Router bits?

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jcz

Johnny
Corporate Member
I have never had a router and only used a borrowed one a couple times. Im going to have to learn the ins and outs by trial and error. Now to get started I need to get some bits. I am looking into getting this set from MLCS.
http://www.mlcswoodworking.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/smarthtml/pages/set45.html

Does this look like a good set to go with or do you think Im going to get more than I need? Im open to suggestions if you know of a better set to start out with. Im stepping out of my comfort zone with this as Im a turner and am basically new to any other kind of woodworking.
 

Canuck

Wayne
Corporate Member
I personally like the MLCS bits. Pretty good prices, quality is ok for the hobbyist and MLCS is generally a pretty good company to deal with.

In the past, I have found that some basic bit sets (ie a set of straight bits, roundover bit, and cove cutting bits) give me great service. Chances are pretty good that when ordering a set like the one you linked (45 piece set), there are bits in that set that you will rarely, if ever really use. I purchase any specialty bits (ie keyhole, ogee, slot cutters, dovetail bits etc.) on as needed basis. A lot cheaper that way. Also. If I find that I repeatedly use, I will invest in a replacement bit of higher quality carbide, such as a Whiteside.

Whatever you decide, ensure that you opt with bits with 1/2" shank. Usually a lot stronger and durable bit as opposed to a 1/4" shank. (Just make sure that your router purchase includes both 1/4" and 1/2" shank collets.) I also have a small collection of common bits in 1/4" shank to use in my trim router(s).

HTH

Wayne
 

jcz

Johnny
Corporate Member
I had not even considered the shank size. Its a brand new router. I havent even taken it out of the box yet so Im not sure if it has both collets or not.

The reason I was looking at this set was that from what I see in the mlcs catalog the single bits are expensive and this looked like a good way to get myself some options on bits at a decent price. But as I said Im open to other ideas also.
 

BSHuff

Brian
Senior User
Getting a big kit like that is a good starting point. The bits may not be the best, but it gives you a good assortment to see what is possible. The carbide will not that great, and will likely chip much sooner than a good bit, or the bearings will freeze up, but you will find some that you like and use a lot and replace them with higher quality. Gives you a chance to see what is available. I still have some of the bits I first got in an assortment like that still have the protective wax on them, almost 15 years later... but i feel that I got real good use out of my initial bit asst.
 

ehpoole

Administrator
Ethan
Whether or not one should focus on 1/2" shank bits should be based on three factors IMHO: 1) the cutting diameter of the bit, 2) the overall length of the bit and 3) whether or not you will be complementing your router setup with a smaller trim-router (such as a Bosch Colt), as these only accept 1/4" bits.

If you think you will want to complement your router setup with a smaller trim-style router, then it is a good idea to include a good selection of 1/4" bits in your equation.

Roundover bits up to 3/8" work quite well in these trim routers. Bits that have cutting diameters of 5/16" or less are often best chosen in the 1/4" shank as the sudden flaring out to 1/2" shank will concentrate all the stresses at that point which can cause catastrophic failure of a bit that would have otherwise only deflected slightly if briefly overloaded. Once you get much more than 5/16" diameter or your total bit length begins to exceed a couple inches then the benefits of a 1/2" shank really start to become evident in terms of stability, reduced deflection, and greater resistance to collet slippage. These are all general guidelines and the best choice often depends upon intended application, so you will encounter conflicting opinions on this subject. Consider these as suggestions and not hard-and-fast rules and supplement them with your own experiences as you learn what works best for you.

For someone just starting out who intends to master the router via trial and error, it is worthwhile to invest in some inexpensive bit sets upfront. You will not get the best quality cuts from these cheap sets, but they will allow you to indentify which bits you use regularly -- and can then prioritize purchasing quality bits of the same style -- and you will not be out $40-50 if you destroy one of these cheap bits while starting out. For a beginner, even HSS (high-speed steel) bits should be considered fair game -- they are cheap and plenty sharp enough for a good deal of routing in all but the most extreme woods.

