If you’re just getting started in woodworking, choosing your first router can be bewildering if you allow yourself to get lost in the endless array of styles, sizes, prices and features available on the market. So, before wading in, think about what the router’s primary uses will be, along with an honest evaluation of your skill level. A router is the one essential, versatile power tool in any woodworking shop, professional or not.

Types of Routers

Standard (fixed) and plunge routers are the two basic router styles. Standard routers sit on a base that adjusts mechanically to control the cutting depth. While plunge routers can also be set to control the depth of the cut, the motor itself is attached to springs that prevent the router from cutting into the wood until pressure is applied by the woodworker. While plunge cuts can also be made using a standard router, this takes some skill and experience.

Standard Base

These bases typically feature a knob or handle on each side of the base to hold and control the tool. If mounted to a router table, they’re limited to routing simple edges, but this router type is great for working with guide bushings such as box joint or dovetail jigs. Certain standard base models incorporate ring-shaped depth adjustment capabilities.

Plunge Base

These routers are far more versatile because in addition to begin able to accomplish everything a standard router can, they can also be used in areas besides edges. They’re ideal for making dado cuts, fluting, mortising and making blind grooves. These routers feature several depth-stop variations that can be micro-adjusted to very specific measurements.

D-Handle Base

This router is a variation on the standard base tool. Instead of dual knobs on the base, there’s one on one side and a pistol-grip (D-shaped) handle on the other. In addition to better overall control, this model features an on/off power trigger switch on the D-handle.
If you’re undecided about which type of router would work best, most router manufacturers offer combo packages that incorporate both models in one kit. This might be a good idea for a woodworker who wants to try both types without the added expense of buying two routers.

Sizes and Classifications

As with hand or power tools, routers are available in in a variety of motor sizes, all of which offer specific advantages or have certain limitations.

Trim Routers

These compact routers are usually 1 HP or less, yet offer woodworkers an impressive level of performance. In addition to trimming, they’re great tools for making small dovetails, hinge mortises, forming edges, cutting slots and window cutouts and for inlay projects. Most include a variety of bases for making bevel and offset cuts. Because these routers are limited to utilizing 1/4-inch shank bits, they’re not up to the task when it comes for larger jobs.

Mid-Size Routers

These versatile routers range from 1-3/4 HP up to 2-1/4 HP and are the most popular tools due in part to their ease of use. They can handle a wide range of woodworking jobs, from small jobs trim routers can do to cutting panels, cutting circles, template design work ad larger-scale dovetails. These routers, some of which are available with multiple bases, will also accept both 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch shank bits. The bulk of after-market parts and accessories are available to fit this router class.

Full-Size Routers

These heavy-duty 3 HP to 3-1/4 HP routers are manufactured for production use or CNC operations and are typically table-mounted due to their weight and size. Unless you intend to jump right into furniture or cabinet panel production, these routers are probably more machine than you’ll need for typical woodworking projects.
No matter what woodworking projects you take on, odds are that you’ll be picking up your router at some point to soften an edge or cut a profile. And because so many models are available, it’s best to review the key features before starting the selection process.