Top 18 Wood Routers We Recommend
Best Combo Router Kits
Do your projects involve both smooth, straight cuts as well as more detailed precision work? Your best choice is a wood router combo kit. These kits combine both a plunge and fixed base router in one, tackling a range of jobs from building furniture to decorative work. The best router combo kit is especially useful for full-time DIYers or professionals but might be overkill for anyone doing odd jobs around the house.
Best wood router for: Large, commercial projects and DIYers alike
Best Plunge Routers
Perfect for precision jobs that require various cutting depths, a plunge router allows you to move around the wood to create decorative features. They also allow you to begin cutting inside the wood, which is great for creating holes in countertops. However, they do require more precision so are not a great choice for beginners who are new to woodwork.
Best wood router for: Shallow, decorative work
Best Fixed Base Routers
Fixed routers are a great tool for creating smooth, consistent edges. This makes them the perfect tool for cutting countertops, furniture making, or any other project requiring a straight edge. Since this type of wood router is fixed in place, they are less useful for decorative work. But still a must-have tool for any wood workshop.
Best wood router for: Border work & precision cutting
Best Palm Routers
If you have a large piece of wood that’s too cumbersome to mount on a router table, a palm router (also called trim or compact router) is a great choice. The best palm routers are much easier to maneuver, allowing you to create smooth, curved cuts with ease. The downside is a compact router offers less stability, so more precision is needed when creating cuts.
Best wood router for: Large pieces of wood needing rounded cuts
Best Router Tables
The key benefit of a router table is it gives better precision and quicker cuts when your wood router is mounted. If your project is time-sensitive, a router table will save time on creating smooth, precise cuts. The downside of using even the best router table is that it takes up space in a workshop and doesn’t give the flexibility of movement that a handheld wood router does.
Best for: Large projects that need speed and precision
Best Router Bits
The best wood router bits help you get more use out of your router. With high-quality bits for edging, trimming, coring, dovetailing and more, you’ll get more precision on your detailed woodworking projects.
Best for: Getting more use out of your router
Best Wood Router Combo Kit
Do you do a lot of woodwork, perhaps even commercially? The best router combo is going to save you time and effort. A router kit gives the functionality of both a fixed base and plunge router, helping take care of a range of jobs from bespoke joinery to the decorative details of furniture.
- Dual functions: Bases switch out to give both a plunge and fixed base router, depending on your project.
- Cheaper alternative: A combo kit is usually better value for money than buying two separate routers.
- Range of projects: Router kits cover the full range of woodwork projects, making them great for anyone who does this professionally.
- D handle: Some router kits come with an additional D handle, which many prefer for its one-handed control.
Best Wood Router Combo Kit Reviews of 2020
DEWALT DW618B3 Fixed / Plunge Base Wood Router Kit
3 router tools in one
The plunge, fixed base, and D handle routers make this the best router for almost any project.
1 DEWALT DW618B3 Review
The DEWALT DW618B3 router combo kit is our best pick for wood routers. The plunge and fixed base attachments give all the functionality needed for joinery, precision cuts, and decorative precision work. Plus, the additional D handle is a great addition for anyone who prefers one-handed fixed base cutting.
The clear bases and low center of gravity make precision cutting extremely easy. And the 12-amp motor is sufficient enough for edging, dovetailing, and decorative work.
The minor annoyance of this model is the huge carry case, which is the size of small luggage. But that’s to be expected with three tools in one.
Overall, the DEWALT DW618B3 the best wood router combo kit for hobbyists and professionals alike.
Bosch 1617EVSPK 2.25 HP Plunge & Fixed Base Router Combo Kit
Great for DIYers
Well balanced and easy to handle, this router combo kit is good value for money.
2 Bosch 1617EVSPK Review
The Bosch 1617EVSPK combo router doesn’t come with a D handle like our best pick, but the fixed base and plunge tools are well built and easy to handle. The signature wooden handles of the Bosch fixed base router are what set this router apart, making it extremely comfortable to maneuver and control.
