Woodworking Router Basics – What you need to know before buying one

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Routers are a really versatile tool in a wood shop. They are also powerful and dangerous. So read the safety instructions in this post and in the manufacturer’s manual very carefully. 

Routers can do a large variety of wood working jobs. They can cut, drill, make joins and cut the wood into any conceivable shape, provided you have the right bit and you know how to use it.

First lets look at the components of a router that will help you understand the machine better and also in making a better decision when buying one. 

Router Components

Base Kind

The motor of a router is mounted on a base. There are 2 kinds of bases: fixed and plunge bases. A fixed base router is typically lighter. A plunge base is heavier but it allows you to position the router over the wood and use a lever to ‘plunge’ the bit into the wood. Which kind is better depends on your preference and the job on hand. 

You also get ‘convertible’ models, i.e. you can attach an additional base to the router to convert a fixed base into a plunge base. 

Collet Chuck 

The ‘collet cluck’ is the part that holds the bit securely and firmly in place. The chuck comes in 3 different sizes: ½ inch, ¼ inch and 3/8 inch. The ½ inch also often come with an adapter that will allow you to use a ¼ inch bit as well.

Decide on the size of the ‘collect chuck depending on which size bits are more easily available in your area. Using a ½ inch with an adapter widens our options, in a sense. 

Motor Power

For normal trimming and shaping a router motor rated at 1 ½ to 2 horsepower is sufficient. The thing is that smaller motors are lighter and better suited to shaping by hand i.e. it’s easier to maneuver the router by hand.

If you are doing more hardcore work and want a table setup you can go for a heavier and a more powerful router. 3 ½ horsepower is about the maximum you get. This number may change as technology makes it’s advancements and you get lighter and more powerful routers in the future. 

Dust Collection Adapter

The dust collection for a router is done differently than most other tools because of it’s design and functioning. Because the bit is at the bottom, you get an accessory that attaches the router to a dust collector/vacuum cleaner. It catches the saw dust and wood pieces as they leave the bit. 

Power Switch

While operating a handheld router, you should be able to switch the router on and off without compromising your grip on the router. 

For example, if you have to take one hand off the reach the switch, that’s both cumbersome and dangerous. As we have already said, routers are powerful tools and one of the most dangerous ones at the same time.

Therefore, the power button should be easily accessible. 

Depth Scale

When cutting joints, drilling holes, making shapes in wood with a router, you will always want to know and set the depth of the cut. An accurate and easy to read depth scale is absolutely essential! 

Pay a great deal of importance to this component of a router when buying. You will be surprised at how often it is compromised by the manufacturer. 

Router Bits

Let’s finally come around to the teeth of the tool! The bits that cut into the wood. We highly recommend buying carbide bits. They are more expensive to buy but will fall cheaper in the long run. It’s alright to use a high speed steel bit if you intend to use it for a single project.

But repeated usage is going to need a replacement of the bit. A carbide bit last a LOT longer and is actually more cost effective over multiple and lengthier projects.

There is an even cheaper variety of bits made out of pressed steel. We suggest you avoid these because apart from the longevity of the bit, even the cleanliness and accuracy of the cut suffers. 

There many different kinds of bits that do different things.

Some very popular and commonly used router bits are: Chamfer bit, Cove bit, Dovetail bit, Rabbet bit, Straight bit and Veining bit. 

How To Use A Router

Well, this is an extensive subject simply because there is just so much you can do with a router. You can actually finish an entire wood working project using only a router, technically speaking. There are many video out there and many renowned woodworking sites with great instructions on using a router. Use a search engine to find more information. 

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