How to Properly Use a Woodworking Router

person using a router
  • 1-100 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-200
What You'll Need
Hand router
Assortment of router bits
Router fence
Carpenters square
Depth gauge
Eye and ear protection
Scrap wood

How to properly use a woodworking router can save a lot of wasted wood and a lot of headaches, not to mention, it is a lot safer than not knowing how to use it correctly. Almost as important is knowing which bit to use for each woodworking application you attempt. The old adage “use the right tool for the right job,” never applied more appropriately than when referring to this versatile tool.

Step 1 - Work Slowly

The cutting bit of a router rotates clockwise. For this reason it is important to hold the router firmly and router the piece from left to right, so essentially the wood being cut is being fed into the cutting bit. If the cut is being made along the grain it should be effortless and smooth. When a cut is made and cuts across the grain, place a piece of scrap wood at the end of the wood so it does not blow-out (splitting of wood at the end of the grain).

Unless absolutely necessary, never router wood from right to left with the cutting bit rotating clockwise. This will force the router to “run” along the wood and it is very easy to lose control.

Step 2 - Make Shallow Cuts

man using a router

When beginning to router a piece of wood, begin by making a series of several shallow cuts. This will keep the wood from splintering and give greater control of the router. Making several shallow cuts will also compensate for inadvertent gouges made into the wood by the router. Sometimes this occurs because of knots or uneven pressure on the router. Making a final cut, slightly deeper than the cut where the gouge appeared, will seamlessly remove the gouge or any burn marks caused by the router.

Step 3 - Increase Router Control

Probably the best way to increase control of a router is by building a router work bench, but failing this, portable router fences are a good option. A router fence attaches to the handheld router and helps to guide the router along its cutting path. Another much more portable option would be the use of router bits with attached ball bearing tips which rest against the wood being cut, and smoothly guide the cutting bit along its path. These can be adjustable with various sized bearings for different router bit operations.

Step 4 - Use Sharp Bits

Router bits arrive from the manufacturer extremely sharp and care should be used in handling them. However, over time and especially when cutting hardwoods, router bits can become dull so this is when they can become dangerous and may not perform well. Usually sanding these bits with 220 grit, followed by 440 grit will clean them up temporarily, but consideration should be given to sharpening them on a sand stone, or having them sharpened by an expert. Sharp bits will make work effortless, but dull bits will cause many headaches and aren't safe.