5 common router bits

What are the first router bits you should purchase to use with your router? The router is one of the most useful and versatile woodworking tools in any shop. Of course it's not much good without router bits. And if you're new to routing, the hundreds of options can be confusing. How do you choose? Here's what you need to know to choose the best router bits for your woodworking projects.

You don’t need drawers full of different router bit profiles to get most projects done. Instead, buy different router bit profiles only as you need them. The most commonly used router bit profiles for most woodworkers include straight or spiral bits, roundover bits, cove bits, 45° chamfer bits, rabbeting bits with various sizes of bearings and flush-trim and pattern bits. Quality bits last a long time, and choosing carefully will help you explore your router’s rich potential affordably.

VIDEO: The Best Router Bits for a Beginning Woodworking

In this video the most common types of router bits are explained for the beginning woodworker. The Rockler router bits highlighted in this video include: Straight, Rabbeting, Round Over, Flush Trim, Roman Ogee, Chamfer, and Undersized Plywood Bits.

Top 5 Router Bit Profile Categories

straight router bit

1. Straight Router Bits

Straight Router Bits are 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.

flush trim router bits

2. Flush-Trim and Pattern Router Bits

Flush-Trim Router 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. These bits are also used to cut out pattern templates. They usually are guided by a pilot bearing that’s the same diameter as the cutter. The bearing may be at the top, bottom or top and bottom of the bit.

edge forming router bits

3. Edge Forming Router Bits

Edge Forming Bits are most often used to cut decorative edges. They include commonly used Roundover and Cove Router Bits. Chamfer Router Bits cut a bevel of a particular angle to ease or decorate the edges of a surface.They also include more decorative Ogee bits cut variations of an S-shaped profile. There are also edge-beading bits that cut a quarter- or half-circle profile (called a bead). 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.

rabbeting router bits

4. Joinery Router Bits

Joinery Router Bits form the mating profiles that make a woodworking joint. Joinery bits include Rabbeting Router Bits that are 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. They also include Rail-and-Stile Router Bits which are used to form the corner joints on frame and panel doors.

specialty router bits

5. Specialty Bits

Specialty Router Bits are dedicated to specific tasks. For example, sign making router bits are designed to be used with signmaker's template kits, such as the Rockler Interlock Signmaker's Template Kits. Other examples include; raised panel bits, which shape the edges of a door panel to fit into the corresponding slot in the frame’s stiles and rails: and dish carving bits, which hollow out the inside of a bowl. Some of these bits are small and are intended for use in a handheld router, but many of these bits are somewhat large and can be used safely only in a router table

Router Bit Shanks

The router bit shank is the solid, cylindrical part of a router bit. It's the part of the bit that goes into the collet of the router. 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"-dia. shank bits. Whenever possible, use bits with 1/2"-dia. shank bits. 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.

Router Bit Cutting Edges

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.

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.

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.

Important Questions To Ask Yourself

  • Are you buying with a specific project in mind? Or are you just trying to assemble a starter set?
  • Are you likely to use the router bit 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. 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

Will You Be Mounting Your Router Or 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.