Types of Routers and Rotary Tools

Grouped with what you think of as traditional routers, this class of machines typically also includes rotary tools and laminate trimmers, so lets start with a basic description of the various options and their most appropriate applications. This information might help you decide which tool is the best woodworking router for your style of working.

fixed based router, best woodworking router for safetyFixed Base Routers:

This is the most common version of the machine.

A router motor is housed inside a collar and faceplate. You adjust how far the router bit extends out from the bottom of the faceplate and then lock it down into place.

They are the safest router on the market, with a lower center of gravity so more balanced and a smaller size to make manuvering around a small piece of wood slightly easier that with its larger cousin the plunge router.

Plunge Routers:

As the name might suggest, these routers are designed to plunge down into the wood, while turning at high speeds. A plunge router typically includes a set of rotating cams that act as preset "stops" for jobs that need to be done in multiple passes.

Dewalt Plunge Woodworking RouterSo say for instance you wanted to create a slot 3/4" deep and knew that your router could only cut maybe 1/4" deep at a time. With a plunge router you can set various stops.. so the first one may only let you drop the cutter into the wood 1/4". When you're done that you rotate the cam and this time, you plunge down into the wood until it hits the second cam, thus cutting 1/2" deep .. and on to the third depth setting that lets you plunge down into the wood a full 3/4". Each cut is completed without turning off the machine.

Plunge routers are also great if you wish to add a groove into the middle of a panel. You can start and stop the cut by plunging the cutter into the face without having to initiate the cut at an outside edge. Not used all that often but???

Notice the picture to the right is the same DeWalt router as above but this is the "plunge" version.. its standing on "legs" or bars that guide the up and down plunging motion. This is also what makes it more unstable and tippy. Manufacturers recognize this downside and now often offer their routers in a kit that includes both a "fixed" and "plunge" base, using the same motor.

porter cable laminate trimmer router for woodLaminate Trimmers:

These are a small version of a woodworking router. Sometimes referred to as a palm router. They are used a lot in the kitchen industry for trimming plastic laminate sheets, where at most you are trying to flush up an edge of 1/8" laminate to the edge of a base substrate like MDF or plywood.

They are small and compact and designed for one-handed use. Most have a 1/4" collet and under 1 hp in power. This router is not designed for constant heavy duty shaping. Most woodworkers would NOT consider this their primary tool, but a light-weight convenience if their work load and bank account could justify a second dedicated machine.

Rotary Tools:

black and decker rotary tool, best router woodThese little guys are the real small toys in the router lineup, probably mostly known under the trade name of a "Dremel". They fall under the router category, because they often come with "mini" sized router bits for wood, that perform in all the same ways as a traditional router and router bits... just with a lot less power and precision.

They are considered an essential tool in the hobby market where say your objective is to carve wood or create doll house furniture, but for serious woodworking it has little application. It certainly would not be considered the best router, wood, plastic or metal but does come in handy for shaping small components for model railroads or jewelry.