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The Best Router Bits to Cut Any Profile

The hand tool that could do what a router does was called a molding plane. Molding planes were specific to a particular type of molding, with a carpenter needing separate planes for each profile they would cut. In carpenter shops, where there were several carpenters working, each carpenter would use the shop's "mother plane" to cut the base of shoe on their own plane, ensuring everyone else in the shop had the same profile. Considering that moldings for homes were cut and shaped on site, this was important.
 
It wasn't until Stanley came out with their model 45 molding plane in the late 1800s that anyone could cut more than one profile with a plane. The 45 came with an assortment of different bits, several of which could be combined in the plane at the same time. This gave the woodworker the ability to create just about any profile that they wanted.
 
For some smaller projects, a carpenter or furniture maker would use a scratch stock, which was nothing more than a piece of broken saw blade that had been filed to match the necessary profile and mounted in a handle. Much of the beading done on antique furniture was done this way.
 
In more recent times, the plane has been largely replaced by the router, especially for cutting moldings and profiles. Power routers began to be used in the early 1900s, but it wasn't until the 1950s that power routers with replaceable bits came into the marketplace. Today, routers and shapes are used for all types of molding work.
 
The original router bits were made of high speed steel. However, due to the high rotational speed of the router, the friction between the bit and the wood can generate a lot of heat. This can burn the wood, but it can also remove the temper from the bit, allowing it to dull rapidly.
 
Today, router bits are almost exclusively made with tungsten carbide tips welded to the bits. This provides a much harder cutting edge which isn't affected as much by the heat, allowing it to retain its sharpness much longer and cut much cleaner. Properly used and cared for, a carbide router bit can be used for years, without any loss in cutting quality.
 
These router sets provide an assortment of bits, allowing you to cut a variety of different profiles. As a bit can often cut more than one profile, by using different parts of the bit or using it from a different angle, you have more profile possibilities than there are bits in a set. However, the more bits you have, the more possibilities it provides you.
 
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.

Detailing the Best Router Bit of 2021

Freud Router Bit - Best Router Bits Overall

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.

CMT Shank Router Bit - Runner Up

CMT is a blade and bit specialist and this 13 piece set is similar to the Freud Super Router Bit Set, with a similar assortment of profiles available. Like Freud, CMT uses a proprietary carbide alloy with chromium added for extra long life. Anti-kickback features have been designed into the bits where appropriate and for those bits requiring a bearing for use with a template have them already built-in, cancelling the need to change bearings between bits for use. The set itself comes in a nice hardwood case.

Whiteside 7 Piece Basic Router Bit - Honorable Mention

You've probably never heard of Whiteside, but they have one of the most extensive lines of router bits on the market. This set has won the prestigious Fine Woodworking magazine's "Best Overall" and "Best Value" award for superior performance at an affordable price; that's a hard to beat combination. These are American made bits, which come with a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship or materials. Made of superior carbide, they are precision round for proper balance at high RPMs. These quality bits will satisfy the needs of any woodworker but unfortunately they come in a plastic case, making them look lower quality than they are. The only reason I didn't put them as number one, is this set is smaller than the one offered by Freud.

Router Bit Set - 15pcs 1/4 Inch Shank Wood Trimming Cutter Router Bits - Consider

If you're just getting started with routing, your biggest problem probably isn't which kit provides the best quality, but the one provides the most utility and getting the most for your money. That's where a kit like this one from Eagle America comes in.

Containing 70 sizes of router bits, this one will accommodate common routing tasks, including grooving and joining which aren't included in the smaller sets we've looked at. However, it doesn't have the large bits such as those needed for panel raising and building cabinet doors. The bits are carbide, all have a 1/2 inch shank, and come in a wall-hanging case. Eagle America offers a similar kit with 1/4 inch shank kits.

MLCS 8377 15-Piece with Carbide-Tipped 1/2-Inch Shanks Router Bit - Best Router Bits

This kit probably provides the best selection for the money of any router bit set on the market. All 66 router bits are carbide tipped and have 1/2 inch shafts. MCLS produces a very similar set, their number 6083, which has the same bits in it but with a 1/4 inch shank for those that need it. Sizes go up to a 1-3/8" diameter ogee bit, providing a large variety in cutting. All bits which need bearings come equipped with them, saving you from having to change bits between setups. Packed in a nice display case which can be hung on the wall of your workshop, it's easy to keep these bits organized making this set an incredible bargain.