Once you master your router, you will want to invest in some quality router bits, primarily carbide-tipped and solid carbide, in the styles you find you use most often. These will likely consist of straight-flute bits (1/8" up to 3/4" I find useful, even occassionally use 1/16" bit, though very brittle at 1/16"!), a nice set of round-over bits (1/8" radius through 1/2" radius), several UPCUT spiral bits (mostly 1/4" and 1/2") and a couple sizes of patterning/trim router bits (either straight flute or spiral with both top and bottom bearing versions). A good rabbetting bit with multiple bearings for adjusting rabbet depth can also be a great investment (look for a set, like Whiteside's that also includes a full-diameter bearing allowing it to double as a wide-diameter flush-trim bit). You may also find you want some ogee bits, if you like, to create ogee edges around doors and drawers, and so forth.

Once you have built up a basic kit, like the above, tailored to your tastes and needs, then you will find you only need to purchase bits on those occassions that you have special need for a new bit (such as a raised panel set if you decide to build cabinetry). You will invest a good deal in router bits, and likely routers as well, in your first 5 years (or thereabouts, YMMV) and much less in years that follow that period.

I have a Bosch PR20EVS Colt Palm router (my favorite), an older Porter Cable 690 Kit (both fixed and plunge bases), a newer PC 890 fixed-base router (for my router table) and another PC 890-series kit (with both fixed and plunge bases with integrated dust collection)! That's four routers and six bases so far and I will likely add one or two more routers to that collection before all is said and done. This will all seem rather extreme to someone starting out, but the sad truth is that I am in very good company!


I really recommend that a beginner shopping for his/her first router opt for one of the dual-base (fixed and plunge) kits (Porter Cable, DeWalt, Bosch, or other good brand name) with variable speed and 1-1/2HP to 2-1/4H that includes both 1/4" and 1/2" collets. You can get by without variable speed for small bits, but you will find it invaluable (even essential) with larger bits and yet still handy even with the smaller bits when working with problem woods. I know some people like some of the cheaper Sears models, but I purchased one of those when I first started routing more than 10 years ago and promptly returned it within 2 weeks and replaced it for the Porter Cable 693 Kit even though the PC router was a good $130 more at the time! Absolutely avoid any router (except in some trim-style routers) that has the collet as an integral part of the motor shaft. Collets are a wear item and you want to be able to replace a worn collet without having to throw out your router!

Good luck and Best Wishes in your new Quest!
 

ScottM

Scott
Staff member
Corporate Member
A fellow WW named Bruce once told a WW meeting;

"By an in expensive set of router bits. Any bit you end up using more then twice replace it with a better version."

It has worked well of me.
 

junquecol

Bruce
User
A fellow WW named Bruce once told a WW meeting;

"By an in expensive set of router bits. Any bit you end up using more then twice replace it with a better version."

It has worked well of me.
I resemble that remark. I have a bunch of MLCS bits. They have served me well over the years. But as a starter set, I would recommend Woodcraft's Woodriver 10 pc set (1/2" shank), item #150705 ($49.99.) This looks like an up dated version of their famous (from several years back) $5 bits. MLCS should also have a similar set. You will find that you will only use a few bits regularly. When you need that "special bit" buy as needed. The trouble with those gigantic assortment sets is to get the price down, quality has to suffer.
 

richlife

New User
Rich
You've gotten good advice here and I agree with the MLCS set. I'd also suggest a set of their upcut spiral bits -- proper use makes countless mortises simple and perfect.

But don't forget to buy a good book on using the router. There are several and most will have some unique advice and jigs to help you out. I can recommend Pat Warner's book, but it is one of several.