Since this comes with fewer parts, the carry case is smaller and much easier to store. Overall, this is the best router combo kit for hobbyists looking for a reasonable price.
Makita RT0701CX7 1-1/4 HP Compact Trim Router Kit
Best palm router combo kit
A compact, easy to use router combo kit for budget-conscious buyers.
3 Makita RT0701CX7 Review
Are you looking for a palm router combo kit rather than a conventional size router? The Makita RT0701CX7 is one of the best palm router combo kits on the market. The ergonomic, compact design makes it comfortable to hold and easy to manipulate when working with intricate designs.
The slimline design makes this palm router combo kit best for small, precision projects. But it may not be best for more heavy-duty projects.
Since this compact router is smaller than our best and value picks, it’s much easier to manipulate when doing decorative work or signage. It also makes it a little less intimidating if you’re a novice just starting out.
Overall, the Makita RT0701CX7 is a great trim router combo kit for budget-conscious buyers looking to do intricate woodwork.
Best Plunge Router
If you’re looking for the best wood router for detailed precision work, a plunge router is a great choice. These give much more freedom of movement and depth of cuts, allowing you to create intricate patterns and designs easily.
- 360-degree movement: A plunge router easily moves a full 360 degrees, giving more flexibility on angles and rounded edges.
- Internal cuts: A plunge router allows you to begin cutting in the middle of the wood, making internal designs easy.
- Plunge depth capacity: With plunge depths ranging from 0” to 4”, detailed carving work is effortless.
- Soft-start feature: This avoids splintering and jagged edges which is vital when doing precision woodwork.
Best Plunge Router Reviews of 2020
Makita RP2301FC Plunge Router
Best plunge router
Solidly built with conveniently placed triggers, this router is our top pick.
1 Makita RP2301FC Review
The powerful Makita RP2301FC is built with users in mind. The handles have a large two-finger switch and a perfectly located lock lever, making it easy to use when doing intricate woodwork. The plunge depth of 0” to 2-3/4” is also the perfect range for finishing work, and the lights are a great addition for dimly lit workrooms.
The downside of the Makita RP2301FC plunge router is that the edge guide isn’t included. But Makita does sell a “guide holder” separately which is worth buying alongside the router.
Overall, this is the best plunge router for novices and experienced woodworkers alike. It’s extremely lightweight compared to other models yet powerful enough for most projects.
Triton TRA001 3-1/4 HP Dual Mode Precision Plunge Router
Affordable yet powerful
The micro winder and powerful motor make this plunge router great value for money.
2 Triton TRA001 Review
With just a slightly smaller plunge capacity than our top pick, the Triton TRA001 is still versatile enough for most intricate woodwork projects. Plus, the micro-winder gives continuous fine depth adjustment for intricate detailing projects.
What lets the Triton TRA001 plunge router down is the vibration. The powerful 3-1/4 HP motor glides through the toughest timber, but the vibrations make it slightly uncomfortable to hold for long projects.
Even so, this plunge router is best value for money and perfect for novices looking for a powerful router at a great price.
WEN RT6033 15-Amp Variable Speed Plunge Woodworking Router Kit
Budget plunge router
The solid carry case and added accessories make up for the limited power.
3 WEN RT6033 Review
If you’re looking for a decent plunge router without the hefty price tag, the WEN RT6033 is a great option. The plunge function isn’t as smooth as our other top picks, but gets the job done for DIY jobs. Although this isn’t the best pick for heavy-duty use.
Our budget pick does come with a solid carry case and a range of accessories, which are lacking in our other picks, making the WEN RT6033 great value for money.
Overall, this is a great option for novices looking to get to grips with a router.
Best Fixed Base Router
A fixed base router is the perfect tool for creating smooth, straight edges. But they still give enough flexibility to move around the wood as you go. Unlike a plunge router, a fixed base router is fixed at one height, making it perfect for consistent edgework.
- Adjustable depth: The adjustable depth allows microfine adjustments, giving the most precise yet consistent cuts.
- Side handles: Fixed based routers have rounded side handles, giving you maximum control over the direction of the cuts.
