Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton
Used for a range of wookworking applications, routers are great for building furniture or adding finishing touches to a piece. The only limit with this tool is the quality of your cutter – and your imagination! Read on to find out why the router is the right tool for you!
- Variable speed
- Dust extraction
What is a router?
A router is a handheld power tool used to process wood in woodworking and carpentry.
Fitted with an electric motor that drives a spinning cutter, routers come in handy for a range of jobs from small-scale moulding work and dovetail joints to grooves and tenon and mortise joints; just switch out your cutter to match the task at hand!
Lightweight and easy to handle, routers are ideal for anyone starting out in woodworking who doesn't want to invest in a full-sized spindle moulder.
When choosing a router, you should consider the following:
- how often you plan to use the tool;
- the level of accuracy you need;
- collet diameter;
- the types of accessories supplied;
The main features of a router are as follows:
- electric motor, determines the tool's power rating;
- base, rests on the workpiece and provides stability;
- variable speed, allows you to adjust your speed depending on the type of material;
- depth stop, adjusts the height of the cutter over the workpiece;
- guide, ensures even cutting from the edge of a workpiece.
How much power do you need?
It all depends on the type of work you want to do! In short, the more material the cutter needs to remove, the more powerful the router must be.
A router rated over 1400 watts (W) should be able to go through pretty much anything. A variable speed drive allows you to adapt the number of revolutions per minute (rpm) to each individual task.
Large jobs, such as fitting locks in hardwood will require at least 1200 W while a 1000 W router will be ideal for less demanding applications.
Any routers rated below 1000 W can only really be used for edge profiling and more detailed work.
Variable speed drive
A variable speed drive is essential if you plan to use cutters with larger diameters from time to time.
The reason for this is that a small router must be able to rotate very quickly (around 20,000 rpm) while a large milling cutter spins more slowly (10,000 to 15,000 rpm).
If you do not adjust your speed, you run the risk of splitting the wood.
Cutters with larger diameters
Routers with dust extraction
Router cutters create a lot of dust and chippings which can end up affecting the quality of your cut and might just drive you crazy in the process!
A transparent cover and dust extraction port – designed to be connected to your on-site dust extractor – can help you overcome this issue.
For the greatest user comfort, pick a model that comes with a dust extraction adapter that can be mounted on the base of the tool or directly on the column (mounted to the side so as not to obstruct your view).
Shape of the router base
The base of the router rests on the workpiece as you work and can be round or semi-circular in shape (the latter option is less bulky).
Depending on the model, it should be possible to switch the sub-base of your router.
Types of router collet
The bit holder of a router is called a collet.
The diameter of the collet must correspond to the size of the bit shank. You basically have two options in the UK: 1/2" and 1/4". A 1/2" collet will be less prone to slipping than a 1/4" collet.
If you plan on working with a lot of large cutters (in terms of length and diameter), go for a larger collet diameter. It is possible to find collet reducers designed to allow you to use 1/4" shanks in a 1/2" collet. However, this is not recommended as these adapters do not always offer a secure grip.
How to guide your router
Usually supplied as standard, a guide rail is designed to guide a router along the edge of a workpiece.
If you're working in the middle of a piece of wood, you can guide your router along a straight edge held down by clamps.
Some brands offer guide rails that are compatible with a range of different power tools, including routers.
You can also purchase a guide rail separately.
Adjusting the depth of your router
The depth of cut of the router can be adjusted very easily thanks to a depth stop. The level of accuracy depends on the model but some offer very precise depth adjustments.
Once the depth stop is set, simply tighten the screw and get to work!
It is advisable to choose a router with a reliable depth stop to make sure your cutter stays in the right position while you finish your task.
Selecting your router accessories
If you want to turn your router into a spindle moulder or are just looking for extra comfort, you can always mount it beneath a table.
Support feet can also be very useful (some claim essential!) accessories to keep your router from tipping over as it cuts.
Final tips for choosing a router
A high-quality router provides a better power-to-weight ratio which, in turn, results in greater working comfort and superior performance.
They also offer faster setting changes and their collet will often be more secure. Another advantage not to be overlooked is that high-end machines will vibrate less meaning there is minimal risk of your settings changing mid-job.
All in all, trying to save a little money on this tool is not the wisest idea as you may end up with an unbalanced tool with inefficient cutting power and therefore disappointing results. So invest as much as you can!
Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton, 71 guides
Since I was a child, I was always interested in manual and technical works. Always fascinated by woodworking, I took advantage of my first flat as a playground. On the cards: electricity (of course, safety first!) and some partition walls; but also decorating with the help of the missus, made-to-measure furniture and little tricks to optimise the space, all the while remaining as original as possible. When the little one arrived, I started building bits and pieces for him! Lacking space, I have not got a permanent workshop and certain tools I dream about but are not part of my collection. Not to worry, I already know a lot about DIY and I have a high-tech profile that I hope will guide you in your decisions!