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What To Search for In A Woodworking Router

The wood router is important among cabinet-making tools because it adds decorative contour that improves and defines the final appearance of your woodworking project. Used suitably, this tool is to th…

The wood router is essential among cabinet-making tools because it adds decorative contour that improves and defines the final appearance of your woodworking project. Used suitably, this tool is to the woodworker what a fine paintbrush is to an artist. It’s all in the main points. The router is a multi-purpose woodworking tool that can be utilized for a wide range of tasks including rabbeting and making dado grooves.

There are four, basic kinds of wood routers available on the market today: laminate trimmers, lightweight or low-powered routers within the 7/8 to 1 1/2 HP range, medium-powered routers in the 11/2 to 2 1/4 HP range and high-powered routers in the 3 to 4 HP range. Each has its use and I have owned all of them at the identical time. The laminate trimmers do what their name implies in addition to other light-weight tasks akin to making hinge mortises. They’re only suitable for small router bits but they’re easily maneuverable and fit nicely right in your palm.

For those who need more horsepower but still like the convenience of a lightweight router, the 7/8 to 1 1/2 HP routers will do a fine job of revolving router bits as much as 1/2″ radius round-over bits. Every woodworking shop should have one of these available for bench-top jobs. They’re a bit small for router table use. 2 1/2 HP woodworking routers have enough power to operate large router bits through hardwood and yet they are still light enough to be handy as bench-top wood routers. While any wood router over 2 HP can be utilized in a router table, I prefer the high powered ones for that application because there isn’t any need to fret about how heavy they’re and you might as well have as much power handy as you might want. Most, but not all, of those larger routers are plunge routers. The high horsepower is important to plunge large bits deep into hardwood to make mortises and the like.

If I could only purchase only one wood router, it could be the 2 1/4 HP variety because it’s light enough for most bench-top work and can also be utilized in a router table. If I could afford two routers, I would probably have a 7/8 to 1 1/2 HP machine for bench-top work and a 3 – 4 HP wood router under my router table. I dont like repeatedly mounting and dismounting routers under my router table, so having a lighter wood router readily available near the bench when required really speeds things up.

Id wish to make a few suggestions about routers. First, I suggest you consider using only high-quality carbide-tipped router bits in these woodworking tools whenever possible. They can be re-sharpened many times and so they typically dont burn up and load up if they are kept sharp. High-speed steel bits dont last long, they don’t seem to be worth sharpening they usually dull quickly, burning your work piece as they soon load up and switch black. Sometimes, however, the bit profile you need may only be available in a high speed steel bit: This is the exception rather than the rule.

Second, as hand-held power woodworking tools, heavy and/or top-heavy routers are hard to manage. Not only will you be trying to control them all day, they are inclined to wobble easily which may often ruin a cut or leave an incomplete cut. If a smaller, low-profile wood router could have spun that bit, then that is the tool you must have been using. Alternatively, an under-powered wood router will not do a great job and will not even be safe. Also, make sure to check the weight of any wood router you could also be comparing, if it is to be hand-held. Heavy woodworking tools are demanding and ungainly to make use of all day long. A pound or two less could make an enormous change.

Third, consider how you can be stabilizing the wood router while it is cutting. Are the handles comfortable enough for continuous use? Do the shape and material of the handles allow you to direct the router properly? Some of these woodworking tools are also manufactured with D handles (at extra cost) which may give you better control and feel. One wood router from Milwaukee even has a padded grip around the exterior of the router base. One hand goes on the rubber grip while the other goes on a traditional knob.

Fourth, in case your wood router is within the 2 1/4 HP range, you will have it to have a variable speed feature, especially if you’re considering using large bits like raised panel bits. You might want to run these large bits a bit more slowly. They’ll stay cooler and cut better at a lower speed. On the other hand, you will get smoother cuts with small bits of you retain the speed high. No matter what RPM you choose, you will have your wood router to be able to sustain that speed at all times, regardless of how hard you push it. Electronic speed control allows your wood router to offset heavy loads by automatically adding a enough amount of extra power to keep your router rotating at the same speed it was before the cut commenced.

Fifth, (and this can be a safety consideration) try to purchase a router that has soft start-up. This would not be a needed feature in stationary woodworking tools but is a vital safety device in a hand-held router. Historically, routers have had only one speed (high) and whenever you turn them on, they spin up quickly. The gyroscopic force of that may pop a spinning wood router right out of your control. A soft start-up power tool steadily increases its speed from zero to full, thus preventing most of the gyroscopic effect.

