A router is a powered cutting tool that uses different bits to cut various grooves, angles, and shapes into wood. These handy tools are excellent for woodworking projects, including cabinet making, cutting molding, and furniture design.
However, a router is useless without a great set of router bits. You want to be sure that you have a variety of options for all the applications you plan to tackle, with the best router bits being made out of durable types of material, like tungsten carbide.
When selecting a router bit set, you are generally better off selecting a larger set for the increase in profiles it offers you. This must be compared to the overall quality of the bits, as some manufacturers are known for making higher quality bits than others. However, it’s hard to see the difference between the products of different companies. So you mostly have to go by reputation, when trying to select a particular set.
Most of today’s routers use 1/2 inch shank bits, with the exception of compact routers, which use 1/4 inch shank bits. The larger shank provides more support to the bit, reducing vibration and helping prevent any possibility of the bit becoming bent from the high amount of force placed on it. Larger bits, such as those used for making raised panels, will only come with 1/2 inch shanks, while smaller bits may come in both sizes. While I’ve listed all 1/2 inch sets, the manufacturers typically have similar sets available for both sizes, with the exception of the larger sized bits. Check out our list of the best router bits in 2021.
Considers Before Buying Router Bits
Before investing in a new product, educate yourself on the essential features. The considerations below will help you decide what router bits are best for you.
By sharpness, I mean the ease at which the material can be cut. It usually is a prerequisite for any router bit. Solid carbide or even carbide tipped bits are sharp enough for you to cut through most types of wood. It is especially important for routing harder wood.
Again, this is a key factor for routing harder wood. However, it is also something you need if you turn to routing rather frequently. Over time the bits do tend to dull and wear down.
Precision is basically the accuracy of shaping when routing the wood. It is particularly important if you’re looking to do woodworking as a hobby, as you will be carving out some unique and unconventional shapes.
Smoothness is important as after you are done routing you have to sand the thing. The higher the smoothness, the less you have to sand.
In general, almost all router bits feature either high-speed steel (HSS) or carbide.
- HSS router bits are made from carbon steel and have a high heat resistance, which keeps them from breaking during extended use. These bits are more affordable and are an excellent option for infrequent router use or beginners that are likely to make mistakes. They can also withstand more impact damage than carbide router bits, without losing their edge, making them ideal for a cluttered workshop.
- Carbide router bits can be completely coated in carbide or only tipped in carbide, and they have a longer lifespan than HSS bits. The harder material allows the bits to last with frequent use and to keep their edge longer than an HSS bit, allowing you to spend less time sharpening or replacing the bits and more time using them. Keep in mind that carbide router bits are more expensive and more susceptible to impact damage. While this won’t interfere with their use in a router, dropping them or treating them poorly will dull, nick, or break the edge of a carbide router bit in a hurry.
Beginner Bit Tip Tips – Choosing the Right Bit Style!!
Aspiring woodworkers beginning to learn the science and craft of routing need to get experience and be certain they plan to seriously pursue expertise before they invest money to purchase this tool and the wide range of bits available for use. A person aiming at a career as a racecar driver will most likely begin by racing on small dirt tracks before going onto the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. However, even at a beginning level, the quality of the tool, be it race car or router, must be top-notch.
- Straight Bits: As the name implies, these bits cut straight into the wood to form a groove or hollow out an inlay area.
- Flush & Trim Bits: For projects that need to trim the edge of one piece of wood to be flush with the edge of another, flush & trim bits are used. A pilot bearing of the same diameter as the cutter guides these bits during routing.
- Chamfer Bits: Woodworkers use chamfer bits to form beveled edges that are needed to bring together multi-sided projects. These bits can also cut a bevel at a desired angle to decorate the edges of the wood.
- Rabbeting Bits: These bits allow the woodworker to cut a shoulder (called a rabbet) on the edge of the wood. A spinning pilot bearing at the tip guides the bit that is often used to join pieces. Typically they are purchased in a set featuring bearings of different diameters.
- Edge Form Bits: There are several types of these bits that are typically used to cut decorative edges. They include ogee bits used to cut variants of S-shaped profiles to form a rounded edge of a desired radius; edge-beading bits cut a quarter- or half-circle bead in the wood; and cove bits cut a concave quarter-circle. These bits form the final embellishment of a piece after edges have been formed.
Our Top Picks
No matter what type of router bits you purchase, you want them to be high-quality products. These router bits are some of the best available, based on the above buying factors such as price, effectiveness, and reputation.
1. Freud Router Bit
It’s hard to pick one best in this category, but I’ve based this choice on the fact that Freud is the number one choice of most carpenters and cabinet shops. The familiar orange bits are found all over the place, especially in the commercial suppliers that professionals frequent. This set contains 13 of the most common styles of router bits, all with a 1/2 inch shank.
Manufactured with Freud’s proprietary carbide formula for long life, all these bits feature a non-stick coating to reduce pitch build up and resist heat. The case can be hung on the wall or mounted on the workbench for convenience. Freud is so confident in their product that they offer a limited lifetime warranty.
2. Yonico 70-Piece Router Bit Set
More experienced carpenters and woodworkers should probably consider a large router bit set like this 70-piece model from Yonico. It boasts an impressive bit variety to cover a wider range of projects where different styles and sizes are required. There are two main versions for this router bit set depending on the size of the shank. The standard 1/4” option works great for most purposes but you can also choose a version with longer shanks of 1/2”.
