Three classes of routers

How many routers do I need? What make and model should I buy? The answer to the first question is easy: at least one, preferably two. The second question is like asking"What car should I buy?" Like cars the price of routers varies enormously: from under R500,00 to over R15 000,00.

Routers can be categorised as DIY or industrial and by collet size - either 1/4" or 1/2". The fist choice is easy - do you want a router for home workshop use or is for production work? Routers with a 1/4" collet are generally used for hand-held work and those with 1/2" collets are mounted in a router table. These are not absolutes. I have done a lot of hand-held routing with a 1/2" router (and I'm not a Mr South Africa). I know a number of craftsmen who have only ever owned a 1/4" router and swopped it between hand-held use and router table use (and made a lot of fine furniture in the process).

If you don't fancy (or have become tired of) mounting and removing a router from a router table then invest in a second router. Make it a 1/2" model and leave it permanently mounted in your router table. I have spent too many hours down on my knees (and skinning my knuckles) changing bits and adjusting the height on a table-mounted router. Today I really appreciate my router with above-table bit changing and above-table height adjustment. A 1/2" router opens up the world of lock-mitre joints, raised panels and cope-and-stick frames. Make sure you buy a router with speed adjustment. You can't spin these large bits at 22 000 rpm.

A recent article in an American woodworking magazine suggests that you should have three routers - the third being a small and light 1/4" router. I regard these (basically an outgrowth of one-handed laminate trimmers) as a luxury unless you are doing a lot of fine inlay work or making a lot of small novelties or toys. In this case it might be your only router. DeWalt and Makita market combo versions (fixed base plus a plunge base) in South Africa. You might even buy a plunge-base accessory for your rotary tool (Dremel or similar).

Follow these two links to see my recommendations: Hand-held router, Table-mounted router.

Last updated 22 July 2016