Sixth, if you’ll be switching bits all the time, consider what procedures you’ll have to go through to complete that task. Some routers have a shaft lock button so that you only need one hand to press the button and one wrench to show the collet nut. Im type of comfortable with the 2-wrench style. I usually take the router motor completely out of its base, lay it on its side on the table, putting one wrench on the flat part of the shaft and the opposite wrench on the collet nut. If I’m loosening the collet nut, I will first lower the shaft wrench to the table top and then push down towards the bench with the wrench thats on the collet nut. If I am tightening the collet nut, I’ll put the collet nut wrench all the way down to the table top after which push down against that with the shaft wrench on the flat part of the shaft.

If youve used routers at all, you will need to have discovered that when you are loosening a collet nut, you will feel resistance at first of the turn of the wrench after which it’s going to turn freely for a while before resisting the wrench another time. The first resistance comes from loosening the nut itself. The nut then unscrews a bit down the thread after which it begins to push against the collet, releasing it from the shaft of the router bit. When you find yourself tightening a bit right into a wood router, you’ll feel resistance only once as you squeeze the collet around the shaft of the bit while turning the nut so far as it would go.

Some people like to vary router bits with the wood router the other way up on the table with the 2 wrenches sticking out to the side. In this case, the technique is to position the wrenches with the intention to squeeze their handles together with one hand to loosen, or tighten, the collet nut. For these people, some manufacturers make routers with flat tops. If find this solution to be a bit clumsier than laying the wood router down on the bench: There is less leverage in case of a stuck bit.

Seventh, router bits are available three shank sizes, 1/4″, 3/8 and 1/2″. The half-inch shank bits are only slightly more expensive than the quarter-inch ones and yet, they offer you a distinct advantage. With a larger diameter shank and a larger diameter collet, there is way less chance of slippage under heavy loads. Consider buying only 1/2″ shank bits, especially if you are turning large cutters.

Eighth, some routers offer above router table height adjustment capability. This is usually accomplished by sticking a hex T-wrench right into a hole provided. Its difficult to adjust the height of a wood router accurately from underneath a router table while on your knees, fighting gravity. An much more elegant solution is to buy a router lift to your router table.

Ninth, there are three sorts of wood router bases: Conventional, spiral and plunge. In a traditional fixed base, the router motor just slides straight up and down in the bottom and is clamped into position. The spiral-type base has an adjustment ring that turns in a spiral groove cut into the skin of the router motor casing, thus raising or lowering the router motor relative to the bottom. A plunge router base clamps onto the router motor and then pushes the wood router and router bit down unto the work piece from above. Some routers are offered in kits containing two or more styles of bases so that you simply only need to buy one router motor for a variety of uses.

Tenth, some of these woodworking tools gauge and control their fine depth-of-cut with a spiral ring while others utilize a geared shaft attached to a calibration knob. All routers have a means of making rough height adjustments by operating the lever or cam that locks the router motor into the base. Once adjusted to a location close to the final position, the fine depth-of-cut adjustments will be made in increments as small as 1/64 of an inch and, within the case of one router reviewed here, 1/128th of an inch.

Eleventh, motor amperage is usually a greater indicator of motor power in woodworking tools than stated horsepower. All 2 1/4 HP routers claim to develop 2 1/4″ HP but their amperage (electrical power used) varies from 11 to 13 amps.

Twelfth, and at last, there are some less important (to me) but nice features offered on some, but not all, of these woodworking tools including: The availability of a 3/8 collet, an automatic motor power lock-off during bit-changing, a carrying case, a transparent plastic sub-base for better viewing, a detachable cord set, a dust proof switch, a switch that may be located left or right for the comfort and convenience of the operator, oval, rubber-molded handles, self-releasing collets and a technique to fine adjust the sub-base so that it is exactly centered around the bit shaft.

The potential to center the sub-base means nothing if you’re only using ball bearing router buts but in case you are using router guides mounted around the bit shaft, it is very important that the bit shaft be centered within the guide. In case your bit just isn’t perfectly centered when using template guides, your cut will travel from side to side as you turn the router around while cutting. For the reason that guide is mounted to the sub-base, the opening on the center of the sub-base have to be concentric with the router bit shaft.

Bob Gillespie
Woodworker

ROUTER REVIEWS:
http://www.perfectwoodworking.com/routerreviews/

WOODWORKING TOOL REVIEWS:
http://www.perfectwoodworking.com/woodworkingtoolreviews/

© 2010 Robert M. Gillespie, Jr.

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