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.
To ensure we provided a list with the best features and constructions, we consulted Jonathan Warshaw, a woodworker with over 15 years of experience and the founder and owner of educational woodworking site, SimpleWoodworker. Warshaw believes that newcomers should “begin by tackling simpler projects that allow users to familiarize themselves with the router and its capabilities. Starting with rounding-over edges or crafting cutting boards or cheese boards is advisable as they offer a blend of practicality and a sense of accomplishment.”
As such, the following guide provides comprehensive information to aid beginner woodworkers in their decision-making when selecting the best wood router for their starter projects, highlighting some of the best models available in a variety of types. Plus, check out what our expert had to say about our Best Combo-Base pick!
- BEST OVERALL: Makita RT0701CX7 1¼ HP Compact Router Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Avid Power 6½-Amp 1¼ HP Compact Router
- UPGRADE PICK: Makita 3¼ HP Plunge Router With Variable Speed
- BEST FIXED-BASE: Bosch 1617EVS 2¼ HP Electronic Fixed-Base Router
- BEST PLUNGE-BASE: Wen RT6033 15-Amp Variable-Speed Plunge Router Kit
- BEST COMBO-BASE: DeWalt EVS Fixed Base/Plunge Router Combo Kit
- BEST CORDLESS: DeWalt 20V MAX XR Brushless Cordless Compact Router
- BEST PALM: Bosch Router 1 HP Colt Router Installer’s Kit
How We Chose the Best Wood Routers for Beginners
We researched the most sought-after wood routers for beginners in their respective categories and discovered that the best models are determined by their type, hosepower (hp), collet size, ease of use, and other special features included by top brands.
After extensive product research, we included woodworking routers in our list of top picks that ran from 1 to 3¼ horsepower to accommodate multiple project types. Warshaw encourages shoppers to look for a few key features when looking for a wood router for beginners, including “a fixed and plunge base … as it provides versatility for different routing tasks” as well as “a variable speed setting for better control and adaptability, catering to different woodworking requirements.” Finally, Warshaw highly recommends that shoppers consider a good dust collection system “to maintain a clean and safe working environment, as it effectively manages wood shavings and dust produced.”
In selecting the best wood routers for newcomers, we were also careful to pick options that varied in construction and design, were safe and easy to use, and were able to accommodate a variety of projects. As Warshaw suggests, “utilizing a router table for smaller pieces provides a stable platform, ensuring precise cuts and reducing the risk of accidents. On the other hand, a handheld router is better suited for managing larger pieces, offering flexibility in movement and access.”
As such, we made sure that the following options come with these useful constructions and features, but we also included top picks with LED lights, soft starts, easy depth adjustment, extended fixed bases, multiposition turrets, electronic brakes, and more for added precision and convenience. Finally, we included a multitude of woodworking routers that came with carrying bags for easy portability from the workshop to the jobsite.
Our Top Picks
Now that you’re 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 many new router users. For their investment, they get an accurate tool that can last for years. This ¼-inch router with a 1¼ hp motor delivers enough power for many workshop and DIY tasks without being difficult to manage. It’s small enough that it’s portable, weighs a fraction under 4 pounds, and comes with both fixed and plunge bases.
The router features variable-speed control between 10,000 and 30,000 revolutions per minute (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.
What our tester says: Glenda Taylor, Bob Vila writer and product tester, notes in Best Wood Routers that “the compact Makita’s 6.5 amp motor adjusts for speeds up to 30,000 rpm via a dial on top of the tool. At the top end, that’s among the fastest rotation speeds of the routers we tested, but keep in mind that this router is designed chiefly for workshop-type use.”
- Type: Plunge and fixed
- Horsepower: 1¼ hp
- Collet size: ¼ inch
- Suitable for small or DIY tasks; compact and lightweight for ease of use
- Comes with both fixed and plunge bases for excellent versatility
- Can operate between 10,000 and 30,000 rpm and 1¼ hp; variable-speed dial allows for easy adjustment
- Has multiple user-friendly features for safety and accuracy
- Not suitable for heavy-duty or advanced use
- May only be able to handle small jobs
Get the Makita 1¼ hp wood router for beginners at The Home Depot.
