A wood working router is perhaps among the most valuable as well as important tools in the arsenal of a woodworker. The best wood router together with set of bits allows carving a variety of intricate designs, including for joints, edges, and grooves. Different types of wood working routers exist, whose differences you need to comprehend for making an ideal choice that shall fit both your bill and needs. Otherwise, you may end up getting an unsuitable one. This is exactly why reading this guide along with a few genuine wood router reviews is essential.
Routers are masters of cutting grooves with a steady base and an adjustable bit (cut depth) of the chosen size and shape. Such a blend facilitates endless potential for discarding material in a regulated manner. A wood router can perfectly cut the tails of tenons, mortises, tongue and groove joints, and dovetail joint. Actually, there is much more you can do with a router, in fact, a variety of other things. So, you may feel like buying two routers to fulfill your diverse requirements. For that, you need to ask the following questions to yourself for shrinking your list of options for easier and quicker selection.
- What kind of wood work I will be doing?
- Do you do a lot of work with large diameter bits?
- Will I be performing plunge cutting quite frequently?
- Will I be moving a lot with the router?
- Will your router be table mounted?
Once you ask these questions, you need to analyze the following buying factors.
- 1 What to Look for in the Best Wood Router
- 1.1 Factor 1: Types of Wood Working Routers
- 1.2 Factor 2: Router Bits
- 1.3 Factor 3: Bit Materials
- 1.4 Factor 4: Motor Power/HP and Speed
- 1.5 Factor 5: Router Table
- 1.6 Factor 6: Router Design
- 1.7 Factor 7: Collet Size and Maintenance
- 1.8 Factor 8: Router Fences
- 1.9 Factor 9: Electronic Feedback Circuitry
- 1.10 Factor 10: Other Vital Features
- 2 5 Best Wood Routers in 2016
- 3 Conclusion
What to Look for in the Best Wood Router
Factor 1: Types of Wood Working Routers
Selecting the right type is perhaps the fundamental step toward quick distinct wood detailing for any kind of wood projects. You can expect faster and more accurate wood joints than other ways of making joints, a point that several wood router reviews do not forget to mention.
Routers are classified into two ways: according to their size and base. As per the size, wood working routers are split into the following three types:
- Trim: These are affordable and compact little wonders featuring a motor power of 1 HorsePower (HP) or less and a quarter-inch collet for use with only smaller bits. This means, trim routers are designed only for discarding small quantity of wood. They are small and lightweight due to which they are easy to use. Get this type of router if you need to cut a small contour or fine joinery, carve hinge mortises, or soften sharp edges. The grip is good and size is such that you will not feel intimidating while handling it. It is a handy tool for the beginners to sharpen and hone their skills.
- Mid-Sized: These are all purpose routers that serious hobbyists and professionals tend to bring or prefer initially. With 1.5 to 2.25 HP, these units are capable of rendering different carvings with a variety of bits covering more base than the small ones. Such motors call for two-handed or table mounted performance, with either a plunge or fixed base. Such routers are quite versatile, as they can do almost every routing task right from big cuts to dovetailing. Look for such a type if you need just one router to do all detailing for you.
- Large: These routers are ideal for a router table, as they are tiresome for handheld operation and are considerably heavy. With almost 3 HP or more motor power, these routers can discard much wood with large bits. Consider such a router if you need a router for using it more as a handheld unit than just below a table as well as for tasks such as raising panels for the doors of cabinets. The potent power, extra size, and additional weight can handle any tedious or heavy-duty task but the investment should be done only when you are firm to take up such tasks. If you decide to bring one such piece, consider having a variable speed motor so that you can decrease the speed with increased bit size.
Whether you buy a medium-sized or a large unit, you have a choice to make when it comes to selecting its base. As per the base, the routers are of three types namely,
- Fixed Base: This is exclusively for the beginners with a base performing ideally when fixed to a router table. Such a router is best for molding with straight line accuracy, general profiling, edge cuts, and other tasks, provided the bit is fed into the wood’s edge. Well, the fixed base prevents pushing the bit into the wood. You can position it to different blade depths for cutting by turning the unit off along with the handle close to the base’s bottom for achieving low gravity center. Such routers are lighter and easier to use than plunge models
- Plunged: Such a router features a spring-loaded base, letting the bit to penetrate into the wood. While using for various applications, you simply have to lock the base at a determined depth. Unlocking it allows changing the bit depth at the time of usage. The benefit here is that the cut starts in the mid of the unit instead of at the edge. Such models are more versatile but may be a bit tougher to use than the fixed base ones. They are also relative costlier. For all tasks, a plunge router can perform anything that a fixed base model can do but the handles and motor are higher for enabling the plunging motion. Due to elevated center of gravity, you may even feel somewhat unstable, particularly while milling small stock.
