Canadian Woodworking

Why are routers great for nothing?

Blog by Rob Brown

Because of their flexibility, routers get used for a lot of operations in a small shop setting.

Because of their flexibility, routers get used for a lot of operations in a small shop setting. A large shop can lean on shapers, moulders, overhead routers, CNC routers and a host of other machines that can do a faster, safer job than a router can do in a small shop. In a small shop, with little floor space or money for these dedicated machines, we look to the do-it-all hand-held router to solve many of our machining and joinery challenges.

The downside of a router

On the one hand, as I mentioned above, routers aren’t great at doing just about anything. From my perspective, routers have one major downfall; they use relatively small bits with small cutting edges that can’t remove much material in one pass. Making matters worse, a router is often user-fed, meaning the user controls the speed of the pass. A faster pass means asking the small cutting edges on the bit to remove more material, which stresses the bit and the router, not to mention the workpiece. Another con is that because the router is usually hand-guided, it’s more likely to quickly (and dangerously) move in a surprising way. On top of that, they make loads of obnoxious noise.

The upside

After reading the above paragraph it would be natural for you to shy away from using your router, especially if you’re a beginner woodworker. Don’t get me wrong; a router can be used safely and for a wide range of operations, but only if you understand its limitations and don’t push it too far.

A router is very flexible and can be adapted to do almost anything, especially with the use of jigs, fixtures, knowledge, creativity and ingenuity. Because of the wide range of router bits available, the possibilities are just about endless. And let’s not forget about the fact that many routers aren’t overly expensive, which is a nice change for a tool with so much potential.

So, how do you use a router safely, Rob?

That’s a huge question, not to mention an important one. Books have been written on this subject, so it’s not possible for me to cover the topic in detail here. The first step is knowing that using a router incorrectly can be dangerous, and that it’s also very easy and common to do so. Even the simplest operation – routing a profile on the edge of a coffee tabletop, for example¬ – can quickly go wrong, damaging the workpiece, ruining your bit and maybe even drawing blood. It’s not helpful to think of routers as aggressive, blood-thirsty monsters that will remove your right arm before you even turn on the switch, as that’s only going to lead to tentative and risky behaviour. It’s best to do as much as you can to learn how to properly use a router before something goes wrong.

Is that all you’re going to tell me?

For now, yes. But don’t worry, there’s much more router knowledge just over the horizon. As you may know, we’ve started to produce webinars on a wide range of common woodworking topics. The first two were about finishing projects in a small shop setting. Next up is a series of four webinars we’ve put together that cover all the router basics you need to know so you can flick the switch with confidence and control.

A router can take you a long way in a small shop, but knowing how to use it safely and effectively is critical. Join me starting next Wednesday for our first webinar on routers: “Introduction to Routers and Bits.” This webinar is free if you’re a subscriber to Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. If you’re already a member, you received an email about the webinar a couple days ago, allowing you to sign up. If you’re not a member, consider becoming one. The annual fee is a very reasonable $29.97, which gives you our print publications over the year, access to thousands of past articles, almost 100 woodworking videos covering all sorts of critical and practical topics, as well as free access to these member-only webinars where you can learn about a woodworking topic, then ask any questions you have. Not a bad deal, I’d say. Check it out.

Lots of Potential

Routers have loads of potential for dozens of small shop-related tasks, but only if you know how to use them.

Last modified: May 13, 2024

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


  1. Advertisement

  2. I mean if do something dumb, like try and use your router bit in your drill press, expect bad things to happen. Why on earth did you think this would turn out well? If you looked at nothing else but rpm speed of a router vs a drill press, it becomes painfully obvious this was not going to end well. I’ve heard of people doing it successfully, but just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should.

  3. Router bits can be dangerous flying objects. I decided to try a bit in my drill press; set it to highest speed with the bit chucked in place. However, the bit came loose from the drill chuck and flew to the other end of my workshop and under a pile of lumber. I don’t know where it is but am glad it missed me intact; no blood. Scared the crap out of me. I won’t do that again.

  4. For years before I got an actual full size jointer my board straightener was an 8′ x 1′ piece of 3/4″ ply with a strip of melamine tape on the edge. Clamp your board to be straightened to it, mount a two flute 1/2″ router bit to your biggest router, don ear protectors and follow the edge. Perfect joint every time. Best router thing I ever did was make a router table, you can mount all kinds of templates, jigs ,a fence, some dust collection and most blessed of all, cut down the banshee wail by half at least. Another cool jig to have is an adjustable circle cutter, surprising how often it gets used once you make one. Even though I have a CNC now, I still reach for some of these jigs. Quicker than trying to figure out the programming to have the computer do what I want it to do instead of what I told it to do.

  5. IMO – More so than any other wood working tool a router requires a certain amount of skill to operate and this only comes with time and practice. In a small shop, it really becomes an indispensable tool as it can replace a lot of other larger tools. It can be used for many operations from making molding to edge jointing boards and used freehand or in a table. Even in a table, various configurations and jigs can allow for it to be mounted in various ways as required to suit the operation to be performed – underneath, side mounted or overhead mounted. In my small to midsize shop, its one of my go to tools for a lot of operations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Username: Password: