Home Improvement Woodworking

Tool School: Routers 101

It’s a new month (and a new year – happy New year, everyone!), which means that it’s time for January’s tool school (if you’re new here, I host a Tool School on the first Tuesday of each month)! Be forgiving with me… holiday season made planning a Tool School for right after the holidays a bit rough. But, all good because today I’m tackling a tool that has been requested by so many people – routers 101! Even more fun, I’m partnering up with my friend Shara from Woodshop Diaries to demo different uses for the router on Instagram (so, be sure to check it out & follow me there)!

This post may contain affiliate links. For my full disclosure policy, click here.

Introduction to Routers 101

Image Via Bob Vila

As always, I’ll be covering some of the basics of router use in this post. However. definitely make sure to check out Shara’s Basic Guide to Using a Router on her website as well because it’s jam packed with more tips and tricks for using a router in your workshop!

Let’s get started!

1. What Is A Router?

In the simplest terms possible, a router is power tool that uses a spinning bit to hollow out (or, “routes”) your material. The bit you use will depend on what job you are looking to complete and we will cover that in a bit! A router is most often used to create decorative grooves in a work material, but can also be used to create openings for inlaying other materials.

Because routers have an exposed bit, it’s super important to follow any and all safety protocols when using one and these will be outlined in detail in the manual for your specific tool. You may also want to practice using your router on smaller projects before jumping into larger use.

2. What Are The Different Types Of Routers?

Before we jump into using a router, let’s tackle the different types of routers that are on the market. 

Plunge Router vs. Fixed Base Router

Image Via Bob Vila

Routers have either a fixed base or a plunge base. There are also a few models that allow you to swap between the two.

Plunge routers have a base that literally “plunges” the bit into the work piece by being able to move up and down. This is typically done with two handles that can be moved downward while the router bit is in motion. Plunge routers are often used for inlay work or to cut grooves within the center of a piece.

Fixed based routers do not have a base that moves vertically. Instead, the base is legitimately just “fixed” to the router. Often times, you will find a fixed based on a trim router or a palm router, which is a smaller, more compact router. These routers are frequently used for trim work, which is why you don’t need a base. Fixed base routers are meant to ride around the outside perimeter of a piece (although there are some times in which they could be safely used to cut shapes with jigs and I’m showing you how in my stories – just click “Router 101” in my highlights).

Handheld Router vs. Router Table

A handheld router is a router that you use freely by hand. While a router table is a table that your router can be affixed to for more intricate work. I won’t be covering how to use a router table in this Tool School, but you can check out this video from WOOD Magazine about how to use one, if you are interested!

3. What Are The Different Types Of Router Bits?

Routers come with ¼” or ½” collet, which dictates the size of the bit/shank it can accommodate. Either way, there are various different types of bits that you can use for different jobs. Here is an awesome guide to 30 of the most popular router bits and what they are used for.

4. Does Cut Direction Matter?

Yes! As a general rule, you want your cut to made in the opposite direction that the blade is spinning. So, cuts that are made along the outer edge of a work-piece will require you to move the router in a couter-clockwise motion and cuts that are made on the inner edge will be done clockwise. Here’s a great diagram that I love that outlines this rule from ACME Tools!

5. What Are Some Safety Tips?

As always, it’s super important to follow all safety and informational protocols that come with your individual router’s manual. I am not an expert in router use, but here are some general rules of thumb that I use whenever I use my router:

1. Unplug The Router When Changing Your Bit

This is so important! Because your router bit is exposed when you are changing it, your tool must be unplugged from the wall or the battery! Do not plug your tool back in until the collet is tightened, the base is replaced, and you are 100% ready to use it.

2. Keep Your Hands Away From The Bit

Because the blade on the router bit is exposed, it’s super important to keep your hands away from the bottom of the router while it is in use. Always keep your hands firmly located on the grips on the base or on the router itself. Consult your router’s manual for information on where your hands should safely be placed when working.

3. Clamp Your Workpiece

This is a rule that goes hand-in-hand (or clamp-in-clamp) with safety tip #2. When using your router, you want your workpiece to be secure with clamps. This will help keep the piece sturdy and your hands away from the router.

4. Don’t Take Too Much Off At Once

It’s super important to be conservative with the amount of material you take off in one pass with the router. If you take off too much, the router can bind or jump, which can cause serious injury. So, if you need to make a deep cut, it’s best to do it in multiple passes!

6. What Router Should I Buy?

Image Via UpDweller

As with any tool, the type of router you buy will depend on the project you need it for! While I haven’t tried every router on the market, here are some of my personal favorites:

Corded Trim Router: Makita Fixed Base Trim Router

Cordless Trim Router: Milwaukee Cordless Palm Router

Plunge Router: DeWalt Router With Plunge Base

I hope this Routers 101 post covered enough of the basics for friends who are looking to get started with the router! If you want to save this post for later, make sure to Pin It!

In the meantime friends, see you next month for another Tool School and happy DIY’ing!

Sam Raimondi

Sam is a full time psychologist and part time content creator from Long Island, New York.

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