Router Buying Guide
For a long time, routers have been helping woodworkers cut, trim and shape wood, plastic and several other materials. If you’re currently in the market for routers, there are tons of options that range from basic to advanced. Whether it’s your first, you’re looking to upgrade your existing equipment, or you need a new version in order to complete a different job, there’s a router out there for you. In this guide, we take a look at various types of routers, as well as the many router features available to improve your woodworking capabilities.
Addressing Your Router Needs
Before determining the model you want and even prior to reviewing a router comparison to look at different models, it’s important to figure out what your needs are. Knowing exactly what you want it to do for you is paramount.
The primary function of your new router is an important factor. If you’re interested in a tool to help you soften edges or to cut a small profile, your best choice could be a basic, low-cost router. However, if you need your router to perform more advanced tasks like cutting larger profiles, dovetailing or working with large bits for raised panel doors, you may need a full-size router with extra features.
In addition to your woodworking needs, any router buying guide should advise you to consider price range. Cost directly corresponds with the type of router and features offered, ranging from a basic, low-cost router to a full-size option with advanced features and higher price tag. Conveniently, there are options with interchangeable bases that complete a wide range of tasks, as well as router kits, which include everything from multiple bases to bits and more.
Different Types of Routers
The base of the router is the most important detail when considering your options. There are two types of bases: fixed or plunge.
Router Base: Fixed vs Plunge
Fixed routers provide an all-purpose tool for woodworkers who need to do more edging and shaping. This type is also more convenient if you’re using a router table. They tend to be more compact and easier to operate, which allows the user to be more precise. Many fixed base models also have a handle placement that is easier to use. If you intend to use your new tool for deeper cuts into work pieces, a fixed router would need to be tilted and could lead to less precise cutting. For this type of cutting, a plunge router could be your best option.
Plunge routers allow you to work on the interior by “plunging” deeper into your materials. Providing you with controlled vertical movement, they allow you to make deeper grooves, mortises and more, as well as precise through cuts, patterns and template work. A fixed base is set at a certain depth and remains there throughout use, while a plunge base allows you to change depths as you work. If you require both bases, choose an interchangeable base to double your tool’s versatility.
Router Type Comparison
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Another important consideration when performing a router comparison is the power they operate with. Each model has a peak horsepower and a sustained horsepower. Peak horsepower is the highest power at which the tool operates for a brief time, while sustained horsepower is the power it operates with throughout use. Power ranges from the basic router at around 1 HP to more powerful models with up to 3.5 HP. If your routing needs are simple edging tasks, a lower horsepower will suffice.
To tackle a larger, more extensive job such as using a jig to create dovetail joinery or significant plunge cuts, higher horsepower serves you well. Depending on the size of bit you plan to work with, you may need a larger amount of power to drive them through. When considering how to choose a router, look at the amp rating to identify true power potential.
The amount of features that are available on top-rated routers may be overwhelming, but each has the potential to improve your results. The difference in performance with one or all of these options is significant, and some may even improve workshop safety.
Variable Speed Control
Variable speed control lets you choose the speed with which your router operates, depending on the task and the bit size. This is paramount when working with larger bits by operating at a slower speed for safety and leaving you with more control over the tool. Many mid-tier and full-size models have this option. Some top-rated routers even offer an electronic feedback system, which controls the speed based on the load it senses and makes sure the RPM remain in the correct range.
One of the router features that is directly related to safety is the soft start option. This function causes the tool to slowly increase its speed and power output when powered on. If a tool does not have a soft start, it immediately goes to full speed, which could cause it to lurch, resulting in injury or damage to your work. Due to their added safety, soft start systems are popular.
Bit Change System
All types of routers have a certain system to change out bits. If you tend to alternate bits often, a tool-less bit changing system makes the process easier. You also have the option of a spindle lock system, which allows single-wrench bit changes.
Motor Housing: Metal vs. Plastic
The motor housing is usually made with either metal or plastic. When operating at peak horsepower and for long amounts of time, metal housings stand up to the wear and tear, increasing durability. With plastic housings, durability and strength may be lessened, but the tool is lighter and easier to handle. If portability and ease of use are important, a plastic motor housing may be preferred.
Handle design is among the essential router features in terms of comfort. There are several types of handle placements, shapes and sizes. Plunge router handles, for instance, tend to be higher to provide proper leverage when making deeper cuts in your materials. “D-handle” options allow two-handed control and the ability to power the tool on and off without removing either hand. The base sometimes influences handle design, but there are styles for different personal preferences and for different jobs.
Cord Length/Port Functionality
You should also consider the length and functionality of the tool’s power cord. Take into account how close you need to be to a power outlet or other source. In addition to length, there are various styles and features in the cord’s port. For example, the port could be angled or operate with a swivel mechanism to avoid tangling and accidental damage.
Whether you’re an occasional woodworker needing tools for simple edging or you need a full-size router for tougher tasks, deeper cuts and intricate patterns, we’ve got you covered with an extensive collection featuring various types of routers. Instantly upgrade your woodworking capabilities with features ranging from basic to advanced.