How to Use a Woodworking Router

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Working with a woodworking router can feel a bit intimidating if you’re not acquainted with its proper usage. But once I learned a few key tips on how to use it correctly, I was amazed by the possibilities it offered. The number one rule I always keep in mind when using a router is to go slowly and take shallow passes. Making large passes is a recipe for potential disaster, and I definitely want to avoid any accidents, so I always take things slowly and steadily.

Router bits spin at very high speeds which makes it very easy to take away too much wood in a very short amount of time. Also keep in mind, that you must always have a plan before you even turn the router on. If you don’t have a proper plan then there is a chance that your project (get ideas here) could be ruined almost immediately.

The Different Types Of Routers

There are several different types of routers available on the market to choose from when you are shopping around. You will have the opportunity to determine the quality of the different types of routers that are available, as well as determine just how much you want to pay for the routers. While there are different types of routers available on the market, you will still want to make sure that you purchase the correct type of router to suit your personal building/routing needs. One of the most common routers available on the market is the fixed base router.

Fixed Base Router

A fixed based router is another top-performing woodworking tool. It is a router that stays locked or fixed in a certain location that you have chosen for it. The cutting piece is unable to be moved or plunged from top to the bottom.

Fixed Base Router

When I work with a fixed base router, I always make sure to set it up properly before I start any cutting. This involves selecting the right bit for the job and setting it to the desired depth. With fixed base routers, my usual approach is to begin with the router positioned away from the wood, then gradually introduce the cutter to the material as I work. I find fixed base routers to be indispensable when precision is paramount for the cuts I need to make in various materials.

While this type of router may be a bit less versatile compared to the plunge router, or other types of routers since it is stationary, it is still very precise when cutting and is beneficial when it comes to accomplishing tedious dovetail joints.

(If you want to now everything about CNC router, and build one, you can check the DIY Smart Saw plan here)

Plunge Router

Another type of router is the plunge router. These types of routers move up and down on the bottom. You will also notice that great plunge routers have arms that have springs in them, making it a great alternative tool to the Festool Domino. These arms are located on either side of the router, and they enable to user to plunge on a piece of material while working. So when you start your router you will want to slowly plunge it into the work.

This plunge router is needed when starting your cut within the workpiece. Again, you need to make sure that you first set your router up to get the desired cut. When setting up your plunge router, you can start by installing the correct bit. Then you can adjust the router for the desired depth. This is accomplished with the depth setting on the side of the router. What this is a rod that sticks up from the base that has an adjustable stop at the top. Set your bit to the correct depth-first then run the adjuster down touching the top of the depth rod.

Plunge Router

When I’m using the router, I make sure to keep in mind that it can only plunge as deep as the depth stop allows. If I need to make a cut that’s more than about 0.125 inches deep, I know it’s best to divide it into a couple of passes. This means I’ll need to continually adjust the depth stop until I reach the precise depth I want. Of course, it’s crucial to make these adjustments with the router completely stopped for safety and accuracy.

Laminate Trimmer

A laminate trimmer is a smaller, fixed base type of woodwork router. This router is mainly used to trim laminates like Formica. A common laminate trimmer is equipped with a cutter that has a bearing at the end that is about ¼ of an inch in size. This trimmer is one that has a smaller motor since it is so small in size, and it generally will not work with larger bits, since it is meant for small detail work.

In normal use, this type of router is always cutting on the edge. With it being so compact, you only really need to use one hand only while you are operating it. To set up a laminate trimmer set the bit so that the wheel is in contact with the wood below the laminate. The wheel will follow the outside shape of the counter while the cutter cuts the laminate flush. Be sure while trimming laminate to keep the router flat on the top of the counter otherwise it will either leave a bump in the laminate edge or cut into the laminate face.

Laminate trimmers generally come accessorized with a guide bearing attached to its router instead of the bit so that it can keep the bearing from scratching your material.

setting up laminate trimmer

In woodworking shops, both fixed base and plunge routers are mounted in tables. Not when you don’t have to balance the top-heavy router, makes it much easier to use. Today you can mount your router in a table and it can be raised or lowered with a router lift. Before these were available you had to adjust the height from underneath which is a bit cumbersome. Some router bits can not be used in a handheld router. As an example, a panel raising bit can not be safely used in a hand router and must be used with a table-mounted router.

When using a router you need to feed your work into the cutter, not with the cutter. With a handheld router, you route counterclockwise if you’re on the outside. If you’re on the inside you route clockwise.

As always, be sure to use all your safety gear when using any woodworking tool.

Tips For Using A Woodworking Router

Routers are not limited only to applying edgings on various materials. A router can be one of the most valuable tools in your shop.

person holding a router

Routers can be inverted and fastened to a router table to provide control while allowing the ability to produce an array of profiles and joint cuts.

Most routers can be purchased with 2 collets for 1/4″ and 1/2″ shank bits. The 1/4″ shank bits are used mainly for non-production work such as edging and beading or chamfering while the 1/2″ shank bits are mostly used for heavier jobs such as raised panel doors, large dovetails and large mortises.

It is best to have an array of different router bits that can be purchased in a kit. Many times individual bits will need to be purchased for certain projects, but many parts of a project can be completed with just a few basic bits.

Free-hand routing is a common method when using a router. Accompanied by a straightedge, most cuts can be made with precision when free-handing. Free-handing is usually performed to create edges, trimming laminates and repairing surfaces.

Read: How to Fix a Bosch Router That Starts Then Stops 

Bosch Fixed Base Router

One of the interesting methods I often employ with routers is plunge routing. Router manufacturers frequently provide a plunge router base attachment that you can purchase separately. Alternatively, you can opt for a kit that includes the plunge base. It’s a valuable option for enhancing the capabilities of your router, and it’s something I find quite useful in various woodworking tasks.

Some of the applications for the plunge router are cutting mortises, hinge pockets, inlay and surface repair. The advantage of a plunge router is the ability to have the router turned on while positioning it and allowing for raising and lowering the bit while cutting.

Duplicating is another method for use with the router. This method requires a duplicating accessory attached to the router. Duplicators allow for the precise reproduction of many different shapes and objects.

Styles and sizes of routers vary and each can work in certain applications. Trim routers are generally used for trimming laminate or for use on smaller projects while other routers are for general use. A good all-purpose router is a 1-1/2 hp router. This will work for most projects. I prefer to have a trim router and an all-purpose router with a detachable plunge base. Routers can be used for many different applications, so be creative and get the most out of your router. 

DeWalt routers

You can also invest in the best CNC routers that can provide you ease of use in your woodworking tasks. 

Check out reviews for routers

After learning more about the different types of routers that are available, now you can go shopping for the right type of router to suit your personal needs. If it helps, which it does for many people, you can take a look at some of the reviews that people have left for the different types of routers that they have purchased online. Usually, this will give you a good idea of whether not a router is of good quality. From there you can decide which one you want to buy. Keep in mind, if you are on a budget, there are routers available to suit every budget. You can always save up some money until you can purchase the one you want.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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