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I am in the market to purchase a router for the first time, and I am not really sure what I should be looking for. As a reference, this is for hobby wood working, and the best I know to categorize it as is general usage (a little bit of everything). Not sure if it makes a difference, but I do not currently plan on getting a router table, but plan on getting one (or making one) down the line.

The things I have found while comparing them:

  • Motor Size
  • Collet sizes accepted
  • Dust Collection (not really important to me at the moment, since I do everything outside and just let it go everywhere)
  • plunge or fix based (not sure how important this one is, as they seem to be interchangeable bases)

Is there anything else I should be comparing?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

More routers is always better! But here are things that I would look for when buying a single general-purpose router:

  • Adjustable speed. Large bits have a larger diameter and thus higher linear speed at the cutting edge, so you want to use a slower RPM to compensate. An adjustable-speed router will be useful in a wider range of applications.
  • Multiple base options. I have a fixed base mounted upside down in a homemade router table, and a plunge base for freehand routing. They came together in a kit, if I recall. Having at least two bases lets you leave one mounted.
  • 1/4" and 1/2" collets.
  • Soft-starting motor. This isn't super important and I think a lot of current models have it. Instant-on routers always startle me and jump a little when you turn them on.

I wouldn't worry too much about the horsepower. Stay away from the small "palm routers" if you're looking for something general purpose, but otherwise there's no need (in my mind) to get a monster. 1.5 hp or so should be suitable for general purpose work. Bigger models will let you remove more stock quickly, but unless you're in a commercial setting with a sturdy table I doubt you'll want to push the limits of a large model.

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Some additional factors:

  • Dimensions of the router base - small handheld vs large mountable I sometimes need to work on surfaces where space is a premium and need the thinner base.
  • fixing screws on the base - sometimes its nice to mount slide guides where you can easily follow the contours of a rail... so i build a template stock to fix to the underside of the router.
  • midpoint of the router bit to base... imagine if you use one of the edges of the router against a rail... you dont want to use another edge and have the routing depth change.
  • permanent lock on power button - you dont want to keep depressing the trigger when doing lots of routing...
  • adjustable router bit depth - obvious...and I think a default feature.
  • For me.. my best router is one where the adjustable travel of the router head to the base is quite far out. I have made my own router table and mount the router from the bottom of the table... obviously its nice that the router bit can travel far out past the depth of the routertable's width.
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I actually have been contemplating building a router table also, not because I can do better than what is commercially made, it just seems like a fun project. So thanks for the input, definitely great things to consider. –  jschoen May 8 '13 at 15:11

I've found it handy to have several routers. If I was in the market again, then I'd keep an eye on craigslist and garage sales and buy a few of what is ever available ... or perhaps ebay. It's also nice to have several bases for a 1/4" shank model (not just the base plate, but the entire base), so I'd find which (Sears) models have an inexpensive base that is sold as a replacement part, and then buy that router new along with 2 or 3 extra bases. Just my 2 cents.

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Thanks for the thoughts. My only concern would be the storage. I have a fairly small tool shed, so space could become an issue. Plus there is the explaining to the wife about having multiples off the same tool. But food for thought for sure. –  jschoen May 7 '13 at 0:59

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