From round over, trim, and slotting bits to beading, keyhole, and profile edging options, there’s enough variety here to match the needs of complex woodworking applications. Each style in the set comes with plenty of sizes to choose from to work as accurately as possible. Construction-wise, the router bits are engineered with micro-grain tungsten carbide blades while the silver induction brazing enhances durability to new heights.
3. Whiteside 401 Basic Router Bits Set
The best woodworking router bit set, and arguably one of the best sets overall, this is made by Whiteside. Hence it’s an excellent choice for any hobbyist. You can set it up very easily. Operation is easy too. The bits themselves aren’t very difficult to interpret either, so they’re excellent for a beginner too.
On the note that it is great for hobbyists, the bit set contains a great variety of bits. That means that if you’re someone who plays around with woodworking, you’ll definitely love this. It has bits of distinct shapes that are often not employed professionally and therefore are missing from those sets.
Don’t think they can’t handle being used as a professional tool, however. They work really well and are of optimum sharpness. This tool can cleave through soft wood without breaking a sweat and even harder woods like redwood. The high sharpness means you don’t need to push it down as hard.
Its high sharpness also makes it very smooth. Most routing operations usually send sanding afterward. Ergo, you need to smooth it out with sandpaper. But not this one, this set has bits that route so smooth that the surface comes to you in a plane and perfectly uniform way.
Also, the bits themselves are also extremely resilient. Just because you don’t need to apply pressure doesn’t mean they can’t take it. They hold out under high stress and provide great performance as well. They are also very durable and last long even if used extensively for heavy work.
4. MCLS 8369 1/2″ 30 Piece Set
MLCS offers this 30-piece carbide-tipped router bit set at a great price for the number of bits that you get. You also get a wonderful selection of commonly-used bits with 1/2-inch shanks, along with these features:
- Carbide tipped bits
- Quality wood storage box
- Three-year quality guarantee
This is considered a budget set of router bits, as they are not built for strength. However, they do have a 1/2-inch shank, which makes them more durable than some of the other budget sets.
The bits are well made. They offer precision and balance and work with most routers. However, they are unlikely to hold up to repeated use. Luckily, they are affordable.
You get a great selection of useful bits. If one breaks, you can likely find a substitute within the set. When you need a set of various bits at a reasonable price, consider getting the MLCS 8369 carbide-tipped router bit set.
5. Hiltex 10100 Tungsten Carbide Router Bits
Made from tungsten carbide steel, the Hiltex 10100 Router Bits make accurate and clean cuts each and every time. With great heat resistance, you can use these bits to cut any type of wood. For extra durability, the other part of the bit is constructed with a hardened steel alloy.
Enclosed with a bearing roller, each bit has a smooth and aligned operation with all of the bits features a ¼ inch universal shank to will fit easily and attach to any type of router. The Hiltex set comes in a wooden case that is labeled with the bit-type and includes an image for easy portability and storage.
For added durability, the Hiltex bits are powder coated giving them an added layer of protection so you can use them several times without worrying about compromising their quality. This set is great for grooving, veining, trimming, and edging and is perfect for DIYers or professional carpenters.
Router Bits Prices
- Inexpensive: You’ll pay $10 to $15 for a decent range of router bits for your Dremel (or other rotary tool), and you can find cheap router bit sets with 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch shanks for around $30. Many woodworkers find them satisfactory for occasional use.
- Mid-range: If you want better-quality tools, a beginner’s set of 12 or 15 costs around $45 to $60, with prices rising pretty much in line with the number of bits. These sets won’t include bits with replaceable cutters, but it’s easy to find individual bits if you have a specific need.
- Expensive: If you’re buying router bits from the top names like Freud or Whiteside, you can pay $100 or more for what seems to be a very basic set of four or five tools. However, these are the ultimate in quality and precision for the professional, and it’s not unusual to pay over $150 for a single bit.
If you still aren’t entirely confident about which kind of router bits you need, take a look at these popular questions and their answers below.
How do I use router bits?
To use a router bit, you need to properly attach it to a router and work on the material and project that the bit is intended for to ensure the best results. Using a router requires precision and patience to adequately align the router and slowly feed it through the material, allowing the rotating router bit to operate at its optimal power.
Forcing the router through the material may get the cut done faster, but you risk snapping the router bit off due to excessive force, and you are likely to char the material and give it an uneven edge that will need to be sanded or smoothed. Instead, use shallow, slow passes to get the best cut, working your way deeper into the material with each pass.
Can I use router bits in my power drill or drill press?
Not in a power drill. A router bit is usually designed to cut sideways. Your drill isn’t intended to be moved that way. The chuck will not support the bit like a router does, making it all but impossible to be accurate. It’s also unlikely your drill produces sufficient speed for the bit to cut properly, thus leaving a very poor finish. Technically, a drill press can work (if it has a high enough speed range), but you would need to set up additional fences, and you’re probably taking the guard out of the equation, so it’s not something we would recommend. Use the right tool for the job, either a router for freehand work or a router table.
Are router bits easy to sharpen?
Unfortunately, no, especially those with complex profiles. You can use a flat or round diamond hone for a light touch-up if you’re careful, but eventually they’ll either need to be professionally reground (some local hardware stores can do it) or replaced. Before you do that, give them a wipe with spirit or rubbing alcohol in case there’s a buildup of sap or resin. It can make the bit seem blunt when it isn’t.