2 keys to selecting the best router bits for your wood router

When I first started woodworking I bought a router. Then I realized I needed bits before I could do anything. (Pretty smart, huh! :-) Since we didn't have the internet back then, I took a trip back to the store and found myself stunned by the prices of the bits! I swore that I'd NEVER pay that much for a chunk of steel and proceeded to buy the cheapest 1/4 round bit I could: high speed steel with a guide nub. I felt so smart.

I soon realized a few things after I began using my new bit. First, high speed steel dulls very quickly. Second, a guide nub makes it easy to burn the edge of a really nice (and expensive) piece of stock. Third, the small diameter of a guide nub magnifies the imperfections in the edge of piece of stock, leaving a more ragged edge. And finally, I realized I wasn't so smart after all. I got what I paid for.

Consider the bit material and roller bearing pilot size when you buy your router bits.

Regarding the bit material. You basically have two choices: carbide or high speed steel. As I alluded to above, high speed steel dulls far quicker than carbide. I've heard a wide range of estimates that carbide lasts anywhere from 10 to 40 times longer than high speed steel. I don't know the actual number, but I do know from experience that carbide does last longer. In fact, if I were a bettin' man I'd wager a paycheck that you could wear out 10 or more high speed steel bits yet still be cuttin' like a maniac with carbide. So, in the longer term, is high speed steel really cheaper than carbide. I think not.

As far as the router bit pilot is concerned. You again have two choices: a nub or a bearing. A nub is simply a cylinder of solid material at the tip of the router bit. The nub is the part of the bit you hold against the wood edge as you are routing. The nub "guides" the cutting edge of the router bit along the edge of the wood. The diameter of most nubs is typically about 3/16 of an inch. This small diameter tends to follow the imperfections of your stock, thus magnifying and transferring those imperfections to the edge you're routing.

A nub is solid and you press it against your stock as it rotates. That pressure causes friction that quickly builds up heat, heat that can burn your edge. The burning becomes more pronounced if you pause while cutting, thus focusing the heat in one spot. You can get a fairly decent edge with a nub ... if you're very careful.

A roller bearing pilot is always your best bet.

In contrast to a nub guide, you have the roller bearing pilot. This is a piece of metal at the end of your router bit that moves independently from bit itself. The bearing pilot rolls along the edge of your stock at the same speed you move the router itself. If you stop, the bearing stops. This eliminates burning from the guide (you can still burn with the cutting edge of the bit). In addition, the diameter of a roller bearing pilot is typically 1/2 inch. This larger diameter greatly reduces the "magnifying" effect seen with a nub. So you cut a smoother edge.

With these things in mind, I highly recommend you buy the "more expensive" bits. Such bits last longer and perform better. Better performance means less wasted wood due to cutting errors such as burning and tear out. It also means far less work trying to salvage a burned edge by sanding. Like the old STP commercial used to say, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later."

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