Routers may be one of the most popular tools in a woodworking shop. Most woodworkers have several of them, each set up in different ways. Routers can be set up in a table or used free hand. Routers come in a number of sizes and bases but I will break them down into 3 categories, Compact, 1 ½ HP and 3 HP.
Let’s take a moment and discuss base styles. There are fixed bases, plunge bases and D handle bases. Fixed bases are adjustable but are locked down before you start cutting. Plunge bases are spring loaded on 2 posts and allow the user to plunge the router down into the center of a piece with more control and accuracy. D handle bases are typically used when cutting edge profiles. They give the user great control helping prevent the router from tipping while making the cut. Some D handle bases also incorporate a dust collection feature.
Compact routers are the smallest sometimes known as trim routers. These are typically light weight 1 HP routers that are easy to use with one hand. They have a ¼ collect although some micro routers such as a Dremel will have and 1/8 collect. These are great routers for light work such as cutting hinge mortises or light edge profiles. They do not have the horsepower to make deep cuts but they are good for light work and are affordable ranging in price from $50 to $200.
The most common routers are the 1 ½ to 2 ½ hp routers. The lower hp range usually comes only with a ¼ collect. The upper end can come with the ½ collect which will allow the use of larger router bits which can take the torque of heavier cuts. These routers can also be mounted to a router table. This allows for better control by allowing the user to move the wood instead of trying to control the tool.
The last one I want to discuss is the 3hp routers. These are heavy and have a lot of torque. They are seldom used free hand but are more commonly mounted in router tables. These can take the place of a shaper in most shops. They commonly come with both ½ and ¼ inch collects although there will be a few models that will only have the ½. These routers have the hp and torque to use very large cutters, like those used for raised panels and crown molding.
When shopping for a router, I recommend starting with a combo package. These will come with a 2 ¼ hp router with both a fixed base and a plunge base. These are large enough to be mounted in a router table and yet still can be used hand-held.
Key things to look for when selecting a router; First off is to check and make sure that there is no play in it. (make sure it doesn’t wiggle in and out) This can be a real problem with the low cost imports and can be dangerous to the user as well. Also look to make sure that the base locks down with no play. If the base moves while you are using the router, it can dangerous for the user and may ruin a piece.
There are a number of accessories that are available aftermarket. The largest and probably the most important is a router table. When selecting a router table, several manufactures have packages that will include the mounting plate, fence, leg set and table top. Again, the rule of you get what you pay for applies. I started with low cost table and it worked well for me for years, but over time, the lack of fine adjustments bothered me more and more.
Let’s finish up with a quick talk about router safety. First and foremost, always wear eye and hearing protection. Router bits are a very fast moving cutter on the end of a motor. These motors have torque and when you start them they will want to twist in your hand. Manufactures have started making soft start models that come up to speed a little slower but they still have torque. Routers can also act a bit like a gyroscope and will want to twist if they are tilted. Make sure you have a good grasp of the handle or body depending up on the model. Make sure the base of the router always has good contact with the piece you are working on. When working on a router table; Never run pieces between the bit and the fence, this will launch the piece like an arrow from a bow. Lastly, if you feel uncomfortable doing something, take a break and ask for advice or help.