One of the things I have noticed while writing the blog is that readers sometimes turn to me for advice. Now, if it’s how NOT to cut dovetails (based on my personal experience, mind you), I’m your guy. If it’s about how not to treat your band saw, guilty as charged. Heck, I can even advise you to steer a wide berth around tiling!
But, it’s cool when someone new to woodworking seeks advice on the first tool of a certain type they should buy. Oh, I’ve made mistakes when buying tools, and have had to later correct the situation through the expeditious use of additional funds… So, if I can help folks get off onto the right foot, hey, I’ve done my good deed for the day.
I recently got an e-mail from Randy (the name has been changed to protect the pseudo-innocent) who asked me:
I’m about to buy my first router and have no clue which to buy. My primary reason for the purchase is to do template cuts using 1.5″ to 2″ flush bits (although I am sure once I get the machine I’ll find many more uses for it).
I was wondering if you had any advise for me which machine to buy.
Oh, can you ever find uses for a router! It’s one of those tools you wonder if you need when you first start out, but wonder how you got along without one after you get it. Now, my first router was given to me by my mom, and it served me very well. It just had its limitations – a 1/4″ collet and a fixed base. Now, it got me through a lot of years of routing, but, when I had the chance to upgrade, it made too much sense to not go for it. Based on my experience, I replied to Randy thusly:
Welcome to the wonderful world of routing!
You will find as many suggestions are there are woodworkers. And, that’s cool, because everyone works differently.
For my money, you definitely want to go with a combo kit. Something that gives you the ability to use the router as a plunge router or a fixed-base model. This way, you slip the motor unit from base to base, and can do just about anything with it. Heck, if you found one, a three-base router would be optimal.. you could dedicate one base (probably the two-handed fixed base) to a router table, then keep the second fixed base (a D-handle model) and a plunge base for all of your hand-held work. That would give you most flexibility, until you can get your hands on a larger, dedicated router table model (probably the second one you will buy.)
I have the DeWalt 618 3 base model: http://www.amazon.com/DEWALT-DW618B3-Horsepower-Plunge-Fixed/dp/B0000CCXU3
I like it a lot. DeWalt is made to use all of the Porter Cable accessories, so everything you could want to use with it (edge guides, guide bushings, etc) will work. It has the guts to use big bits, and is pretty nimble.
If I had to do it all over again, I might go with the Ridgid router kit: http://www.ridgid.com/Tools/Heavy-Duty-EVS-2-14-Peak-HP-Router-Combo/EN/index.htm
Sure, it only comes with two bases, but this one has an LED light mounted into the base, which really throws a lot of light onto what you are working on. That will make it much easier to see what you are doing, and the kit comes with a lifetime warranty – so, if seven years from now it acts up, they will fix it for you, or give you a new one.
Whatever you do, get one that has a 1/2″ collet. The DeWalt I have comes with both a 1/2″ and a 1/4″ collet. Sure, you can save some dough by going with a 1/4″ collet, but I can guarantee you that you will outgrow that router quickly. All of the cool bits come in 1/2″ shanks, and they aren’t that much more expensive. Plus, with a 1/4″ collet as well, you should be able to tackle just about anything.
I would also strongly recommend you buy a book about router basics and read it from cover to cover. There are tons of them out there, but they all offer some really good advice on how to get the most out of the tool. Look for books that feature a lot of jigs you can build… you will be surprised how much a good router can do for you.
As always, eye and ear protection are a must. The router is VERY loud, and you will appreciate a good set of ear protection. And, a dust mask is also a very good idea… there so far isn’t a perfect dust collection setup for routers – especially when used hand-held.
Remember, buy a good model, learn how to use it and get practice. Soon, you’ll be using it on just about every project. Seriously. Heck, I use mine for mortises, tenons, dovetails, box joints, edge jointing, smoothing, profiles… it can do a lot!
Let me know how things go for you!
Will Randy take my advice? I’m not sure, but he did seem intrigued by the idea of having the multiple bases. I asked him to stay in touch and let me know how things worked out for him.
That, my friends, is post number 993!