit moves clockwise, so only move from left to right along your work piece. This will keep the sharp edge of the router bit facing the wood which applies natural pressure against the wood. It also keeps wood chips from flying back at you. You’ll know if you attempt to go in the wrong direction as the router will try to run away from you and you’ll get a face full of sawdust. The opposite holds true if you are using a router table as you want to use a push block to push the wood along the router bit from right to left.
The video above provides more detail for loading router bits and setting up your fence or jig when using a router.
Woodworking routers are affordable and space-saving, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t have a place in your workshop.