Choosing the right router may sometimes be difficult. It depends what you need it for and how often. But the same goes for the cutters, or router bits. Sometimes it’s a hard game of chess. First of all, you need to think about what you need the tool for, whether you will do mouldings or tenons or staircase tread grooves.
Cutter categories and types
Cutters can be classified by type of use, size and profile type. A first simple distinction may be between those with a tracing rest bearing and those without one. That defines their potential uses or sinking into stock. Some can only be used for edges, others anywhere on a surface or to a required depth or stock thickness.
There are rounding, angle, profile, dovetail, trimming, rabbetting, grooving and dish-shaped cutters. There are also frame and tenon and panel cutters, as well as compound cutters (but those are mostly not small shank bits designed for routers and router tables). Narrow pointed cutters are used for fine lettering and engraving.
A rounding cutter will help you round the edges of your workpiece, and a trimming cutter will trim any protrusions, veneers or strips. Use a dovetail cutter for making decorative joints for battens. An angle cutter will chamfer the edges at 45 degrees. Use grooving cutters for embedding mouldings, slide guides, grooves or mortises. Dish-shaped cutters are used for making tongues or grooves; profile cutters decorate mouldings or balks. The wide range of uses makes it clear that once you get a router machine, having one cutter for it is not enough. After all, it would be a waste, given the wide range of applications due to the replaceable bits.
Cutters differ not only in their shapes but also fastening shank diameters. Their name derives hence. The diameter is most frequently 6, 8, 10 and 12 mm.
But do not despair if you have multiple shank diameters: a replacement collet makes it easy to reduce the clamping hole for smaller diameters. Thus, you can clamp 10, 8 and 6 mm diameter shanks in the original 12 mm clamping hole using a collet. Of course the opposite is impossible.
Save money where it makes sense
If the lowest price is the only thing that guides you when choosing a milling cutter, you will perhaps soon cry over spilt milk. Two cheap cutters won’t replace a single good-quality one, so if you have a router and want to use it and be satisfied with your products, you’d better choose a renowned brand and pay a little extra for appropriate cutters.
To make cutters last long
To keep your cutters sharp for a long time, you should take proper care of them and store them well. Mechanical cleaning or blowing by a compressor is usually enough. For bearing cutters, treating the bearing from time to time is a good idea. Loosen it using a small Allen key and spray it with a suitable lubricant or let it indulge in an oil bath.
Where to put them?
The question is where to store a large quantity of cutters. You can keep a larger set in the box in which it came. But if you don’t have a box, or if you buy cutter piece by piece, you can do what David, my friend cabinet-maker does. Sometimes he calls himself the cabinet-maker and me just a maintenance worker, jokingly, but I don’t argue, it’s just teasing. He easily put the cutters that needed storing – quite a few bits in fact – in a desk drawer. All he needed was a few oak balks in which he drilled holes using a drill bit of a slightly larger diameter than the cutter shank. Now he has them precisely where they’re the most useful. He mostly stores cutters by profiles, or by use for individual orders, then just opens the drawer and reaches in.
What’s round is safe
Edges of a tabletop, a children’s toy, a bench backrest, or a playground construction – all of these are much more pleasant and safer with the edges rounded.
You can use a router to decorate the product while you are making it, or treat it once finished. Routers easily complete a decorative fence post, make grooves, round edges of cabinet doors or decorate panelled doors; instead of handles on storage crates or drawers, you can produce round holes with beautifully rounded edges.
Stairs with a router and a suitable bit – an easy and precise job
Using a router, you can make a simple, or even complex staircase; it’s all up to how skilful you are, and you may save quite a lot given the prices of stairs today.
In addition to the router and a correctly chosen cutter clamped in the machine, you just have to be friends with a spirit level and the divisions of distances between the treads.
You simple cut grooves for treads in the stringboards, either hidden or visible. If the tread is thicker than your grooving cutter, use a stop or a simple template of your own making to cut two grooves next to each other to achieve the required width. You can also make a rabbet on the tread so that it covers the mortise – groove – in the stringboard. Then just apply glue and tighten the stairs. If your staircase is larger, you can use a threaded rod in the top and bottom section, which you hide in a rabbet at the bottom of a tread. Again, you can produce that using a thin grooving cutter.
Upside-down router mounting table
Router tables are a very handy accessory for routers. The wider and more stable, the better.
The advantage of a table is that you move the stock instead of moving the machine. The stock usually sits flat on the bottom router table, in which the router is fastened. We will introduce one in the next episode of our series on routers and cutters from uni-max.
The router is fastened in the table and you no longer need to handle its weight or balance it on a thin slat when producing a moulding profile.
As for router tables, of course there are countless ″home-made” versions or single-purpose jigs that you can make yourself for a specific product or finishing, but a table specifically made for the job will probably serve you the best, and do it reliably and safely.