A wood router is an indispensable tool both in the workshop and on the job site. The tools are powerful yet easy to manage, so they work equally well for functional and decorative woodworking. Add a router table to achieve a tremendous level of precision.
It’s not difficult to learn how to use a router well, which adds to the tool’s popularity. For those who are new to wood routers, choosing the right model can prove something of a challenge. The following guide provides comprehensive information to aid beginner woodworkers in their decision-making when selecting the best wood router, highlighting some of the best models available in a variety of types.
- BEST OVERALL: Makita RT0701CX7 1-1/4 HP Compact Router Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: AVID POWER 6.5-Amp 1.25 HP Compact Router
- UPGRADE PICK: Plunge Router Electric Brake, 3-1/4 HP
- BEST FIXED BASE: Bosch 1617EVS 2.25 HP Electronic Fixed-Base Router
- BEST PLUNGE BASE: WEN RT6033 15-Amp Variable Speed Plunge Woodworking
- BEST COMBO BASE: DEWALT Router, Fixed/Plunge Base Kit, Variable Speed
- BEST CORDLESS: DEWALT 20V Max XR Cordless Router, Tool Only
- BEST PALM: Bosch Router Tool, Colt 1-Horsepower 5.6 Amp
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood Router for Beginners
While all wood routers offer tremendous versatility, a number of features separate types and models. For instance, the best general-purpose wood router for a DIY enthusiast will feature key differences from a router designed for the woodworker making small decorative items. The following section looks at these in detail and can help beginners understand the options available.
Wood routers divide into two main types: fixed base and plunge base. With a fixed-base router, the cutter stays in place during the cut. Any depth adjustment happens before the work starts. This is useful when the woodworker needs to reproduce the same cut numerous times. With its ease of setting and precision, fixed-base routers generally rank first for use with a router table. The fixed base is also somewhat simpler than plunge mechanisms, so these models often cost less.
With a plunge-base router, springs hold the cutter away from the workpiece until the user applies downward force, though they can lock in the down position if required. With plunge action, the cut doesn’t have to start at the edge of the material, allowing the cutting of grooves and slots.
The other main difference is physical size. Many wood routers have twin handles to provide stable control whereas “palm” routers are smaller and only require one hand to hold the main body of the tool. The latter are usually fixed base, though a plunge adapter might be available as an accessory.
The type of projects you plan to tackle significantly affects which wood router a beginner chooses. These handy tools can cut decorative moldings on doorframes, mortise and tenon joints for fine furniture, fit hinges to small jewelry boxes, and plenty more.
A wood router needs stability to cut accurately. If the base rocks around, so will cuts. Guides can help a beginner maintain control, but a large router on a small workpiece isn’t ideal. Equally, a small router is unlikely to have the power for continuous heavy-duty work.
Most of the wood routers in the top picks section are midrange tools designed to offer great versatility in projects and work easily for beginners. It is nevertheless important to consider the type of tasks they’ll most often be used for before choosing the best wood router. Enthusiastic woodworkers and professionals frequently end up with more than one router to cover all eventualities.
Wood routers are generally rated by their collet size, which is either 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch. This defines the shank diameter of the router cutter that can be used, which affects the type of work they can be used for.
A 1/4-inch router is usually a light-duty model. Although there may be exceptions, router cutters with a 1/4-inch shank are rarely more than 3/4 inches across. This makes them unsuitable for large moldings and heavy-duty joints, for example. By contrast, a cutter with a 1/2-inch shank seldom has a cutting diameter less than that, so these tools suit medium- to heavy-duty tasks.
Routers with 1/2-inch collets frequently also come with a 1/4-inch collet to accommodate smaller cutters, though it’s worth checking because that’s not always the case.
The horsepower rating of a wood router is a good indication of its power. Horsepower relates closely to the amount of torque available, which is key to any tool that relies on rotary performance. That said, manufacturers rarely provide actual torque figures.
Even light-duty palm routers usually fall in the 3/4- to 1-horsepower range. Most midrange models rank at 2 horsepower or higher and often present the ideal compromise for beginners. Tools with 3 horsepower can be defined as pro-grade models. They offer impressive power, but many require some skill to use to their full potential.
The challenge with horsepower ratings is that manufacturers can calculate it in different ways, so it isn’t a definitive figure for comparison purposes. It’s worth checking amps (A) as well to get a fully informed view.
