Seasoned DIYers and hobbyists know the difference that a wood router can make on the quality of the finished product. From simple roundovers to fancy ogee edges, the best wood router kicks up the results a notch.
When choosing the best wood router for a project, consider some important characteristics of the various models. Most wood routers have adjustable speeds, but be sure the RPM range works for your needs. Some DIY craftspeople might need a fixed-base router to create a smooth edge, while another may prefer a plunge-base model that can carve fluting and a mortise into the workpiece.
The quality of the tool matters most, but just looking at the outside of a fancy box doesn’t reveal much. This guide will help you decide on the best wood router for your needs by describing a top-of-the-line product in several different categories.
- BEST OVERALL: DEWALT Router
- RUNNER UP: PORTER-CABLE Router
- BEST CORDLESS: DEWALT 20V Max XR Cordless Router
- BEST PALM ROUTER: Makita RT0701C 1-1/4 HP Compact Router
- BEST PLUNGE ROUTER: BOSCH 120-Volt 2.3 HP Electronic Plunge Base Router
- BEST LAMINATE TRIMMER: BOSCH Variable-Speed Palm Router Combination Kit
Types of Wood Routers
Those looking for a new router for their DIY projects probably have noticed the large selection of different styles to choose from. DIYers must choose between a fixed-base or plunge-style router, and some combo kits are available as well. Get to know each type to choose the best one.
Fixed-base routers are the most basic models. While purported to have a “fixed” base, they are still adjustable. By loosening the collar and twisting a dial, you can adjust the depth of the bit. They’re easy to set up and use on the edge of a board but challenging to start safely in the field (middle) of a workpiece.
A plunge router has a spring-loaded base that allows users to lower the spinning router bit into a workpiece. Its depth gauges allow you to adjust it to prevent it from going too deep. Plunge routers are excellent for cutting details in the field of a board. They’ll also work for edge-profiling, but they can be a bit more finicky when trying to create a perfectly consistent profile.
Alternatively, router packages are available that allow you to swap bases, providing fixed-base and plunge-base capabilities in the same kit. Most of these combo kits switch quite easily, though they can be more expensive. Users won’t have to store two separate routers, but swapping bases can slow the workflow.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood Router
Beyond the different styles of routers, keep in mind some additional considerations. Keep reading to find a list of some specs, abilities, and features to keep an eye out for when shopping for the best wood router for your needs. Some of these points might matter more than others, so weigh their importance when choosing a router.
Type of Wood Router
In the different types of routers available, the specific project and intended use determine which router model will work best.
If looking for a good general use router, stick with a fixed-base model. These models are easy to set, and users can build jigs that allow their use in different situations. Install them on a router table to provide a bit of extra function.
Users who like to make mortise and tenon joinery or timber framing may want to consider a plunge router. However, they’re less likely to be compatible with a router table.
Another consideration, the palm router, comes in both fixed and plunge models, but they’re smaller, lighter, and easier to use with one hand. They often have a bit less power, so keep that in mind.
In a router, the amount of horsepower the tool has helps determine how well it handles large router bits and dense materials. While users can make multiple passes to work their way across an edge with any router, using one that can do it all at once helps save time. This is especially important when using a plunge router: Plunging a bit into the field of a board creates more friction and resistance than just dragging it across the edge.
Most of the best wood routers have horsepower ratings between 1.25 and 1.75, while some truly hot-rod versions have more than 2 horsepower. In most cases, the lower range works quite well, but 2-horsepower routers make short work of dense materials.
One of the challenging aspects of creating perfect edge profiles is choosing the correct speed to get the job done quickly without burning the wood. No magic speed exists, as boards (even among boards of the same species) differ in density. It comes down to experience and the right touch.
The good news is that most routers have adjustable speeds that can be tweaked until you find just the right speed. They often have small dials to help select their speed. For a workable range, look for a router with speeds between 9,000 and 20,000 RPMs.
Note that some routers have speed sensors that monitor how quickly a bit is spinning and adjusts it accordingly to maintain the ideal speed. For example, if using a router at 10,000 RPMs, but you come across a particularly dense section of wood, the router can slow down and cause inconsistent results. With these speed sensors, the router boosts its power output to compensate for the increase in density, keeping the bit running at the prescribed speed.
Routers are powerful tools, and users need a safe grip on them to ensure proper control. Also, a comfortable grip helps users keep a consistent contact with the router, which helps ensure safe handling.
Fixed-base routers and plunge routers often have two handles to provide better control. They can be rubberized or made from wood, depending on the manufacturer. Some models even have handle-mounted switches, making them extremely easy to use.
Palm routers fit in the hand, so the body essentially becomes the handle. Most have rubberized moldings and contours meant for comfortable use. It’s important to find a model with these features to ensure your hand stays comfortable and you can maintain a good grip.
Dust Collection Port
Routers make a lot of dust. The high-speed cutting process removes tiny bits of wood and sends them flying through the air, creating a mess by the end of a long project. To avoid a lengthy cleanup, look for a router with a dust collection port that attaches to a shop vac or dust collection system.
Some router brands’ dust collection ports work better than others; higher-end models usually work best. These brands are popular among pros who work in custom woodworking shops where effective dust collection is a must.
Also consider the size of the bit that the router can handle. The two common sizes are ¼ inch and ½ inch.
Again, choosing the router with the best collet size has a lot to do with its intended use. The smaller (¼ inch) collet works well for light-duty jobs like edge profiling and milling hinge mortises in doors. However, it might not work as well for heavy-duty work.
