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How to Find the Best Wood Router for Your Project
If you’re a woodworking enthusiast, or you’re taking on renovating jobs at home yourself, then chances are you may want to buy the best wood router at some point. A router is a very handy tool that will allow you to complete a whole host of tasks and is great for finishing edges, cutting out grooves, and creating different shapes for your projects. Whether you’re building furniture as a hobby, laying decking yourself, or creating trim pieces, a router is essential.
The question is, how do you know which one to buy? With our handy guide on how to find the best router, we’ll give you the information you need to make the best choice for you. We’ll be looking at the different types of routers and what features to look out for.
We’ll also have a look at some of the best models on the market, looking at their features, specifications, and pros and cons.
What is a Router?
Routers are woodworking tools that allow you to route (or hollow out) an area in a piece of wood. Although they used to be hand-powered tools, they’re now run by electricity, giving you much greater power.
On the face of it, being able to hollow out wood doesn’t seem that versatile – but it really is. If you’ve ever looked at a handmade piece of furniture and wondered how they got the edging to look so nice, chances are a router was involved somewhere in the process of making it.
A router will allow you to do the following:
- Build furniture, like cabinets or drawers
- Shape edges, whether for decorative or functional purposes
- Create dadoes (which are a kind of square channel commonly used to fix shelves into a bookcase or shelving unit)
- Cut rabbet joints (a cut which allows you to fit one piece of wood neatly into another)
- Create dovetails (a kind of joint which makes objects you create much stronger)
- Cut grooves and slots into wood
- Make smaller woodworking projects, like dollhouses or bird boxes
If you are willing to get creative and have a lot of patience to practice, a router can provide all sorts of possibilities for woodworking. Whether it’s decorative or functional, a decent router can handle many tasks.
A router consists of a base containing an electric motor with a collet on the end of a shaft. You can adjust the bit to different heights depending on the project you’re working on. Some have a D-handle (a relatively new development), whereas others have a double knob handle.
There are two main types of routers:
With a plunge router, you place the base on the face of the work, with the cutting bit raised above it. When you switch on the power, the cutting bit is lowered into the work (in a plunging motion). They’re handy when you’re working on the top of a board but can also be used for edging work.
Some people prefer these to fixed-based routers, as it allows you a little more freedom of movement, and you can adjust the depth yourself without having to stop midway.
A fixed-base router, on the other hand, is rested flat on the piece of wood, overhanging slightly so that the bit is not touching the work. You have to set the depth of the cut beforehand. It then enters the side when the power is switched on. Some people say they find their work is more refined and polished when using a fixed-based router.
Both types require a certain amount of arm strength and good hand-eye coordination.
You can buy routers that have both a fixed-base and a plunge base – this is a great compromise, as it allows you to use them both and see which one you prefer, or swap between them for different types of projects.
Many brands offer these now, and they’re actually pretty good value for money in terms of the flexibility they give you. We’ll be looking at some models that have both fixed bases and plunge bases later in this article.
You can buy a variety of cutting bits, all of which make slightly different shapes in wood or plastic. You will need to check the collet size of your router to make sure the bit you buy is compatible.
Here’s a quick overview of the different types you can buy:
These make straight lines – they’re great for dado work, as you can cut very neat, precise grooves.
These cut a rounded, decorative edge. If you want to make your project look a little nicer, these are great.
These allow you to trim the edge of a piece of wood to match another – this is really useful, especially when you’re making furniture and you need to cut a lot of pieces of wood to the same size.
These allow you to make beveled cuts – again, these can look great and add a polished look to your projects.
These allow you to make rounded edges, too.
These allow you to make the rabbet joints we mentioned earlier – again, great for furniture or any project that requires two pieces of wood to fit neatly together.
These vary, but they can allow you to create a very specific finish – great if a certain project requires it.
Plastic Cutting Bits
As the name suggests, these allow you to work with plastic.
What to Look for When Buying a Router
When you look at a product description, the terms can be a bit confusing, especially if you’ve never used this type of tool before. Here are a few features that you may want to look out for when looking for your ideal router:
If you’re going to be using a router often, you want it to be a comfortable experience. Check the weight of the product – if it’s going to be too heavy for you to use regularly, you may want to look for a lighter model.
Also, check out the handles. Some people prefer the double-knob handle, and others prefer the D-handle type – that will be a personal preference. Usually, both types are ergonomically engineered to give you good grip and control, but still, be comfortable enough to use.
Check what the reviews say about button placement, too – ideally, the buttons will be easy to use, but not placed in a way that will make you press it accidentally.
Some models also offer a body grip – this means you can have one hand on the handle, and the other on the body of the router itself. This allows you to get closer to the work, giving you even greater control.