Budget-friendly routers often have a fixed speed. With small- to medium-cutter sizes this is rarely a problem, because most often they will be run as fast as they’re able. However, this can be a problem with larger cutters. The speed at the cutting edge can be too fast to cut efficiently; the cutter will judder or scorch the wood instead. The solution is to turn down the speed.
Some large cutters come marked with a maximum recommended rpm. In these situations, a variable speed router is a necessity.
Product description also might mention constant speed. This isn’t the same as fixed speed. A constant-speed router has electronic circuitry that senses load and adjusts power accordingly (it’s also called load balancing). It will maintain the same performance level if, for example, the density of the wood changes.
A comfortable grip is essential for router control, particularly with larger routers that deliver high torque. Most offer two handles. Some models build an on-off switch into the handle, which adds convenience.
Palm routers usually have a body that a user can grip with one hand, although beginning woodworkers with small hands might want to check physical dimensions. In this case, the user might find a small fixed or plunge router with two handles easier to use. Soft start is another useful feature that keeps the tool from jumping suddenly to life at full speed.
Depth adjustment varies considerably. Some routers control depth by a sliding lock, but a rack and pinion drive is better for maintaining accuracy. Those seeking maximum precision will want to check increments, too. Several wood routers have turrets that a user can set to commonly used depths. Changing between them goes quickly by simply clicking them into place when needed.
Wood routers can create a lot of dust, so a dust collection port is a big help in keeping the cutter area visible and reducing workshop cleanups. Those who already have workshop extraction should check port size. They might need an adapter, which are cheap and readily available.
Our Top Picks
Armed with a better understanding of the key features to think about when looking for the best router for beginner woodworkers, it’s time to move on to the top picks. The following selections include individual categories based on considerations such as type, features, or budget.
Makita’s RT0701CX7 compact router offers a comprehensive kit that fulfills the needs of most new router users. For their investment, they get an accurate tool that should last for years. This 1/4-inch router with a 1 1/4-horsepower motor delivers adequate power for many workshop and DIY tasks without being difficult to manage. It’s small enough to take anywhere, weighs a fraction under 4 pounds, and comes with both fixed and plunge bases.
The router features variable speed between 10,000 and 30,000 rpm, backed up by electronic control that keeps the speed constant while under load. Cam locks rapidly adjust initial cutting depth. A three-position turret helps with preset depths, plus it features rack and pinion fine adjustment to ensure precision. For those new to wood routers, this is a superb package at a great price.
Woodworkers on a tight budget can look to the Avid Power compact router for an introduction to the versatility these tools can provide. With a 1/4-inch collet and dependable 1 1/4-horsepower motor, this fixed base router’s performance can certainly compete. The largely aluminum body minimizes weight and won’t rust.
It’s not short of features either. Speed varies between 10,000 and 32,000 rpm. Users adjust depth via a rack and pinion drive, and it comes with a useful 12 feet of cord. The set includes five cutters with profiles among the most common for general use. The router also features a pair of LED work lights. A useful tool bag completes the value of this router kit.
Beginners might think their first router needs to be light or medium duty. That’s not always the case, and some beginning woodworkers might have heavy-duty tasks to undertake. They need high performance with good control, which they can get from this heavy-duty Makita plunge router.
This is a 1/2-inch router with an immensely powerful 3 1/4-horsepower motor. While that enables the use of large, aggressive cutters, the Makita remains relatively easy to handle, thanks to an easy plunge action and big, ergonomic handles that provide excellent grip.
Variable speed runs from 9,000 to 22,000 rpm, and its soft start reduces torque reaction. Once underway, a lock-on trigger allows for continuous operation, which is very useful on long workpieces. An electric brake brings things to a fast stop. It’s a tool with impressive capabilities, but also a very manageable one.
The Bosch 1617EVS electronic fixed-base router is a reliable tool. Its high-quality, easy-to-use design suits the beginner, while providing the sort of performance and precision that pros also require. The 1/2-inch wood router has a 1/4-inch collet included. The impressive 2 1/4-hp motor offers variable speed between 8,000 and 25,000 rpm and has electronic load balancing to ensure consistent power delivery.
