Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Best 10 wood router tips and tricks for professional and beginner woodworkers alike!

I often get asked by woodworkers about routing and how to get the best results, whether it's from my Youtube channel comments, or the students that I teach. So here's My simple guide for getting great results with your router!

1.  1/4" or 1/2"? Many people say get the bigger, half inch routers, but I am of a different opinion.  Get the kind of router you are comfortable with using! It may be a small "trim router", a larger 1/4" router or a 2000W/ 2.5HP 1/2" beast.  Small routers can do far more than many people give them credit for, and big routers are heavy - if your going to use it for hanging doors, 6.5Kgs is a lot of weight to be swinging above your head!  Keep in mind the next few tips, and that little 800W router will also perform well in a table (which we'll cover at a later date!)There are advantages also to having the larger shanked 1/2" cutters, size, vibration, stability; agreed, but we can get along as well, just read on!Regardless which router you have, or choose, being familiar with it is by far the most important thing.

There are many, sometimes confusing options when choosing a router.

2.  Make sure your cutter is installed in its collet properly! In Europe, EU regulations came into effect that meant a 'K-Line' is now stamped on the shank of the cutter. Make sure you fit the cutter shank - regardless of size, into the collet at least to this point! The further the cutter is sticking out from the collet, the bigger the moment (Force X Distance) is and if you're not careful you can actually bend these shanks if you push too hard.

'K-Line' clearly visible with all the shank information.

 Even if you don't, there's more chance of vibrations, and this will translate down to the surface being cut, and can leave chatter marks along the surfaces.If you have older cutters, or more simply put, no 'K-line' use the '1/3-2/3' rule. 

Too much exposed shank is unsafe.

No more than 1/3 of the shank should be exposed from the collet. Better still, get as much of the shank into the collet as you can to still leave enough exposed to give the depth of cut you need as this will reduce any possible vibrations. Some points to note

  • Don't bottom out the end of the shank in the spindle - leave a little gap, this will stop vibrations too.
  • Don't be tempted to push the cutter right up to the collet. They tend to have a small radius on larger cutters that will damage the collet, and worse, may not fully grip the cutter which could then work loose. Either way it may mean you need to splash out to replace the collet, the cutter or your health insurer!
  • Make sure your cutter is tightly fitted - this is best explained in the video:

If inserted too far in, the radiuses part can damage your collet too.

3. Look after your Cutters! One of the easiest things you can do, is to keep your cutters in good order; clean, sharp and securely stored. This could be in a purposed made storage solution for your workshop, or if you purchased your cutters in a good quality set, by keeping them in the case. The Tungsten Carbide used for cutters is brittle, and can easily be chipped or damaged if they are dropped or knocked. Regularly check your cutters for any nicks or damage.

Next, you want to keep your cutters clean. Dirty cutters let the heat build up more quickly causing the cutting edge to dull faster, causing them to cut at a far reduced capacity. This leads to a decreased cut quality and an increased chance of burning. Lastly, and probably the least known fact, sharpen your cutters! Some cutters have very elaborate profile shapes but regardless the complexity of the shape, they are all sharpened in the same way - on the flat side of the cutting face.After checking, cleaning and sharpening, it's also a good idea to put a protective film on the cutters to stop corrosion during storage.Any bearings should be removed before cleaning.
For more information see the article 4 Steps to longer lasting cutters.

4. Many routers have a variable speed for a reason! The listed RPM is the spindle speed at the centre. In simple terms, a bigger cutter has more mass to it, and will run faster at the circumference. Whilst a healthy cutter speed will give a finer cut, too fast, and vibration will make the cut become poor, and be dangerous. Your routers manual will list the indication marked on the router to it's RPM. Assuming you purchase your cutters from a reputable manufacturer, you'll probably find the recommended maximum speeds either printed on the shank or the cutter packaging. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the cutter diameter, the slower the spindle speed:

Diameter dimensions in mm.

Router power is also a consideration, smaller routers simply will not have the power to run larger cutters and so will slow down and can put excess strain on the motor - work it too hard, and it'll die on you sooner! That said - to be perfectly honest, if you're starting out, you'll probably want one of the smaller ones. You can do a heck of a lot with a smaller router than many people give them credit for!

Fitting the dust pout to a shop vac will help not only you health, but also visibility.

5. Routing is a dusty game to play! Due to the nature of the cutting process, Routers produce large amounts of fine dust.  This isn't just a complete pain to clear up afterwards, but also has potential health ramifications when dealing with some exotic timbers and MDF.  Connect your router to a shop vac, or dust collection system, to save your lungs during, and sanity afterwards! A vacuum system is far more efficient than the low pressure systems at clearing the dust most efficiently with a router and is also more easily handled with the router.