Different models vary in power. A strong motor will allow you to work with tougher materials and reach higher speeds – but power isn’t everything, so make sure the model you pick has other good qualities, too.
The speed of a router is measured in RPM (rotations per minute). The faster the tool, the tougher materials it can work with. Being able to adjust the speed is really useful, as you may want to work a little more slowly with softer types of wood.
Also, make sure to check if the model you’re looking at has a soft-start feature: without it, the engine will start suddenly and could cause you to lurch forward, which can be pretty dangerous (and can ruin your project, too).
Most models come with soft-start, but some don’t, so it’s definitely worth checking.
Collet Size and Bits
As we mentioned earlier, the collet (a steel sleeve which holds a bit in place) will determine the size of the bits you can use. Some models come with two or more collet sizes – it’s best to check this before you buy bits. Also, see if the model you purchase comes with a bundle of bits – this is really handy if you’re just starting out and you have a variety of projects in mind.
Spindle Lock System
A decent spindle lock system will make changing your bits much easier to deal with. Sometimes you may need a special wrench to change bits – a good router will include a wrench so that you can get started right away.
Edge Guides and Jigs
An edge guide helps to keep you steady as you work, cutting straight lines for polished, precise work. A jig, meanwhile, helps you to cut dadoes. Sometimes these are included with the tool itself – sometimes you have to buy them separately.
We’ll cover safety in a bit more detail later on, but your router should come with safety features. These can include chip deflectors, to protect you from flying wood chips, and guard rails to keep you safe as you work. Some models come with dust collection bags – this isn’t only handy for clean-up, it also helps to prevent you breathing in too much sawdust.
Some models come with extra bits and pieces – like a bag or a hard case to keep everything contained, or extra bits. Check that the pictures reflect what is actually in the box.
Some routers allow you to use them in a routing table – particularly in the case of plunge-based routers, this gives you even more flexibility. Not all of them offer this, however, so it’s worth checking beforehand if that’s what you plan to do.
Top 5 Routers – an Overview
If you’re in a hurry and you need to know the facts, here’s a quick look at the routers we’ll be looking at today:
¼” and ½”
Now, let’s take a look at these in more detail.
#1 Makita RT0701CX7 1-1/4HP Compact Router Kit – Best of Both Worlds
Can’t decide between a fixed-base or a plunge router? You’ve come to the right place! A reliable and high-quality brand, Makita has produced a great router kit that gives you all the functionality of a plunge router and fixed-base router.
It’s comfortable to use, with a double-knob handle and a variable speed control dial, giving you a range of speed between 10,000 and 30,000 RPM. It’s designed to be comfortable for long periods of use, at a pretty lightweight 3.9lbs. It has a soft-start feature, and it also has fine adjustments, allowing you to work with precision.
The RT0701CX7 also looks great in silver and teal, with tough aluminum casing. It has a plunge-lock lever that is easy to use, and the shaft lock is made for quick, simple bit changes. It’s quiet as it runs, which is great. It has an easy-to-read depth adjustment, with three pre-set depth stops.
It comes with a straight guide that works well with the fixed base. The downside is that if you want to use industry-standard template guides with the plunge base, you’ll have to order an adapter – adding to the cost.
It has a one-year warranty. If anything goes wrong, you know you’re covered for the first year. It also has a great price point – so if you’re on a tight budget, this could be the choice for you.
Specifications for the Makita RT0701CX7
Here are the basic details you need to know:
- Horsepower: 1.25 HP
- Speed: 10,000-30,000 RPM
- Weight: 3.9lbs
- Collect size: 1/4″
- Plunge depth: 0-1-3/8”
Pros of the Makita RT0701CX7
- Lightweight and comfortable for long periods of use
- Easy to change bits
- Variable speed dial that is easy to use
Cons of the Makita RT0701CX7
- Some users found it heats up when used for a prolonged amount of time
- You have to order an adapter to be able to use template guides with the plunge base
- Doesn’t come with a dust bag
#2 DeWalt DWP611PK – Best for Beginners
Again, if you can’t decide between a fixed and a plunge base, this would be a good choice. The fixed base is easy to remove, allowing you to switch depending on your needs.
The DeWalt DWP611PK is a Compact Router Combo Kit. It has both a fixed and plunge base – this makes it really versatile. The fixed base is quite light and is easy to remove.
It’s a comfortable model to use, although it’s heavier than the last model at 8lbs. It has decent power at 1.25HP but has a soft start, which is great for safety. It has an adjustment ring, which controls bit depth changes to 1/64th inch (using the fixed base). Users found this gave very accurate results. It also has LED lights, to help guide your path as you work.
