9 Types of Wood Router Tools
A router tool shapes edges, cuts mortises and holes and makes cutouts and grooves. Here's a list of router types and accessories.
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Choosing a Wood Router
The powerful motor of a router tool spins a bit at speeds exceeding 30,000 revolution per minute (RPM). That allows the bit to shave edges off wood planks, cut grooves and mortises and create patterns.
Carpenters use this handy tool to cut mortises for door hinges and trim plastic laminate edges, among other things. Their wood routers are typically smaller and easier to use than the one a woodworker might employ in the shop.
The choice of router helps distinguish between a carpenter and a woodworker. Woodworkers more often need to shape the wood to make it more decorative or do complex joinery. Consequently, woodworkers use more powerful and accurate routers than those carpenters bring to jobsites.
A router is a handheld tool, but can be mounted to a router table and used as a stationary tool, much like a table saw. Whether you use a router on a table or freehand, the results depend on the bit you use.
There is a wide selection for creating round overs, concave edges, angled edges (chamfers), complex curves (ogees), straight edges and grooves (dadoes and rabbets). You can also use a router with a jig to make dovetails, bore dowel holes and cut mortises.
Get to know the different types of router tools and accessories so you can choose which will work best for you.
A fixed-base router like the DeWalt DW616 has few frills. It features a flat metal base, powerful motor, a pair of ergonomic handles, and depth control that allows you to adjust the distance the bit extends below the base.
The handles are important because a router generates a powerful centrifugal force when it’s operating, and it’s easy to lose control. Because the router bit rotates clockwise, always move the tool from left to right to ensure the bit cuts into the wood and doesn’t spin away from you.
A plunge router is attached to the base by a pair of smooth metal bars, allowing the router to slide up and down. This action allows you to position the tool over a selected point and lower it gradually to bore a depression or hole, or to cut a groove.
Use a plunge router along with an appropriate boring or cutting bit to create cutouts. A good model, like the Wen RT6033, has variable speed control so you can operate it at a lower speed when you need more control.
A combo router combines the features of a fixed-base router and a plunge router. It comes with a fixed base and a plunge base, and the router is interchangeable between them. The Bosch 1617EVSPK is a highly rated example.
A versatile combo router can be for most applications. That includes trimming and shaping edges, making dovetails, boring holes, cutting grooves and carving shapes. If you’re going to buy one router tool for your shop, it should be one of these.
Also known as a palm router, a compact router like the Makita RTO701-C is a miniature version of a fixed-base router. It isn’t necessarily less powerful, but its small size makes it easier to use.
When you need to mortise door frames or some other routing job on a piece of wood you can’t transfer to your work table, you’ll do it more accurately with a palm router than with a heavy fixed-base model.
Corded palm routers are easy to use. Cordless ones, like this Milwaukee 18V, are even easier.
Cordless routers can develop the same rotational speed as corded ones. But they aren’t as powerful and are best reserved for light jobs, like trimming and shaping edges. If you’re cutting complex edges or shapes in dense hardwood, you may find the going slow with a cordless router and you’ll probably have to change the battery frequently.
When you glue plastic laminate to a plywood base, you need a router to trim the edges. The ideal router tool for this is called a laminate trimmer, and it’s even smaller and more lightweight than a palm router.
The Makita 3709 offers a transparent plastic base with the cord mounted on the top. These features make it easier to see what you’re doing. A laminate trimmer should be easy to hold and develop high RPM to reduce the chances of shattering the laminate.
Mounting a router on a router table allows you to easily shape trim, cut rabbets and mill tongue-and-groove edges. A good table, like the Bosch RA1181, accepts a variety of router models and features a dust collection port.
A router table must be sturdy enough to resist movement, and it usually comes with a fence. Some come with a featherboard, which helps guard against kickback, and a slot for an optional miter gauge so you can rout angled grooves or edges.
Router bits come with 1/4- and 1/2-in. shanks. The latter are for routers with 1/2-in. collets for heavy-duty work. Styles include straight bits for trimming and cutting grooves, angled bits for routing chamfers and round ones for round-overs, as well as others with more complex shapes.
One bit can cost $20 or more, so it’s usually more economical to purchase a set. This Kowood 15-Piece Set is an inexpensive option for beginners. The more expensive Diablo 13-Piece Set features bits with a 1/2-in. shank.
A router jig guides the bit through a particular job. Examples are mortise jigs for cutting mortises on doors and door frames, edge guides that can be attached to a bench top and used as fences, and doweling jigs for boring holes for dowels.
You can often make your own jig. But when it comes to routing dovetails, a series of interlocking notches used in quality cabinet joinery, a jig like the Porter-Cable Dovetail Jig is far more accurate and reliable than one you make yourself.