Wood routers, to the amateur eye, really don’t seem like all that complex of a tool. Really they aren’t either, at its core a wood router is simply a motor attached to a shaft, the rest is really just stuff to make things a little bit easier to work with.
The real beauty of using a wood router comes in knowledge of the bits, so we’re here to break things down for you and help you decide what types of bits you want to use. First, let’s take a look at some of the basics.
Router bits come in a huge variety of types, and they can be a bit hard to distinguish between to the untrained eye.
The first thing on your plate is to figure out what size the collet in your router is. Most routers will come with a few extra collets and have some additional options as well, but if you can’t fit the shank of the bit into your wood router you’re basically out of luck when it comes to choosing a bit.
The most common shank sizes are ¼” and ½” so keep that in mind as well, if you need a wide selection of bits for that cabinet-making project you’ve been dreaming about it’ll be a lot easier to acquire everything in one of these sizes.
The second thing that you’ll need to look at is the material composition of the bits. While there’s plenty of discount bits available on the market, what you’re really looking for is quality. A cheap bit might make only be able to make a few passes before it dulls or deforms, both of which are catastrophic for your woodworking.
A dull bit has a tendency to chip at the wood it’s run through, leading to sloppy cuts. If you’re particularly unlucky a dull bit can rip huge chunks out of your project. It’s important to check the sharpness of the bit before each use, especially if the bits you’re using are of questionable quality.
Deformed bits are rarer, but much worse. They’ll completely mess up the line you were aiming for, and can result in a lot of wasted time and wood if you’re not careful. Most deformations are pretty easy to see, so just give your bits a look-over before you use them.
The best router bits are made with carbide edges. The hardness of these will keep them sharp for an extended period of time, and the edges will be resistant to deformation under any but the heaviest use.
Other bits are made of high-speed steel. These are quite a bit cheaper, and still not venturing into dangerously low-quality, but keep a closer eye on these bits since they can end up damaged easier than carbide.
Types of Bits
There’s an absolutely amazing variety of bits available, and it can be quite confusing to the novice carpenter. Let’s take a look at some of the most common bit types and discuss their uses.
- Straight Bits- These are probably the most common bits. They’ll make a straight line through the piece of wood you’re cutting. They’re primarily used for joinery or to hollow out an area to prepare it for inlay. Every carpenter should have a variety of sizes of these useful bits in their tool box. They really do form the whole basis of the usefulness of your router.
- Rabbeting Bits- Rabbeting bits are used to create a “shoulder” in a piece of wood. Essentially you’ll be lowering the outside edge of the wood, so that you can lay something into it. These are another essential bit for any kind of serious woodworking.
- Flush Trim Bits- Not to be confused with a straight bit. These bits will be the width of the shank, and are used to trace out the edges of paneled pieces. They’re essential for those who are constructing anything that involves paneling, since you’ll be able to clean up any nasty edges with an amazing amount of ease.
- Chamfer Bits- These useful bits are used to create an angled bevel on the edge of a workpiece. They’re essential for the cabinet maker, and a great boon to nearly anyone else who wants to get into woodworking. They create a simple, angled edge on the piece of wood and are available in a wide variety of sizes and angles so you can find one to suit your project pretty easily.
- Edge Forming Bits- These are used to create a wide variety of different stylized edges. Whatever your tastes, you should be able to find one which can perfectly compliment the aesthetic of the piece you’re building.
- Specialty Bits- These really aren’t for amateurs, but for the experienced woodworker there’s a number of bits which do all sorts of odd things. Some of the coolest ones will allow you to finish the edge of a cabinet perfectly on both sides with a single pass. They’re rather expensive, however, and care must be taken to select the one you need.
The Right Bit for the Right Job
Despite their simplicity of design, a wood router is the essential tool for the home workshop. Ranking in usefulness only slightly behind a table saw, they can do pretty much anything you’ll need done to wood except for the cutting.
The only real limit to their versatility is the bit choices of the user. In your mind you can easily split router bits into three different categories to determine whether you want them around the home.
The first, and most straightforward, is the utility bits. These are the straight bits, rabbeting bits, and flush trim bits mentioned above. For most straightforward projects, you should be able to do everything with just these three types of bits.
Use straight bits in order to hollow out areas or create a line of specific depth. This really is the number one function of a router, and even just a box of straight bits will quickly impress most carpenters.
Rabbeting bits are also of high importance. Being able to step wood down with a ninety degree angle is arguably one of the most important capabilities you’ll find. The utilitarian use of these bits is pretty impressive, think about how nice it is to be able to shave a perfect shoulder into a piece of wood with a single pass of a tool.
Flush trim bits are also simply useful. While you won’t find much use for them when it comes to making furniture, a lot of light woodworking projects involve paneling. A flush trim bit will quickly and easily allow you to cut the paneling to match the frame exactly, making for the perfect project nearly every time.
For the final dressing of the surface of a piece, these bits are fantastic. Of the above listed bit types, both the chamfer bit and edge-forming bits would fit into this category.
For those with an artistic bent, and not just a utilitarian one, there’s a wide variety of amazing bits available to do up the edges of your piece in whatever style you might desire. Chamfer bits come to mind immediately, they’re able to rapidly produce a stylish bevel in a variety of angles and sizes.
The real wonder of aesthetics that can be accomplished with a router comes from the wide variety of edge forming bits. There’s one to suit the needs of everyone, and you can produce surprisingly complex edging with them.
If you have any decent woodwork in your home that isn’t antique, take a look at it for a moment. Whether you’re trying to round edges or want to produce something with a complex inward bend, or even beading, there’s a bit available somewhere that will allow you to do exactly what you want.
These bits tend not to have the pragmatic uses of the utility bits, but simple utility certainly isn’t everything and if you’re looking to produce beautiful pieces you should take a close look at the wide variety of these available.
We’ll only briefly touch on these. Frankly, if you’re of the experience level to be using these regularly you probably already know what you need in this arena.
Specialized bits are made for one specific task and are generally used in cabinet making or other highly focused arts. The options available can include a whole different variety of things, from being able to do multiple edges at once or cut dovetails.
One thing to keep in mind here is that these bits are generally only suited for use with a router table.
We hope that we’ve been able to take some of the mystique of selecting the right router bits for what you need out of the whole affair. These versatile tools might be a bit hard to understand at first, but once you become familiar with bit sizes your imagination will begin to light up with the possibilities lying in front of you.
Take your woodworking to the next level. Find the bits you need, find them in high quality materials, and get started on the projects you’ve only dreamt of thus far.