How to Choose and Use a Router

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General contractor Tom Silva shares his insights on the shop’s most versatile portable power tool. (See steps below.)

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Steps for How to Choose and Use a Router:
1. Depending on the router bit used, routers can cut a wide variety of decorative edges, profiles, and woodworking joints.
2. Straight-cutting router bits can cut dadoes, grooves, and rabbets for joining together two boards.
3. A plunge router can cut precise holes like a drill press for shelf pegs or wooden dowels.
4. Rout tongue-and-groove joints into the ends and edges of boards to create tongue-and-groove flooring.
5. Light-duty trim routers are ideal for flush-trimming plastic laminate, veneer, and other thin materials.
6. Don’t use large bits in a trim router; you could burn out the motor.
7. Medium-duty fixed-based routers offer a good combination of power and speed.
8. Some routers have variable-speed motors. Use slower speeds when cutting with large-diameter bits.
9. A plunge router has a spring-loaded base that allows you to plunge the bit down into the board, and then release it to pop up out of the cut.
10. Plunge routers are useful for routing inlays, stopped grooves, and holes.
11. Router bits come in dozens of sizes and profiles.
12. Bits come with either a 1/4-inch-diameter shaft or a 1/2-inch-diameter shaft. Match the bit-shank diameter to the collet on the router.
13. Some routers come with both a 1/4-inch and a 1/2-inch collet.
14. The ball-bearing pilot found on some bits rolls along the edge of the board to control the depth of cut.
15. A piloted flush-cutting bit has a ball bearing that rides along a template for making very precise, custom cuts.
16. With the router unplugged, push the router bit all the way into the collet, then pull it out a little bit to provide an expansion space.
17. Tighten the collet with a wrench to securely lock the bit in place.
18. Adjust the depth of cut, then plug in the router.
19. Firmly clamp the board to a workbench.
20. Put on hearing protection and safety goggles.
21. Before switching on the router, be sure the router bit isn’t touching the board.
22. Turn on the router, then slowly rout from left to right in a counterclockwise direction.

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