Please recommend a wood router for me to purchase.
March 1, 2008 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Wood router recommendations sought.

I've done a little carpentry, and even made my first mortise and tenon joints a while ago. Now, I really want to make some simple oak (or other hardwood) shelves to hang on the wall, and to put as a small platform on top of an existing wood structure. I want them to have somewhat-interesting edges. I've been thinking about buying a router for years, and now I believe it's finally time.

I don't have a router table, and believe me, I don't have any room for one. This will have to be hand-held, stored on a shelf when not in use. But I'd like to get a router table someday and maybe do some more wood working.

I want something that will let me be precise (more mortise-and-tenon joints are in my future, I think), last a long time, and be comfortable/stable to work with.

I'd be grateful for any serious recommendations of brands/models to seek or avoid.

Also - is using a router going to be really loud?

I live in Chapel Hill, NC, and haven't been too impressed with the guidance available at my local Lowe's/Home Depot.

posted by amtho to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Routers are loud, they make a high pitched noise. To give you an idea my recommendation brags an "extremely low noise" 80db plus there will be the noise of the cutter good another few db depending on what you are using. The sound is very distinctive, doesn't sound like anything else. You'll definitely want ear and eye protection.

As to recommendations the Hitachi KM 12VC hits a sweet spot between features, durability and price. It is 2 1/4 hp* so half way between the 1 3/4 that is good for hand held and the 3 1/4 that is usually used in tables. Has good variable speed range and has both 1/4 and 1/2 collets. It's not really big enough for a large raised panel or similar bit but models that are are uncomfortable and awkward to use hand held. And it's not safe to use such a large bit hand held anyways.

* The horsepower ratings on routers are wildly inflated but they are sort of comparable between brands. They are based on the amp draw of the router right before the motor blows up. If give you an idea the 220V 1.5 true hp motor on my cabinet saw is about three times as big as that found on a 2 1/4" router.
posted by Mitheral at 7:14 PM on March 1, 2008

I can't give a recommendation, because my Sears router isn't all that great -- not crummy enough to replace, but not wonderful to use either. I did discover, however, that routers are cheap; it is the bits that are expensive.

The noise, though, I can comment on. Yes, routers are loud. Eye and ear protection is mandatory. They also make a ridiculous amount of mess, too -- dust and wood chips everywhere. (In addition to safety glasses and ear plugs, I also wear a dust mask, because breathing all that stuff is not great for your lungs.) If you do this indoors, in a room with carpet and furniture and possessions, you will be cleaning up sawdust for a long time to come.
posted by Forktine at 7:53 PM on March 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the feedback. I forgot to mention that I'm considering shaping the edges of 1/2 - 3/4"-thick hardwood for my shelves. It sounds like the excellent recommendation above by Mitheral will work for this.

Also, if I might expand the question a little: I live in a condominium in Chapel Hill. Is there somewhere I could go to do this in a way that's more considerate to my neighbors? I figured, since it's essentially a grinding tool, that it would be rather loud, but it's sounding like it's a completely different universe of loud from my jig saw.

Thank you for your kind responses.
posted by amtho at 8:06 PM on March 1, 2008

I started getting into woodworking fairly recently and was in the same boat as you.
Based on some recommendations I'd read I picked up a Porter Cable 7310 laminate trimmer.
It's a little hand held router, but it works great for nearly anything you'd want a router for, unless you need something you can plunge.
With a cheap fence it'd work great for rounding the edges on your shelves.
Highly recommended, pretty cheap...still loud though.
posted by dan g. at 8:58 PM on March 1, 2008

amtho writes "I live in a condominium in Chapel Hill. Is there somewhere I could go to do this in a way that's more considerate to my neighbors?"

If by condo you mean apartment then I'd just wait until maintenance is cutting the lawn and do it in the parking lot. If you mean town house I'd do it inside when they are cutting the grass assuming you have an appropriate room. Routers use a planer cutting action so with hardwoods you get mostly chippy waste rather than fine sawdust.

One thing about your proposed router use is it doesn't take much time. Maybe 10 seconds a linear foot if you are really taking your time. 20 minutes of noise will more than do all the edging on several shelving units.

