Downcut VS Upcut VS Compression

Downcut VS Upcut VS Compression

Welcome to the world of woodworking router bits. Today, we're delving into the rotation style of spiral router bits - the Up-cut, Down-cut, and Compression bits. Understanding which cutting style to use for a particular cut can make a huge difference in the quality of your projects.

Downcut Bits: For a Flawless Top Surface

  • Downcut bits are your go-to for projects where a clean top surface is crucial, like in non-through pockets. They cut from the surface down, ensuring a smooth top edge with minimal fraying or chipout, unlike what you might experience with an Upcut bit.

  • However, Downcut bits aren't ideal for through cuts as they tend to leave a rough bottom edge. The chips are forced downward, compacting into the cut, which can be problematic in deeper cuts. This compaction causes the bit to re-cut the same chips, generating excess heat and accelerating wear.

Upcut Bits: Maximizing Chip Evacuation

  • Upcut bits are perfect for projects requiring a clean bottom surface or efficient chip removal in deeper cuts. Their design pulls wood fibers up and out, ensuring maximum chip evacuation. This might result in some frayed edges on the top surface, but that's often a quick fix with a bit of sanding.

  • The efficient chip removal allows for faster feed rates and reduces heat buildup, prolonging the bit's life. Plus, you get a clean bottom edge, similar to the clean top edge provided by a Downcut bit.

Compression Bits: The Best of Both Worlds

  • Compression bits combine Upcut and Downcut grinds, offering a clean finish on both the top and bottom surfaces of the cut. They're ideal for single-pass cuts but require careful handling.

  • To achieve the desired finish, start your cut below the Upcut portion of the bit. Techniques like ramping in and leading in help prolong the bit's life and ensure a clean finish throughout.

  •  While versatile, Compression bits aren't always the universal solution. They might not be suitable for shallow pockets or very deep cuts where an Upcut bit's superior chip evacuation is needed. Also, smaller CNC machines might struggle with the depth required for effective use of Compression bits.


If you ever lose track of whether a bit is a down-cut or up-cut, here's what to do.

  • Hold the bit by the shank with the tip pointing down (this is important)
  • Rotate the bit clockwise, the way a router spins
  • If the flutes appear to move down, it’s a down-cut bit
    If the flutes appear to move up, it’s an up-cut bit



Here’s a rough list to help you decide which bit to use in which situation.

  • Grooves in tearout-prone materials like highly figured wood, plywood, and other veneers
  • For clean edge on the tool-side of your stock
  • Cutting small parts on the CNC


  • Grooves in straight grained hardwoods like maple, walnut, or oak
  • For clean edges on opposite side of your stock from the tool
  • Plunge cutting


  • Through cuts in harwoods, softwoods, plywood, melamine, and other veneers
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