Written By Jon Langston
Published May. 1, 2020

Handheld routers give users the freedom to create curves and grooves in wood and to smooth out rough edges. Back in the early 1900s, a man named Oscar Onsrud set out to invent a machine that could power the front light on a locomotive by using the steam from its engine. However, the rail company did not give Onsrud the contract for his invention. It could, however, be repurposed to use compressed air to spin a drill bit.

This created a handheld mill capable of cutting grooves into wood. (The fact is, the router gets its very name from Oscar Onsrud, who called his tool the “Onsruter.”) There are currently a wide variety of routers that fit specific needs. Most provide the same basic features, like motor housings to keep dust away, variable motor speeds, and soft-start technology.

Choosing between routers comes down to the details, like how much horsepower it provides, how much it weighs, and a warranty that gives you the most peace for your buck. Check out some of the best wood routers available in our guide below.

The Best Wood Routers

 

For the best all-around handheld router, our pick is the DeWalt Router DWP611. There are other routers that offer more horsepower and higher RPMs than the DWP611’s 1.25HP, 7A motor. Nevertheless, the DeWalt DWP611 is capable of delivering speeds ranging from 16,000 to 27,000RPM.

It allows the operator to set the speed they want to fit the needs of the project. Like most handheld routers, it features a soft-start that allows the device to build up speed for better control as you begin, before holding a constant set speed—like releasing the clutch slowly rather than dumping it.

The key feature that makes this model our best pick is that it comes equipped with dual LED lights and a clear plastic base that allows the operator to see the bit clearly during use. The DWP611 weighs a little over four pounds and the plunge base comes with a fine-tune adjustment rod to offer a precise depth setting. The DeWalt DWP611 comes with a three-year limited warranty.

Key Features
  • 1.25 HP with a 7A motor
  • 16,000-27,000 RPM
  • Dual LED lights
  • Three-year limited warranty
Specification
  • Brand Dewalt
  • Model DWP611
  • Weight 3.9 pounds
PROS

You can set the speed you need

Clear plastic base to see the bit

Precise depth setting

CONS

Large and hard to hold comfortably

Power button is stiff

Bits can loosen in the collet

If you need a handheld router that won’t flare up your carpal tunnel syndrome, check out the Makita RT0701C. Weighing in at less than four pounds, the RT0701C offers a 1.25HP, 6.5A motor.

This featherweight router can still pack a punch with variable speeds ranging from 10,000 to 30,000RPM. It features a flat-top design with shaft-lock for quick and easy bit changes. Even better, it includes a high-visibility, removable base for added convenience. Because of its light weight overall, the Makita RT0701C offers a more ergonomic design for operators of different hand sizes.

The RT0701C is designed with a soft-start motor to offer the operator a smoother transition when starting a cut. Makita offers a one-year warranty with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.

 

Key Features
  • 1.25 HP with a 6.5A motor
  • 10,000-30,000 RPM
  • Flat-top design with a shaft lock
  • Soft start motor
Specification
  • Brand Makita
  • Model RT0701C
  • Weight 3.9 pounds
PROS

Quick and easy bit changes

Ergonomic design

Smooth transitions when cutting

CONS

Must purchase edge guide separately

Hard to hold a depth setting while pressing down the clamp 

Thumb screws on the locks and adjusters are plastic

If you want a handheld router with power, we recommend the Bosch 1617EVS. It gives the operator control of a 2.25HP, 12A motor capable of producing a range of 8,000 to 25,000 RPM speeds that can be controlled through a variable speed dial for better precision.

With more horsepower comes more weight, as the Bosch tips the scales at 11.25 pounds. But it’s a more sturdy feel while working. Bosch fitted the 1617EVS with wooden handles to make operating this handheld router as comfortable as possible.

It comes equipped with a chip shield, mounting hardware, both a 1/4- and 1/2-inch self-releasing collet, and a fixed base. It also has a drop-forged and above-table height-adjustment wrench. The Bosch offers a one-year limited warranty, one-year service protection plan, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Key Features
  • 2.25 HP with a 12A motor
  • 8,000-25,000 RPM
  • Wooden handles for comfort
  • One-year warranty
Specification
  • Brand Bosch
  • Model 1617EVS
  • Weight 9.9 pounds
PROS

Variable speed dial for more precision

Sturdy

Very powerful

CONS

Power switch can fail prematurely

Base plate is black and not see through

Takes two wrenches to change the bit

The Metabo HPT M12VC router is a great tool for shaping your next woodworking project. It has an 11-amp motor with 2-1/4 peak horsepower and is designed for chamfering; cutting, trimming, and shaping patterns; fine groove cutting; and window cutting. This router makes controlled and precise cuts and has a two-stage motor release clamp, which allows you to quickly make simple and accurate depth adjustments and base changes.