A laminate trimmer is good if you don't need much more than a 3/8ths inch bit (the diameter of the cutter not the shank). Go bigger than that (say a 1/2" ogee or chamfer) and the laminate trimmer spins too fast. And a 3/4" bit is about the maximum because the opening in the base won't accommodate anything larger. And you can't use it in a table.
posted by Mitheral at 10:48 PM on March 1, 2008

I bought this kit and am quite happy with it. If you don't need to plunge, you can save some money. My only quibble with my Porter Cable is that the off switch is never in an easy-to-reach spot. This is probably just a feature of routers with this kind of base, but I hate lifting the router from the work piece while its doing 22,000 rpm so I can move my hands around to find to off switch. It's like a gyroscope with knife at the end. I am new to routing stuff, and have only used that tool a few dozen times. It's quite intimidating. It's the power tool I am most respectful of.

It is loud as hell while it's cutting. Way louder than a gas trimmer.

As others have stated, the shavings from a router are razor sharp; getting one in your eye could be life-changing. Wear full goggles. Eyeglasses are not sufficient. It makes huge piles of shavings. You must do this in a place that's easy to clean. I wish I had a table with some kind of vacuum system.

I started off buying cheapo 1/4 inch bits, but they make stuff harder to cut, and I actually had one snap on me. (I might have been asking too much of the bit). Now I mostly use 1/2" Whiteside bits. I've bought several at

I strongly suggest that you do some reading before you start routing. There are some tricks to routing that will save you time and money. Especially on how to start and finish cuts on a board, like you're doing, to avoid chipping, burn marks, etc. I would poke around on the internet some, maybe linger in Barnes & Noble reading some of the router books.

You need to start thinking about what you're going to use for a fence when trimming your boards. You cannot freehand a router and make straight cuts, it is impossible. It's not like using a saw, where you can follow a line easily, and use the blade riding the kerf to keep you straight. Be sure to have enough extra wood (of the same hardness and thickness) that you can make some practice passes.
posted by popechunk at 5:37 AM on March 2, 2008

I own the Triton 2.25 HP model and I am extremely happy with it. It is a plunge router but can easily be attached to a table and offers above-table bit changes.

Regarding where to go - I know that in Chicago there are city owned wood shops that offer instruction and a full set of tools (they are under the umbrella of the parks district). You might want to check for something similar or any inexpensive college run programs.

One comment to - You cannot freehand a router and make straight cuts, it is impossible - this is totally true except when you are using an edge guided bit. If you want to put a profile on the top of the shelf but leave the bottom square you can get a guided bit that rides down the shelf.
posted by true at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2008

Guidance: there may be a Woodcraft store near you. Woodcraft stores generally offer classes in tool use and technique; I've never attended any, so I can't speak to their effectiveness.

The Rockler store near you looks like it might be too far away.
posted by notyou at 8:19 AM on March 2, 2008

The Triton page had a link to this article from Fine Woodworking, which has some nice observations (of course the Triton won :-).
posted by oats at 1:18 PM on March 2, 2008

I have two routers - one is a Craftsman router that my dad gave me in 1991 - total cheap-o router, but as God is my witness, I was able to make repeatable depth changes to 1/128 of an inch. He gave me a plunge attachment for it so I decided to get a second router just for plunge. Sears changed models and the replacement not only did not fit the plunge attachment, it was impossible to use safely due to a serious flaw in the depth setting design. I returned it. Regrettably, the motor fan disintegrated. At some point I should order a replacement fan before Sears disintegrates as well.

I have a basic DeWalt router which works well enough. It has collets for both 1/2" and 1/4" bits which has been very nice since there are a number of bits that I wanted to use that only came in 1/2". I don't love it, but I don't hate it either.
posted by plinth at 6:01 PM on March 2, 2008

this is totally true except when you are using an edge guided bit. If you want to put a profile on the top of the shelf but leave the bottom square you can get a guided bit that rides down the shelf.

This is kinda true, but you are basically tracing the outline of the edge of your board onto the new cut. So you need to make the edge that you're going to roll the bearing along perfectly hard, flat and straight. So make sure to set up a fence and route it straight and flat with a straight bit.
posted by popechunk at 6:17 PM on March 2, 2008

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