A router is a tool with far more uses than the simple trim work we often think of. And when you add a router table, the options increase. I also suggest you build your own whether simple or complex. Save your money for what you need. (One plan for a router table consists of a flat surface and a 2x4 for a fence). I recommend an aluminum router plate -- I have yet to find a abs plate that really stays flat.

Rich
 

JimD

Jim
Senior User
I have more MLCS bits than any other brand. The carbide does not chip unless I drop them or hit a nail. There are better brands (CMT, Whiteside are two I have used) but for most bits MLCS is good enough.

I would get a more basic set of bits, however. There are some in that set I do not have and have never needed. I have quite a bit more than 45 bits, however. I would get a few straight bits and roundovers and probably an ogee bit or two and then buy them as you need them for a project. MLCS includes shipping in their prices and they ship pretty quickly. So if I order early in the week I have them by the weekend. This good service is a big reason I have a lot of their bits.

You did not ask about routers but I will offer that I've tried inexpensive routers and they now reside in my "semi-junk" drawer. The usual problem is the collet slips which can result in ruined wood. A rebuilt Hitachi is probably the cheapest router I would use. I have an old Ryobi R-500, motor only, in my router table and my hand-helds are PC 690s (2 motors, 4 bases) and a Bosch Colt. Starting out any decent (name brand) combination plunge/fixed base router with 1/4 and 1/2 collets and variable speed, will let you do nearly anything that those of us with lots of routers do. A bigger motor you can dedicate to the router table and a little router for little roundovers are nice to have but a mid-sized combination will work well at nearly any task. (Be careful of Ryobi routers, there are some that are fine but there are others I would put in the "junk" category.)

Jim
 

merrill77

Master Scrap Maker
Chris
I bought the 66-piece MLCS set many years ago, and I'm glad that I did. It is true that many of the bits have never been used. However, I have frequently been in the middle of a project and found that I needed a bit I did not realize I was going to need. In those twenty or so cases, it saved me a trip to the store - which saves enough gas to pay for the bit and makes my day much more pleasant :> I have used many bits that I likely would not have bought if I had to plunk down $20 to use it for a couple of linear feet of trim.

I have yet to wear out any of the bits. Some of the round-over and straight bits have seen hundreds of feet of walnut, oak and MDF and still cut well.

I agree with the other poster, but would modify it slightly:

"Buy a big inexpensive set. When you wear out a bit, you'll then know that you'll use it enough to justify the cost of a really good replacement."
 

ehpoole

Administrator
Ethan
A router is a tool with far more uses than the simple trim work we often think of. And when you add a router table, the options increase. I also suggest you build your own whether simple or complex. Save your money for what you need. (One plan for a router table consists of a flat surface and a 2x4 for a fence). I recommend an aluminum router plate -- I have yet to find a abs plate that really stays flat.

If you really want a cheap first router table, then it is simple to build one in the style of my first table. However, if the budget allows it you may wish to purchase a good quality store-bought table. These smaller commercial tables can be quickly setup on a benchtop and then stored out of the way when no longer needed. Many commercial router tables include provisions for miter slots/gauges and featherboards. The most important qualities for any router table are 1) a perfectly flat table and 2) a perfectly straight fence.

DIY Materials: 2ft x 4ft 3/4" plywood (verify it is flat), 2ft x 4ft 1/4" tempered Masonite, Qty 2 4ft 2x2's (straight), Qty 2 1ft 2x2's (straight), and a pair of stable saw horses. You will also want to find a sutable fence setup, the simplest being some S4S oak or poplar (preferably Quarter Sawn) and perfectly straight, aim for about 1x4". No router plate is needed for this design -- the 1/4" Masonite and 3/4" plywood will fully and adequately support your router. If need be, 1/2" plywood may be substituted for the 3/4" plywood -- the 2x2's will still provide sufficient stiffening of the 1/2" plywood.

