Before World War II, most carpentry tasks were accomplished with hand tools. If a carpenter needed to mortise a door jamb to inlay a hinge leaf, he would use a router plane or a hammer and chisel. Today, professionals and DIYers alike can achieve similar results in less time with an electrically powered router. Routers can execute a dozen different cutting tasks (from mortises and rabbets to dados and dovetails) to create common joinery, which is why they’re considered one of the most versatile woodworking tools out there.
The router is a simple machine that is durable and relatively inexpensive. Its electric motor turns a shaft tipped by a collet, which can hold a wide array of cutting bits. The motor sits in a housing attached to a base that has handles for secure control. The base can either be fixed (for edge work, open-ended flutes or dados, or mounting under a router table) or plunge (for mortises, stopped flutes or dados, and most template-guided work); the routers we tested here come with both types for extra versatility.
Routers range in size from small 1-hp laminate trimmers to large 3¼-hp plunge routers. Compact routers bridge the gap between small, nimble trimmers and the more substantial 2¼-hp and larger routers. Reasonably powerful and capable, yet small enough to be comfortable for beginners to use, a compact router is a good choice as a first router purchase.
Head to Head Test
Don’t push bits in too far—this can prevent the collet from gripping the bit securely. The result can be a bit that slips and cuts too deep, ruining the work—or worse, flies out of the router while spinning at 24,000 rpm. Avoid this by making sure there’s about 1/8" between the base of the cutters and the collet.
–Brian Campbell, Carpenter
How To Use It
Online Exclusive:Enter to win all of the highest-rated tools we tested in 2014.