How to choose a router is one of the most common questions facing woodworkers. Of all the woodworking tools available, a router has to be one of the most versatile. Most wood workers realize the value of having a router, and a lot of them have more than one, permanently setup for different applications. However, with all the different types available it’s not always easy to decide which one is best for you, so we’re going to look at a number of the features that you should be considering including router power ratings and variable speed, router bit size, the means of accurate depth setting with fine adjustment control and whether you should buy a Fixed Base Router or a Plunge Router.
When looking at routers, one of the most important feature to look for is the horsepower rating of the motor. Motors range from heavy-duty, 3-1/2 hp 12 Amp units down to 1.0 hp 5 Amp machines and the more powerful the motor, the tougher the jobs you can take on – routing smoothly through the toughest hardwoods or pushing some bigger 1/2-inch shank bits through the stock. The downside of course is the size and weight of the more powerful routers, which can make them unwieldy for more delicate jobs.
Electronic variable speed
You should also choose a router with electronic variable speed, typically ranging from 8,000 to 24,000 RPM. This is particularly important if you plan to use larger bits as, the larger the bit, the more wood that is removed and so the slower the cutting speed needs to be. Whatever type of work you are planning, an electronic variable-speed motor allows the user to precisely match the tool rpm to the job in hand, and gives you more versatility to use a wide range of bits.
A soft start motor is another important feature you should look for – in addition to easier handling on start-up, it results in reduced strain and wear and tear on the motor itself, leading to longer motor life.
Router bit size
The bit shank size of the router is another important factor in deciding on a router. The two most common bit shank sizes are 1/4″ and 1/2″ and you should consider the projects you want to complete and the availability of bit sizes you need for these projects. The most common shank size is 1/2″ and you will find a much larger selection of bits available in the 1/2″ size and you will also find that some of the more specialist bits (mainly used by professionals) only come in 1/2″. Luckily, many routers these days come with both 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch collets so you’ve got all the bases covered.
Accurate Fixed and Plunge Cut Depth Adjustment
All routers, whether fixed base or plunge, need to have a means of accurately adjusting bit depth. You should be looking at routers that give you fast, precise coarse adjustments to within about 1/8in. and then micro-fine adjustments to within 1/64in. A useful feature that is seen on more and more routers these days is that the adjustment ring – not the motor itself – turns to adjust bit depth, meaning that a constant switch/cordset position is maintained when you’re using the router in a table.
Fixed Base Router vs. Plunge Router
What’s the difference? Basically, a fixed base router is one on which you set a specific depth, and that depth stays consistent while using the tool. A plunge router, on the other hand, allows you to plunge the router bit downward and into the stock, make the desired cut, and then lift the bit back out of the stock. In general, a fixed base router tends to be used in a Router Table and a plunge router is used for hand held routing, but obviously you can use either for both types of work.
The biggest advantage of a plunge base is that the bit can be lowered into the stock allowing cuts to be made in the center of the stock. Cuts like mortises and dadoes are much more easily performed with a plunge router since the bit can be lifted out of the cut once a stopping point is reached.
A lot of router manufacturers now provide routers with both a fixed and a plunge base, once again increasing your versatility.
Router Combo Kits for Maximum Value and Versatility
As with all tool choices you need to start out by considering what you will use the tool for, because different projects require different capabilities from the router. Whilst professional woodworkers will have a number of routers set up for specific applications, most of us only buy one at a time.
Luckily, these days, an increasing number of top manufacturers produce router combos that have both a fixed and a plunge base, as well as letting you use both 1/4-in and 1/2-in router bits, giving you maximum versatlility from one machine – so in fact the choice has actually got a lot easier in many ways. A couple of great examples of this kind of all-round router package are the bestselling Bosch 1617EVSPK or the smaller Dewalt DWP611PK