For the fence: cut an opening about an inch-and-a-half tall/wide in the center of each piece for the opening then fasten the the second board at a right angle to the backside of the first board. It is a good idea to slightly chamfer the edges of the hole on the face of the fence so that board ends do not catch. Then either cut some triangle wood braces (ideal) or alternatively use some right angle brackets or angle-iron and use it to further brace the two boards. Use about four of these braces, two near the bit (center) and two located towards the outer ends (but at least a few inches in to allow for the clamping each end).

For the table: cut a hole slightly greater than the diameter of your router's base (say, 1/4" clearance all around) in the center of the plywood sheet. Verify that your router can sit within this hole without any interferance -- if any interference is found, cut away the offending material (remember the router will hang upside-down from this hole, so double-check orientation before removing material). Now fasten the 1/4" tempered Masonite, tempered side face-up, to the top with some 3/4" brads. Nail it around the edges and around the opening you cut for the router.

Setup the sawhorses and measure to determine what distance apart the 2x2's need to be fastened at so that they fall just outside the saw horses. You will then fasten these 2x2's to the underside of the table. You will then measure the optimal left-to-right spacing of the saw horses and use the two 12" 2x2's to fasten to the underside of the table as well. The 2x2's will coral the saw horses and ensure that the table can not slip forward-to-backward nor left-to-right on the saw horses.

The Router Opening: Now remove the subbase from your router and center it inside the hole you cut earlier in the 3/4" plywood making certain that the bottom side of the subbase is resting on the masonite. Now mark out the 2 to 4 mounting holes for the subbase that ordinarily secure the mounting base to the router. Then drill out these holes so that they are just 1/64" wider than the bolts. Flip the table over and drill either counterbores (if using round or panhead bolts) or countersinks (if using countersink bolts). Afterward you should be able to mount the router, without the subbase, to the underside of the table using the new bolt holes that you just drilled and conterbored/countersunk. However, for now just bolt the subbase to the table top and mark the center opening. Now remove the subbase plate. Find the center of this opening and either cut it out with a jig saw or a hole saw of appropriate diameter. If you have another router (or another base for the router) you could leave the subbase bolted to the table and mount a pattern/trim bit in your router to cutout the hole using the bolted on subbase as the template. Once the center hole has been created you can then mount the router, minus subbase, in the table. You may also wish to mount a chamfer bit in your router and slightly chamfer the edges of the Masonite bit opening.

You now have a very inexpensive router table. You can either use a pair of clamps to secure the fence in place OR if you wish you may fasten ONE end of the fence to the table by drilling a hole in one end (just large enough for a 1/4" bolt) of the fence's rear and then through the tabletop (be sure you clear the saw horses and 2x2's). You will then secure this end with the 1/4" bolt and locknut so that it is snug, but just loose enough for you to still pivot the table. With this modification you will only need a single clamp and you can more easily make minor adjustments since only one end of the fence will require adjustment. You may wish to create additional holes in the table so that the fence does not become too angled relative to the front and different offsets from the bit (or with different bit diameters).

Just one word of caution when building cheap tables like the above: Your router will be suspended at quite a good height above the floor. Many fixed base motors are designed to seperate from their fixed bases, which means that it is possible while adjusting your router to literally drop the motor from the housing. This means a heavy motor crashing to a hard floor (DAMHIKT) which can permanently damage the router motor. If you build this style table you may wish to design a simple 3 or 4 sided box that fits around the router to 'catch' the motor if it ever seperates ... just make sure the box does not interfere with waste ejection.

I presently use a store-bought Bosch router table. If I ever get around to building another router table it will be a very nice freestanding table with integrated storage. This means I need floor space to allocate to it, which I don't presently have. The store-bought router tables are nice and small enough to be easily moved and stored out of the way between uses.
 

jcz

Johnny
Corporate Member
Wow, that is a very detailed write up. Thank you and everyone for their opinions.

Im already thinking that Im going to put one of the bosch colt palm routers on my christmas wishlist. It looks like a nice machine and seems to be highly recommended.

