Wood Router – The Ultimate FAQ Guide

Since 1884 when Henry Cope invented the wood router, it has continued to stand the test of time.  But for every woodworker, this hand tool remains vital to their daily activities due to its versatility. Two centuries later, many brands of wood routers have sprung up across the world. While this is a welcome development, it has also brought on confusion and indecisiveness for users. 

Hence, this article provides useful information on choosing, using, and getting maximum utility from wood routers.

Fig. 1: Complex Pattern Shaped by a Wood Router.
Complex Pattern Shaped by a Wood Router

1. What is a Wood Router?

Woodworking routers specifically make unique cuts, edges, holes, and joinery on woods. In other cases, they are used to cut intricate patterns similar to rabbets. Again,  other uses of the wood router include shaping and trimming timber, especially in cabinetry. Enumerated below are the services of a woodworking router according to the book;

  • Cabinetry
  • Creating signs
  • Boring holes
  • Join flat edges and surface plan
  • Sculpting letterings
  • Cutting decorative edges
  • Custom grooves and slots
  • Machining dovetails, mortises, and tenon
  • Routing raised panels
  • General DIY projects

Usually, a wood router is a power hand-tool mounted on a motor to give it high speed to cut. However, the routing bit is the most intricate part of the wood router, which easily chips off the wood. When you purchase a wood router, you need not bother about other tools to perform many functions. A wood router ultimately saves you cost and keeps your tool room less stuffy and equally simple. Whether for your workshop or at home, the wood router always comes in handy.

  • Advantages of the Wood Router

  1. For high precision cutting and shaping
  2. A significant merit of this tool is its ability to perform so many tasks. With just buying other accessories, you can achieve better results without buying new tools.
  3. Thanks to how the router is structured, you need not worry about getting hurt as the cutting tool far from reach.
  4. Regardless of the work piece’s size, the wood router can easily maneuver and machine it properly.
  5. Its portability makes it easy to handle just for any task at hand.
  6. If you are a small-scale woodworker, it’s a wise investment due to its low price and corresponding durability.
  • The Structure of a Wood Router.

Typically, a wood router consists of three primary parts; the motor, the bit, and the handle. However, secondary interests include the housing, fence, base plate, collet & nut, dust extractor, speed, and depth control. This tool consists of an electric motor mounted vertically with the help of a collet on the shaft end. With the height-adjustment feature, you can accurately bore any depth.  A handle helps to provide the needed grip, and this varies from one manufacturer to the other. Below is a detailed explanation of each part and its significance to the smooth-operation of the wood router.

  • Collets

A collet is usually attached to the end of a motor’s spindle and made of steel. It is locked in place with a nut that controls the grip to the end of the bit. Since it is attached to the bit, it is responsible for spinning the bit when the tool is in operation. However, according to the bit’s shank diameter, a colleague’s sizing helps you determine the bit size as well.

Fig. 2: Collet and Its Nut
Collet and Its Nut

  • Base

Before the sub-base, the base always has a hole for the drill or router to pass through. There are fixed base router and plunge router. And there is a connection between the base and the top half of the wood router in the fixed base router. Whereas in the plunge router, two vertical columns support the router’s upward and downward movement.

  • Sub-base

The sub-base is a flat disc covering the base entirely. Its primary function is to prevent scratch on the workpiece’s surface. Nowadays, sub-bases come in various forms, such as the combination and offset base plates, to widen the router’s application.

Fig. 3: The Base and Sub-base of a Wood Router.
The Base and Sub-base of a Wood Router.

  • Speed Control

Due to each job’s specific needs and requirements, you need various speeds to achieve results. Like every other rotating tool, the wood router’s speed machine revolutions per minute (rpm). The speed control knob either increases or reduces the wood router speed. But this function is essential when using various drill bits to complete different wood or patterns.

Fig. 4: The Speed Control Knob
The Speed Control Knob

It is noteworthy that the no-load speed is the number the dial reads while the load speed will vary. Cutting speed varies according to the size of the drill bit, the cutting material’s nature, and even the cut depth.

  • Depth Control

This feature helps to set the depth of cut by varying the router’s height. It has a lock feature that permanently maintains any fixed size all through the period of use. And it also bears a depth scale, which helps to set the desired depth.

Fig. 5: The Transparent Depth Control Scale.
The Transparent Depth Control Scale.

