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A wood router is a multi-functional power tool that applies a range of edge profiles to a piece of wood, but a router is capable of much more.
With practice, you can use the router to perform a wide range of woodworking tasks that would otherwise be done manually.
As the saying goes, you can make anything with wood, and a router. If you are a beginner and would like to know how to use a router, this is a great place to start.
What Exactly Is a Wood Router?
Routers come in a variety of sizes, and shapes. Simply put, a router is essentially a power tool that uses a bit, or shaped cutter to create decorative edges or indentations in the wood. Wood routers are incredibly versatile and are an essential part of any carpenter’s toolkit.
Wood Router Types
There are three basic types of wood routers. While wood routers come in a range of sizes, all routers fit into these three categories. Choosing the right wood router depends on its intended use.
Trim routers originally began as laminate trimmers. Because of its functionality, and size, it is now a wood shop classic. These tools are great for working with small pieces. You can hold a trim router in one hand and hold the wood in place with the other.
You can adjust the base height of the router and use it with a variety of bases. Trim routers with offset bases can get into tight corners. Another base allows you to cut a bevel.
These routers also come in a cordless version if you prefer to work without the cord, and the trim router’s quarter-inch collet limits the size of the bit it can use, but the tool is compatible with a wide range of profiles.
Fixed Base Routers
Fixed base routers are technically trim routers, but they are larger than trim routers described previously. They cut a consistent depth all the time. You can adjust the depth between cuts, but you cannot lift, and plunge during cutting.
These routers typically have two handles on either side, which allows them to be held, and operated with two hands. Furthermore, they are typically larger, and stronger than trim routers.
A plunge router has a “springy” base that allows you to plunge the bit into the timber, and then lift it back up. The router can help you carve signs where you would need to lift the bit up between the letters, or designs.
It is indeed useful to be able to plunge, and some fixed base routers have a separate attachment that allows you to use both fixed, and plunge bases.
Using a Wood Router
Know Your Bits
There are so many different types of bits that you can use with your wood router. Here are some examples of bits you can use on your project.
- Edging. Some bits are meant for edges and have a small bearing at the top, or bottom. This bearing is intended to travel along the edge of the wood while the cutter makes cuts.
- Decorative edge bits. Chamfer, round over, Roman Ogee, and cove are some common decorative edge bits to add a nice touch to your pieces.
- Bits to cut grooves. Some router bits are used for cutting grooves. Examples of this kind of bit include a dovetail bit, a straight bit, and a juice groove bit.
- Straight bits. These can be found in a variety of sizes and are generally used to cut dadoes.
- Flush trim bits. These bits are among the most used. They are useful for trimming laminates, shelf edging, and veneer.
- Other bits worth mentioning. V groove bits, juice groove bits, also known as round nose bits, and a range of other decorative groove bits are available in a variety of sizes and are often used for carving designs.
Install the Bit
An appropriate edge profile involves the bit turning smoothly as it is applied to the edge of the wood. The first step in ensuring that the bit turns smoothly is to ensure that it is properly installed in the router’s collet. It is critical to install router bits properly, regardless of shank size.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your bit, as the instructions on how to install it may change from one brand to another.
Select the Appropriate Speeds
Routers have variable speed control. This is significant since some bits require specific speeds, not only to provide the finest cut but also for safety reasons. Most routers have speeds ranging from 8,000 to 24,000 rpm.
Although most bits accompany an information leaflet suggesting their maximum speed, some speeds are used based on the bit size. Wood router bits with a diameter of one inch or less can be run at a maximum speed of 24,000 rpm.
Bits one to two inches are typically run at 18,000 rpm, or less, while bits two to two and a half inches should be run at 16,000 rpm, or less. Router bits three inches, or larger should be run at 12,000 rpm or less. Following these suggested speeds should give you smooth cuts.
The truth is that the bit size is not the only variable in assessing speed. Other factors include the router’s horsepower, the condition, and quality of the bit, the material, and most importantly, the feed speed of that material.
To determine the perfect speed, practice using your wood router on a scrap piece of wood before making your final cuts.
Router direction is critical while routing an edge. Routing should occur in the opposite direction of the bit’s rotation.
When running the router along the outside edge of a board, cut counterclockwise, or from left to right. If you are routing inside a board, always route clockwise, or from right to left.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Before working on a final piece, it is important to test your router on a scrap piece of wood to help you get used to working with it. Practicing can also help you determine the optimal bit speed.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and the best way to learn how to use a router is to actually use it!
Safety Information to Note
Working with any power tool can be dangerous and working with a wood router is no different. Safety protocols may differ from one brand to another. Here are a few rules that apply across the board.
Never put your hands, or any other body parts, in the way of the router. Use clamps to hold your pieces down as you work on them. Work slowly, using sharp bits, as blunt bits can cause your material to burn, chip, or kick back.
Always examine your wood before you begin routing because loose bits can become airborne, and end up in your eye, and always remember to turn the power tool off when it is not in use.
Wood routers are versatile power tools, often used for a range of woodwork tasks. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines, and instructions for setting up, and using the router. Remember that the easiest way to learn how to use a wood router is to spend time using it, so be sure to practice often.