6.  Make multiple light passes rather than one heavy cut. This comment alway makes me laugh as everyone always says exactly this. Whilst it's true, it's really rather unhelpful for people new to using a router. A good starting point is "Never cut deeper than the thinest part of the cutter!"If you have a straight cutter 10mm diameter on a 1/4" shank - 1/4" is the thinnest point. If you have a 1/16" diameter cutter on a 1/2" shank, don't cut deeper than 1/16".  Most times, people get a 2" straight cutter and hog away at the material thinking because it's on a 1/2" shank in a 3HP router it's indestructible. Not so!!  You'll strain the motor, get all kinds of breakout, and have a generally poor finish.I should point out that with all the variables of material hardness, cutter speed,  profiles and feed rates, this can be tweaked, but honestly, I pretty much keep to this rule all the time. I've never broken or bent a cutter, or burnt out a motor, so why change things?  Doesn't take a whole lot longer to do an extra pass with a good finish, rather than a single pass with lots of sanding!

Routing in steps, no deeper than the thinnest diameter, make cuts last far longer.

7. Feel your Feed rate! So what the heck does that mean?? Simply put, when it comes to feed rate for manual routing you can feel if you're pushing too hard on the cutter because you get obvious resistance. Most of the time you can actually feed faster than you think! Also use your ears to listen for the router noise - it'll moan if you ask of it too much. A common thing I hear is Cherry/Maple/Sycamore burn more easily. All woods burn easily, light woods show it up more is all! Generally 75% of all burning is caused not by timber, but by too slow a feed rate. 14% is caused by dull cutters, the remaining 1% caused by both.Note I completely made up the percentages - but you get the point!

Clamps will help keep the work, and jigs in place, but they can get in the way.

8. Clamps are a routers best friend - and worst enemy! What ever you do, make sure the work is secure. Router mats and grip blocks are great for securing work to a bench when routing, as are general wood working clamps. Clamps are also a complete pain, as they nearly always get in the way at some point in the operation. This is just life, get used to it, plan ahead, and work around them as best you can. Don't be lazy and take the risk. Likewise, don't underestimate the power of hot glue and double sided sticky tape!! :-)

For an outside edge cut, such as an edge moulding, an Anit-Clockwise (CCW)direction should be maintained .

9. Heading in the right direction! One of the easiest mistakes to make, is the direction you move the router. Lots of places quote "route against the direction of cut of the cutter" Great, now we have to spend ages working out the direction of the cutter, working out which way is against that direction, and after 20 minutes scratching our heads, we get it wrong and route, but guess what it worked, so hey who cares right?! Well let me save you another 20 minutes - on the outside of an edge - Route ANTI-CLOCKWISE(CCW). If you're cutting a hole/aperture, like a letter box, route CLOCKWISE!If you can't remember that , cut from LEFT TO RIGHT!
Routing the other way, will also work, and has some advantages in some situations, but lets keep it simple here. I'll go into more detail in another article about Back cuts and Climb Cuts.
Oh, and all Routers spin the cutter clockwise, when you look down from above - no exceptions - Stop arguing!!

For internal cuts, such as a letterbox opening, the direction changes to Clockwise.

10. Keep things in order, and use waste blocks.  Actually 2 tips to finish (you're welcome)! Firstly (and by no means a rule, but it always helps to make things easy) start routing the end grain first, so you finish on a long grain side!Lets say you want to put a profile on all four edges of a board, route one of the end grain sides first.  This is where you're most likely to get break out - right on the corner. No problem, you'll be routing the next side any way, so any damage to that side will be gone once you route over it.Now lets say you're only doing one edge. In this case, take two scraps of timber the same thickness, and clamp them to each end. This actually helps in 2 ways, (so that's 3 tips to finish!!!). Firstly it stops any break out or chipping on the ends, and also it gives you time to get your feed rate up enough to stop that burning we talked about.


Using these tips and techniques, together, or on their own, will greatly enhance your finished work. They will help to keep you safer when working, and also save you money by caring for both your cutters and your routers. If you have any tips, I'd love to hear from you. Post your tip in the comments below, and share with your friends so they benefit from these too!

Richard, the Owner and founder of, is a regular user of many kinds of routers, including CNC. He has spent many years using routers, working with router companies, He also teaches basic, intermediate and advanced routing to both DIY'ers, and tradesmen alike, across the UK.

If you have a request for some routing information, get in touch, I'll see what I can put together for you!

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