Routers hold a rotating cutter in a perfect right angle to a flat reference surface. The cutter is generally called a bit, and the reference surface is called the base. They can do decorative edge profiles, joinery and pattern work. They are rated in horse power and commonly available from 1/2 to 3 HP. Smaller routers called laminate trimmers are designed to trim the overhang edge laminate that has been contact cemented to a substrate. Laminate trimmers do not have a large enough motor for general routing, and heat accumulation will damage the motor if they are used that way.

The bits are attached to the router in a collet held in place with a collet nut. 1/4” and 1/2” are the 2 US sizes. It would be good to select a router that comes with both size collets. Other accessories include an edge guide, a plunge base, and a router table. All will expand the capacity of what you will be able to do; they can be added as you become more familiar with using the tool. All brand bits will fit in all brand routers, so you have a lot of flexibility with this tool.

Depth of cut is controlled by moving the motor up and down in the base. This involves some dial type adjustment mechanism and a wing nut or lever to clamp the base & motor in the desired position. Some routers have fine tune or micro adjust, it’s helpful but not essential.

Routers operate with very high RPM to compensate for a small diameter cutter. Electric woodwork tools with rotating cutters contact the wood in a series of closely spaced arcs to achieve a straight result. The high RPM of a router is needed due to the small circumference of most bits. Slowing down the feed rate does not necessarily give you a better cut, because the high RPM will cause burn marks on the wood. The high RPM gives them a gyroscope type of feel, so they tend to stay on track during operation. Electronic Variable Speed Routers are available, think of these as a normal speed router that can be slowed down for bigger applications like large diameter bits and dense tropical hardwoods.

A basic 1 to 1-1/2 HP router is a good entry level tool. It will do most jobs and not be too unwieldy. Check to see if it comes with both 1/4” and 1/2” collets and to see if the manufacturer offers an edge guide that will probably be sold as an accessory.