The base has been predrilled with a common three-hole pattern ideal for mounting in many router tables. The ergonomic wood handles can ease fatigue. A micro depth adjuster and an on-off switch that can move to either side of the machine improve its two-handed use and attention to detail. A plunge base is available as an extra.
The WEN plunge base wood router provides beginner woodworkers with an introduction to larger-scale routing at a budget-friendly price. It offers both 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch collets, so it offers the versatility of use for small router cutters as well as large ones. The powerful 2 1/2-horsepower motor has a soft start for easy manageability and the speed varies from 8,000 to 23,000 rpm.
Depth settings on this plunge router include a seven-position preset turret and fine adjustment in 1/128-inch steps. The plastic knobs might not prove as durable as some, but as a first plunge router, the WEN combines strong performance with outstanding value. The kit includes a parallel guide and soft carry bag.
The DeWalt wood router combo with a fixed and plunge base is a professional-grade tool that also works well for the enthusiastic beginner. Though it requires a larger investment than some beginner routers, this is a high-quality, versatile tool that could last a lifetime.
The model comes with both 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch collets. Both quick-change fixed and plunge bases come with the router for the versatility needed to tackle just about any routing task. The reliable 2 1/4-horsepower motor incorporates soft start and constant speed balancing; its speed varies from 8,000 to 24,000 rpm.
Additional features helpful to beginners and more experienced woodworkers include a micro-fine adjustment for depth setting and particularly efficient dust collection so the router bit remains easily visible while working. A hard-wearing tool bag is included.
Power cords often can be frustrating, particularly with small, lightweight routers. The cordless DeWalt works by rechargeable battery for excellent maneuverability and portability. The 1/4-inch router has a soft-start motor rated at a competitive 1 1/4 horsepower. There’s no performance penalty for choosing a battery-powered model. This DeWalt router offers variable speed between 16,000 and 25,500 rpm and an electronic brake that brings it to a stop quickly.
Like many cordless wood routers, the DeWalt comes as a “bare tool,” so the total purchase price needs to factor in the cost of a battery and charger. However, owners of other DeWalt cordless tools might already have compatible batteries. A clever height adjustment ring helps users quickly and easily set depths. An extended base improves stability, and two LED work lights provide excellent cutter visibility.
Palm routers like this Bosch Router Tool are the smallest of the wood routers, often favored for light-duty jobs like laminate trimming and edge molding. They are great for beginner cabinet makers who want to add simple design details that lift work out of the ordinary. Their compact size and portability can also make them a valuable addition to the DIY tool kit.
This is a 1/4-inch router with an extended fixed base that offers good stability. The 1-horsepower motor has enough power for its intended purpose, while offering easy one-handed operation. Speed varies from 16,000 to 35,000 rpm, and faster speeds work best for cutting composite materials.
The Bosch palm router is something of a specialist tool to provide detailed cuts in small spaces and support other woodworking skills well within the beginner’s scope. Additional bases and guides, available separately, can increase this tool’s versatility.
FAQs About Wood Routers for Beginners
With the main criteria in mind for choosing the best wood router for beginner woodworkers, plus a list of top picks to choose from, you might be ready to go. However, wood routing is a complex subject, so it’s quite possible that a few questions remain. Here are answers to some additional common queries.
Q. How do I choose a wood router?
It’s important to think about the tasks you want to perform. A 1/4-inch model often works best for beginner woodworkers because they are light and easy to maneuver. However, if you regularly need to make heavy cuts, a 1/2-inch router will be a better choice.
Q. How deep can a wood router cut?
It depends on the capability of the router and the size of the bit. Generally, somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 inches will suffice. However, many router cuts are done on the side of material or for molding purposes, so maximum depth is seldom the most important consideration.
Q. What speed should my wood router be?
Precise speed isn’t a key issue unless you have a large router cutter with a particular rating. Type is more important. Fixed speed routers can cope with most jobs, but when using large cutters, a variable speed model is invaluable. Another consideration is that a variable speed router gives the beginner more versatility—and hence more opportunity to learn—than a fixed speed model.
Q. How do I use a wood router for beginners?
The key issue is stability of the tool and workpiece. If you approach a loose piece of wood with a router cutter spinning at 20,000 rpm or more, the risk of an accident goes way up. Make sure the workpiece is clamped securely. Until you have gained some experience, work horizontally and keep a firm grip on the router with both hands. Get some practice with scrap pieces before tackling a “real” job.