Last updated on September 6, 2021
Why is a wood router the most versatile tool for woodworking?
Wood routers are regarded by many as being one of the most versatile woodworking tool simply because of their ability to cut in a wide variety of ways.
Not that it only allows you to remove excess material but also to form and shape woodworking pieces according to your exact specifications.
There are two major classifications of wood routers – fixed base and plunge base.
The former is better for edge and trim cuts while the latter allows you to cut at various depths. Let’s get to the basics of using a wood router.
What can a wood router do?
If you’re eager to learn how to use a wood router, here’s what it can do.
- Round/bevel timber edges. With a fast-moving router bit, a router can be used to round square edges or even shave off material to create an edge bevel.
- Create channels in wood. Wood routers specialize in creating slots and grooves in the wood. In the same sense, you can also use them to cut out larger channels.
- Carve out a section in wood. A wood router is one of few tools that allow you to do sectional carving. This makes it ideal for continuous detail work.
- Carve letters or shapes for signage. You can use a router to freehand carve letters and shapes. Whether you want individual pieces or to engrave boards with lettering, a router does both well.
- Make recesses for furniture and cupboards. Recesses are certain kinds of grooves that are often cut into the edges of the wood. Routers are known to make grooves, slots, and rabbets, which are a popular kind of recess.
- Make recessed door hinges. Especially with using a plunge router, you can easily recess door hinges since it’ll allow you to cut straight and reach only a specific set depth evenly.
- Shape wood edges. You can create intricate and decorative edges with a wood router at ten hundred times the speed of a manual hand chisel. You can layer edges by using different-sized bits and by adjusting cut preference for each pass.
- Make joint cuts. Besides the well-known miter cut, a router can assist with various joint cuts, such as the Mortise and Tenon joint, and finger joints.
- Create wire channels. Certain applications might require creating channels to conceal wires to allow you to better manage wires and cables. Routers are excellent at creating wire channels due to their ability to cut small continuous grooves in a length of wood.
Common problems when using a wood router
Before we go to how to use a handheld wood router, let’s know what to expect.
Power supply and lead entanglement
Power issues are one of the more common issues faced when using a wood router.
Sometimes it can be due to a lead getting in the way of you, but more often than not, it’s something to do directly with the router’s circuitry and having enough power?
It’s not too complex, has good lead management, and opt for a cordless wood router when you are on the go.
Lead entanglement is usually an indirect issue and is easily remedied by always staying aware of where the cord is at all times as you progress through your work.
Incorrect bit depth
It’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that bit depth and height are adjustable.
More of a user error than a tool defect, just always keep in mind to do due to preparations prior to starting on any cut to check the set depth and from time to time while working for long periods in case it moves.
Make sure your tool firmly secures the depth adjustment and does not move.
Router bits can be a bit trickier to install router bits compared to drill and drill driver bits. Routers are positioned vertically, so their bits have hard visibility when in use depending on the tool model.
Before the operation, double-check that the bits are fully inserted in the chuck correctly to prevent slipping.
The guide is what’s responsible for making straight and precise cuts when in use. However, the guides can sometimes become stuck if used on an uneven surface.
To remove or to adjust the guide loosen the quick release bolts around the router base just enough to allow it to move.
Normally, you’d have full control over the bit speed if you have variable speed control. But you need to make sure that the wood router has enough power to cut consistently without stalling, working too hard, or kicking back.
A wood router isn’t as error-friendly as other tools, especially for new users. Since it’s a precision tool assisted by an electric motor, familiarization with it is a defining factor that separates project success and failure. Acquaint yourself first with the features and how it operates before tackling your real task.
Wood router bits you should know
1. Grooving bits
The majority of the available bits are actually for groove-cutting. Creating grooves is a router’s forte, therefore you should also have a sizable amount of various grooving bits to really expand project flexibility.
The V-Groove and Core Box bits are some of the most popular grooving bits right now.
2. Joinery bits
As mentioned earlier, a wood router can also be used to craft joints. In fact, certain joinery methods are only doable if you have a router due to their stringent dimensional requirements.
Dovetail, Finger-joint, and Rabbeting bits are popular examples and also happen to be some of the most practiced joinery methods to date. Here are more joinery techniques to learn.
3. Edge-forming bits
Edge-forming or edge-shaping is one of the unique specialties of a wood router. Though you can also do these with power sanders, they don’t offer the same degree of control, accuracy, and maneuverability.
Certain bits allow you to dictate the shape of edges, such as Rounding bits and, if you want to flatten round edges, Cove bits.
How to install router bits?
It’s imperative to install bits with the router unplugged. First, remove the base housing that covers the motor shaft. Inspect and make sure that both the shaft and the collet are clean.
Insert the router bit into the collet and pull it back just so that it’s about ⅛ of an inch from the collet. Tighten. Insert the router back to the base and choose your settings.
Selecting the correct speed
Variable speed is a core feature that’s almost always present in modern power tools. The different speed settings available to a wood router basically control how fast the bit rotates which, consequently, determines vibrations and the power that’s needed at a given time.
If your speed is set too fast, you might get slight burn marks on the wood. Likewise, a speed too slow will result in a choppy ruff finish. Set your speed with respect to your available bit sizes, depth of cut, and the type of finish you want relative to the size and thickness of the workpiece.
How to edge-route?
Edge-routing is essentially edge-forming or, in simpler terms, defining how your edges will look like. Edge-routing is more decorative than anything, but there are times that it’s also functional, such as when you need to route edges for joinery.
