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Router Bit Basics

Sorting through router bit terminology and making selections from a seemingly endless variety of router bits can be confusing, especially if you are new to working with a router. Reading up on the basic router bit facts will help you to choose the best router bits, and to make the best use of them.  In this article we'll cover a few of the most useful things to know about router bits, including:

  • Common types of router bit
  • Shank diameter
  • Router speed requirements for various bit diameters
  • Anti-kickback design 
  • Router bit quality

Common Types of Router Bit

There are a numerous types of router bit, including many designed for highly specialized applications. We won't be able to cover every type of router bit in this article, but here are some of the most common:


Straight Router Bits
Straight router bits are among the most common bits. They're most often used to make cuts straight down into a material to form a groove or dado or to hollow out an area for a mortise or inlay. Straight bits come in a variety of cut diameters, most commonly in the range from 3/16" to 1-1/2".

Rockler straight router bit
Rabbeting Router Bits
Rabbeting router bits produce a straight vertical and horizontal cut, and are designed specifically to cut a rabbet (notch) in the edge of a material. Rabbeting router bits are an example of a "piloted" router bit, meaning that a bearing of the top of the bit is used to guide that bit along the edge of the material. Rabbeting bits usually come in a set that includes a range of pilot bearing diameters, allowing a single bit to produce a variety of rabbet dimensions.
Rockler rabetting router bit

Flush Trim Router Bits
Flush trim router bits are guided by a pilot bearing that is the same size as the bit's cutting radius. They're used to trim the edge of one material flush with the edge of another material. Trimming a veneered surface flush with a substrate, or using a pattern to create multiple identical shapes are examples. The pilot bearing may be on the top of the bit, at the base of the cutting edge, or both.

Rockler flush trim router bit
Chamfer Router Bits
Chamfer Router Bits produce a bevel cut at a given angle. Chamfer router bits are sometimes used to decorate the edge of a material, and can also be used in joinery to create bevels for joinery.
Rockler Chamfer Router bits

Edge Forming Router Bits
Edge forming router bits are most often used to cut a decorative edge into a material. The variety of edge forming profiles are practically unlimited, but some of the most common include:

A large number of edge forming bits are piloted. In most cases, the bits are used for final decoration of a project where edges are already established and can serve as the guide for the bit.

Rockler roman ogee bit

Stile and Rail Bits
Stile and rail router bits are used for a special type of frame and panel construction joinery called "cope and stick", and are used primarily for constructing frame and panel doors. These bits cut a decorative profile and a panel slot into the edge of door frame stock, and also a corresponding cut into the end of the material where the frame's "rail" meets the profiled edge of the frame's "stile".

Stile and rail bits are available as either as a set of two "matched" bits, or as a single bit that can be arranged to cut both of the necessary components of the cope and stick joint.

rockler stile and rail router bits

Raised Panel Bits
Raised panel bits are often used in conjunction with stile and rail bits to produce a profiled edge on a door panel. The profiled edge fits into the corresponding slot in the frame's stiles and rails. Raised panel bits are available in both a horizontal and vertical configuration. A vertical frame and panel bit is used to cut the panel profile with the stock tipped up on its edge.

Vertical raised panel bits are not piloted, and rely on a router table fence to guide the workpiece. A horizontal raised panel bit cuts the panel profile with the workpiece laying flat on the table, and is most often piloted.

Rockler raised panel router bits
Other Joinery Bits
Other specialized joinery bits include dovetail router bits, drawer lock router bits, finger joint bits, and lock miter bits. Each of these bits is used to produce a specialized type of precision joint. A dovetail bit is often used in combination with a dovetail jig to quickly and accurately produce dovetail joints for drawer boxes and other decorative box-making joinery projects.
rockler dovetail bit
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