- Variable Speed: A variable speed dial allows you to adjust the speed to suit your project.
- Router table compatible: The best fixed base routers easily attach to a router table, giving more stability and precision when needed.
Best Fixed Base Router Reviews of 2020
Bosch 1617EVS 2.25 HP Electronic Fixed-Base Router
Best fixed base router
A powerful motor and quality construction makes this router capable of even the toughest woodwork.
1 Bosch 1617EVS Review
With a powerful 12-amp and a variable speed up to 25,000 RPM, it’s clear why the Bosch 1617EVS is the best pick. It’s powerful enough for hobbyists as well as professional woodworkers alike.
The hardwood handles are a nice feature on this fixed base router. Many new models have plastic and rubber, but the wood gives a nice, sturdy grip that is lacking in other models.
Overall, this is the best fixed base router for most people and is powerful enough for profiling chunky tabletops or finishing cabinetry.
DEWALT DW616 Fixed Base Wood Router
Powerful, but no variable speed
A slightly smaller motor and fixed speed make this router a value pick for hobbyists.
2 DEWALT DW616 Review
Although the DEWALT DW616 has a slightly smaller motor than our best pick, it still packs enough power for tough woodwork. Unlike our best pick, the DEWALT DW616 is not variable speed, which means it isn’t as precise when using a router bit larger than 1”. Even so, the low vibration means it gives a smooth finish for smaller, more precise projects.
Overall, the DEWALT DW616 is great value for a powerful fixed base router and is more than capable of keeping up with most hobbyists. But this one probably isn’t versatile enough for heavy-duty use.
Skil RT1322-00 14-Amp Plunge and Fixed Base Router Combo
Best for beginners
This budget-friendly option is less powerful, making it a good starting point for DIY enthusiasts.
3 SKIL RT1323-00 Review
The SKIL RT1323-00 has the smallest motor of our three picks, but because of this it’s a great budget-friendly option. And unlike our best value pick, the SKIL fixed base router has variable speed, making it perfect for a range of woodwork projects.
It is solidly built, and the placement of the variable speed control means you won’t hit it by accident when learning how to use the different settings. The added safety indicator is another good feature for beginners.
Although this wood router doesn’t match our best pick on performance, it is the best fixed base router for beginners looking to learn the skill.
Best Trim Router
If you’re looking for a small router that’s easy to maneuver, a palm router is best for you. They are especially good for small jobs such as rounding edges, hinge mortises, and trimming.
- Cordless option: Some trim routers are cordless, giving even more portability.
- Single hand use: As palm routers are smaller, these can be used with one hand, leaving the other free to manipulate the wood.
- Small projects: The compact design of a palm router makes it the perfect tool for small projects.
- Perfect for DIYers: If you want to get to grips with a router but don’t have the space or budget for a large plunge or fixed base model, a palm router is perfect.
Best Trim Router Reviews of 2020
DEWALT DCW600B Mini-v186 20V Max XR Cordless Trim Router
Best cordless router
Lightweight and compact, this palm router is perfect for quick jobs.
1 DEWALT DCW600B Review
This lightweight and portable palm router or trim router is perfect for small outdoor projects where you’d otherwise need a long extension cord. However, since the DEWALT DCW600B is battery-powered, it loses steam fairly quickly and does need charging regularly. But even so, it’s got enough power for small jobs.
The weight balance is well distributed so it’s easy to maneuver in tight spaces. But because of the placement of the speed control, you might find yourself hitting it accidentally.
Overall, the DEWALT DCW600B is the best trim router for small outdoor jobs where a cord would get in the way.
DEWALT DWP611 Fixed Base Variable Speed Trim Router
Powerful yet maneuverable
Slightly bulkier, this powerful palm router is perfect for large jobs that still need flexibility.
2 DEWALT DWP611 Review
Unlike our best pick, the DEWALT DWP611 is corded, meaning it packs more of a punch with a 1-1/4 HP motor. This makes this palm router best for heavy-duty jobs that still need the flexibility of a handheld wood router.
