Which Router Bit to Use
There are so many different types of router bits and trying to choose which router bit to use can be a little overwhelming. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when trying to choose which router bit to use.
One of the most important things to decide is what kind of material you want your router bit to be made of. There are several choices for material including: Steel, carbide, carbide tipped, advanced material, and diamond tipped. Each has advantages depending on the application.
Steel Router Bits
Steel router bits tend to be the least expensive, and can come in varying levels of quality. Steel router bits tend to wear much faster than carbide or other materials, and can usually not be sharpened without changing the profile. These tend to be fairly inexpensive, but you may go through them quite a bit faster.
Carbide Tipped Router Bits:
Carbide tipped router bits are often more expensive than steel, but have significantly longer tool life and can be sharpened much easier. With carbide tipped router bits you get the toughness of the steel shaft combined with the hardness of the tungsten carbide at the tip.
Solid Carbide Router Bits:
Solid carbide router bits are capable of being ground into an amazing number of complex shapes. There is a trade-off between toughness and hardness with the carbide. The shaft has to be tough enough to handle the sideloading pressures. The cutting edges have to be hard enough to give clean cuts and long life.
Advanced material tipped router bits
These are identical to the carbide tipped router bits except that an advanced material such as a cermet or a cermet / carbide blend is used. This give the router bit the advantage of a tough shaft and a cutting head that can get up to 10 times more tool life than carbide. Currently these are only available on a custom-built basis.
Diamond tipped router bits, pcd
A steel shaft tipped with carbide that has polycrystalline diamond on the cutting face. These can be run very fast and hold up under an incredible amount of wear. One of the drawbacks is that they need to be run fast or there is a problem with heat buildup and the tool gets burned to the point where the diamonds come out. Instances where operators reduce the feeds and speeds to reduce the operator workload are fairly common. Diamond Tipped router bits can also be very expensive.
For most hobbyist, a steel router bit or carbide router bit is typically sufficient and will work just fine for just about any project.
For artisan or furniture shops it is more essential to find a router bit that will yield very clean, smooth cuts, and last longer. Clean cuts are essential as the quality of the joinery is often a selling point. They may want to use advanced material router bits or may use a solid carbide router bit if they have a CNC router.
Small Shop, Cabinets shops
Typically small shops will want cheap to good quality carbide router bits in handheld machines and solid carbide router bits in CNC machines. They may use advanced material router bits because of the longer tool life they can offer.
Large shops will want to use medium to good quality carbide router bits and solid carbide router bits in CNC machines, especially if they have a product line. Large shops may want to choose a router bit with longer wear life to keep the re-sharpening costs down and lower the probablilty of profile changes from sharpening.
Best router bit for manufacturing plants is going to be solid carbide router bits or diamond tipped router bits depending on the length and frequency of particular production runs. Because of the volume of router bits that manufacturing plants will use, choosing router bits that will have a long tool life is essential.
For both large shops and manufacturing plants, it is very important that every router bit be identical in size to the previous router bit of the same pattern in order to maintain consistency in the work produced.
Another key factor to consider is the material being cut. If you are cutting notty wood, then you may want to consider cutting with a carbide router bit if tool life is of any importance to you. You can use steel for cutting notty wood, and since steel can take a sharper edge than carbide it may be superior at cutting through the knots, but it will not have nearly the wear life as a carbide router bit.
For cutting Man-made materials and composites it is necessary to use carbide tipped, solid carbide or diamond tipped router bits. Which one of these to use really depends on the wear properties of the material being cut, the equipment being used, and the form of the material being cut. Sheets of material in a cabinet operation with very long production runs can use solid carbide router bits or diamond tipped router bits. An installer of those same cabinets may use a carbide tipped router bit in a handheld router.
Many people have their preferences when it comes to router bit brands. Brands that are popular amongst woodworkers are probably a pretty safe bet because tools tend to gain popularity by having a reputation for working well. Popular brands do sometimes have a tendency to be more expensive. There are other manufactures that produce amazing tools, but do not have the same popularity, not for lack of quality in their tools, but because of lack of marketing. We recommend Whiteside as a trusted name. They have been recognized year after year by Fine Woodworking magazine as their #1 router bit. We also recommend Southeast Tool. They do not have as established of a name as Whiteside, but they make high quality tools at a very reasonable price.
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