Router bits: selection and care
Words: Damion Fauser
Photos: Raf Nathan
A while back we looked at the eight router bits I consider essential for my needs. Your choice will vary according to your need, however there are other considerations to take into account prior to purchasing.
Larger routers tend to have 1⁄2" collets whereas palm routers have 1⁄4" collets. Many styles of bits are available in both shank sizes, but only up to a certain point, as the smaller routers do not have the power to drive the largest bits. When using larger bits, I prefer to use 1⁄2" shanks as I find they are less prone to vibration.
When installing bits, don’t fully seat bit shafts right down to the bottom of the collet.
Most router bits have cutting edges made from tungsten carbide, but not all TC is equal. TC quality and grading is a subject all unto itself, but look for thicker carbide sections that have been brazed to the steel body along the full length of the cutter.
Most modern bits have an anti-kickback feature built into their design, which prevents the workpiece being fed into the bit too fast and therefore potentially causing kickback. Not all do however, particularly some USA brands.
Bearing or no bearing?
Where possible, I tend to buy bits with bearings. I find these bits give me additional flexibility as I can use them handheld without a guide or in the router table.
Care and maintenance
Router bits do an enormous amount of work for their size so it is important to invest time in looking after them. Keep them clean. Bits accumulate pitch and resin very quickly, which can reduce performance due to increased friction and vibration. Use a proprietary cleaner or other solvent to remove pitch from the cutting edges.
Keeping the shanks of your bits and the inside facets of your router collets clean and free of dust and debris will mean you are less likely to gall, or scar the shank, which will lead to a reduction in performance due to vibration. Bearing guided bits in particular are only as good as the bearings, so keep them clean and lubricated.
Above: a few careful honing passes on the back edge of the cutting surfaces can extend edge life.
Cutting edges will dull after prolonged use. Bits can be sent away for professional sharpening, but this may cost more than a replacement bit. A few careful honing passes on the back edge of the cutting surfaces with a fine diamond file can extend edge life. Be careful to maintain the balance of your bit by taking the same number of passes on each cutting edge and don’t work on the front edge of the cutter or you’ll risk changing the cutting profile. Be aware that by filing you will be removing material from the cutter, so this may result in your bearing- guided cutters not being perfectly matched to the bearing.
Lidded containers with MDF drilled as a holder is one way to store bits.
Store your cutters so they are protected from dust and moisture and so the edges are protected from being knocked and chipped. The best way to store cutters is in their individual factory containers. When your collection grows however this may prove difficult. I have a couple of small pieces of MDF into which I’ve drilled a network of 1⁄2" and 1⁄4" holes to secure my bits. I keep these in sealed plastic containers in my router table cabinet.
Making a dedicated wall-mounted storage box for your valuable bits is worth the effort for easy access.
Choose and maintain your router bit collection with care and you’ll enjoy the capabilities and quality which routing tools can give to your work.
Damion Fauser is a furniture designer maker and woodwork teacher who lives in Brisbane.