- Interchangeable: These lighter models, available mostly as kits, have the best of both plunge and fixed base designs. You can switch from one type to another by easily removing the motor from one base and putting it to another. With such mechanism, you can easily expand your router without investing in the second one. It is also possible to attach one to the router table and leave the other for the purpose of portability. In case you keep changing the base too frequently, you may find that having two different routers is yet the most efficient option rather than halting to change the base so often.
Special Note on Rotary Tools
There is even a rotary tool that provides routing facilities to those who do not require the capacity and power of a standard router. Weighing between one and four pounds, this little unit is ideal for fine detail and small routing tasks to be done by hobbyists and crafters having light but diverse requirements. With the motor power ranging from 1 to 5.5 amps, a rotary tool is very compact and versatile enough to perform various applications in addition to those of routers.
Special Note on Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Routers
If you are a tech fan, you may love to have a CNC router, which are computerized experts in making objects out of wood. It works based on the Cartesian system employing the X, Y, and Z co-ordinates for ensuring 3-dimensional (3D) motion control.
A CNC woodworking router uses a computer application along with a CNC controller mechanism for accomplishing better precision and control than a human operator. You can design a few parts in the computer through a router-compatible CAD application such as Bobcad and Mastercam, and then shape it using a cutter or a router.
A CNC router is perfect for art, product development, and engineering prototyping work. It is analogous to a metal CNC mill, but spins faster, is bigger, and has more HP ranging from 5 to 15.
Suggestion on Buying One or More Routers
Usually, people prefer buying two routers, one small and other large. This is both for the starters and experienced. There are woodworkers having 15+ routers, each with a fixed setting that they do not wish to modify even later, which is handy. In case you can get only one, select the one that is versatile enough to do most tasks of yours. Consider a medium-sized or a large router with a router table.
For those who are assembling a collection, it is suggested getting a large router for gaining the benefit of versatility. Later, it is wise to add a small router for detailing work.
Factor 2: Router Bits
Different types of router bits are available for achieving a variety of designs and grooves. Most of these come with different shank sizes to fit as per router’s size.
- Beading: For putting a convex edge on the wood and is a bit below the level of wood sides
- Round Over (Similar to Beading): For having a rounded edge without recessed edges, along the piece
- Straight : For cutting a groove with varying diameters
- Dado (Famous): For having a box groove throughout the target piece
- Rabbeting: For having a right-angled cut along the edge of the wood
- Chamfer: For cutting a straight edge at an angle besides the wooden side or a beveled edge for decorative reasons on a corner
- Cove: For cutting a concave quarter circle (inward) along the wooden edge
- Roman Ogee: For having a distinct s shape along the edge
- Dovetail: For having the groove with wider bottom throughout the wood
- V Groove: For having a groove in a V shape across the wood
- Round Nose: For having a half circle groove
Factor 3: Bit Materials
Router bits are generally made up of one of the following materials.
- High-Speed Steel: This material is ideal for working with softer materials. While it is most affordable, it does not sustain its edge sharpness as long as other materials. Consider this material only for using a router occasionally.
- Carbide Tipped: Such a bit is designed using a much stronger material than the aforementioned one. Carbide tips tend to sustain their edge longer than the steel bits. They can easily cut harder metal as well as wood pieces. Such bits are ideal for professional wood workers who need to use a router daily.
- Solid Carbide: These bits are the most durable as well as strongest ones due to which they are ideal for hardest materials. The edges sustain themselves well for a longer period without creating any issue. However, these bits are costliest but are worthy for their longevity.
Factor 4: Motor Power/HP and Speed
Different models come with different speed and horsepower. The most common HP options range from 1.5 to 3.5 but your choice depends on the kind of tasks you will be doing. A reasonably powered router with 1.25 to 2 HP can handle most soft woods along with a few hard woods as well as light metals. Such a router is ideal for occasional use, whereas a higher HP is required for regularly heavy use.
For high load or metal work, consider a model that allows adjusting Revolutions Per Minute or R-P-M (measurement of speed) regardless of the load level. A few wood working routers come with RPMs ranging from 9,000 to 30,000 for having the variable speed control.
Majority of mid- and full-size routers come with variable speed control, which is handy for using a single router for all bit sizes. Small bits give clean cuts at mid to high level of speed, while big bits need a lower level for safe cut. If there is variable speed, you simply need to twist and use the desired speed level.
For choosing both the right speed and power, you need to know the tasks for which you will be using a router.