The DEWALT DWP611 is bulkier than our best pick, making it slightly harder to maneuver, especially if you’re new to using a trim router.
But for those who are familiar with palm routers, the more robust build makes it powerful enough to cut through tough woodworking projects.
If you have some experience with routers already and you’re looking for a portable yet powerful palm router, the DEWALT DWP611 is a good choice.
Makita RT0701C 1-1/4 HP Compact Router
Best budget palm router
With a slimline design and quiet motor, this palm router is perfect for small, precision projects.
3 Makita RT0701C Review
The key feature that makes the Makita RT0701C stand out from the other picks is the slimline, ergonomic design. This is the most comfortable palm router to hold, making it much easier to work on projects without straining your hand.
Plus, since the housing is double insulated, it’s surprisingly quiet and the vibrations are minimal. Which makes it very steady for precision work like sign making.
If you’re looking to get into precision woodworking and don’t want to spend a fortune on a beginner’s tool, the Makita RT0701C is the best palm router for you.
Best Router Table
Do you want to improve accuracy of your cuts while saving time on woodwork projects? When mounted with a wood router, the best router tables give more precise cuts and more stability. Although they might be unnecessary for casual DIYers, they’re a great addition to any serious workshop.
- Multi-depth cuts: Easily change the router bits as you go, giving various depths of cuts.
- Miter and T-slots: For added stability during cutting.
- Sturdy base: The rigid base makes precision work safer and easier than using a normal workbench.
- Added fence: Helps keep the wood straight when passing through the bit, giving a quick, precise cut.
Best Router Table Reviews of 2020
KREG PRS1045 Router Table
Best wood router table for professionals
Solidly built with a micro-adjust wheel for ultra-precise setups.
1 KREG PRS1045 Review
At 32” in length, this is a great sized router table for most projects. The steel frame is solidly built and easy to adjust, giving a much more solid worksurface than your standard bench. And the added accessories including the router fence and stand make it worth the price tag.
The best feature of the KREG PRS1045 is the micro-adjust wheel. This gives exact precision for any decorative or pattern projects and can be adjusted throughout as needed.
Although this is probably a little advanced for DIYers, it’s the best router table for avid woodworkers or those who build professionally. The assembly instructions are a little vague though, so be prepared to spend some time assembling.
Bosch Benchtop Router Table RA1181
Best portable router table
A great option for anyone with limited workshop space who still wants the stability of a router table.
2 Bosch RA1181 Review
Unlike our best pick, the Bosch RA1181 is a benchtop router table. So if you don’t have a dedicated workbench space to attach it to, this isn’t the best router table for you. However, if it’s portability you’re looking for, this router table is perfect. You can easily move it between workshops and set it up quickly on any worksurface.
It also comes with adjustable feather boards to give added guidance when cutting, which is something missing from our other picks in this category.
Overall, the Bosch RA1181 is the best value table router for anyone looking for a portable table that doesn’t take up as much space.
Goplus FM31495 Electric Aluminum Benchtop Router Table
Good budget option
The small size and affordable price make this the best router table for beginners.
3 Goplus FM31495 Review
Just like our value pick, the Goplus FM31495 is a bench-top router table. This makes it perfect for anyone with a small workshop looking to save space. The table extends out to 18” so although it is smaller than the other picks, it offers enough space for small woodworking projects.
This table isn’t as solid as the best pick, but since it’s our budget option, it’s solid enough for the price. Although this probably isn’t heavy-duty enough for professionals, the Goplus FM31495 is a great router table for beginners.
Best Router Bit Set
Coring a countertop requires a different router bit than dovetailing a cabinet. To make sure you get the most out of your router, you’ll need a set of wood router bits that suit a wide range of projects.
- Range of uses: Different router bits are designed for different projects including profile edging, keyholes, slotting, beading, and more.
- Carbide tips: Router bit sets come in a variety of materials, but those with carbide tips are usually your best bet for longevity.
- Shank size: A ½” shank size is better than a ¼” since it’s more durable and sturdier.