For heavier-duty jobs like timber framing or working with dense hardwoods, a ½-inch collet is more suitable. These bits are sturdier, and the increased surface area ensures they don’t slip.
Our Top Picks
Before spending money on the wrong router, consult a list of top picks. This guide will point you in the right direction when choosing the best wood router for your projects and budget.
If you’re looking for a well-rounded router that combines quality, price, and capability, then the DEWALT fixed-base router may work well. This router features a single-speed, 1 ¾-horsepower, 11-amp motor that runs at 24,500 RPMs. With a cam lock for gross adjustments, bit depth is easy to dial in, and a micro-fine adjustment ring can make it as accurate as 1/64 inch. The motor’s top is flat, so it can sit upside down on a table to allow the user to make depth adjustments.
For easy bit changes, two motor latches release the base. Another great feature is the clear Lexan baseplate, which provides easy viewing of the workpiece and bit. However, users can’t adjust the speed, but since it does so many other things well, it’s still the best general all-around router.
This PORTER-CABLE router can tackle a wide range of jobs. It can cut countertop laminate to shape and also cut profiles in materials like pine, poplar, and cedar. It has a 5.6-amp motor and spins at 35,000 RPMs, though it’s not adjustable. It has a quick-release motor clamp that allows users to make large adjustments quickly and a micro-adjustment ring to fine-tune the depth of a cut. The quick-release clamp also allows the user to remove the motor and change bits without working a wrench through the base.
The thick clear plastic baseplate is stable and easy to see through, making trimming accurately much easier than on some other routers. The single-speed motor limits this router’s capabilities, but at this price, users still get a lot of capability from a small router.
Anyone who’s ever had a cord snag while routing the edge of a workpiece knows the inconsistent profile it can create. This DEWALT cordless router avoids this scenario by allowing users to run uninhibited along an edge. A 20V-max battery powers the motor to speeds between 16,000 and 25,500 RPMs. A dial at the top of the motor adjusts the speed. It features soft-start technology to keep the router from jumping. It also uses electronic feedback to monitor the bit’s speed while routing, adjusting output if the bit starts to slow down, which helps produce consistent results.
A quick release allows for macro adjustments, and a micro-adjustment ring helps fine-tune the depth of the cut. Just be aware that this is a tool-only purchase, users must purchase a battery separately.
In palm router models, the Makita is the ultimate choice. It has a powerful motor and some impressive features. The 1 ¼-horsepower, 6.5-amp motor adjusts for speeds between 10,000 and 30,000 RPMs with a dial on top of the tool. With the quick-release base and rack-and-pinion-style adjustment knob, depths are easy to adjust.
This router weighs less than 4 pounds, which can be a problem for some palm routers as they tend to jump on start-up. However, this isn’t an issue for the Makita. It features slow-start technology for safe and easily controlled start-ups, regardless of the router’s weight and the size of the bit installed. The base also separates from the motor easily for bit changes—a key feature for palm routers with small bases that are hard to get a wrench inside of.
A plunge router can increase both capability and workflow, because this one tool can help users tackle many jobs. Whether you’re creating custom fluted trim or furniture joinery, the BOSCH router helps users achieve incredible results. This 15-amp router has a speed adjustment range of 10,000 to 25,000 RPMs. Dial in just the right speed for softer materials like pine and for hardwoods, such as oak and maple. Users can make speed adjustments with the dial on the top of the motor.
Bosch’s handle-mounted trigger helps the user work as accurately as possible using one hand to operate the router. Also, this electronic router features soft-start technology, which reduces initial torque during start-up. This keeps the router from jumping in the user’s hands, particularly when using a larger router bit.
Whether creating a plywood countertop, cutting some mortises, or rounding an edge, this variable-speed router from BOSCH gets the job done. For a palm router, the 1 ¼-horsepower, 7.0-amp motor is heavy duty. Users can adjust the speed from 16,000 to 35,000 RPMs with the twist of a dial. The rubber grip is comfortable and allows the user to control the Colt with one hand. Also, the Colt features slow-start technology, which is very important in a palm router, as they can be jumpy when switched on if they have a large or heavy bit in the collet.
The adjustable base allows quick macro-adjustments as well as fine-tuned micro-adjustments. Swap the motor over into the plunge router base for ultimate flexibility. The clear base allows the user to see the workpiece and the bit easily.
FAQs About Wood Routers
Armed with all this knowledge about the best wood routers and the models available, you may be ready to shop. However, some people still may have a few questions about how routers work and how to choose the best one. A collection of the most frequently asked questions about wood routers follows.
Q. What type of wood router do I need?
A fixed-base router works for most projects. If creating intricate joinery, however, look for a plunge-base router.
Q. What size wood router is recommended?
It depends on the project. Light-duty routing with a ¼-inch collet router is absolutely fine, while heavy-duty work requires a ½-inch collet.
Q. Do torque and RPM affect routing?
Torque matters much less than RPMs. Your router needs speed (RPMs) to work effectively, and adjustable (and maintainable) speed matters more than start-up power (torque). In fact, routers with too much torque can be downright dangerous, so manufacturers are less likely to use motors with too much torque.
Q. What’s the difference between a plunge router and a wood router?
A plunge router is a wood router, so no real difference exists. However, there is a difference between a fixed-base router and a plunge router: The plunge router has a spring-loaded base that allows you to safely lower the bit down into the center of a board. This is significantly more difficult with a fixed-base router, though this kind of router makes it easier to set and cut edge profiles.