Woodworkers on a tight budget may want to consider the Avid Power compact router for an introduction to the versatility these tools can provide. With a ⅜- and ¼-inch collet and 1¼-horsepower motor, this fixed-base router’s performance can certainly compete with other routers. 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 can 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 includes a pair of LED work lights. A useful tool bag completes the value of this router kit.
- Type: Fixed
- Horsepower: 1¼ hp
- Collet size: ⅜ inch and ¼ inch
- Comes with a ⅜-inch and ¼-inch collet for excellent versatility
- Operates at 1¼ hp and 10,000 to 32,000 rpm; suitable for general use
- Onboard rack-and-pinion drive for easily adjusting the depth; comes with 5 cutters
- Aluminum body, long 12-foot power cord, LED work lights, and tool bag provide great user-friendliness
- Some users have reported difficulty using the included router bits and cutters
Get the Avid Power wood router for beginners at Amazon.
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 ½-inch router has an immensely powerful 3¼ hp 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.
The variable-speed control runs from 9,000 to a maximum speed of 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.
- Type: Plunge
- Horsepower: 3¼ hp
- Collet size: ½ inch
- Immensely powerful unit; operates at 3¼ hp and variable speed runs from 9,000 to 22,000 rpm
- Soft start reduces torque reaction so the user can keep control of the unit while in use
- Lock-on trigger allows for continuous operation once in use
- Electric brake integrated for quick stopping and safety
- May be too much for some beginner users’ intended projects
- Some users have reported that some components are not very durable
Get the Makita wood router for beginners at Amazon or The Home Depot.
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 ½-inch wood router has a ¼-inch collet included. The impressive 2¼ hp motor offers variable speed between 8,000 and 25,000 rpm and has electronic load-balancing to ensure consistent power delivery.
The fixed router base has been predrilled with a common three-hole pattern ideal for mounting in many router lifts or 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.
What our tester says: Glenda Taylor, Bob Vila writer and tester, says in our tested guide that “with the fixed-base casing on, we tested the Bosch router for freehand cuts and router table cuts. It worked flawlessly on both—the routed designs were smooth and precise.”
- Type: Fixed
- Horsepower: 2¼ hp
- Collet size: ½ inch and ¼ inch
- Variable speed integrated; runs between 8,000 and 25,000 rpm
- Electric load balancing onboard can keep the power running consistently during use
- 3 predrilled holes allow for mounting in any workshop’s router table
- Comes with a micro-depth adjuster and an on/off switch for accuracy and safety
- Might be too much tool for some beginners
Get the Bosch fixed-base wood router for beginners at Amazon, Lowe’s, or The Home Depot.
The Wen plunge base wood router provides beginner woodworkers with an introduction to larger-scale routing at a budget-friendly price. It offers both ½-inch and ¼-inch collets, so it offers the versatility of use for small router cutters as well as large ones. The powerful 2½ hp 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 those on other models, but as a first plunge router, the Wen combines strong performance with outstanding value. The kit includes a parallel guide and soft carry bag.
- Type: Plunge
- Horsepower: 2½ hp
- Collet size: ½ inch and ¼ inch
- Can be used with small and large router cutters; comes with ½-inch and ¼-inch collets
- Operates between 8,000 and 23,000 rpm for small- to medium-size jobs
- 7-position preset turret and fine adjustment in 1/128-inch steps for excellent versatility
- Comes with a parallel guide and soft carrying bag for ease of use and portability
- Some components on this model may not be as durable as comparable models
- May be difficult to transport; unit is large and on the heavy side at 18 pounds
Get the Wen wood router for beginners at Amazon or The Home Depot.
