What features make the best wood working router?

If you wander down the tool isle of any home center you'll probably find at least 20 feet of display space dedicated to the sale of the "best router". Wood and wood working is quite variable though so the challenge is to pick one that will match your particular needs. If its underpowered you can't use it and if its overpowered or unbalanced you won't be able to use it.. at least not to get a nice finish. So here's a few thoughts on what to look for....


Horsepower is always a confusing discussion. Small motors (ie the type that you find on hand tools) do not have a universal method of calculating horsepower output, at least not in such a way that you can really believe the numbers. It most often represents the peak load that any machine can reach before it blows up.. NOT a sustained HP rating!! .. thus often better to use amperage as a better gauge of power.. the greater the amperage it can take, the more power it be able to handle!

Don't confuse a 3hp router motor with a stand-alone 3hp motor that you might use to belt drive your table saw. The latter is MUCH more powerful. They are NOT comparable!

Also appreciate that bigger is not always better. Larger HP routers are great in a router table under controlled movement, but heavier and much more difficult to maneuver around delicate corners if that is your agenda.. again the BEST router for wood is the one that matches your application.

Electronic speed control is a feature of more high-end routers for wood. It keeps the bit moving at the same rpm no matter what load you are putting your machine under.

Variable speed: Allows you to slow down your spindle speed when using larger door panel bits to reduce wood burning and create a safer work environment.

ON/OFF Switch:

The big deal here is to make sure that you can comfortably reach it when the machine is running and you need to flip it off. Test the fit. Place your hands on the handles and reach for the off switch!

It also helps if the switch is somewhat protected. Even the best wood working routers have a habit of getting dropped on the work bench. If it is fragile or located in an exposed position it's sure to get broken.

Personally I prefer the toggle switches to the sliders. The plastic slide switch design is much more inclined to break after ongoing use, after all it seems to only have a small plastic "T" inserted into the chassis for engaging the motor. I have one that's definitely NOT the best wood working router that I've had to replace the plastic on/off switch twice already and its not that old... and it is hard to find a parts depot when you need one for a $2.00 part.

Some routers have been designed like a lawn-mower, you have to hold down a trigger before and during operation. Personally I don't like this action as I find it detracts from your concentration of what you're doing.. either way just take note and form your own opinion.

Height Adjustment:

Never buy a router without taking it out of the box. You need to test the up and down travel. Does it seem to move smoothly? Will it get jammed with shavings? Is there a fine tuner for incremental adjustments? Is it too "fine tuned" and its going to take you an hour to bring the head up one inch? Does the locking nut firmly hold its position?

You are always changing the height of the bit in a router so this is something you are going to be doing on a daily basis. Make sure you're happy with the action.

Collet Design:

collet and nut for wood working routerThe "collet" is a separate locking pin that comes with a nut that screws onto the end of the motor shaft to hold the router bits in place. How the collet is designed tells you a lot about the quality of a wood router.

Most of the really cheap, ie." NOT the best" wood working routers have a threaded rod with 3 or 4 slits in the end and one locking nut. You insert the cutter into the hollow shaft and tighten the nut which in turn, pinches the slotted rod around the shank of the bit. As you can image, slicing the threaded rod doesn't really help the threads engage in the locking nut.... I'd avoid all routers that are designed like this.

Better designs have one extra piece.. a separate slotted collect (see picture above) that inserts into the hollow shaft first. The nut drops down over this, pinching the collet's slots around the collet reducer for router for wood shank of the router bit and threads onto the motor shaft. This gives a much more secure lock and prevents your bits from pulling themselves out, in heavy passes.

Collets come in various sizes: 1/4" and 1/2" as the most common. Some routers include two separate collet+nut combination fittings, others include one 1/2" collet and nut and then throw in a collet "reducer" (see picture to the right) to drop the inside diameter of the collet down from 1/2" to 1/4". It is actually preferable to have two different sized collet-nut fittings.. reducers can slip inside the original collet if you don't get it tight enough.


This is a recent feature to be added to the lineup.. some routers will actually come with a built-in light.. not a bad idea as we all age and the vision goes downhill :) .. or is that just me?


For edging with a router you want the handles as low to the ground as possible so you can maintain control, especially when only half the router base is actually sitting on wood. (this is a pretty common situation during edge profiling). This is somewhat affected by the size of the base.. so give it a try by rolling it around a table edge and experiment with the feel.


Some of the best wood working routers are now making their face plates out of clear acrylic... makes it easier to see what's happening.

Upside-Down Stability:

The easiest way to change a bit in a router is to tip it upside down on your desk, so it helps if it has a flat top! .. test it!

Dust Collection:

Routers generate significant sawdust so having a design that directs the flow of shavings and has a connection to match your shop vac is a definite bonus.. especially for a wood working router destine for mounting under a table.