If you’re planning to grow your prowess in the woodworking shop, then it only makes sense that you familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade. This includes wood routers, which are one of the mainstay power tools in any woodworker’s arsenal.
However, not all wood routers are designed alike. Indeed, there are several different types of wood routers on the market today, all of which you should know about.
This guide is designed to get you up to speed on that front. Herein, we’ve outlined four of the most common wood router types that you may encounter in a shop or that you may consider investing in for your own tool chest.
This guide will also dig into the idea of which router type is “best” based upon the kind of woodworking tasks you regularly engage with.
4 Types of Wood Routers
Let’s go through each type in detail first.
Fixed-base wood routers are among the most common and most capable, as far as consumer-grade woodworking tools are concerned. In terms of specifications, a fixed wood router tends to provide a 1 to 3.5 horsepower motor as well as a 1/4- or 1/2-inch collet.
In terms of form factor, they are often on the more compact size, making them fairly easy to operate by hand. This tight form factor also makes them a preferred option for mounting into a wood router table.
When it comes to their actual uses, DIYers and professionals alike will find plenty of reasons to keep their fixed-base wood router close at hand. That’s because these routers are ideal for all kinds of shaping jobs, as well as a variety of edging jobs.
With a bit of practice, these routers can also eliminate the need to whip out the sandpaper after completing a cut. That’s because these tools can effectively smooth sharp edges.
As noted, the fixed-base wood router is also considered one of the most accessible. In terms of prices, they tend to be the cheapest. As such, they are often the first kind of wood router a new craftsman invests in.
Plunge routers are the next step up when it comes to routing. This is primarily because they offer the ability to perform far more jobs than their fixed-base counterpart.
To that end, a skilled craftsman can utilize their plunge router to create deep, through cuts in a matter of minutes. Plunge routers are also able to perform a variety of detailed cabinetry cuts, thus putting the perfect dovetail, groove, dado, or mortise within reach. Even engraving is possible with a plunge router.
As for their specifications, plunge routers tend to utilize the same core elements as their fixed counterparts. This is certainly true when it comes to their motor power. However, plunge routers differ noticeably when it comes to cutting depth, which is fully adjustable on a plunge unit.
Plunge routers are often more durably built, too, which is a worthwhile tradeoff given that they are often heavier.
You might have guessed it from its name, but a combo wood router is designed to be the best of both its fixed-base and plunge counterparts. As a result, you can count on a combo wood router to perform the tasks of both the fixed and plunge router without needing to maintain space for both in your workshop.
For this reason, a combo wood router is considered the wisest option if you are looking to maximize the versatility of your routing capabilities. Along the same lines, a combo router is often viewed as a cost-efficient option for woodworkers of all skill levels.
Naturally, a combo wood router costs more than either a fixed or plunge router alone. But it still costs less than both combined, so you’re effectively getting a bargain. Many add-ons for standard routers work with these units, too, so you won’t need to invest in new components when upgrading to a combo router.
Compact (Palm) Router
Compact wood routers (also called “palm wood routers” in some circles) are sometimes grouped into the other categories listed above. However, they stand out because they are, by far, the easiest handheld wood routers to operate.
Their diminished size and weight allow them to be manipulated with ease, making them ideal for performing complex or detailed routing tasks (particularly those needed for cabinetry).
Of course, there are some tradeoffs when it comes to using a compact router. As you might expect, these units are often a bit weaker in terms of core horsepower. They also may feature a different sized collet, depending on the brand and model.
Most of these sacrifices are worth it though when you consider the overall portability of a compact wood router.
Which Type of Wood Router Is the Best?
Many woodworkers search and search to find the best possible wood router. However, such a search may not be productive because each different router type is better suited to different kinds of tasks.
For example, a fixed-base wood router is a great choice to add to your shop if you intend to make a routing table down the line. By comparison, a plunge wood router might be a great addition if you prefer to take your router in hand and make detailed cabinetry cuts.
Of course, if you want the best of both worlds, there’s no reason to not opt for a combo wood router. They may cost a little extra, but that’s an investment worth making for versatility.
Meanwhile, if you prize portability and usability, then a compact wood router would be best. Many modern models offer great specs, too, so you won’t have to sacrifice much power to make one of these your go-to router.
As you’ve now seen, there are four primary wood router types that you should know and familiarize yourself with.
While this guide is a great starting point in that process, you should next plan to try out each of these wood router types on your own. From there, you’ll certainly be able to choose which type will best help you accomplish all of your future wood routing jobs with precision.
Once you pick your favorite one, make sure to also check our guide on using wood routers.