- Storage: Router bits come with a range of storage options from wooden display cases to metal boxes. Make sure the case is secure to avoid bits getting lost.
Best Router Bit Set Reviews of 2020
Yonico 17702 70 Bit Router Bit Set 1/2-Inch Shank
High-quality 1/2-Inch bits set
With 70 different router bits, this set has everything you need for all your woodwork projects.
1 Yonico 17702 Review
This impressive router bits set has 70 pieces, giving you everything you need for any woodwork project. The blades are made from C3 micro-grain tungsten carbide, which is one of the top-quality materials for router bits on the market. And the ½” shank length is superior over ¼” alternatives.
This box has almost any piece you could need for most woodwork projects. It comes with keyhole, dado, beading, profile, dovetail, and trim bits, just to name a few.
The box the Yonico 17702 router bits come in is made from wood which isn’t the sturdiest. But the bits are stored in a blister pack which stops them from coming loose during delivery.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive set of bits for most woodwork projects, the Yonico 17702 is a great choice.
EDMBG 22019 35 Piece 1/2″ Carbide Router Bit Set with Aluminum Case
Best value router bits set
With 35 router bits and a sturdy aluminum case, this router bits set is great value for money.
2 EDMBG 22019 Review
With 35 router bits, the EDMBG 22019 is half the size of our best pick, but still has all the most popular bits for most woodworking projects. The bits are made with carbide tips and ½” shanks, giving great quality.
Plus, the EDMBG 22019 router bit set comes in an aluminum carry case, which is a sturdier alternative to our best pick.
In this set, you’ll get beading, slot, rabbeting, core, dovetail bits, and more. Although this set doesn’t have some of the rarer pieces our best pick has, such as an ogee fillet or French provincial bits.
Even so, this is a great value router bit set for most projects.
Hiltex 10108 Tungsten Carbide 24-Piece 1/4-Inch Shank Router Bit Set
Budget option for beginners
This smaller kit is a budget-friendly option for wood router novices.
3 Hiltex 10108 Review
With 24 router bits, this is the smallest router bit set in the category. But the Hiltex 10108 still offers all the basic bits for edging, trimming, veining, and grooving wood.
The Hiltex 10108 router bit set is ¼”, unlike the other picks which are ½”. ½” shanks are seen as superior since they provide better stability and less vibration, but ¼” are a good budget option for beginners. Even so, this router bits set is still made with tungsten carbide, giving a good quality set.
If you’re a beginner looking to get to grips with the different uses for router bits, this set is a great choice.
Wood Router Buying Guide
How do wood routers work?
A wood router is a must-have for anyone interested in woodworking. They come with a variety of options and in a variety of sizes, but the basic principle behind each one is simple: a motor of a certain horsepower powers a bit to shape the wood on your table.
They’re remarkably simple machines with a myriad of complex uses. Wood routers “route,” which means to hollow out. So, they can do everything from carving designs to cutting holes and trimming soft, non-wood materials.
Wood routers explained for dummies
The outside is simply a plastic case that houses the motor. Usually, that case includes 1-2 sturdy handles upon which you’ll find the trigger that engages the motor.
That motor powers the bit at either a variable or fixed speed (we usually recommend the former), and it typically turns the bit in a clockwise direction. The operator—that’s you—moves the bit side to side using the handles to create the desired impression in the wood.
Some routers also allow you to move the bit up and down (in a plunging motion) for more versatility.
A collet holds the bit firmly in place, and a base helps you balance the router and protect it from overextending into the wood.
What can routers do?
Routers are simple but versatile. They can handle almost any task you can perform on wood. More specifically, they come in handy for:
- Cutting grooves
- Shaping wood, particularly edges
- Making wooden cutouts
- Cutting joints
- Trimming laminates
- Creating decorative patterns
Like most tools, some routers are better at each of these tasks than others. Your intended projects will determine the best router for you.
