Canadian Woodworking

Top 10 router bits

There are literally hundreds of options when it comes to choosing which router bits to buy. Everyone has their own preferences, in terms of style, process and function, but this list will take you pretty far.

1/4″ Straight

Whether you’re cutting a shallow recess for a hinge, routing a small mortise to accept a tenon or machining a groove to capture a panel, a straight bit like this is great to have around the shop.

1/2″ Straight

Similar to the 1/4″ bit, but a lot more robust, this bit is great at plowing grooves and dadoes in material. In fact, tenons could be machined with this same bit, housed in your router table. It can also be used to create a bombproof mortise in heavy material, if a large, strong tenon is required.

3/8″ Spiral

If the mortise and tenon is your go-to joint, this spiral bit is your best option. An up-cut spiral bit will best clear the mortise while cutting, leaving a mortise with true, even sides. Though perfect for mortises, there’s no reason why you couldn’t cut grooves, rabbets, etc. with this bit. If smaller scale work is your forte, select a 1/4″ spiral bit.


In the perfect world every woodworker would have a complete selection of round-over bits, covering every size imaginable. Since that’s not the case I would recommend either a 1/4″ or 3/8″ diameter bit to take care of most of your needs. I do, however, really like my 1/8″ diameter bit for quickly rounding sharp edges of jigs, fixtures and some other rougher work.

Classical/Roman Ogee

A nice routed edge really dresses up an otherwise bland piece of furniture. What style to go with is personal preference, though I prefer a classical bit. These bits create shadows and add depth to tops, drawer perimeters, base mouldings and so much more.

Adjustable Rabbet

Cutting rabbets in curved work is very hard, unless you have one of these babies. Select and install the appropriate bearing diameter, and you’re off to the races. I can’t tell you how many times one of these bits has saved me from a difficult situation.

1/2″ Flush Trim

These straight bits, with a bearing on their ends, tackle the majority of flush routing in a small shop, and help produce multiple identical parts. Whether it’s flushing solid wood, sheet stock, laminate or another material, these bits are crucial to have around. A 1″ long cutter will be enough for most woodworkers, but if you plan on doing a lot of pattern work I would suggest a bit with a cutter at least 1-1/2″ long.

3/4″ Pattern Tracing Bit

Used in similar situations as a flush trim bit, except with a bearing towards the center of the bit. This small difference will allow woodworkers to switch between the two, in order to always cut “downhill” reducing tear-out on solid wood. There are also some situations where having both styles of bits is very handy. These bits can also be used when a through-cut is not wanted.

Small Dovetail

Whether it’s working on a small box, or doing some finer drawer or carcase joinery, a small dovetail bit may save the day. Dovetail bits can be used in a router table, or freehand, with a straight-edge to guide them. Ensure you cut in the proper direction in both cases. If used in a router table, both male and female parts of some dovetail joints can be machined without changing the height of the bit.

Large Dovetail

Like it’s smaller brother, a large dovetail bit will work wonders for joinery. Sliding dovetail joints, for one, are very strong, and aren’t overly difficult to machine with one of these bits. If you’re using it in conjunction with a dovetail jig, ensure you purchase the correct bit; sometimes specific dovetail bits are required.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

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

Chamfer? Rail and stile? Cove? What bit do you feel is missing from this list?

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