It also features electronic speed control to maintain RPM regardless of the load. We like that it produces only 79.5dB of noise and features an ergonomic design, which makes it more comfortable to use. Plus, it will not bog down in 3/4-inch hardwoods. Users also like the fact that it’s easy to operate.

However, the stock collet isn’t the best if you do a high volume of work. It doesn’t have a light, and the location of the power switch isn’t the best. The on/off switch is on the top of the tool instead of on the handle, which is a little awkward.

Key Features
  • 2-1/4 HP with a 11-amp motor
  • Two-stage motor release clamp
  • Electronic speed control
  • 79.5dB noise level
Specification
  • Brand Metabo
  • Model M12VC
  • Weight 10.28 pounds
PROS

Makes controlled, precise cuts

Quieter than some rival brands

Ergonomic design

CONS

Stock collet not great for high-volume jobs

No light

On/off switch is in an awkward location

If you’re looking for your first handheld router, consider the M18 FUEL Compact Router by Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation. This trim router weighs just under 5 pounds and has a variable speed range of 10,000 to 31,000 RPM, which will give you precise control for clean edges.

This cordless compact router has a 1.25 HP brushless motor and is powered by a REDLITHIUM XC5.0 battery. It can cut up to 250 feet of 3/8-inch roundovers in red oak and has a micro-adjust dial and macro-adjust button with a 1.5-inch adjustable range. It also features dual-LED lights and is compatible with a plunge base and offset base, but you must purchase those items separately.

Key Features
  • 1.25 HP
  • Variable speed range 10,000 to 31,000 RPM
  • Cordless
  • Dual-LED lights
Specification
  • Brand Milwaukee
  • Model 2723-20
  • Weight 4.9 pounds
PROS

Produces nice fit and finish

Easy to operate and adjust

Secure bit hold

CONS

Not a lot of power

Dust collector accessory can easily break off

When battery dies, you need to wait for a recharge

Best Wood Router Buying Guide

Wood routers are necessary for expert woodworkers, but they’re also great for beginners. They’re very versatile machines that can perform a variety of carpentry-related tasks. But you shouldn’t just buy the cheapest one you find or the first one you see on the shelf at your local home improvement store.

In our buying guide below, we discuss the reasons why you should invest in a wood router and provide details about the types of routers available. We explain the differences and pros and cons between various routers as well as the features you should consider before buying one. We also provide some tips and answer some frequently-asked questions about the tool.

Why You Need a Wood Router

There are many reasons why you should purchase a wood router. First, they’re great for cutting clean and smooth edges. This can be hard to do if you don’t have a router, especially on a narrow piece of wood. With a high-quality router, you can create level cuts on both straight and curved edges and replicate the edge on more than one piece of wood.

You can also use a router to make decorative molding. There are a variety of bits you can use to make stylish patterns for chair rails, baseboards, doors, windows, and more. A router is also helpful if you want to make dadoes, which are slots or trenches that support shelves in cabinets or bookcases.

A router also enables you to carve rabbets, which are the recesses or grooves that you see on the sides of bookcases or on the back edges of cabinets. Door and casement window jambs also incorporate rabbets. The tool is also great for recreating patterns and designs on multiple pieces of wood and for making intricate designs.

  • Make clean, smooth cuts on both straight and curved edges
  • Make decorative molding
  • Make dadoes for shelves
  • Carve rabbets for cabinets and bookcases
  • Recreate patterns on multiple pieces of wood

What Is a Wood Router And How To Use It?

As we noted above, a wood router does more than just cut ornate edges. It can cut dadoes and rabbets and create intricate patterns in a piece of wood. It’s designed to hollow out wood and other materials, even if they’re relatively hard. Wood routers are ideal for woodworking projects, carpentry, and especially cabinetry.

Traditional wood routers were hand tools with broad bases and narrow blades. Fortunately, woodworkers today have access to powered wood routers with electric motors, which makes it easier to rout an area on a piece of wood. You can make cabinets, picture frames, desks, and much more using a wood router.

