So this is going to be your first router, huh? Well, before we start digging into the collets and EVS and rated amperage and plunge vs. fixed base issues I’d like to start us off with two quotes from two expert woodworkers who are long time router users. If you’re just wanting to get in and out of this article with some basic advice on router buying then these two quotes are for you:

1) From’s Chris Baylor:
“If I were building a new wood shop, my first router would be a well-built, minimum 2-HP, variable-speed stationary base router. If I found a model that I really liked that had an optional plunge base, I would probably consider it, but rather than spend a bunch more for that option, I’d buy the stationary model first, and save for a dedicated plunge router with electronic speed control. Then, I’d move the stationary router to a router table and use the plunge unit for regular routing.”

So that’s simple enough, right? Go stationary with a minimum of 2-HP and plan to get a plunge farther on down the line. Let’s look at our next expert quote.

2) From an expert woodworker at WoodZone:
“A lower quality router can be frustrating to use because of all of the work needed to clean up the finish. It can also be equally frustrating to have to pass on a project because the router can’t handle the bits required to complete the project. Our recommendations are to buy the best router you can afford. Try to stay above 2hp and go with a 1/2″ router.”

So there you have it – both guys are recommending that in general you go for 2-HP or above, while Baylor points you towards a fixed base and the WoodZone guy says be sure you get the 1/2″.

OK so now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way for those who are itchy to pull the trigger on their router purchase, here are some of the finer points of routers that will give you the education you need to hold your own when you go to the hardware store or decide to make your purchase online.

The rest of this article follows this format:

1) Fixed Base Router vs. Plunge Routers
2) Router Bit Size and Bit Changing
3) Router Power Ratings
4) Router Features for Your Consideration

1) Fixed Base Router vs. Plunge Routers

So, one of the first differences between routers you’ll encounter is the fixed base vs. the plunge router. The fixed base remains fixed at a set depth throughout the duration of your cut. With a plunge router you can control the depth of the cut while the router is turned on, enabling you to shave off more and more wood until you reach your desired depth. Plunge routers are also good for mortises and dados.

Plunge routers offer more routing flexibility, but they cost more and weigh more.

2) Router Bit Shank Size and Bit Changing
The bit shank size of your next router should be another important factor in your decision making. Routers typically take bit shanks in these three sizes: 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″. Take a look at the projects you want to complete and the availability of bit sizes you need for these projects. This should be a good guide for you in picking out the bit shank size that will work for you. Note also that the most common shank size is 1/2″.

Before buying your next router either hold one in your hand and find out how easy it is to change bits or dig into woodworking forums to see what others have thought about ease of bit changing. The “hold it in your hand” rule also applies to the power button – when router designers get usability wrong it’s often in these two areas. Further – in regard to switches – make sure that your router can “lock” in the on position if you plan to use it on a table.

3) Router Power Ratings
Note that routers are rated for power on the Horse Power scale. A 2-HP router gives you 2-HP at the absolute maximum of its output, not during day to day use. The rated amperage is a much better method for comparing actual router power output when you’re making your router decision.

4) Router Features and Accessories for Your Consideration
There are a number of features and accessories that can add to your routing enjoyment. Here are a few for you to consider.

Ergonomic Grip with Easy Switch Reach:
Ideally you will be able to hold your potential router in hand before purchase. See how it feels and find out if you prefer the pistol grip or side-by-side “bull horn” style hand holds on your router.

Router Edge Guide:
Keep your cuts straight. You can build one of these, but if you’d rather not there are plenty available in the router accessory section of your favorite tool website.

Router Tables:
Router tables are a favorite project of many woodworkers, and it gives you the functionality of a shaper from your router.

More Router Buying Resources:
Router Buyers Guide WoodZone Guy
Stationary & Plunge Routers Chris Baylor
Buying Routers
Is Any Tool More Versatile Than a Router?
Choose a fixed-base model over a plunge router
Router Basics