Fig. 6: Lock Knob of Depth Control Scale.
Lock Knob of Depth Control Scale.

  • Dust Extractor

Just like every other cutter out there, the current environmental needs call for a dust extractor. Not only is it beneficial to the environment, but also the operator. All fine dust produced is channeled through a spout attached to the dust extractor. Good quality routers will come with a feature to assist with dust extraction. While some manufacturers add it as an accessory, some do not.

Fig. 7: CNC Router with Dust Extractor.
CNC Router with Dust Extractor.

2. Type of Wood Router

With the level of technology today, many wood routers have been developed by numerous tool manufacturers. However, these routers all still perform the same functions only in unique ways. The application and type of base of a wood router have a role to play in its functionality. Presented below are the types of wood routers in the market and how they differ from each other.

3.1 Fixed Base Router  

The fixed router planer should design so that the substrate is placed flat on the workpiece or at a certain angle. Notably, this router’s unique feature is that the cut’s depth set before turning it on. For this router, the cut depth is not adjustable once the machine begins to run. But a little drawback of this router is that it can be time-consuming for tasks involving varying cut lengths. The base and body remain fixed together at all times, with no possibility of plunging action.  All amounts are started from the edge and not above the workpiece.

3.2 Routers with Removable Bases 

Some wood routers come with interchangeable bases to accommodate a wide range of applications. In this case, the top half of the router is a whole assembly, while the bottom is removable. Whenever you want to shape, sharpen, sculpt, or grind, it is best to use interchangeable bases. Often, routers with these kinds of floors are light-duty in nature and do not require massive power.

3.3 Plunge Router 

A wood router works like a drill press, which operates in an overhanging position. It cuts from above by plunging into the workpiece vertically.  Unlike the fixed base, it can vary the depth of cut even before and during cutting. Therefore, the plunge router has become the most popular in the woodworking industry due to its high versatility and usage. And it keeps it fixed at your desired height. 

Fig. 8: Plunger Router.
Plunger Router.

3.4 Heavy-duty, Medium-duty And Light-duty Router

The “duty” here refers to the size and amount of power these routers require to operate. These classifications would eventually tell on the kind of task each router can perform effectively.

  • Heavy-duty Router

This router can hold up a bit of a diameter up to 38mm or 1.5 inches. It is the largest and produces excellent power to drive the largest bit possible. But it is reserved for extremely professional use only and not for DIY projects, and as long as the power supply can last for several hours.  The implication of this is that they will be used only on rare occasions.

  • Medium-duty Router

This class of wood router lies in between the heavy and light-duty routers. They are relatively small in size and can handle light projects. In essence, they can carry and hold larger bits than the light-duty routers. And they come in handy in workshops and regularly used because of their unique ability. 

  • Light-duty Router

This class of router is ideal for personal use and DIY projects within your home only. They are not to use for heavy projects lasting a long period at all. As the name implies, it is light in weight, small in size & can hold far less than 38mm.

3.5 CNC Router 

This type of router is an automated version of the electric/manual routers. Because it is mainly suitable for large industries that produce products that require uniform and accurate cutting. These routers are controlled by a computer program and maintain all the input parameters set on it consistently. It uses in high productivity situations requiring high precision and high accuracy.  A typical application of the CNC router is in staircase production companies. Endeavor to get a matching bit to be used alongside as there are always special tools for CNC machines generally.

3.6 Difference Between the Fixed Router and Plunge Router

Difference Between the Fixed Router and Plunge Router

4. What Does a Wood Router Do?

As discussed in the previous section, the various types of wood routers all have their particular application. Despite the versatility of these wood routers, their uses are specific to some rare purposes. In general, the services of a wood routers cover the following highlighted below:

4.1 Routing the Edges of the Wood Piece

Routing involves making grooves or patterns on wood. For this purpose, a fixed base router comes in handy because it works well from the edges.

4.2 Cutting Dadoes

Dadoes are unique square-notch woodwork cuts made across the grain and predominant in the cabinetry and furniture making industry. It involves trimming off the wood’s surface to create space for mating in another piece of wood.

Normally, dadoes run end-to-end on the wood, so it is best to use a stationary basic router planer for this task. Note that you should have marked out the path and pattern of dado you need before cutting. Then the cut depth should be set on the router before starting.

Fig. 9: Plunge Router Shaping a Groove.
Plunge Router Shaping a Groove.

