As any professional woodworker knows, a wood router is an invaluable tool for completing a wide variety of jobs. In fact, some carpenters would even argue that your tool kit is not complete until you have access to a reliable wood router.
Even so, some DIYers either don’t already own their own wood router or simply have forgone learning how to use their own one properly. This primer seeks to change that.
If you’re still a beginner when it comes to using a wood router, this guide will teach you the basics of this power tool as well as provide you with key insights regarding safe usage.
If you read closely, you may even walk away with a few tips and tricks for taking your basic wood routing skills to the next level.
Wood Routing: The Basics
First and foremost, let’s take a moment to understand what a wood router is and what it is used for. In essence, a wood router is a specialized power tool designed to hollow out or “rout” a piece of wood.
Usually, routing with this kind of tool follows a certain shape or pattern based upon the type of bit used. These routed pieces of wood can then be used for a wide variety of purposes, most notably joinery and cabinetry.
Though wood routing has its origins as a hand tool, nearly all woodworkers today prefer to use an electric-powered wood router. These routers come in several forms, including free-standing units and table-mounted units. Both types are capable of making a wide variety of cuts, often through a plunging motion upon activation.
Generally speaking, the type of wood router you use is not as important as the bits you use on that router. This is because a wood router’s bits hold the secret to creating vastly different cuts.
For example, there are around 10 common wood router bits that typically come standard with a new unit. If not, most professional and amateur woodworkers need at least the following bits to make most practical and decorative cuts:
- Round over
- Roman ogee
- Round Nose
How to Use a Wood Router
Using a wood router can be fairly simple, so long as you follow these steps. Also, don’t forget to follow all necessary safety instructions included with your wood router unit to prevent accidental injury.
Step 1: Gather Materials and Safety Equipment
To begin, be sure that you have all of the materials you need to successfully and safely complete your cut before starting in. Specifically, you should have the following on hand when you plan to use your wood router:
- Your chosen workpiece (wood)
- Electric wood router
- Compatible router bits
- Eye protection
- Ear protection
- Dust mask
Step 2: Secure your Work Piece
Once you have gathered all of the necessary materials, you can begin by securing your chosen workpiece to your work surface. In most cases, this can be done by clamping the workpiece at both ends to your work surface. If your workpiece is longer than average, a clamp may be placed in the middle to further secure it. However, this clamp will need to be removed as you move your router past the piece’s midpoint.
Step 3:Choose and Insert a Bit
Next, you’ll want to double-check to ensure that your wood router is not already plugged in. If it is, unplug it at this time. Then, once you know that your router cannot accidentally turn on, take out your router bits and select one that is right for your job.
Often, a set of router bits will come with a visual diagram detailing what kind of cut each bit can create. Use this to determine which is most appropriate based upon your aesthetic and practical needs.
While selecting a router bit, don’t forget that not all bits can be used for all uses.
Some router bits, such as a Roman ogee or beading bit, are primarily used for decorative purposes. As such, they cannot be used to create a channel for joinery purposes. On the other hand, some bits are explicitly designed to plunge channels used in joining workpieces. This includes the dovetail, dado, round nose, and more.
If you need help with selecting the right bits for your job, watch this video:
Step 4: Test and Adjust
Once you’ve inserted the right bit for the job at hand, you can plug the wood router back in. Then, take a moment to correctly put on all of your personal protection equipment.
With those coverings all in place, you can test out your bit’s effectiveness on a scrap piece of wood. This can help you see the shape of your cut as well as the cut’s depth. Testing your router in this manner also helps you get a feel for the amount of pressure needed to make a successful rout.
After performing your test, adjust your unit’s depth and pressure settings as necessary. You may even choose to repeat your test with a different bit and compare the results.
Step 5: Make the Cut
Once you feel confident in your settings and bit choice, you can begin to make your final cut. To do this successfully, check out some of the tips and tricks below.
The Basics of Router Safety
There are a number of important safety procedures to follow when working with a wood router. As with all forms of woodworking, you should always wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
This includes a dust mask, eye protection, and ear protection. Also, be sure to wear tight-fitting clothes to prevent snags.
While your wood router is in motion, never try to apply excessive pressure to your workpiece. Doing so can cause it to splinter, which may send wood shards in your direction.
Also, always be sure to secure your workpiece before beginning a rout. This will prevent it from vibrating during the cut which, in turn, can cause it to suddenly fall off your worktable.
Routing for Beginners: Tips & Tricks
If you’re still new to wood router usage, then you may be looking for a few tips and tricks to bring you up to speed.
First, when you start your wood router, always let it get to full speed before pressing the bit into your workpiece. Then, on the reverse end, always allow the bit to fully slow to a stop before removing it from a cut. This will prevent rough edges from occurring while also ensuring that your cut remains consistent.
While working on a longer piece of wood, always take as many passes as you need. Never try to extend beyond a safe or comfortable reach while trying to make a rout.
Also, for added comfort, always move the router against the bit’s rotation direction.
At first, learning to use a wood router can look daunting for a woodworking novice. But in time, you’ll find this tool to be fairly simple to use and exceptionally versatile in its application.
By following the safety recommendations, tips, and operational steps listed above, you’re sure to learn the ropes of safe and productive wood router usage in no time.
Soon, you’ll be able to make a wide variety of joinery and decorative wood pieces with your new favorite power tool!