Router Tutorial

By Derek Neil
Photography provided by Aaron Goodwin


Prev The 2 types of routers, general use recommendations & hand held vs. table mounted,


Router bits, size, quality and types,
Using templates & guide rails, 
Making your own templates,


The two types of routers

- Fixed base router,

Is a router with a single depth adjustment and the router bit is fixed in position relative to the base of the router until it is adjusted for a different depth. This means in order to safely start a rout in the middle of a piece of wood a pilot hole is required (seen next), which is usually done with a drill bit slightly larger then the router bit being used.


The router is then placed on the wood so that the base is laying flat on the wood and the router bit is in the pilot hole. Ensuring that the router bit isn’t touching any edge of the pilot hole the router can then be turned on, but be aware of the kickback when the router does start up.

Clamping down the piece of wood and holding the router firmly when it first starts is highly recommended, once u get going just be sure to keep the router base flat on the wood and firmly under control.    

- Plunge router

A router in which the motor and collet assembly of the router actually moves up and down along 2 poles attached to the base of the router, meaning that you literally turn on the router, push down and plunge the router into the wood, and engage the depth lock too keep the router down until you're done routing, all the while the base is sitting flush on the piece of wood to ensure control. The depth of the plunge is controlled by gauges on the router, and can be adjusted much quicker then some fixed base routers.

Although much better suited for free hand use then fixed base routers, plunge routers can also lock the base in place to function as a fixed base router, so they are also usable as table mounted routers.


- Costs

Weather you get a fixed base or plunge there's always going to be the endless battle of Cost vs. Quality when buying a router. These days you can find routers for as low as 30$ that will do the job, but how long they last and how well they do that job depends on how they're built (mostly plastic parts instead of metal ones) and how they're used. With that said price isn't a sure guarantee of a beautiful end product when using the tool, and I quote.

"A little patience and planning can make a cheap tool produce some pretty dazzling results.  If you decide to go with a budget model, simply plan on compensating the quality with time and planning."

 - Larry McInnis


General Use Recommendations:

- Pre drilling;

 Although the fixed base router is the only one that requires a pilot hole, using a drill press or a drill bit with a stop piece or depth indicator like a piece of tape to pre drill the area to be routed can remove quite a bit of wood, and is a very good idea.  This means there’s less wood for the router to get rid of, so the actual routing will go a bit faster and a bit more smoothly, not to mention you’ll save the edge on your bits.



 - Moving against the bit rotation

When routing free hand making a cavity in a body always move the router in a clockwise movement, this has the same affect as moving your piece of wood counter clock wise, and counter the rotation of the router bit. The same applies to tracing out a guitar body with a template, if you're doing this on a table mounted router then the bit would be rotating counter clockwise and you would be moving the piece of wood clock wise around the bit so that you're pushing the wood into the cutter, if you move the wood with the cutter your bit is likely to dig in and  shoot the piece of wood out of your hands and across the room (yes, I'm serious!)


 - Multiple passes;  

routing to deep in one pass can be extremely dangerous, and can result in burning the wood, burning the metal bit, breaking/shattering the bit (very not good), and losing control of the router, therefore always rout in steps, I usually go in ¼” steps when dealing with some of the more dense hardwoods, and sometimes 3/8” or ½” increments for softer woods like basswood, poplar & alder. Although these numbers may vary depending on how powerful your router is, heavier duty routers may be able to do deeper passes while still functioning safely, just use some common sense, and lots of scrap wood!



 - Routing area; 

When routing free hand it's always a good idea to secure your work peice to a bench like a work mate, or at least use a rubber mat that will prevent your piece of wood from sliding. 

 - Safety;

It is highly recommended that you wear proper eye protection, and a respirator mask at all times while using a router, especially on exotic species of wood, due to their toxic nature, some  in smell and many in saw dust form. Investing in a good pair of ear defenders may also be a good idea as many routers can be extremely loud.


Hand Held vs. Table Mounted

[1/2"R round over bit]

As mentioned above Fixed routers are better suited to table use for certain safety issues. But plunge routers can be equally useful in hand, or mounted on a table. Some routers come with specialty tables made for the router, and are made of metal. An alternative is to drill a 1-1/2” hole in a spare table, or bench or metal bench / stool, and mount the router onto that. As long as the wooden work surface is fairly level and ½” thick, however be aware that doing so means you lose the equivalent amount of cutting length on your router bit when fully protruding from the router table.

[left: 3/4"diam straight cutter in plunge / right: 1/2"Diam flush trim bit fixed base]

The advantage of a table mount router is that sometimes it’s easier to move the piece of wood and keep it level on the table vs. trying to keep the router sitting flat on the edge of the guitar (see pictures below). A table is also useful when making your own routing templates with a flush trim bit (explained later), and with the use of a fence, your table router can double as a jointer provided you have the right type of fence and a long enough straight cutting bit for the wood u want to work.

[1/2" round over bit]

[3/4"diam straight cutter bit]

Prev The 2 types of routers, general use recommendations & hand held vs. table mounted,


Router bits, size, quality and types,
Using templates & guide rails, 
Making your own templates,