4.3 Rabbet Cutting

Rabbets are quite similar to dadoes but differ a little. Unlike dadoes, they run along the edges on. They help two blocks of wood to flush, such as in cabinets making. The rabbet bits should cut to a depth equal to the other wood’s thickness to flush. For this task, a fixed base router will be more suitable because of its high stability.

4.4 Inlaying Banding:

The first step to cutting a perfect inlay is purchasing a router inlay tool kit. This kit consists of an inlay bushing, brass router template guide, and a 1/8-inch thick carbide spiral. Hence 1/8-inch appears to be the minimum depth of any inlay.  

The first step is to cut a template similar to the shape of the inlay using a hardboard. 

Secondly, attach your inlay template to another hardboard of about 1/4- inch thickness via glue or screw. 

Thirdly, trace around the inlay in an anti-clockwise direction using a 1/8-inch bit and brass guide. 

Steadily, cut deeper into the workpiece until you have cut through outside the inlay template. 

And now, you should have an outline of your desired inlay cut, although a bit bigger than the inlay itself. Carefully, continue to clear the waste from the center until the inlay is clearly defined and set.

4.5 Dovetails

It is simple and straightforward. All you need to do is install a dovetail drill on the wood router spindle. And mark-out the intervals on the workpiece edge where the dovetails should be cut and good to go. A table wood router is the best suited for this job.

4.6 Create a Rounded Edge

Using a round-over cutter is the most critical part of this task. These types of cutting machine tracks are specific diameters. When creating an outer rounding, a counter-clockwise direction of feed advised and a clockwise direction for inner rounding. Typical radii diameters of round cutters range from 1/4-inch to 3/4-inch.

Fig. 10: Creating a Rounded Edge.
Creating a Rounded Edge.

4.7 Making a Cutting Board

It is a DIY project and can do using either a fixed base or plunge router.

4.8 Making Raised Panel Doors

A wood router helps to pattern out a panel door’s tricky edges. This process majorly involves rounded edges, dados, and rabbet, and many more as the case may be.

4.9 Traditional Cut Joints

Before making any seams, the surface needs to suitably smooth. With a dish-carving bit, a wood router can perform this function effectively.

4.10 Create Decorative Flutings:

A cove cut use for creating a decorative fluting on woodwork. A round nose bit or cove bit can easily make these designs effortlessly.

Figure 11: Decorative Fluting Using a Wood Router.
Decorative Fluting Using a Wood Router.

4.11 Recess Hinges

A recess is otherwise known as the mortise. In a bid to create space for a hinge on doors, a holiday becomes pertinent. A mortise router bit combined with a fixed base router is most suitable for this job. You can carry out this task by marking out the three sides of the hinge on the door’s side. Afterward, you set the depth of cut corresponding to the thickness of the hinge plus a little more. Then you begin to cut until the outline is ultimately revealed.

4.12 Cut Screw Threads

Just like tap and die, a wood router can cut screw threads. Although it is preferable to use a table wood router for more balance and control. To effectively carry out this task the follow the steps highlighted below:

  • Firstly, by marking out the dowel’s part to cut the thread around, which is often spiral. You can use a paper to form this easily.
  • Secondly, set the height of the bit above the table just equivalent to the depth of the intended thread.
  • Thirdly, cut the lead-in at the beginning of the dowel.
  • After that, use a pin from above to hold the dowel in place as you proceed into the cut.
  • Finally, keep rotating the dowel continuously as you cut.

5. What Type of Wood Router Bit is Needed?

Different types of wood router require varying sizes of bits or cutters. All these depend on the shape of routing in question. Information regarding the bits is essential to the success of your job.

Fig. 12: Basic Types of Routing Bits.

Basic Types of Routing Bits.

5.1 Basic Types of Router Bit Profiles

  • Straight Router Bits

Over the years, these bits have remained the most common and frequently used ones, among others. It is best suited for straight down cuts such as grooves, dadoes, or to cut a hole for Inlays—the variety of diameters in the market range from 3/16-inch to 1-1/2-inch.

Figure 13: A straight Router Bit.
A straight Router Bit.

  • Rabbeting Router Bits

The rabbet bits are known for making vertical and horizontal cuts. These cuts create a notch on the edge of a workpiece. These bits usually have a pilot bit, which guides the cutting process from start to finish. These pilot bits come in various sizes (diameter) to produce any desired dimension of a rabbet.

