From shaping and jointing edges to trimming laminate, the versatile router does it all. Despite the router's many attributes, it's essentially a very simple machine. Here are some rules for choosing and using one.
Router Rules to Live by

The WOOD magazine guys picturedright spend every dayplaying with woodworking toolsand building projects. They are(left to right) Kevin Boyle, Senior DesignEditor; Chuck Hedlund, Master Craftsman;and Jeff Mertz, Design Editor. As youmight expect, these guys have tried nearlyevery router, jig, and bit ever placed on themarket. There's not a router technique theyhaven't experienced, so why not hone yourown router skills by mining their store ofknowledge? Here are what they considertheir best rules for router use:

  1. Choose a basic router.Don't put a lot of emphasis on exotic features when buying a router. Our resident router whizzes prefer no-nonsense tools such as the venerable Porter-Cable 690. Nothing fancy, just an easy-to-adjust, accurate, and low-maintenance machine. Their favorite versions come with a D-handle.
  2. Pick a laminate trimmer for your second router.Big is not necessarily better when it comes to routers. In the WOOD shop, we reach for a laminate trimmer when using 1/4" or smaller round-over and chamfer bits. You just can't beat the one-handed control this tool offers.
  3. Use a router table.We do about 80 percent of our routing work on a table. Why? A table provides a high degree of control, accuracy, and safety, especially with big bits. It also enables the use of adjustable fences, hold-downs, stopblocks, and dust-collection ports. By the way, neither Kevin, Chuck, nor Jeff has found the ideal router for a router table. "The perfect router for table use has yet to be invented," according to Chuck. "Right now, if I had $1,000 to invest in a router table, I'd buy a shaper."
  4. Select specialty bits carefully.The bits that get used often in the WOOD magazineshop are pretty basic: 1/4" and 3/8" roundovers, a chamfer bit, and a rabbeting bit with bearing set. Chuck and Kevin admit a fondness for two specialty bits, though. "I really like solid-carbide spiral bits over straight bits because they slice wood instead of chopping it," Chuck says. And Kevin loves his locking rabbet set for sturdy, quickly made drawers.
  5. Get a handle on feed rate.To get smooth, burn-free cuts, move the router or your workpiece at a steady feed rate. And listen to the router. If it slows, take lighter, multiple cuts.

When routing across end grain, small chips of wood often tear from the trailing edge as the bit exits the workpiece. To prevent this, push the workpiece past the bit with a follower block. The block supports the edge grain, preventing it from tearing out. A follower block also steadies a long, narrow workpiece, such as the one shown below, for smoother routing. To make a follower block easier to handle, cut a 6" length of 1" dowel, drill a centered 1" hole in the block, and insert the dowel.

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