It also has a dust collection adapter – some users found this wasn’t very efficient, however.
DeWalt is a great brand – known for being reliable and creating well-made tools. You know if you’re buying a DeWalt, that you’ll be getting a good-quality product. They also offer a 3-year warranty, which is great.
Specifications of the DeWalt DWP611PK
Here are the basics you need to know:
- Horsepower: 1.25
- Speed: 10,000-22,000 RPM
- Weight: 8lbs
- Collet Size: 1/4″
- Plunge depth: 0-1.5” (plunge router) or up to 2” (using stand)
Pros of the DeWalt DWP611PK
- It’s safe and easy-to-use choice for beginners
- Plunge base and fixed base gives great flexibility
- LED lights allow you to work with precision
- The power switch can get stuck sometimes
- Dust collection adapter doesn’t work well
#3 Porter-Cable 7518 – Best Fixed-Base Router
The main feature of this model is the variable speed control – you can choose from five different speeds, from 10,000 RPM to 21,000 RPM. This high speed is great for working with tougher materials, and the speed control is easy to use.
It has a smooth start feature, which is especially important when working with such high speeds. It has a comfortable, ergonomically designed double-knob handle, which is great for longer periods of use. It’s durable, made from heavy-duty materials, ideal for job sites, and is designed to prevent dust from entering the mechanism, thus giving it a longer lifespan.
It has an auto-release collet system: this makes changing bits simple, which is handy.
The Porter-Cable 7518 comes with a five-year warranty – this is another great feature. It is, however, heavier than the other models we have featured. It’s also pretty large – you may want to bear this in mind when you’re looking at where you’ll keep it.
Also, it’s on the pricier side for what it offers. Users seem to love using it, however – so you may decide the higher price tag is worth it.
Specifications for the Porter-Cable 7518
- Horsepower: 3.25
- Speed: 10,000-21,000 RPM
- Weight: 14.5lbs
- Collet Size: ½”
Pros of the Porter-Cable 7518
- Tough casing makes it ideal to use on a job site
- Very powerful
- Easy to change bits
Cons of the Porter-Cable 7518
- Higher price tag
- Large and heavy
#4 Ryobi R1631K – Best Budget Model
The Ryobi R1631K is a fixed-base model – and it has great reviews. The LED lighting allows you to make precise cuts, while the fast fluid depth adjustments mean that you can quickly change the depth, with no fuss or stress.
It’s designed to be comfortable to hold, with a double-knob handle, and it has a built-in chip guard – great for keeping you safe as you work.
Ryobi describes this as a ‘perfect all in one starter kit’ as it comes with three power router bits (5/16” straight cut, 5/23” Roman Ogee, and ¼” Radius Roundover). The reviewers tend to agree – this is a great all-rounder, especially when you consider the price.
The only issue is that it lacks a few key features: it only has one speed (25,000 RPM) and it does not have a soft start. These could be real sticking points. However, if you’re on a budget, it’s still worth considering.
Specifications of the Ryobi R1631K
- Horsepower: 1.5
- Speed: 25,000 RPM
- Weight: 6.5lbs
- Collet Size: ¼”
Pros of the Ryobi R1631K
- Low price point
- Fluid depth adjustments
- The LED lighting to help guide your way
Cons of the Ryobi R1631K
- Only has one speed
- Doesn’t have a soft-start feature
#5 Milwaukee 5616-24 – Simple But Powerful
The Milwaukee 5616-24 is a powerful machine: packing an impressive 2-1/4 HP, what it lacks in extra features it makes up for in power and speed. It doesn’t have a whole lot of fancy extras or features, but it’s a solid, tough machine that will allow you to complete a lot of tasks with ease.
It’s comfortable to use – it has a rubberized body grip, which allows you to place one hand on the motor housing itself, and one hand on the handle – this allows you to have a little more control.
It has fine depth adjustment from 1/64th of an inch, and it comes with ¼” or ½” collet sizes.
The Milwaukee 5616-24 has some features that the previous model lacked – for example, soft-start and variable speed. It also comes with a plunge base and a fixed base – giving you greater versatility.
There are a couple of downsides. There’s no edge guide, and users found it difficult to find one that is compatible. A couple of people said the depth adjustment mechanism doesn’t always work properly and needs some time to get used to it.
All in all, it’s a great model and definitely packs a lot of punch – if you want a basic model that will allow you to complete a lot of projects, this could be the choice for you. It also comes with a 5-year warranty, which is a great bonus – and Milwaukee is a brand known for creating great quality tools and products.