Figure 14: A rabbet Router Bit.
A rabbet Router Bit.

  • Chamfer Router Bits

These produce the angular or bevel cut. In architectural designs, the chamfer bit helps to create decorated edges. Another use of this bit is in joinery, to allow for multiple constructions due to beveled edges.

Figure 15: A chamfer Router Bit.
A chamfer Router Bit.

  • Edge Forming Router Bits

Generally, Edge forming router bits mean for decorative purposes. It helps to produce a variety of edges that adds an extra touch to your fantastic design. However, the most common bits in this category are the Edge beading bits, Cove router bits, Round over bits, and Ogee bits. Just like a planer, a guide bearing also uses for fine cutting.

Figure 16: Set of Round-over Bits for Edge Forming.
Set of Round-over Bits for Edge Forming.

  • Joinery Bits

The need to achieve precision cuts brought about joinery bits. Prominent joinery bits include lock miter, dovetail, draw locker, and finger joint router bits. All these bits produce a specific precision joint. Sometimes a dovetail router is used in conjunction with a dovetail jig for precision and high accuracy.

Other types of router bits include; Molding Router Bits, Stile and Rail Bits, and Raised Panel Bits.

Figure 17: A dovetail Router Bit.
A dovetail Router Bit.

5.2 Which is Better Between 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch Shank Router Bits?

The shank is that part of the bit that fits into the collet. It is fastened to the collet via the collet nut and has nothing to do with cutting or shaping. Bits with large diameters are machined with a 1/2-inch shank while those with narrow diameter come with a 1/4-inch leg. The 1/2-inch shank has appeared to be better in performance due to some factors such as- mass, grip, and deflection.

Mass

The router bits with 1/2-inch shanks have a mass about four times that of the 1/4-inch shank bits. This extra weight helps stabilize the router when in operation, which translates into a cleaner cut. With greater mass comes more surface area for heat dissipation to prevent burning of wood during routing.

Grip

More grip is possible since more surface area for the 1/2-inch shank to hold on to the collet. Generally, it prevents slipping, especially for heavy-duty bits.

Deflection

Asides the inherent centrifugal forces produced during rotation, some sideways details also contribute to deflection. The act of feeding the workpiece to the router or vice versa also generates significant deflection. Use a 1/2 inch knife handle to resist and minimize deflection to ensure precise cutting. For long bits or piloted bits, the 1/2-inch shank can attenuate the deflection degree likely to be produced.

6. How to Use a Wood Router?

Using a wood router requires some requisite knowledge to use it effectively. From the setting-up to finally cutting or shaping with the router, some necessary steps must follow.

6.1 How to Cut a Hole in a Wood with a Router?

i. Mark-out the diameter of the hole using a template.
ii. Make a rough cut around the hole circumference using a regular drill or Forstner bit to remove enough chips.
iii. Use glue or tape to attach the template.
iv. Mount a router bit on the collet and set to a depth that will cut through the template and workpiece.
V. Remove the template once the fineness of the hole is satisfactory.

6.2 How to Install a Wood Router Bit Properly?

i. Choose an appropriate router bit in terms of size and length.
ii. Clean the router, collect, and bite properly.
iii. Carefully insert the router bit into the collet until it’s about 1/8 to 1/6 inch away from the collet’s bottom.
iv. Tighten the collet nut till a firm grip reaches between the collet and router bit shank.

6.3 How to Prevent Wood Tearing?

i. Avoid less pressure when making the final pass of the router on the workpiece.
ii. Use backer boards to support the workpiece.
iii. Ensure the grain direction and bit rotation coincides for a smooth cut.
iv. Use supports/ fences with no clearance at all.

6.4 What to Pay Attention to When Using a Wood Router?

i. Use the appropriate router bit for the right task.
ii. Read the manufacturer’s manual and understand how to operate, especially as a newbie.
iii. Firmly hold the router handle the proper way.
iv. Bear in mind the direction to cut, either clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the job.
V. Adorn protective gear as expected.
vi. Understand the router’s limitations and adhere to them.

Summary

In conclusion, we are confident that you have learned quality knowledge about the wood router, its uses, features, and everything in between. At NCCuttingtools, providing premium and top-of-the-line cutting tool solutions to all our clients scattered across the globe is our priority.

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