Router Basics and Safety Tips

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Routers are one of the most useful woodworking tools out there. But as with any kind of powerful tool, routers can be dangerous. Router bits are sharp, and if you don’t take proper precautions they can do a lot of damage. We've compiled a list of tips here to help you safely enjoy the full potential of your router.


Do’s:

  1. Always read your router’s instructions manual. Don’t assume you know everything about a new piece of equipment.
  2. Be very careful when removing the protective wax from a new cutter. Instead of pulling it off, slit the wax with a sharp knife along the inside angle of the flute and then pry the coating away. Before using your new cutter, make sure you wipe off any protective oil so it won’t end up on your wood.
  3. Use push blocks when to keep your hands away from the bit.
  4. Only use large-diameter bits in a router table. If a bit’s diameter is over 1 in. in diameter, it can cause you to easily lose control of a handheld router.
  5. Always wear eye, hearing, and dust protection. Even if you are only routing for a short time.
  6. Make several shallower cuts instead of one deep cut. Heavy cuts tend to result in kickback. You can easily move the fence or switch to a larger guide bearing.
  7. Use a featherboard or clamps to support your material against the router table or fence.
  8. Always use a guard.
  9. If either the collet or its nut is faulty, change both as soon as possible. If in doubt, replace the nut at the same time as the collet. Distorted collets, which need excessive tightening, should be swiftly replaced. If there is no apparent wear in the collet or nut, the problem may be wear on the arbor, or within the router's main bearings, both of which are major service tasks.
  10. Secure the motor in the base before starting the router.
  11. Insert the bit in the collet, and then back off approximately 1/16” (1.5mm). Always insert as much of the shank as possible into the collet and at least three quarters of the shank length at minimum. This will prevent the possibility of any "hammer action" being induced which could cause the cutter to creep out of the collet (the collet nut is represented by a rectangle, for clarity). This will also prevent damage to the collet, reduce wear and stress on the router bearings and avoid the possibility of shank damage. Always ensure that you have a minimum gap of 5/32" (4mm) between the collet and the cutter (shown here in red).
  12. If you're not sure if a particular operation is safe, don’t do it.
  13. Make sure that the collet is kept perfectly clean and corrosion-free. Keep both the inside and outside tapered surfaces of the collet clean and free from dust, resin and dirt. This also applies to the inside taper of the arbor and the threads of the nut and arbor. Remove any deposits with a wire brush and regularlyprotect the surfaces with light oil or anti-corrosion spray.
  14. Take your time to prepare yourself and the machine; don’t make mistakes because you are in a hurry. Carry out safety checks before switching on. Ensure that the cutter is held firmly in the collet, rotates freely and is well away from the work before the power is switched on. Make sure that all bits, attachments, clamps, and locking devices are secured before starting the router.
  15. Where possible, avoid shaping small stock. Instead, shape a larger piece and reduce it in size afterwards.
  16. Keep router cutters sharp. Take care when handling them, especially when removing them from the collet or from a storage block.
  17. Keep obstructions clear of the path of the router and the routing area.
  18. Fit no-volt release switches to your table-mounted router to isolate the router in an emergency and to stop it from switching back on when power is restored after a power failure or disconnection.
  19. Always disconnect the power when changing bits, servicing the router, or mounting attachments.
  20. Make sure that you have selected the proper bit. Check the type, shank strength, cutting length and diameter, and sharpness of the bit. Make sure that the router horsepower and speed is appropriately matched to the material, the intended depth of cut, and the size of the bit selected.
  21. Tidy work areas and benches help to prevent accidents. Always keep the floor around the work area clear of all obstacles. Cover or otherwise protect your routers air intake during storage.
  22. Make sure that the on-off switch is off before connecting the power.
  23. Always grip your handheld router tightly, especially when starting up the router; when you have to resist the initial motor torque. Keep both hands on the knobs or handle, or use a foot switch when the job requires a "third hand".
  24. Maintain your router equipment diligently. Replace worn parts, discard worn-out and poor bits, and check the router periodically.
  25. Let your router reach its full running speed before you start any routing operation.
  26. Get into the habit of turning off the router immediately after you have switched it on. As the motor starts to coast down, use your eyes, ears, and sense of touch to detect any unfamiliar vibrations or irregularities.
  27. Always shut the power off immediately at the first sign of any unfamiliar noise or vibration. Always be aware of the vibration through the handles and the "hum" that indicates the router is operating properly.
  28. If the router or material tends to ride upwards and requires extra pressure to feed, turn it off immediately. This could mean that the bit is dull, that it is slipping out of the collet, or just that you have selected the wrong bit for your project. 

         

Don’ts:

  1. Neverpull the cutter from the router by the cutting edges without hand protection.
  2. Don't use cutters with damaged shanks.
  3. Do not switch the router on while the cutter is touching the material to be cut.
  4. Do not wear loose clothing, jewelry or leave long hair down devices, and either short-sleeve shirts or long-sleeve shirts with rolled-up cuffs. Wear a shop apron or tight clothing. Make sure that your hair, jewelry, etc., will not become get caught in any moving parts of the router.
  5. Never start the router with the bit in contact with the stock.
  6. Don’t force the bit or overload the router.
  7. Don’t let children near your routing equipment, especially when it is in use.
  8. If any unusual vibration is noticeable when you are routing, switch it off immediately. Make sure that the cutter shank is not bent, that the cutter is sharp and undamaged. Vibration can also result from a worn collet. Collet marks on the shank will show that the collet is worn. You can check it by inserting a long cutter and tightening the nut. Then push sideways on the end of the cutter. If it moves, the collet must be replaced.
  9. To avoid permanent distortion, always remove the cutter from the router after use.After cleaning, lightly oil the collet before storing, particularly in humid conditions.
  10. Never clamp a short portion of the shank in the collet to make your bit longer.
  11. Never use collet reducers to extend the length of the bit.
  12. Never leave the router running unattended. Wait until the router comes to a complete stop and switch off at the wall outlet before you make any adjustments.
  13. Do not clear debris away from the cutting area while the machine is still running.
  14. Don't force-feed the router in any situation.
  15. Do not operate electric routers in moist, wet areas or damp environments.
  16. Do not use mounted abrasives, carving burrs, drills, or other tools’ bits and cutters in routers. 

       

For Beginners

  • One of the easiest and safest ways to begin routing is to use ball-bearing piloted router bits. The bearing rides along the edge of the material, keeping the bit on course and in control. You just set the depth of cut and you're ready to go. You don’t need an edge guide or a straightedge fence. The bearing alone will make sure the bit cuts to the right width. Most edge-shaping and trimming bits are available with ball-bearing pilots.

                                                  

  • Conventional Cutting vs. Climb-Cutting: Conventional cutting is following the correct feed direction, which is both safer and easier. The correct feed direction is always against the rotation of the cutter.

Routers rotate in a clockwise direction (when looking down from above the machine. This determines the correct feed direction. If you cut using the opposite feed direction, the cutter will try to drag the router along the material. Cutting in the opposite feed direction, known as climb-cutting, can quickly become unstable and dangerous. It is possible to take a very light "cleaning" pass in the "wrong,” but this is an operation that should be left to skilled operators who are totally confident in handling and controlling their machine. Additionally, the fences and clamps involved should be set up to take the router’s rotation into account.

If the material is fed in the wrong direction, it could be ripped away from the operator and - in the worst case - drag the operator's hand into the cutter. 

It is a good practice to mark the right direction of feed on the worktable backfence. With portable routers, the rotational direction of the cutter is often marked on the machine. Remember, the correct feed direction is always against the rotation of the cutter. 

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