Reviews can compare
woodworking routers based on important factors, but it's still important
to see how a router feels in your own hands. If at all possible, test
drive a router before buying it, or make sure the retailer offers a full
refund on returns.
able to test or return a router is important because quality control
seems to be a problem in general. Router expert Pat Spielman says that "
two routers of the same brand and model may perform quite differently," and
user reviews certainly confirm this. Be sure to check all aspects of
your router as soon as you buy it, using a top-quality bit. Don't wait
until the last minute to buy a router you need for a project. Give yourself
time to check it out and if necessary, keep exchanging routers till
you get one that works as it should.
reviews recommend considering the following features when selecting
a wood router:
- Look for power that matches your
low-torque routers make the smoothest cuts that need the least
sanding, but they're not designed for heavy-duty or continuous
use. Mid-sized 1.5- to 2.5-hp routers may be able to make deep
cuts in hardwoods, but only by straining the motor and shortening
the router's life. Larger routers of 3 hp and up are better suited
for heavy jobs and production work. For most jobs, though, mid-sized
routers have plenty of power, and for small jobs, a lightweight
trimmer is apt to be easiest to use.
- Soft-start EVS motors are safer and easier
to use. These eliminate the wrist-wrenching jar when the router
is first started, which experts say can twist a handheld router
right out of your hands. Routers with soft-start motors use EVS (electronic
variable speed) technology, with electronic feedback to keep
the cutting speed constant even when the load varies.
- Variable speed allows
you to run the router at a lower speed when using especially
large bits. The speed dial has numbers to indicate the relative speed. It's
ideal to be able to read the corresponding rpm from a chart right on
the router; second best is a chart in the router's manual.
- A flat top on the housing
makes it easier to set the router upside down for bit changes. Self-releasing
collets (which grip the bit) and spindle locks also make it easier,
so only one wrench is needed for bit changes (though some woodworkers
prefer the two-wrench system).
- Two-stage depth adjustment makes
fine adjustments easier. This means that a fast coarse adjustment
is supplemented by a micro-adjustment. Look for an easy-to-read scale.
The best routers have scales you can "zero out," setting the
scale to zero when the bit's point touches the surface of the workpiece.
Be sure you can also adjust the depth easily when the router is mounted
in a table -- a long depth-control knob makes this easy.
- Look for a large
hole in the base to accommodate medium to large bits. Expert reviews
prefer a 4-inch hole (except on trim routers), with 3 inches as the
minimum. If this is the only problem with a router you like otherwise,
several reviews recommend making your own base out of clear Lexan, with
whatever size hole you need. For some projects, especially on the edge
of a workpiece, a base with a large hole may not leave enough support.
- Be sure you can
keep good control. Choose handles that give you good control, and
make sure you can reach the switch without letting go of the handles.
Reviews like a trigger switch in a D-handle, with a safety switch to
prevent accidental turn-ons, plus a lock-on switch to prevent trigger-finger
fatigue. For a router you'll also use table-mounted, a second switch
mounted on the motor itself is ideal.
- Be sure the base is machined precisely,
lets you see the work well and has good mounting
lights are a plus. More important is a base that's truly flat, with
the circular edge at the same distance from the bit at all points, so
the bit is precisely centered. So many accessories mount to the router's
base that it's important to have plenty of sturdy threaded holes.
- Look for high-quality
self-releasing collets made of tempered steel. Longer collets with
more slits will grip the bit better and keep it centered even if its
shank isn't precisely machined. (If the router vibrates excessively,
this is often a sign of a worn or poor-quality collet or bit.)
- Two separate
collets are better than one with an adapter. Most
mid-sized and larger routers come with both a half-inch collet
and a quarter-inch one, but a few just include an adapter for the quarter-inch
bits. Expert reviews say this solution isn't as precise or secure.
Some small routers only take quarter-inch collets.
- Guide bushings are essential
accessories. These are metal sleeves that lock into the base of
a router for cutting with a pattern or using various jigs. It's an advantage
to choose a router that accepts industry-standard Porter-Cable bushings
or at least offers an adapter that makes this possible. However, the
Bosch system makes changing guides faster.
you buy a router and check its build and performance, experts say these
factors are important:
- Use high quality bits for safety
and performance. Poor-quality bits can not only produce poor-quality work, but may
bend, chip or break. Pat Spielman's "The New Router Handbook" (see
Best Research) has an excellent section on how to examine and test
a bit; he also recommends buying anti-kickback bits. For bits that
are available with either half-inch or quarter-inch shanks, half-inch
bits are recommended because they vibrate less and produce less runout.
sure to use hearing and eye protection. Even
using top-quality bits, a chip could damage your eyes. Woodchips
and sawdust can get in your eyes, too. Ear protection is also a must,
since even the quietest routers are still noisy enough to damage
- Maintenance is important. This should be obvious, but some
of the owner-written reviews that say a router worked well at first,
then started sticking or slipping or stopped working, may possibly
be due to a lack of maintenance. Various parts of the router need regular
cleaning and/or lubrication. If this is neglected, you can't expect
the router to keep performing well. Pat Spielman's "The New Router
Handbook" has a fairly long list of router maintenance tasks.