Factor 5: Router Table
A router table facilitates attaching a router to the table with the upward bit. Usually, a router is mounted beneath the table with the bit fixed up via the table’s top. Once the router is at work, the wood piece tends to move across the table top as well as atop the blade or bit. With a router table, you can complete several routing tasks more conveniently as well as consistently than by hand.
You can find tabletop versions that you can put on a workbench, or free-standing models of tables. You can even find a portable table or get a table of your choice built.
Factor 6: Router Design
A woodworking router features a case for holding and insulating a motor for spinning the blade or bit, handles for guiding across the piece to be cut, and a collet or metal securing sleeve for retaining the bit securely in place at the router’s base. The collet size varies from 6 mm to 0.5 inches. However, the best wood router will also come with measurement scales for setting the precise depth of the bit without taking the measurement manually. In short, look for a comfortable design that ensures precision and effortless operation.
Do also look for ergonomic handles, which ensure comfort and proper grip while at work, particularly for lots of time-consuming jobs that need to be performed subsequently. If there are two handles, ensure that they are layered with a rubberized material; as such it can add much more comfort.
Factor 7: Collet Size and Maintenance
A collet is the sleeve holding your router bit along with the help of shaft attached to the motor and the nut of collet. With the size ranging from quarter to half inches, collets are usually of four styles namely, split shaft with sleeve adapters, split shaft, tapered shaft with multiple slits, and tapered shaft with single slit.
Any tool with contact from metal to metal or with possibility to contact dust and sap is likely to wear over time. This certainly calls for good and timely maintenance. This is applicable to collet that becomes worn out or scratched due to which proper hold is not given to the bit, ending up in wobbling and vibration. Therefore, you need to take proper care of the collet. For that, you should avoid tightening the collet without the bit in place. Further, dust and sap can clog the collet and its nut as well as limit the shaft’s recess.
To fix this, consider buying a model with a vacuum port or a dust port that can save much of your cleaning efforts and avoid accumulation of dust or sap. Such a port even keeps your work area clean as well as keeps breathing related issues away. Most modern routers come with this new added feature.
Factor 8: Router Fences
The fences offer a guide against which the wood is pushed. This does not allow shifting of the wood piece and facilitates precise straight line cut.
Factor 9: Electronic Feedback Circuitry
Routers with such a feedback are smart enough to retain a consistent speed so that there is no bogging down in case the load increases. The circuitry keeps an eye on the motor load and adjusts the output of torque accordingly. As a result, the motor does not stop during a heavy cut and that the power output remains the same. With the router keeping pace, you can now focus on the cutting performance.
Factor 10: Other Vital Features
Go through wood router reviews and you will find customers recommending the below listed features. Read on to find out ‘why’.
- Soft Start: This feature makes the unit blast up to full speed in one go. A moment of pause is felt after starting it up but the unit quietly and softly accelerates to the set speed. This feature is standard in those units that have electronic feedback.
- Microfine Depth Adjustment: Look for this feature if you need very minute and accurate depth-of-cut adjustments for more versatility as well as accuracy.
- Spindle Lock: Many routers need two wrenches for changing the bit. While the one sustains the motor shaft, the other either tightens or loosens the collet. When you have a spindle lock, spring-loaded pin or a locked collar sustains the shaft in place. This means, now only a single wrench is required. Such a change is handy for plunge routers, which do not allow removing the motor for better access to the bit.
- Adjustment over the Table: It is not uncommon for a router to live under a router table in a hanging mode. For ensure more precise and comfortable table routing, you need to look for two new features. First, choose a model that allows adjusting the cutting of height from atop the table through a knob or handle. This eliminates the need to bend down for twisting the depth setting. Second, the model should extend the collet upward for changing the bits without lifting the unit out. You will find both these features in units of the ATA brand.
- Jigs and Clamps: Jigs are essential for holding your piece securely for cutting dovetail joints, box joiners, dada joints, and hinge recesses. Similarly, clamps are required for clamping the piece such that there is no slipping at all. A clamp also holds the jig such that you are ensured of stability.
- Speed Options: Well, these are in the form of controls or on/off switches. A few routers may have a variable speed trigger. In case you have a task wherein both hands will be used, consider a model with a footswitch for turning the unit on and off. This ensures comfort and convenience while doing such tasks.
- Templates: Consider these accessories if you wish to do all types of intricate designs effortlessly, especially if you are a beginner. You only need to affix a template and follow it with the router. You need to purchase templates separately.