Best wood router brands
When it comes to choosing the best wood router, not all brands are created equal. There are several router brands that dominate the market because of their superior quality and power. Let’s take a look at some of the best wood router brands you should consider:
- DEWALT wood routers: are some of the most popular routers on the market. They’re known for their powerful motors in both plunge and fixed base wood routers. Although most of their bestselling routers might be a bit much for DIYers, they are a popular choice with professional woodworkers.
- Bosch wood routers: are well-made but usually more affordable than DEWALT models. Bosch are most popular for their signature wooden handles, which are highly reviewed by DIYers and professionals alike for the comfortable grip.
- Makita wood routers: are a great choice for commercial use and heavy-duty DIY. Makita stand out from the crowd for their compact routers with powerful motors, great for any intricate projects.
- Triton wood routers: are more affordable but don’t have the same product range as other brands. Based in Australia, Triton are best known for their compact palm routers. These are well-made and smaller than competitors, so a good choice for DIYers just starting out.
- WEN wood routers: also appeal to DIYers who don’t want to splash out on a DEWALT or Makita wood router. WEN stand out for their wood router kits that give hobbyists everything they need to get started at an affordable price point.
- SKIL wood routers: are in the mid-range price point. Compared to other brands, SKIL routers are bulkier so less easy to handle. However, SKIL is popular for their extensive guides and how-tos which help DIYers get to grips with their wood router.
When you’re looking for the best wood router on the market, some other wood router brands to consider include Porter-Cable, Festool, and Goplus, to name a few.
Fixed vs. plunge base routers
The options available for routers can seem a bit overwhelming. But these terms don’t have to make your head spin.
The differences, in fact, are quite simple: Fixed-base routers are best for simple tasks and have a fixed router base which means you can only start working from an edge. Plunge-base routers on the other hand are for the more adventurous or experimental woodworker who wants to complete a wide range of tasks with the same tool.
Fixed-base wood routers
Fixed-base routers, as their name suggests, have an immovable base. They are:
- Easy to maneuver
- A simple, easy-to-use beginner’s tool
They’re ideal for softening or shaping edges, and are also the best choice for cutting in precise, straight lines.
Cut only from edge to edge
They can only cut from edge to edge, though, so you can’t use them for a cut that starts mid-board.
These routers may feel limiting if you want to complete more complex projects (like making cutouts, engraving, or creating complex patterns).
Keep in mind that you’ll need to set the bit depth (how far into the wood it cuts) before starting the cut, and the router won’t allow you to adjust it again while the router is running. Therefore, fixed-base models are best for simple projects.
Plunge-base wood routers
Plunge-base routers offer more versatility in a heftier model. Plunge bases are the way to go if you anticipate making cuts in the middle of wood pieces (for designs, grooves, and engravings, for example) but don’t want to cut from an outside edge to get there.
Plunge-base routers move up and down thanks to a spring-loaded base. They come with the added advantages of:
- The ability to move the router up and down for complex, varying, or deeper cuts.
- Starting a cut right in the middle of a board. Just lift the base, position it over the area to be drilled, and push the bit into the board, then cut.
Plunge-base routers come in handy if you plan to make similar cuts repeatedly: They have a feature called a stop-system which allows you to return to the same cutting depth without re-measuring (even if you plunge past that depth mid-cut).
In short, plunge-base routers offer far greater versatility, but they’re usually more expensive and are more difficult to use.
How much horsepower do you need?p>The power of your router’s motor is measured in horsepower, just like your car’s. You can find routers equipped with up to about 3.5 HP. Router power falls into two primary categories:
- Low horsepower (1-3HP): Smooth cuts for short bursts. You’ll need to let these machines rest frequently, as they’re not designed for continuous use.
- High horsepower (3+ HP): Perfect for deeper cuts and harder woods. These models are ideal for heavy-duty users (who complete big projects or high-scale production), but they come with a weight that makes them harder to maneuver.
For most users, a router with between 1.5 and 2.5 HP will meet or exceed your carpentry needs. For small, simple jobs—like smoothing edges—a lower horsepower choice will be the most cost-effective and practical option.