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 ½-inch and ¼-inch collets. Both quick-change fixed and plunge bases are included with the router for the versatility needed to tackle just about any routing task. The 2¼ hp 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.
Our expert also recommends this product for beginners: “For those starting their woodworking journey, I would recommend the DeWalt 618PKB. This kit is like a Swiss army knife in the world of routers, offering a gentle introduction with a dual base – fixed and plunge. This allows a novice to explore a variety of routine tasks, ensuring the journey remains engaging and educational right from the start!”
- Type: Plunge and fixed
- Horsepower: 2¼ hp
- Collet size: ½ inch and ¼ inch
- Professional-grade tool; made with quick-change plunge and fixed base for outstanding versatility
- Soft start and constant speed balancing for ease of use and safety
- Micro-fine adjustment for depth-setting provides excellent accuracy
- Dust collection system and tool bag included for convenience
- Some users have reported missing or faulty parts
Get the DeWalt combo wood router for beginners at Amazon or The Home Depot.
Power cords often can be frustrating, particularly with small, lightweight routers. This cordless DeWalt works by rechargeable battery for excellent maneuverability and portability. The ¼-inch router has a soft-start motor rated at a competitive 1¼ hp, so 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. 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.
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.
- Type: Fixed
- Horsepower: 1¼ hp
- Collet size: ¼ inch
- Runs on a 20V rechargeable battery; cordless operation provides portability
- Variable speeds of 16,000 to 25,500 rpm; electronic brake allows for quick stops
- Height-adjustment ring allows the user to select the depth easily for accuracy
- Extended base and dual LED lights allow for great user-friendliness and visibility
- May not be as heavy-duty as some comparable options on the market
Get the DeWalt compact wood router for beginners at Amazon, Lowe’s, or The Home Depot.
Palm routers like this Bosch router tool are the smallest of the wood routers, often favored for light-duty jobs like laminate trim 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 ¼-inch router with an extended fixed base that offers good stability while the depth adjustment provides ease of use. The 1 hp 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.
- Type: Fixed
- Horsepower: 1 hp
- Collet size: ¼ inch
- Runs at an impressive 16,000 to 35,000 rpm; has a lot of torque for its size
- The extended fixed base provides ample stability for accuracy while working
- Compact size would be easily portable; suitable for DIY use and for pro use
- Ideal tool for furniture and cabinetry, composite materials, detailed cuts in small spaces, and other woodworking projects
- Some users have reported difficulty using the depth-adjustment system
Get the Bosch 1 hp wood router for beginners at Amazon.
What to Consider When Choosing a Wood Router for Beginners
While all wood routers offer versatility, a number of features separate types and models. For instance, the best general-purpose wood router for a DIY enthusiast will have key differences when compared to a router designed for the woodworker who is making small decorative items. The following section looks at these features in detail and can help beginners understand the options available.
Wood routers can be divided 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. However, 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 for the cutting of grooves and slots.
The other main difference between plunge and fixed routers 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 planned significantly affects which wood router a beginner chooses. These handy tools can cut decorative moldings on door frames, 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 of their eventualities.
Wood routers are generally rated by their collet size, which is either ¼-inch or ½-inch diameter. This describes the shank diameter of the router cutter that can be used, which affects the type of work they can do.
A ¼-inch router is usually a light-duty model. Although there may be exceptions, router cutters with a ¼-inch shank are rarely more than ¾ inches across. This makes them unsuitable for large moldings and heavy-duty joints, for example. By contrast, a cutter with a ½-inch shank seldom has a cutting diameter less than that, so these tools suit medium to heavy-duty tasks.
Routers with ½-inch collets frequently also come with a ¼-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 ¾ to 1 hp range. Most midrange models rank at 2 hp or higher and often present the ideal compromise for beginners. Tools with 3 hp 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 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 users will run them 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 often 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 can be cheap and readily available.
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 select your new router. 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 ¼-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 ½-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 1½ and 2½ 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.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products.