A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Router Bits
posted on October 24, 2013 by Rockler

set of rockler router bits

You’ve finally got that new router, and you’re eager to use it. High-tech as it is, though, it’s toothless without router bits. But which bits should you buy? If you haven’t used a router much, the options can be dizzying. Here’s what you need to know to make informed choices.

First, router bits come in many profiles. That’s the term for the shape of the cutting edge. Here are some of the most common:

Straight Router Bits
Straight Bits: A workshop staple, these bits make cuts straight into a material to form a groove or dado (a groove across the wood grain) or to hollow out an area for a mortise or inlay. They come in a variety of diameters and lengths.
Rabbeting Router Bits
Rabbeting Bits: Guided by a spinning pilot bearing at the tip, these bits are designed specifically to cut a rabbet (shoulder) in the edge of a workpiece often used to join pieces.  They can be purchased in a set that includes bearings of different diameters, allowing a single bit to produce rabbets of different sizes.
Flush-Trim Router Bits
Flush-Trim Bits: As the name suggests, these bits are used to trim the edge of one material flush with the edge of another– for example, trimming a veneered surface flush with a substrate or  using a pattern to create multiple identical pieces.  They usually are guided by a pilot bearing that’s the same diameter as the cutter. The bearing may be at the tip of the bit or at the base.
Chamfer Router Bits
Chamfer Bits: These bits cut a bevel of a particular angle to ease or decorate the edges of a surface. They also can create the beveled edges needed to join multi-sided constructions.
Edge-Forming Router Bits
Edge-Forming Bits: As the name suggests, edge-forming bits are most often used to cut a decorative edge. For example, Round-Over bits cut a rounded edge of a particular radius (such as 1/8" or 1/4"); Ogee bits cut variations of an S-shaped profile; Edge-beading bits cut a quarter- or half-circle profile (called a bead); Cove bits cut a concave quarter-circle. Many edge-forming bits include a pilot bearing.  In most cases, these bits are used for final decoration of a project where edges have already been established and can serve as guides for the bit.
Specialized Router Bits
Specialized Bits: This category includes bits dedicated to specific tasks. Examples are molding bits, which incorporate multiple edge-forming profiles into a single bit; stile-and-rail bits, which are used to shape the frame pieces in frame-and-panel constructions such as cabinet doors; and raised-panel bits, which shape the edges of a door panel to fit into the corresponding slot in the frame’s stiles and rails. These bits are somewhat large and can be used safely only in a table-mounted router. Other specialized bits include dovetail bits, drawer-lock bits, finger-joint bits and lock-miter bits.

Second, there are two common sizes of router bit shanks: 1/4" and 1/2".

Many routers come with interchangeable 1/4" and 1/2" collets so that either size bit can be used, but some accept only 1/4" shank bits.  Whenever possible, use bits with 1/2" shanks. They provide better stability with less vibration, and they typically produce a smoother cut and have longer cutter life. Except for very small and very large profiles, router bits typically are available in both shank diameters.

Third, most router bits have cutting edges made from high-speed steel (HSS) or carbide
tips fused to the bit.
Most of the profile bits will have carbide cutters, which are harder than steel and will hold an edge longer – 10 to 25 times longer – but also are more brittle. So while carbide-tipped bits are preferable, you must handle and store them carefully to avoid chipping the cutters.

Fourth, there are visible signs of quality.
While you can’t assess some factors by eye – such as the hardness and quality of the carbide or the bit’s overall balance, there are things you can look for. High-quality router bits have carbide cutters that have been sharpened to a fine edge and that are thick enough to allow for multiple regrindings. The brazing that joins the carbide tip to the bit will appear even.  And high-quality bits will incorporate a design that minimizes the risk of workpiece kickback. These anti-kickback bits have more body mass, and their enlarged bodies prevent the bits from biting too deeply and catching on the material. The greater body mass also helps to dissipate heat and keep the bits sharp longer.

Finally, price can be an indicator of quality.
The old saw applies: In general, you get what you pay for. Here at Rockler, we offer our own line of router bits designed for the serious woodworker. Rockler bits are made with high-quality ISO K10 and K20 carbide and are sharpened with 600-800 diamond abrasives. They also are precision-balanced and geometrically designed for superior chip ejection. We’re confident that our router bits will provide safe and smooth cutting for a long time. That’s why we offer an unconditional guarantee.

Now that you know the basics, there are a few more things to think about in choosing router bits.

Ask yourself a few questions:

Are you buying with a specific project in mind? Or are you just trying to assemble a starter set?

For each bit, are you likely to use it only occasionally, or will it get a workout every day?

How much do you have or want to spend?

If you have a project in mind, choose the bit that is best suited to that application. If you’re assembling a starter set, consider buying a couple of straight bits (maybe 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4"); a few round-over bits (1/8" and 1/4"); a rabbeting bit with interchangeable bearings of different sizes; a 45º chamfer bit; and an ogee bit.

A convenient and economical option is to buy a set, such as Rockler’s five-piece carbide-tipped starter bit set (Item #29047). It includes a rabbeting bit with four bearings to cut 1/2", 7/16", 3/8" and 5/16" rabbets; a 3/4" x 1" long straight bit; a 3/8" radius x 5/8" high round-over bit; a 45º x 1/2" chamfer bit; and a 5/32" radius x 15/32" Roman ogee bit. All have 1/2" shanks to reduce chatter and provide maximum performance.