Wood router speed
Much like other power tools, router speed is measured in RPMs (Revolutions Per Minute). When you ask your bit to move “faster,” you’re really telling it to cut your wood more often in a given minute. Speed, in this case, is most important in relation to your bit size. Small bits produce the cleanest results at higher speeds, but large bits only work (safely) at lower speeds.
Does speed determine quality of your product?
Speed is often referenced as the most important factor in determining how clean and satisfactory your cuts are, but it actually works in tandem with everything else on your (router) table to create a good cut. Your speed-to-bit-size ratio, the consistency of the wood, the sharpness of your bit, and how fast you’re moving the router across the wood also come into play.
However, finding the appropriate speed range is the perfect place to start. Use the following chart as a guide to determine the appropriate router speed for your needs.
Bit size (in diameter)
One to two inches
Two to three inches
Once you find the ideal speed range, it’s time to think about whether one speed or several options will be a better fit for your needs.
Fixed vs. variable speed routers
Having a variable speed dial (as opposed to a single, fixed speed) proves crucial for those who want to use one router for all bit sizes.
If you plan to purchase two or more routers or need a router for one specific task, a variable speed dial is a great feature to skimp on to save a few dollars.
Of course, higher speed also means more noise. And, because faster speeds often lead to sloppier cuts (meaning you’ll need to sand to smooth them out), you generally want to work at as low a speed as you can without sacrificing quality.
Wood router size & portability
Routers come in three primary sizes; and, like speed, the right one for you depends on how you plan to use your new machine.
Palm or trim routers are your smallest option. They’re easily maneuverable and ideal for trimming, edge work, hinges, and decorative or pattern work. They’re great for small hobby projects but won’t be appropriate for large-scale endeavors.
Mid-size routers are, as their name suggests, your middle-of-the-road option. They’re more versatile than trim routers and can handle the capabilities of their smaller counterparts in addition to dovetailing, panel cutting, and the creation of complex patterns.
Large routers are your machine of choice for large projects and production environments. Typically, their weight requires that they be used as table-mount devices. These are for the serious woodworker and are not suitable for small hobby projects.
For small, casual, or creative projects, the beginner’s best bet will be a palm router. If you hope for growth in your skills, a mid-sized router will be your best bet for ultimate versatility; and, if a woodworking business is in the works, a production-oriented full-size machine is the only one that will fit the bill for you.
Keep in mind that with size comes expense; so, if you’re not sure yet where your woodworking endeavors will take you, start small and upgrade as your skills and interests expand.
Wood router collet and bit size
As mentioned earlier, the collet is the metal piece that holds your bit firmly in place and keeps it connected to the router body.
Most routers come with both ¼-inch and ½-inch collets. Your bits will come in one of those two sizes, too, and the collet size and bit size must align.
Some routers, however, have only ¼-inch or ½-inch options.
The case for half-inch (1/2 inch) collets and bits
For most users, sticking with ½-inch collets and bits (and choosing a router made for ½-inch options if one with both isn’t on the table) is the best bet. They’re more stable and tend to last longer. Additionally, their stability means that they vibrate less, which leads to a cleaner cut.
Larger bits are also less prone to slipping on the wood and are less likely to burn your material.
Quarter-inch (1/4 inch) collets and bits have their bonuses
Of course, the smaller collets and bits wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have advantages. Firstly, they’re less expensive (and are often offered on less expensive routers, so they’re great for the beginning or budget-conscious handyman).
And, sometimes, you just need a thinner cut. In that case, a quarter-inch collet will provide you with more precision and a thinner line.
Best router bits to buy
Once you have the basics of your router sorted, it’s time to think about which bits will best suit your projects. You can think about bits like the blade on a pair of scissors: the pattern, sharpness, shape, and size will determine what you can do with it.
A plethora of bits are available for purchase. Luckily, if you treat them with respect, most will last forever. Here are a few of the most popular.
- Dado bits create box grooves.
- Chamfer bits work best for creating bevels or beveled edges.
- Edge bits are available in a wide array of designs, but are used to create decorative edges on woodworking projects.
