How to Use a Router

This power tool makes cutting easy for DIY projects and home improvements.

Ever wonder how furniture makers create those elaborate edges on tabletops? Or how woodworkers can cut such clean grooves down the middle of a block of wood? Maybe you've wondered how the detailed edge is created on your baseboards. The answer is simple: a router.

Every DIYer that dabbles in woodworking or home improvement should have a router in their tool kit. Even if you already have one, you might not be using it to its full potential. While routers can be intimidating at first, this power tool is easy to use with practice.

person using wood carpentry router in woodshop
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What Is a Router?

A router is a power tool with a high-speed cutting bit protruding from a flat base. The amount that the bit protrudes can be adjusted to cut more or less material, while a variety of bit types allow for different cuts to be made.

How to Choose a Router

With so many brands and types of routers on the market, how do know which one is right for you? Here are a few factors to consider:

1. Speed

Routers can feature a fixed speed or variable speed option. Variable speed means the router's speed can be adjusted, while fixed is only capable of one speed. This allows the user to customize the speed at which the bit turns to better suit the specific bit, wood variety, and type of cut being made.

2. Size

Routers come in three main sizes: palm, mid-size, and full-size. The larger the router, the more powerful it is. While you might think you need the most powerful router you can find, working with full-size routers can be exhausting if all you need is a palm router. In fact, full-size routers are typically reserved for router tables, which hold the router in place while the user manipulates the material. A mid-size router might be the best option as it can be used for a wide range of tasks.

3. Bases

The two main base options for routers are fixed and plunge. Fixed means the blade height can't be changed once locked in place, while plunge allows you to change the height of the blade as you work by pushing downward. This allows for more flexibility when cutting dados, mortising, and any operation that requires you to start the router in the middle of your material. Many router kits are available with both base options.

Types of Router Bits

While there is a wide assortment of router bits for elaborate edging and sophisticated joinery, we'll stick with the two most common bits used by both amateurs and industry professionals.

1. Roundover Bit

The roundover bit is used to round the edge of a surface, such as a countertop, desk, table, or any other object with an edge. The bit is comprised of a cutting edge with a rounded shape and a bearing that sits below the blade. The bearing rides along the material so the blade can only cut so far into the material.

2. Straight Bits

Straight bits are exactly what they sound like: bits with cutting edges that cut straight, with no fancy curves or details. These bits have three standard designs. One features a bearing at the top for riding against templates that sit above material, one features a bearing below the blade for flush trimming materials to match what's below it, and one features no bearing to allow it to freely cut directly into the material.

How to Use a Router

This tutorial outlines how to use a router to rout the edge of a surface using a bit with a bearing located below the cutting edge.

What You Need

  • Router
  • Router base
  • Bit
  • Collet tightening tool or wrench
  • Safety glasses
  • Hearing protection
  • Clamps (optional)

Step 1: Mount Your Bit

Once you've chosen your bit, slide the shank into the collet, stopping short of the painted portion of the shank, and tighten the collet around the shank.

Step 2: Adjust Your Bit

Use your router's height adjuster to adjust how far the bit protrudes from the base. Measure against the lowest portion of the cutting edge for precision depths.

Editor's Tip: If removing a lot of material, make multiple passes, adjusting the depth lower with each pass. This will result in a safer, higher-quality cut.

Step 3: Position the Router

If your material isn't fixed in place, clamp it to your working surface. Place the base of the router on top of the material and hold firmly. With the bit spaced away from the edge of the material, flip the router on.

Step 4: Rout the Material

Gently but firmly push the cutting edge into the material until the bearing hits the side of the material. Push the router down the edge of the material against the rotation of the blade.

Warning: If you push the router along the edge with the rotation of the blade rather than against it, the router will try to rapidly pull away from you. This is dangerous and will result in a poor-quality cut.

Step 5: Make an Additional Pass (Optional)

Sometimes, a second pass makes for a cleaner cut and removes any splintering left behind from the first cut.

How to Care for Your Router

Once you're finished with your router, turn it off, remove the bit, and store it in a manner that will protect the cutting edge. Never leave your bits in the collet, as they can rust and get stuck between uses. A drop of bearing oil on the bearings of your bits will help protect them from rust and keep them freely spinning for years to come. Before storing your router, blow any sawdust out of the motor and the base using canned air or an air compressor.

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