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What is a Wood Router?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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A wood router is a high-speed wood working power tool — either hand held or bench mounted — used to cut or rout straight or decorative profile grooves and moldings into the face or edges of timber. It is available in fixed spindle, plunge, and combination versions. The wood router uses a variety of cutting bits of different sizes and profiles and may be used to machine most types or grades of wood in addition to other materials. It may feature variable speed controls or soft start systems which allow better control at extremely high speeds.

The router is an electrical power tool that is typically hand operated or bolted onto a work bench for static use. It uses, profiled, high speed cutting bits to produce U, V, and square slots, dovetail joints, and numerous different decorative edges on timber used for furniture and cabinet construction. The wood router generally features working speeds of 8,000 to 30,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) to cleanly cut timber without gouging or chipping. The router may be advanced by hand to complete the cut or clamped onto a bench where the timber itself is moved over the tool.

The two basic types of wood router available are the fixed spindle and plunger variants, each of which feature specific benefits. Fixed spindle routers have a set cut depth that can not be adjusted. These types are best suited for routing jobs along the edges of timber and for applications that require high levels of accuracy in the depth of the cut. They are also the only type of wood router which can be table or bench mounted. The fixed depth wood router is the best choice for general purpose applications and the most common type for do-it-yourself (DIY) enthusiasts.

Plunge routers have adjustable spindles which allow the user to change the cutting depth. These variants are particularly well suited to deep-cut applications where a gradual increase in the cut depth makes for a cleaner rout and less wear on the bit. They are also useful for jobs where the cut starts in the middle of the timber. In these instances, the plunge feature allows the bit to be lowered into the wood while keeping the router base flat on the surface. This gives more control over the machine and produces an accurate, clean rout. Routers may also be bought as combination units supplied with both fixed and plunge bases allowing for additional flexibility.

Wood router bits are available in a large variety of profiles suitable for slot cutting and edge molding jobs. Bits designed for edge profiling are typically fitted with a steel or nylon bearing or wheel on their tips which acts as a guide while the bit advances along the edge of the timber. When cutting slots or grooves in the face of a piece of timber, it is common practice to use a clamp-on guide to ensure straight, accurate cuts.

Wood routers often feature variable speed controls to suit all materials and cut depths. Soft start functions are also common features on the larger routers and allow for a gradual build up of speed when the machine is started. This gives the operator better control of the considerable start-up torque generated by the tool. Routers may be used on a variety of timber types, plastics and, in specialist applications, certain non-ferrous metals. Due to the very high operational speeds involved, wood routers generate a considerable amount of noise and dust; operators should always use ear and eye protection during use.

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