Follow the guide below to get an idea of how to do good routed edges.
- Plan out your cuts and be sure to mark essential areas.
- Prepare the work area and secure workpieces. Set your initial router adjustments (bit size & type, cutting depth, speed, etc.).
- Begin by routing the ends first. This helps eliminate chips.
- Move counterclockwise for outside edges and clockwise for inside ones.
- Always follow the previous principle for movement, but change bits as you see fit (I.E if you want to shape corners or create bevels).
- Adjust the depth/height if you want to layer edges or create trim designs.
Cutting a square hole with a wood router
- Outline the square. Get the precise measurements and lay them out on the workpiece.
- Pick out one corner to start. You can drill interim holes to serve as a guideline later on.
- Adjust the router fence and allow it to move to maintain precision and accuracy. Make sure the fence is in the same position as your square used as a guide.
- With your router, follow the holes and rotate the piece so as to align the fence with the straight lines of the corners.
- Follow through until you have your hole.
- Use a wood chisel or a coping saw to cut out the corner edge to finish the square cut-out.
Here are other ways to cut square holes in wood.
How to cut a channel with a wood router?
Think of this as cutting a really big groove in the wood.
- Determine the size of your channel (width and depth).
- Install the appropriately-sized router bit (I.E ½” bit = ½” channel).
- Make sure to secure or clamp the piece down.
- Pick out which end of the channel you want to start out at. Make sure the fence edge is straight before you begin routing.
- Go in only one direction (I.E left to right).
- Depending on the depth of the channel you may decide to do it in 2 or 4 passes instead of one.
- Place scrap wood at the end to avoid tear-out.
*For channels larger than available bits, you can simply re-route until you hollow out the area needed while following the same steps until you have the desired channel size.
Cutting a slot with a router
With a router, cutting slots is actually simpler than you’d expect. Simply mark where you want the slot to be and clamp down the piece. It’s recommended you use a straight edge as a guide.
Start out at one end and flip it over and do the same on the other, all while keeping the same edge on the fence. Adjust the cutting depth as needed until you hollow out the slot.
How to cut letters with a wood router?
While you can actually do this freehand, it’s better (and cleaner) to use a template guide. If you’re familiar with how a stencil guide works, a router lettering guide is no different, only instead of a pencil, you’ll be using a router.
Here’s how to make a sign using a wood router:
Clamp the piece down with the guide on top. Make sure everything is spaced the way you want. Set the depth of cut and follow the guide. Adjust the cutting depth as you move along. You can hollow out letters or simply have them engraved.
Cutting a circle with a router
The easiest way to cut a circle grove with a router is with the help of a jig. For reference, you can use the router’s sub-base to determine the size of a circular jig. Drill multiple-sized holes into the circular jig to serve as guides.
Screw the jig onto the sub-base of the router and drill pivot holes on a swing arm. The swingarm is what you’ll use to cut different-sized circles and arcs. Basically, what you’ll have is a compass with a router.
Furthermore, you can also cut circles with other tools.
When to use a wood router edging guide?
It’s best to use edge guides on projects that require you to maintain a strict straight cut. Furthermore, edge guides help speed up work, so they also come in handy for time-sensitive tasks.
When to use a template with your wood router?
If you want to know how to use a router with a template, you can create custom templates for custom patterns and shapes for faster and more accurate cuts.
- For when you need to cut odd shapes or overly complex curves that need to be done accurately.
- For when you want to cut numerous repetitive cuts more than once . Like the grooves for the stringers on a staircase to hold the treads.
- For when you need to work mainly on lettering and inlays.
- If you want to route a range of materials other than real wood (I.E MDF, acrylic, etc.) that is less stable free hand.
How to make a custom template guide?
As mentioned before, you can create your own template to help guide the router and do some unorthodox cuts.
Custom templates can help achieve some really good and intricate designs, and below are the steps on how you can make your very own.
- Select the appropriate router bits. It’s recommended to use flush trims and pattern bits.
- Conceptualize your design in mind.
- Choose your template material. MDF or scrap wood is ideal.
- Mark out slots, edges, curves, etc to cut.
- Measure the distance from the router base edge to the cutting blade. This will be your allowance size for the guide.
- As the router base edge will run alongside your custom-made guide/ jig it will be made bigger to suit the router base.
- Cut out the elements of your guide. Drill and saw whatever needs to be worked on. Assemble whatever needs to be assembled.
- Polish and finish. You can even apply coatings or covers to add durability.
- Test that the guide works first on scrap material.
Dos and don’ts when using a router
- Do make use of safety glasses to protect your eyes.
- Do make use of or acquire a router guard.
- Provide additional support on the workpiece by placing a feather board or similar material on top with a clamp
Learning to use a wood router is rewarding. Though a wood router may seem like a very targeted tool, it’s actually rather versatile and can perform a variety of tasks that you can’t expect from any other tool.
When it comes to cutting slots and shaping edges, nothing can quite match the abilities of a good wood router. Their highly capable tools need a thorough amount of understanding to properly use. When it comes to woodwork, these tools might just offer the shortest route to completion.
My name is Aaron, and welcome to Bangingtoolbox.
As a qualified builder and DIY’er, my goal with Banging Toolbox is to provide the #1 building and DIY resource on the internet for my readers.
I’m here to show people how to start DIY, and to help qualified professionals take building to the next level.
Feel free to have a look around, and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions, you can find out more about me here.