Types of Wood Routers

There are two types of wood routers: fixed routers and plunge routers. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the type of router you choose to purchase should be dictated by the type of woodworking you plan on doing. One is better for edge work, while the other is more versatile when it comes to the type of jobs it can perform.

Plunge

With a plunge base router, you preset the cut depth and then plunge the bit into the cut. The router’s base stays flat on the surface area. Plunge base routers are great for DIY jobs because they have a lot of options (such as making shallow indentations), and you can lock the tool so it performs similarly to a fixed base router.

Plunge base routers are designed for work that involves the top of the board, such as dadoes, fluting, grooves, insets, mortices, rebates, and so on. You can also use them for edge work, such as profiling edges.

Fixed

On a fixed base router, the router bit’s position is constant. For example, if you set the cutting depth at 1/4 inch, the bit protrudes from the base at that depth until you change it. Fixed base routers are ideal for edge work, so if that’s all you plan on doing, then it will get the job done.

This type of router is better if you need a consistent depth while making a border. They are typically more accurate than a plunge router and make extremely precise cuts. In general, fixed base routers can not be fitted with a kit to turn them temporarily into plunge base tools, so they are not as versatile.

What is the difference between a trim router and a plunge router?

Each type of router has its own benefits when you’re woodworking. A trim router is smaller and has less horsepower than a regular router. It’s designed for lightweight tasks, such as trimming the edges of countertops and cutting materials such as laminate and veneer.

Plunge routers are much larger and produce much more power. The motor and bit are mounted on the base plate, so you can make controlled cuts in the middle of the surface area. To make the cuts even on the bottom of the wood, you can set the depth adjustment on a plunge router.

Which is better: a fixed or plunge router?

Many woodworkers eventually invest in several routers, but you may only be able to afford one.  A fixed router is a step above a trim router but not as versatile as a plunge router. With a fixed router you can carry out many of the same tasks as a trim or plunge router; however, you won’t have as much control when you’re cutting. It is simply more difficult to handle a fixed router versus a plunge router even though you can adjust the depth on both of them.

Plunge routers allow you to adjust the depth while you’re cutting, and you can cut in the middle of the material. They’re also more versatile and are great for making projects such as wooden signs. However, they tend to be more expensive than fixed routers, and it can be challenging to mount on a table base.

Fixed routers are more accurate because the bit doesn’t move when you set it in place. It’s also easier to maneuver and not as difficult to mount on a table base. This type of router is ideal for joinery, but it’s not very versatile and is not designed to cut material from the top.

What to Consider When Buying a Wood Router

As you know by now, not all wood routers are the same, and they all have different features. It’s important to consider things such as their size and type of motor before making a purchase. Also, check to see if it’s ergonomic, has a dust collection port, and whether it features precise adjustment dials.

Size

Wood routers can be small or large, depending on the brand and the purpose. For example, palm or compact routers are very small and are made to fit in the palm of your hand. They’re designed for trimming and routing little letters. They have small motors and compact bodies and are fine for light-duty projects.

If you’re only going to purchase one router, a compact router isn’t the best choice because it isn’t particularly versatile. A full-size router is much more powerful, and of course much larger, to accommodate a bigger motor. The type of project you plan to take on will dictate the size of the router you will need.

Motor

Wood routers have two types of motors: single-speed and variable speed. If you use a router with a single-speed motor, you won’t be able to control the power output. However, you get much more power output compared to a variable speed tool. A single-speed router is geared toward users who want extreme power. The downside is that precision is compromised.

A variable speed motor has its benefits. You can customize the amount of power you want the tool to exert, which allows you to be more precise on your routing projects.

Ergonomics/Ease of Use

If you’re a beginner, you may be tempted to choose a tool largely based on its performance and power. But don’t forget that some products are much more user friendly than others. The best wood routers are stocked with easy-to-use features. They also have built-in safety features, which is critical if you’re new to using that type of tool.

If you purchase the wrong type of tool, you may experience muscle tension and inflammation, which can cause health conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s why it’s important to pick a router that is ergonomic and comfortable to use.

Dust Collection Port

Some power tools, including wood routers, kick up a lot of dust. This can be very messy, not to mention not very good for your health. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose a product that comes with an integrated dust collection port.