Rockler also offers sets of carbide-tipped straight bits in the most popular diameters (Item #20064 and #60579) and a set of undersized plywood bits matched to the actual thickness of 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4" plywood (Item #60788), as well as sets of rabbeting bits (Item #91595 and #91584) and round-over/beading bits (Item #60683) with interchangeable bearings of different sizes.

Finally, consider whether you will be mounting your router in a table for some operations or exclusively making handheld cuts.
Some bits can be safely operated only in a table-mounted router with a variable-speed feature. So, for example, if you want to make a cabinet with frame-and-panel construction, you’ll need to get or build a router table before you can safely use the stile-and-rail bits and panel-raising bits required for such a project.

Download this helpful router bit guide.

posted on October 24, 2013 by Rockler
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22 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Router Bits”

  • Joe

    I am using a template to cut reproductions in 1/2" plywood (straight cut mainly). Which 1/2" shank straight cut bit would be best for this job?

  • Laurence Rowinsky
    Laurence Rowinsky November 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I'm finally finding time to assemble my new Rockler router table,and I've bought a fine Milwaukee router to mount on it. Till now my needs have been simple. I like to make picture frames, and I've used my old router with the stock clamped to my workbench. I have a couple of bits with 1/4" shanks, but my new router has a 1/2" collet for better performance. For my frames I've only used a basic round-over bit, but I'd like to put more finesse into future projects. A new 1/2"-shank pair of round-overs seems essential. Also a straight bit for rabets, a chamfer, and finally a cove. What I'm looking for is a small set that's versatile and that's a good fit for my tight budget. Can you suggest one?

  • Michael Morley

    As a longer time DIY'er and "theoretical" wood worker this is the first write up on router bits that was comprehensive and gave a first time router owner the knowledge they need to make the right purchase to experiment with a new skill in woodworking. Thank you for the write up.

  • Jim Spencer

    Enjoyed the writeup about router bits I am new to woodworking and just bought a new router table, and I am trying to learn as much as possible Thanks.

  • Andy padilla

    Interested in building my Owen cabinets need a starter kit on thing needed

  • Gary Scoville
    Gary Scoville May 4, 2014 at 5:26 am

    How do I know what size router bit to use with what size stock?

  • Keith miller

    I want to recreate a tongue and groove in 3\4 inch thick flooring oak. The tongue is 1\4" thick. I was thinking of doing it with my router. Is there bits available?

  • omar faruk

    i need some router machine....how can i contract with your company....can you supply router machine in my country....bangladesh...dhaka ..narayangong ...fatulla.

  • dustin faris

    I found this to be the best website for my report

  • Bill worsley

    I would like to use my hand held router to put my name on a flat piece of oak wood. What bit would I use. My router has 1/4" shaft.

  • Alex Mcculloch

    need two router bits may i snd you a drawing of the profi=le required

  • Germán Espinoza

    Question, do you make international shipping? (Chile)

  • Allan Deck

    Thank you for making life easier for novices like me.
    I really appreciate it

  • Dick Racs

    I would like to make a wooden toy train set (train & track) for my grandson's first birthday. Do you have a router kit,
    set for this project ???

    Thank you,

    Dick Racs

  • Genell Renshaw
    Genell Renshaw April 6, 2015 at 2:37 am


    Yes we carry a train track router kit here: http://www.rockler.com/train-track-router-bits-and-free-plan-individual-bits where you can also download a free plan for the train track.

  • Joseph Fioravanti
    Joseph Fioravanti April 7, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I am a young 70 year male looking to do some woodworking projects. I don't have great skill but enjoy trying to make things. I have a Kreg Jig for pocket holes and it works pretty good. I have a small router table and I am looking to see what extra bits I might be able to use in my projects. Do you have a catalog which you can send me. My money is limited but I would like to get a tongue and groove bits. I have both size collets for my router. Can you help.

  • Buck

    trying to cut a dado using a guided jig I made and a top mounted bearing mortising bit. the dado is 3/4" wide and my bit is 1/2" . I line my jig up, which is two sides with my lay out lines for the two passes that I need to make and the cut is leaving a shoulder as if the bearing is wider than the cutter. I am new at this and I thought this bit I bought was designed to cut the same width as my jig opening but it's leaving a shoulder. Am I using the wrong bit.

  • jp

    how long is the average router bit

  • Michael Torres
    Michael Torres July 11, 2015 at 7:09 am

    These bits look very good. I am new to building cabinets and I bought some bits. They did really well for me but now that I understand how to use them I need to order more. I like what I see here. There are no limits to shapes and designs you can do.

  • Navruzbek

    Hi. I'm Navruzbek from Uzbekistan. I use CNCrouter. I've a problem with my bit, but when cncrouter work bit is burning. How can I do? pls advise me

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I have been using Rockler for years, your products are always the best that can be purchased and your prices are very reasonable. Ann you have always done your best to make me feel as though I was your very best customer. Thank you for great service."

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What People are Saying:

I have been using Rockler for years, your products are always the best that can be purchased and your prices are very reasonable. Ann you have always done your best to make me feel as though I was your very best customer. Thank you for great service."

- Daniel F.
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