5 Best Wood Routers in 2016
This one is the Amazon’s best seller and a favorite of Do-It-Yourself and professionals wood professionals. Its ergonomic features ensure super comfort, while its unique pack of features ensures cool performance, great control, and ideal visibility. The accuracy is admirable whether you are crafting small bevels or are going with large flush trimming. It features 1.25” HP motor for toughest jobs and quiet operation, dual LED lights for illuminating a wider area, interchangeable base, variable speed control from 16,000-27,000 RPMs, soft-start, and adjustable ring for controlled bit depth changes for only fixed base.
Ben Marvin: “Still using it years later. A well powered router for edge treatments and quick profiles. The plunge base is good for inlays and small mortising jobs. I’ve had zero problems with it through many, many hours of usage.”
This one is an efficient choice for all those who need routing capabilities of a mid-size router together with the capability of handling any kind of woodwork load. Rough jobs, big tasks, and small detailing- all is possible through the 2.25 HP, 12-amp motor, interchangeable base, soft start, variable speed, and feedback circuitry. Other features of this router include speed of 8,000 to 25,000 RPMs, micro-fine depth adjustments, aluminum construction, auto-release chuck of collet, soft-grip handle for plunge base, and wooden handles for fixed base.
The kit also has an elite quick-clamp mechanism for tool-free motor motion from base to base. The two bases come with big openings for rendering bigger visibility as well as accommodating bigger bits. While the motor remains stable at the time of adjusting the depth, the cord locations and right or left switch ensure both consistency and choice. No matter which base you choose, the brand’s precision centering design facilitates centering the template guides.
Just a Guy: This is a versatile router than can handle raised panels if you are willing to make multiple passes. I own two of these now because I like to leave one in the router table all the time. The speed control works well too.
This one is an entry level but long lasting router for plunge base fans. With 10 amp motor having variable speed ranging from 8,000 to 27,000 RPMs, this 2.25-inch unit comes with all features of a fixed router and other capabilities to perform way beyond. It can create pretty edging, inlays, and cut-outs, as its unique design allows starting work in the middle of the wood piece, and not at the edge. The unit also features a gradual start function for optimum control, safety, and precise output. The SIGHTLINE base ensures convenience, improved visibility, and a simple depth scale for improved accuracy.
Other features include a spindle lock for simple bit changes, 1/4-inch collet, trigger switch, chip shield, 3 turrets stops for quick repetitive depth cuts, adjustable parallel edge guide, and metallic casing.
SR: A fine machine. I use it for making signs with 3/4 inch high letters. Light with excellent visibility, east bit change and easy to adjust. My old heavy one was stolen and this one was a great replacement.
Designed for fast, precise cuts, robustness and efficiency are the two biggest selling points of this fixed base router. With 1.75 HP motor power, this one gives incredibly 27,500 RPMs for achieving those accurate cuts consistently. It is compatible with both quarter as well as half inch collets due to which the unit becomes one of most convenient tools in your arsenal. The two handles are ergonomic, meaning you are ensured of much comfort for longer lasting jobs. Although it has a fixed base, you can move the motor to a plunge base. You can even have the d-handle bases. Both these bases are sold separately.
Other features of this router include easy bit removal, under-table stop for easy to use, aluminum housing and base, anti-dust switch, micrometer depth adjuster up to 1/128-inch accuracy, and cam-lock level for simple motor release and coarse height adjustments. Consider this unit ideal for a busy professional site or shop.
Amazon Customer: Easy to use. Sturdy. Used it at school and fell in love. It’s small and works well for me because I’m a small person. Changing depths is fast with just a quick flip of the lock, a twist, and depth check with a small combination square.
This is a medium range router with a genuine mix of power and convenience. It comes with all the wanted features that attract beginners, intermediate, and experienced crafters. For doing heavy jobs with more comfort, you only need to install the unit on a router table. With 2.25 HP, 12-amp variable speed motor, the router has the capability to cut smoothly through even the toughest wood. For bit sustenance and better versatility, there are 0.75-inch and 0.5-inch collets.
Other features include depth adjustment ring for precise 1/64-inch increments, tool-free steel motor cam lock for quick locking, and dust collector for superior bit visibility. There is no centering tool, however.
Deewan: Great router. This replaced a nice Craftsman router I had owned for 3-4 years. This piece is better and nicer in every way. Solid build and plenty of power for even the most demanding jobs. I would buy again or recommend to a friend.
Through this guide and inside wood router reviews, buying the best wood router may seem easier than using it, particularly for the beginners. You only need to select the right model at the right price. There is no need to spend much money for bringing home the best quality. Just keep educating yourself, update yourself about your needs and budget, and are about the get the best model in no time. After all, the best quality is the one that gives you the desired result consistently as well as for a long time, right? This is best ensured through informative and analytical knowledge!