- Dovetail bits create a shape that matches their name: one end of the cut is wide and flared, and the other is thin.
- Rabbeting bits create “shoulders”, or steps, to allow multiple wood pieces to be joined together.
Consider a router table
Of course, regardless of the size of the router and the bit you choose, handheld routing can get cumbersome. Routing tables allow for a labor-lite approach to woodworking: they hold the router bit-up (toward the ceiling) so that you can slide the wood across the bit instead of sliding the router manually across the wood.
These are especially handy for larger-scale projects where you’ll be using the same bit extensively, but they make maneuvering easier on any project.
Router tables come in two primary types:
- Tabletop models—These can be set on workbenches or tabletops and are generally portable.
- Fixed models—These are, essentially, a freestanding workstation. They are more expensive than their tabletop counterparts, but are also sturdier and tend to come with a wider range of features.
Learn more about router tables
We also published a complete router table buying guide that is worth checking out if you are interested to invest in a table for your routing projects.
Additional router features
There are several extra features and technologies to consider that can make the difference between a smooth and frustrating routing experience. The ones you’ll use most depend, again, upon the type of projects you tend to tackle.
- Soft- vs. hard-start motors: Remember those cartoons where the character revs up a lawnmower and it darts forward so quickly that they’re thrown right off? Routers can do that, too. Hard-start motors can jerk the router right out of your hand; soft-start motors gear up gradually to avoid damaging your router, wood, or—of course—you.
- Electronic variable speed control (EVS): This keeps your cutting speed constant for a steady, high-quality cut.
- Variable speeds: This lets you adjust the router’s speed to the bit size and material on your table.
- Vacuum port: A handy feature that makes it easier to collect wood dust as you work.
- Clear sub base: Allows you to see your work clearly.
- Depth control knob: This is a boon for controlling and returning to the precise bit depth on your project (as opposed to adjusting manually).
- Interchangeable bases: If you can’t choose between a fixed-base and a plunge-base router, many companies offer models equipped with both options for ultimate versatility. Bonus: these are usually cheaper than buying two separate routers.
- Foot switch: These allow for hands-free on/off control and are especially handy for emergency situations.
- Built-in lights: Visibility is key when it comes to wood-working. Some routers come with LED lights to illuminate your table.
As with most things in life, “need” and “want” rarely leave you with the same results. We’ve broken down the options into the must-have features for a functional router, the good-to-have features that blend affordability and function, and the great-to-have features that make a router outshine its competition.
Must have features:
- Pick a fixed-base router for basic edging work, small projects, and precision cuts that don’t require variation in depth. They’re a great beginner’s tool on which to learn the ropes.
- Aim for a horsepower over 1 HP (2, if you can swing it). You’ll get the smooth cuts you need at an affordable price point, but be sure to let the router rest periodically.
- Get the right speed for your needs: the larger the bit you need, the slower the speed should be.
- Palm routers will help you dip your toes into routing with edging, hinge routing, and simple pattern work at an appealing price point.
Good to have features:
- Invest in a plunge-base router for stellar versatility and a wider range of projects.
- Check a variable speed dial off your list so you can use any bit size and wood type safely.
- Get a router with a soft-start motor for gradual speed increase and smoother, safer operation.
- Upgrade from a palm router to a mid-sized router if you want to keep the option for trim work open while taking on more complex tasks like joint work and panel cutting.
Great to have features:
- Choose a router with interchangeable bases. This gives you the best of both worlds—small edging work and large-scale, complex cuts.
- For limitless routing potential, a router with both ½-inch and 1/4-inch collets (not just an adaptor—those tend to sacrifice sturdiness) is a must-have.
- Electronic variable speed control (EVS) keeps your speed constant for you, increasing steadiness and precision.
- If you hope to turn your hobby into a business or want to graduate to large, complex projects, a large-sized router is the way to go.
Your budget, woodworking aspirations, and level of versatility required all play into the right router decision for you. Use these tips to help you find a router that can turn your ideas into a reality, whether you’re shaping simple cabinet edges or creating custom engravings.