Complete Beginner’s Wood Router Buying Guide

A modern woodshop wouldn’t be complete without a router, no matter what project you are working on, there’s a good chance router would be used. This power tool is simply too versatile and useful to have, and it’s not unheard of for a shop to even keep more than one.

With so many options out there in the market at various pricepoint, sometimes it’s difficult to select the one that’s right for you. By writing this wood router buying guide and reviewing a few key features, our hope is to provide the information needed to make your decision a little easier. We believe the selection process should be application-based, so the first thing you’ll have to ask yourself is: what do I want to do with my router?

In this buying guide, we will break down some of the most important factors to look at.

Wood Router Types

Routers are available in several shapes and motor-size configurations. All these types have certain usages and are useful in different scenarios.

Palm Router, wood router
Palm Router

Palm Router/Trim Router

Most palm routers are sold around 1 HP, sometimes at 1-1/4 HP or maybe less. These routers offer a compact size but with impressive performance, as they come in in either corded or cordless forms. In some cases, cordless routers can be less powerful than corded ones and offer less stability due to the battery on top, and battery running out in the middle of work can be a bit frustrating. People are generally attracted to the smaller palm routers because they are lightweight, versatile, have good visibility, and are capable of getting into tighter spots.

Palm routers are ideal for trimming, hinge mortising, edge forming, slot cutting, small-scale dovetailing, window cutouts, and decorative inlays. They are more specialized for jobs of the smaller sort, though, since most of the palm routers on the market will only take 1/4-inch shank router bits, and not anything larger.

Features to look for:

  • Ergonomic designs let you hold your palm router more comfortably with a pistol grip that extends up from the base. especially on corded routers since they come in smaller sizes. Some brands are simply much better balanced than others, so try them with your own hands if possible.
  • Fine depth adjustment dials put you in control of your most intricate routing jobs, such as decorative inlays.
  • Macro depth adjustment controls, on the other hand, lets you switch depths faster if you’re moving on to the next task.
  • Brushless electric motors run quieter and helps save battery power on cordless models, which is essential for the spinning bits and provides more efficiency.
  • Safety features like spindle locks and finger barriers are a must and usually included 
  • Edge guides are very important for guiding your router along passes, especially off the table.
  • Most wood routers have adjustable speeds, but be sure the RPM range works for your needs

mid-size router
Mid-Size Router

Mid-Size Router

These routers range from 13/4 HP to 21/4 HP and are the most popular sizes in the range due to their versatility and ease of use. A mid-size router can perform a variety of operations, including everything a palm router/trim router can do, plus larger-scale dovetailing, panel cutting, template design work, and circle cutting. Mid-size routers will accept 1/4″ shank as well as 1/2″ shank bits and are often available with multiple bases. It should be noted that the majority of aftermarket router accessories are geared to this class of router.

Unlike palm routers, which usually come in grip-style models, mid-sized routers can have a plunge base, a fixed base, or combo bases that let you do both. Both weekend hobbyists dabbling in woodworking or commercial pro shops will find a mid-sized router handy for almost any routing task – from trimming and edge finishing to dovetailing and profiling cut jobs.

Features to look for:

  • Built-in LED lighting can illuminate your target area for better visibility.
  • Soft start is also an important feature, in fact, some palm routers also offer this one. Instead of your router spinning at max RPM as soon as you hit the switch, soft start delicately accelerates to the predetermined speed.. This not only helps you keep the router steady as you start your pass, but it also prevents it from jerking out of your hands as well, triggering a safety and security danger. 
  • Variable speed lets you adjust the speed of your router. Essential for using certain specialized bits, or for handling very hard wood or other materials.
  • A comfortable handle design is a must. Using a router right demands technique and some practice, so make sure you are getting a tool you will be comfortable handling.

What Size Woodworking Router Do I Need? – Circle M Woodworking

Full-size Router

These routers are the workhorses of the router family. Typically offered at 3 HP to 3-1/4 HP, these routers are designed for production use and used often by pro shops. Most of these routers are used dedicated to a router table or CNC operations. Full-size routers are expensive and are often too bulky to operate by hand, stay away from big, heavy routers unless you plan to mount them under a table.

Features to look for:

  • Adjustable, tool-free steel motor cam lock makes depth adjustment and base changes quick and solid-locking
  • Electronic variable speed with full feedback control for constant speed
  • Micro-fine depth adjustment ring provides precise depth adjustments, some full-size router offer adjustment up to 1/128 in.
  • Chip deflectors to shield yourself from flying chips.

Base Style

In many ways, the style of base that is selected is just as important as the size of the motor that goes along with it. With several styles available, selecting the one that’s right for you will depend on the projects or operations you plan on undertaking.  

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.

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.

Speed Options

Some routers offer single-speed operation, while the most versatile routers are equipped with variable-speed or multi-speed adjustments. The ability to adjust the speed range based on the bit diameter, type of operation being done and species of wood being machined will increase the quality of work, as well as insure a safe work environment.

Router Bits

Entry-level routers accept only 1/4-inch diameter bits, while more powerful units feature an interchangeable collet that can also grip bits with a 1/2-inch diameter.  

Knowing what bits can do can help you decide how to choose a router tool.

  • When removing large amounts of material, make multiple passes. Doing so will put less strain on the router and bit, plus produce a cleaner cut.
  • The larger the bit diameter, the slower it should spin.
  • Pitch and debris on the bit dulls the cutting edge and causes overheating. You can usually clean a bit with a mild household cleaner. For the worst cases, soak the bit overnight in a sealed kerosene container. Remove the bearing first.
  • Keep bits sharp, but leave sharpening of bits to professionals. A dull bit will cut poorly and tends to burn the surface of the wood.

    Click here to read our guide on how to choose your router bits.

Futhur watch: How to Choose and Use a Router | Ask This Old House