A wood router is a versatile tool. If you enjoy woodworking and creating custom looks, you will enjoy learning to use a router. There are 2 primary types of routers to choose from--the stationary router and the plunge router. These 2 look much the same and may have identical motors, but the plunge router is generally considered far more versatile. Both routers operate by turning a router bit at a high speed. The bit is then used to form or shape wood edges, such as cabinet doors or picture frames.
A stationary router, also known as a fixed base, has a rigid bottom plate that will move along the wooden surface. In the center of this plate is a small hole through which the router bit will protrude. When setting up for your specific application, you will set the depth of the cut, so check it on your wood before you begin to cut. The depth you set is maintained and cannot be adjusted during the cutting. This allows for a consistent cutting depth for the entire length of the cut. If additional cuts of varying depths are required, you will need to re-set the bit depth to the next desired depth and make the next cut.
A plunge router operates in much the same fashion as the stationary router; the 2 units may even have identical motors. The difference in these 2 styles is in your ability to control the depth of your cuts. The base of the plunge router is constructed somewhat differently than that of the stationary router. The base generally has a much larger opening and allows a great deal more visibility. The stationary router's depth is set, and the plunge router depth is controlled by you as you are making the cut. By pushing down on the router, the bit will cut deeper into the wood. When you remove the pressure, the bit depth will decrease. This option allows you to complete many cut styles not easily accomplished with the stationary router. While more versatile, the plunge router can also be harder to master, especially for the novice woodworker.
A router table is normally used with a stationary router. The router will mount under the table with the router bit pointing upward. The bit will protrude through the top of the table and its depth will be set in the same manner as the stationary router. Rather than having to clamp or otherwise secure your wood and pull the router along it, the router remains stable and stationary as you pull the wood across the router bit. For many cuts, this offers a great deal more control and can be helpful in reducing set-up times and inconsistent cuts. Many router tables will also accommodate jig saws.
While the 2 styles of router each have their own advantages, there are many features you will need to consider when purchasing a router. The first item to consider is the motor size. Try not to purchase anything below 2 horsepower. This size unit will give you plenty of power and will be durable. You will also want to consider strongly purchasing a unit that has a variable speed control. This can be helpful in making some of the more intricate cuts. One final thing you may want to consider is a unit designed to operate quietly. Many routers are loud due to the high rpms of the bit. While you should wear hearing protection while operating a router, the silent units can be helpful.
Routers are a useful tool in your workshop and--like any power tool--it can be hazardous if used improperly. You should read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the model you have purchased. You should always wear eye protection when using a router or any other power tool. Consider wearing a full face shield if at all possible or practical. Always wear hearing protection. Even if you purchase a router which is semi-quiet, there will be considerable noise when the bit begins cutting through the wood.