When dust settles, it can get all over the place, including on your workbench. Even if you’re healthy and don’t have allergies or asthma, dust can also easily get into your lungs and cause some health issues. It’s a good idea to take steps to prevent dust from flying around in the air. Look for routers that have dust collection systems for better health and for an easier cleanup.

Added Features

Look for routers that allow you to change the chuck without any tools. Routers with this feature are much easier to maintain, and they take only a few seconds to adjust. If your router doesn’t have tool-free chuck changes, you need to know how to change the bits. Some require tools you may already have, while others will require a special wrench.

Another feature to look out for is precise adjustment dials. If you plan on doing very precise cuts, you want a router that is fairly adjustable. Look for routers with dials and various depth stops because they are more versatile. Other features to consider are built-in LED lights, electric brakes, and a slow start safety feature.

Tips for Buying and Using Wood Router

Budget is a big consideration when shopping for a wood router, but don’t assume that more expensive models are better quality. Some brands are very pricey but aren’t any better than some lower-priced competitors. The best thing to do is to choose a router somewhere in the middle (one that’s not too cheap or too costly).

It’s also critical to get a durable router because you may be working with some pretty hard woods. Ideally, your wood router should work for several years, so get one that’s meant to last. Better routers will also save you money because you are less likely to need to pay for repairs or a replacement unit.

As for using a wood router, there are several things you should do if you’re tackling your first project. First, make sure to properly install the router bits. Also, high-speed steel bits are cheap but not as good as carbide bits. While they cost a lot more, they’re much sharper and will last a lot longer.

  • Choose a router that’s not too cheap or too expensive.
  • Make sure the router is durable enough to last several years.
  • Buy carbide bits, which are better quality than high-speed steel bits.

Best Wood Router FAQs

Buying the perfect wood router isn’t easy because there are so many factors involved in the decision process. You may still have some questions about using the machine, such as the best speed and how torque and RPM affect your work. We answer some commonly-asked questions below.

Q: What should be the speed for wood routers?

Some routers let you adjust the RPM speed. The speed should be based on the type of wood as well as the type and size of the bit. If you go too fast or too slow, you can either consume the wood or create a worn-out cut. Some routers are single speed, while others have adjustable speed ranges.

Q: What size of wood router do I need?

Routers are generally sized based on the shank diameter, cutting diameter, and overall length. Whenever possible, choose the biggest shank diameter on the cutter. Regardless of which shank size you choose, keep the bits and metric shanks separate from the imperial ones to avoid confusion. Also, do not, for example, use a 6mm shank in a 6.5mm collet, or you may create distortion.

Q: How do torque and RPM affect routing?

The torque is the bit’s cutting force, and this relates to a router’s ability to cut various types of wood. Softwoods do not require as much torque as hardwoods. As for RPM, a machine set at 10,000 RPM will have a shaft that runs at the same speed. The bit you add to the shaft will also rotate at 10,000 RPM. However, the exterior edge of the bit will move at extremely high speeds, so if you’re using a large bit, choose a router with a low RPM range.

Q: Which way do you push a router?

A router’s bit rotates clockwise. To properly use the tool, move the router from left to right (but only if it is centered between you and the workpiece).

Q: Should you push or pull a router?

When using a router, move it against the bit’s rotation. That way, you’ll have more control when the bit cuts into the wood. If you move the router in the same direction as the rotating bit, it’s much harder to maintain control.

Q: Can you use a router on plywood?

Cutting plywood with a router can be difficult. It’s important that you use the right bit; otherwise, the plywood will chip, and the layers will rip out. Upcut and downcut bits are options. We also recommend making several shallow passes for a cleaner cut. Do a test on a scrap piece of plywood, and make sure to secure the wood down with clamps for more control.

Our Top Pick

Our top pick is the DeWalt Router DWP611. It has a variable speed control that goes from 16,000 to 27,000 RPM, so you can adjust the speed based on the type of project you’re tackling. It also has a soft start, as well as dual LED lights, and a clear plastic base for added visibility.

Final Thoughts

While we really like the DeWalt Router DWP611, we also recommend the Makita RT0701C. It’s a great router for the price and only weighs 3.9 pounds. Despite its small size, it has a variable speed range of 10,000 to 30,000 RPM. The tool is also ergonomic, has a soft-start motor, and is a great option if you want to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.

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