I still am leaning towards the 45 piece kit I mentioned in the first post. I know the 10 piece woodriver kit would probably serve me well but I think the extra bits from MLCS are worth the extra money.

As for the router table, I dont have one yet and my shop is cramped already so Im going to have to look into a benchtop table or something like that.

Again thank you to everyone that has chimed in to help out.
 

merrill77

Master Scrap Maker
Chris
Im already thinking that Im going to put one of the bosch colt palm routers on my christmas wishlist. It looks like a nice machine and seems to be highly recommended.

Before you do, take a look at the new Dewalt 611 combo pack, first. It has a very nice plunge base and internal LED light. It will set you back a few more $$$s than the Colt, but it is a lot more router in about the same sized package. I have it and love it. (the biggest lament I've heard from Colt owners is the lack of a plunge base)

As for the router table, I dont have one yet and my shop is cramped already so Im going to have to look into a benchtop table or something like that.

You can build a very usable router table in two hours for <$20. Here is the router table I used for many years - it is based on the design from Carol Reed's router joinery book. I had mine mounted on a B&D Workmate. I've since built a larger cabinet, but that one worked great for me. I gave the small one away and believe it is still in use. IMO, it is better than most of the benchtop tables you can buy. Sure, it doesn't have a micro adjustable fence or the other bells and whistles, but I works very well, is easy to build, and you can improve it over time as you see fit...or build a bigger cabinet/table - based on the knowledge you'll gained from using a simpler version.

Chris
 

ehpoole

Administrator
Ethan
Before you do, take a look at the new Dewalt 611 combo pack, first. It has a very nice plunge base and internal LED light. It will set you back a few more $$$s than the Colt, but it is a lot more router in about the same sized package. I have it and love it. (the biggest lament I've heard from Colt owners is the lack of a plunge base)

That is, indeed, my only criticism of my Bosch Colt -- that Bosch still has no plans for a plunge base even though the motor could be easily adapted to such a base (in fact, there is a third-party that offers a $300 plunge base... ouch!).

It is an annoying enough fact that the new DeWalt mini-router kit may well be one of the next items to get me in trouble (one of the two routers I mentioned I may yet add to my existing collection).

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Bosch Colt, and it has often been my favorite router out of the bunch. It is just that it is sometimes nice to have a good quality small *plunge* router for following detailed templates and the like. You won't regret purchasing the Bosch Colt, but you may wish to consider the DeWalt mini-router kit that Chris has recommended.

You can build a very usable router table in two hours for <$20. Here is the router table I used for many years - it is based on the design from Carol Reed's router joinery book. I had mine mounted on a B&D Workmate. I've since built a larger cabinet, but that one worked great for me. I gave the small one away and believe it is still in use. IMO, it is better than most of the benchtop tables you can buy. Sure, it doesn't have a micro adjustable fence or the other bells and whistles, but I works very well, is easy to build, and you can improve it over time as you see fit...or build a bigger cabinet/table - based on the knowledge you'll gained from using a simpler version.

For a well designed small benchtop router table I have been very happy with the Bosch RA1171 Router Table. It is a very good router table. My only issue with it is a bit of play in the fence if you apply pressure towards the top of the fence due to the placement of the hold down knobs. This is easily (and solidly) remedied with a pair of small supplemental C-clamps at each end of the fence (clamp the small triangular opening at each end). I have used a number of benchtop router tables over the years and the RA1171 has, by far, been my favorite. It includes a standard 3/4" miter slot and a pair of fence-mounted feather boards. The router mounts to a heavy aluminum insert with pre-drilled holes for most of the more common router models on the market. It provides for both fence mounted and below-the-table dust collection (via 2-1/2" ports) and works well with a DC if you use 4" hose terminated with a 2-1/2" conical reducer.

Even if you decide to build your own table in the future, you can reuse the aluminum insert from the Bosch table.
 
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