Specifications of the Milwaukee 5616-24
- Horsepower: 2-1/4 HP
- Speed: 10,000-24,000
- Weight: 26.1lbs
- Collet Size: ¼” and ½”
- Plunge depth: 2-7/8”
Pros of the Milwaukee 5616-24
- Very powerful
- Comes with both a plunge base and fixed base
- Rubberized body grip gives you more control
Cons of the Milwaukee 5616-24
- Doesn’t come with an edge guide, and it’s difficult to find one that is compatible
- Depth adjustment mechanism doesn’t always work properly
Using a Router: Safety Tips
It’s important to stay safe when using a router – it’s a powerful tool that needs to be handled with care. Here are a few safety tips to think about before you begin:
Protect Your Eyes and Ears
This is really important – you need to protect your eyes, not just from dust, but from flying wood chips, too. You also need to think of your ears when using any type of power tool – it’s important to protect yourself from hearing damage.
Think About Dust
Dust can be a problem if inhaled often over time. You can mitigate this by choosing a router model that has a dust collection bag. Alternatively, you can wear a face mask that will prevent you from breathing in too much dust.
Avoid Loose Clothing and Jewellery
This is a big one – don’t wear anything with flappy, dangly sleeves. Don’t wear your tie. Don’t wear jewelry. Tie your hair back. Basically, avoid anything that could get caught up in the mechanism of the router – it sounds obvious but it’s easy to forget and can be so dangerous.
Take Your Time
Don’t just dive right into work – take time to read the instruction manual and make sure you’re using the machine properly, the way it was intended to be used. Practice a little first on some scrap pieces of wood – that way you can get used to how the machine feels (and avoid ruining your projects by mistake).
Frequently Asked Questions About Routers
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about routers:
Are routers dangerous?
Any type of power tool can be dangerous – if you follow the safety instructions, however, it minimizes the risk to you.
Can a plunge router be used as a fixed router?
No – they are designed to work differently. However, many models (including a few mentioned in this article) allow you to use both a plunge base and a fixed base, giving you the best of both worlds.
Can I sharpen my router bits?
Yes – you can sharpen them yourself, or you can take them to be professionally sharpened.
Can I use a plunge router in a router table?
Yes – but some work better than others, depending on the size of both the router and the table.
Are routers loud?
Yes! They can be loud, especially if you’re working with tough, thick pieces of wood. Ear protection is really important.
Can I use a router on MDF?
Yes – it’s best to test it out first, however, to make sure it looks the way you want it to.
Can I use a router on plastic?
Yes – you will need a special bit for this, however. Some models also allow for you to work with aluminum – again, you need a different type of bit for this, and you need to check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure.
Which is the best: a plunge router or a fixed-based router?
It depends on what you need. A plunge router offers more flexibility, as it allows you to move around a little more, and to change the depth as you work. A fixed-based router, on the other hand, allows for greater accuracy and straighter lines.
If you practice, you will get the hang of a plunge router. However, if you don’t trust that you have a steady hand, a fixed-based router might be best. Again, the option of having both could be a good choice if you’re not sure which one to get.
Can you use a router as a drill press?
No. A router will not accept drill bits. Only use a router for its intended purposes
Can I use a router even though I’m left-handed?
Yes – they’re designed to be used by both right-handed and left-handed people.
We hope this article has helped you to decide if a router is right for you.
There’s a lot of great models to choose from, depending on your needs – are you looking for the flexibility of a plunge router, or the stability of a fixed-base router? Do you want something with lots of extras, like LED lights, or something basic? Are you on a tight budget, or can you afford to spend a little more? All of these questions will help you to decide which one to get.
All the models we looked at today would be a great choice – whether you’re undergoing renovations and need to get a few projects done, or you’re a woodworking enthusiast who enjoys making furniture and other items from scratch, the models we’ve looked at will help you out. A router is a great addition to any DIY enthusiast’s collection.
In terms of which one we think is best – we’d have to go for the Makita RT0701CX7. Having the option of both a fixed base and a plunge base is great – and besides, it’s lightweight, tough, nice to look at, and easy to use. With variable speeds of 10,000-30,000RPM and horsepower of 1.25, it should handle many jobs with ease.
However, if you’re looking for something a little more powerful for those tougher jobs, it would be worth taking a look at the Milwaukee 5616-24. With a whopping 2-1/4 HP, it can handle pretty much any task you need it to – and it can work with thicker, tougher types of wood. It’s basic, but it can do the job well, and like the Makita, it offers the flexibility of both a plunge base and a fixed-base.
A router could be a great new tool for you to try – you really can do a lot with a decent router. We hope that this article has helped you to make the best choice for you.
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