Using Your Wood Router: A Brief Intro for Beginning Woodworkers

The wood router is a remarkably versatile tool—but it takes some getting used to. Ahead, learn the basics of handling this workshop staple like a veteran, and get top tips on how to use your router most effectively in common applications.

By Bob Vila | Updated Apr 7, 2021 9:55 AM

How to Use a Woodworking Router


Once you’ve grown accustomed to the wood router, the tool will fit naturally into your grasp. Initially, however, it may feel foreign indeed, quite unlike other tools you know and like. Wear ear protection, as well as safety glasses, since the tool tends to produce a considerable amount of noise.

3 Ground Rules for Using a Wood Router

Rule #1: Two-Hand the Tool

Use both hands when running your router, that’s the first rule. Which means that you must fix your workpiece securely onto a bench or other surface.

How to Use a Woodworking Router - Two Hands


Hold the router firmly until the motor reaches full speed. Keep the bit clear of the work-piece, as the rotation of the motor will make it want to spin out of your grip if it’s in contact with wood at startup.

Rule #2: Use the Rotation

When you look down at the top of the router, the motor turns in a clockwise direction. Use that to your advantage, moving from left to right on the edge facing you so that the rotation of the bit will draw the router into the cut.

For routing the perimeter of a piece, work in a counterclockwise direction; when working on an interior cut, drive the machine clockwise.

Rule #3: Listen to the Tool

The motor will “talk” as you use the tool. With some practice, you’ll learn to recognize the sound of a groan (when you are pushing too hard, it means don’t cut so much at a time) and the lonely squeal (when the blade spins at full speed with nothing to cut). There’s a set of happier sounds in between, when the router is cutting its way at a measured, even pace.



3 Top Tips for DIY Project Success

Tip #1: Start with Straight Edge

When relying upon the pilot tip on a bit to guide your cut, make sure the workpiece has a straight or regular edge. If it doesn’t, the shaped surface your router will make will reproduce any unevenness.

If you’re cutting dadoes or grooves, a straight piece of scrap stock can be clamped to act as a guide.

Tip #2: Cutting End Grain

When shaping only the ends of a workpiece, start at either edge and meet in the middle. If you’re doing all four sides of the piece, do the sides first and then the end grain. This will avoid tearing out stock at the corners.

Tip #3: Router Jigs, Guides, and Templates

The router is a remarkably versatile tool, and is made even more so when jigs or guides are used. Some are as simple as a piece of scrap clamped to the workpiece as a guideboard; commercially available jigs enable the router to make quick work of dovetails.

Follower guides (a bushing mounted on the base, through which the bit passes) are also very useful in many applications, to protect the templates while still guiding the cut precisely.