When it comes to woodworking, many professional and hobbyists alike consider a wood router to be one of the most versatile and essential tools that you can own.
While a wood router might be a versatile tool for edge work, patterns, cutouts, and finishes, not all routers are designed equally and there are a few different types of woodworking routers that will suit different needs.
Below, we will run you through the outline of what you need to look out for in a wood router and help you to decide which type will be the best wood router suited to your specific needs.
Types of Woodworking Routers
When it comes to woodworking routers, there are two main types and these are fixed base and plunge base routers. There are a few other variants that we will cover later on but the main types of wood routers that you will typically come across will either be a fixed or plunge model.
1. Fixed Base
A fixed base router is usually a beginner or hobbyist router due to the low handle placement giving greater stability and control during use and also because a fixed base router is typically the easiest to fit a router table.
Fixed base routers allow users to route with a consistent bit depth and are mainly used for edge forming and molding. These routers can range in terms of power, weight, and design and are typically categorized by heavy-duty, moderate-duty, and light-duty designs.
The real disadvantage with a fixed base router is that you are restricted to starting your cut solely on the edge of the material. Fixed routers do not have a plunge functionality and therefore cuts cannot begin on the lumber anywhere but around the edge.
2. Plunge Base
A plunge base router is a go-to model for a woodworker that needs more versatility and power. Plunge routers are typically more powerful with motors than can provide up to 3-½ HP alongside soft start technology for reduced torque and electronic variable speeds to maintain bit speed.
The reason these routers need to be more powerful is so that they can plunge through the surface of a material from any position, unlike a fixed base model which is only capable of working on the edge of the surface.
Plunge routers, therefore, need to have good depth control and you’ll find that many of these routers have more than one way to control the router’s depth and bit height. Most will have a primary adjustment dial or ring to control the depth and a further micro adjustment dial for those that want to do more precise work.
While plunge routers have great depth control in terms of the accuracy of adjustment, you do need to check reviews for certain models first though as some models struggle to hold their depth during use which can lead to inaccurate and poor quality work.
Plunge routers are usually quite large and can be difficult to control so if you need to focus more on accuracy and finish work then a light-duty fixed router or trim router would be the better option.
3. Combo Router
A combo router is a bundle product that features both a fixed base and a plunge base router. The motor is interchangeable between the bases and modern models all contain a quick release clasp that allows for base changes to be done in a few seconds.
For this reason, combo routers are usually the go-to option for professionals as they offer the most versatility thanks to the interchangeable motor housing and they can even be table mounted which gives a 3rd option for use.
Combo routers will typically come with a higher price tag and you will need to be very particular about the model and design that you choose. Depth adjustment on certain combo routers can be quite loose and this can result in poorer work quality.
What you will tend to find however is that a lot of the combo router models are upgrades to the standard fixed or plunge based variant and you’ll also find that some fixed base routers are designed to also support a plunge base (it just comes with the additional cost).
This means that you could find a combo product sold separately if you wanted to build your router collection over time.
4. Palm & Trim
Palm and trim routers are often smaller, lightweight, and more compact router models that are designed for more intricate and detailed work.
With advancements in technology and a lower power requirement, many palm routers are now cordless models and manage to give a great run time whilst providing optimal ease of handling. You can see a sample of these on our review of the best compact routers.
These routers also feature soft start technology and variable speeds for smooth and consistent cuts with a variety of stock material. Palm routers are essentially smaller versions of a fixed base router, however, they often offer more control and are easier to use than a larger fixed base router.
These routers are therefore ideal for trim work and we recommend you check out our guide on the best palm routers to find the best balance between weight, power, and ergonomics.
With that said, we’d always recommend a larger, more versatile model if it’s your first time choosing a woodworking router as trim routers lack the power of the larger fixed base models.
5. CNC Router
A CNC router is a less common type of router and is mainly designed for industrial use in factories. A CNC router is a computerized and heavy-duty router that uses a computerized program to set the bit height and speed and as a result, they produce consistent and precise work.
The cost, portability, and overall practicality of these routers mean that they are a specialized tool that is mainly used by large factories and manufactures to produce heavy-duty items like stairs.
While there may be different types of routers, all will have certain features that you will want to be aware of:
Collet Size – The collet size can be ½” or ¼” and this will influence what type and sized bit the router can use.
Speeds – The router speed (referred to as RPM) will indicate how well your router will function with larger and denser material when using larger bits as a slower speed with variable control is optimal for working with larger stock.
Compatibility – Ensuring that your router is compatible with a range of router tables and router lifts is not essential but highly recommended. A router table will allow you to optimally use your router of choice and should therefore be a key consideration that is often a costly afterthought!
Regardless of which type of router you choose to use (or which router is best suited to your needs), a table mounted router will offer the most versatility of use.
With this in mind, an important consideration that we didn’t mention (intentionally) is that a router offering above the table depth adjustment should be a key consideration if you want a fully versatile routing solution.
Now that you know the different types of woodworking router, you might want to check out our review of the best router tables as getting a compatible router table with a compatible router lift (again, see our article on the best router lifts) is almost a necessity for professional and high quality wood routing and it will heavily influence the router model that you go with.