Buyer's Guide

What Should You Consider When Choosing A Router Bit?

When you are out shopping for router bits, the vast options can be quite overwhelming. That is why we have compiled this guide for you so you know exactly what to look out for according to your needs.

Shank Size

Many carpenters that go out to buy router bits don’t usually have a lot of options when it comes to the shank size. However, if you have a router that comes with more than one size of shank, you should always take some time to consider which one you should opt for. This is an important decision because the shank diameter does influence the router bit’s performance. If you get a larger shank diameter then your router bit is less likely to vibrate when you use it. As you might be aware, the more it vibrates, the poorer your cut will be, so cutting down on excessive vibration is always a good idea.

However, don’t worry about always getting a disappointing cut when you opt for a ¼” shank bit. You might be surprised to know that larger diameter cutting heads are also prone to vibration if your router is not used to it. So what should you do then? Try to opt for the largest shank size that your router will allow, this way you will have the least amount of vibration and the cleanest cut possible.

Type Of Material

The type of material you are looking to cut with your router should come into play when deciding which bit you should be going for. If you are working with hardwoods, softwoods, plywoods and even some plastics then you should pick the tungsten carbide tips as they remain sharper for a much longer period of time than solid high speed steel bits which end up becoming dull very quickly.

For other abrasive materials such as MDF and particle board, you should opt for solid carbide bits that are even harder than tungsten carbide tipped bits and even more durable. It is essential to consider how much and what you will be cutting when you are shopping for the best router bit.

Freehand Or Table Mounted Routing?

Another tip to keep in mind is the kind of routing you will be attempting as the diameter of a router bit can vary. If you are using your router freehand then you should choose router bits that have a smaller shank diameter such as ¼” and 8mm that have small bit heads and are easier to maneuver with hand. While ½” shanked bits that have a bigger diameter cutting head are best for join creation and face profiling and can only be used properly in a router table.

Bearing Guides

The bearing guided bit helps in controlling the cut of a curved or straight edge without using a router fence. It allows the bit to follow the shape of the edge, ensuring a cleaner and professional cut. They can also be useful when using a template to cut as the bearing will just follow the template while the bit does all the work when it comes to shaping. If you have bearing guides then you won’t feel the need to go for anything else.

Flute

The flute is what that does all the work. It makes the cut and the amount of flutes a router bit can affect the speed and the cut you are making. A single flute bit will cut a lot in a short period of time. However, it will also leave behind a rougher finish than a router bit that has two flutes. Of course, the more the flutes, the slower your router bits will cut. But what makes them worth it is how smooth of finish they will leave on the cut.

Types Of Router Bits

StraightThis is the most adaptable bit among the router bits. It is used for straight, square edges on work pieces and also for cutting any grooves that you need to. Used simultaneously with a guide bush, these straight bits are usually the ideal choice when you have to follow a template. If you are looking to do jointing work then you can also use these in a router table.

Joinery

These bits shape all or part of a router join, including stile and rail bits for panelled tongue, doors, groove bits, etc. Some types of joint use two bits to cut opposite profiles while others cut both sides of the joint with ease.

Grooving

Bits with a V-shaped channel, the grooving ones can be used for etching designs, letting and giving a groove look to the panel.

Lettering And Template Following

These bits have been specifically designed to give a smooth finish with the least amount of tear in the material despite the shape you decide to opt for. Some of these bits have a bearing guide attached while others require a guide bush to be used with it.

Plunge Profile

Used to add character such as making a quilted effect on a solid door, the plunge profile begins the cut away from the edge, making it easier to add a pattern to the middle of the board.

Edge Profile

With a name that is pretty obvious, these bits are used when you need to cut profiles around the edges and even on the front of the work.

Some other types of router bits include:

. Rebating,
. Slotting,
. Raised Panel, and
. Trimming.

FAQs

What are the best router bits for a beginner?

The easiest and the most versatile type of router bit that everyone should have in their toolbox is the straight bit. Not only does it go with everything but it is also perfect for beginners to start off with.

Can I use a router bit in a drill?

Many people who aren’t in the field assume that router bits are just like drill bits. However, that is not the case. Drills don’t have the power or speed needed for safe and effective routing as it has been designed for downward pressure while a router works sideways.

Why do my router bits burn?

A major reason why your router bits are burning wood is too much speed that is generated causing wood-searing heat. Another contributing factor could also be dull router bits that give a poor cut and lead to head build-up.

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