What can a 1/4" router do, what can a 1/2" router do?

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Forum topic by ColonelTravis posted 04-01-2013 10:06 PM 28425 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1976 posts in 2494 days

04-01-2013 10:06 PM

Topic tags/keywords: router

I’m not into major woodworking (yet), I’ve got a router for 1/4” bits. I’ve seen vague descriptions about the work that a 1/2” can do (heavy work) vs. a 1/4” (light work) but not really a specific list of things. So:

1.) What, specifically, are 1/4” bits best suited for?
2.) What are 1/2” bits best for?
3.) What kind of work can the 1/4” get by with, which a 1/2” is probably better for, but isn’t necessarily going to ruin your 1/4 bit and/or be dangerous if you have the patience, take your time?
3a.) Or is there a pretty rigid line for 1/4 and 1/2 routing work?

20 replies so far

View MrRon's profile


5807 posts in 3844 days

#1 posted 04-01-2013 10:16 PM

I’ve got both 1/4 and 1/2 routers. The 1/2 router is used in a router table and stays there permanently. When I have to do routing by hand, I have to use the 1/4 router despite the size of the job. It gets the job done, maybe a bit slower. I used it to level a bench surface that was 42” x 84” using a jig and running the router across rails. The router, a 35 year old B&D is rated for 7/8 hp, it did the job without fuss. It can do more than you think.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4248 days

#2 posted 04-01-2013 10:35 PM

1/2” routers are heavier, sometimes top-heavy and more
awkward to balance when profiling with half the base
on the work and the other half hanging out in the air.

A laminate trimmer or other compact 1/4” router can
be used more confidently with one hand.

1/2” shank bits deflect and chatter much less in heavy
cuts, so 1/2” routers can hog off material much
quicker and cleaner.

When I was learning woodworking, 1/2” routers were
just starting to become more of a standard so all
the books I read were written from the POV of
guys doing everything with 1/4” shank router bits
in single speed fixed base routers.

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2493 days

#3 posted 04-01-2013 10:39 PM

Light routing of softer woods = 1/4”. More wood removal and/or hard woods and/or highest precision = 1/2”

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3290 days

#4 posted 04-02-2013 02:04 AM

I keep waiting for an excuse to buy a bigger (1/2” router) but my 1/4” has handled everything I’ve asked of it. I don’t spin anything larger than a 1/2” roundover. Bigger than that, I would go to 1/2”. Thanks for starting this thread. I’ve wanted to ask the same question.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Thalweg's profile


103 posts in 4006 days

#5 posted 04-02-2013 02:26 AM

When I started stepping up to larger radius and heavier bits I moved up to a 1/2” router. The weight of the big bits and the extreme speed that the large radius generated made me nervous. I’d read about large bits on a 1/4” shank breaking and becoming a projectiles. So I didn’t want to invest in big bits on a 1/4” shank and then want to replace them someday. The router I got has replaceable collets, so I can use either.

View Grandpa's profile


3263 posts in 3276 days

#6 posted 04-02-2013 02:28 AM

1/4” routers hold 1/4” bits. 1/2” routers hold 1/2” bits. I have both in my shop and For what I do I can’t tell much difference. IF you can buy the bit learn to use it and you will be happy.

View eaglewrangler's profile


64 posts in 3137 days

#7 posted 04-02-2013 02:34 AM

just got a small porter cable that has 1/2 and 1/4 collar for beading. I prefer small routers for big beams router/shaper tables for smaller wood like door panels. Anything small enough to move in the shop goes on the router table except the laminate trim for things like hinges. I have yet to change out the bit and probably wont unless I need it in the shaper one day.

View shampeon's profile


1900 posts in 2784 days

#8 posted 04-02-2013 02:53 AM

Most decent routers come with 1/2” and 1/4” chucks now. For most routing tasks, I’d go with 1/2” bits because, as Loren points out, there’s less deflection with the bit shaft. If you’re routing smaller slots or doing a lot of detail work, some bits will only come with 1/4” shafts.

If you’re doing template routing with a pattern bit, one advantage of 1/4” bits is that the cutter head is smaller so you can take shallow passes to avoid tearout, and your templates can be thinner. You could use, say, 1/4” hardboard instead of thicker MDF or plywood.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


6033 posts in 3009 days

#9 posted 04-02-2013 02:59 AM

Seems many start out with 1/4” and depending on the work somehow land up buying the 1/2 for the router table and finding it works better. My two cents worth anyway, having bout 3 new 1/2 bits at the woodworking show. (laughing)

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View ColonelTravis's profile


1976 posts in 2494 days

#10 posted 04-02-2013 04:43 AM

woodbutcherbynight – I’ve done that in the time I started this thread until now. Still have the receipt on my 1/4 router, gonna take that back – ordered a 1/2 for the table. Gonna get a different, 1/4 trim model because, as has been noted, they’re really suited for different tasks.

Until relatively recently I’d been ambivalent about power tools and woodworking but once you get into it, seems like a credit card death spiral. But that’s OK. Probably not as OK with the wife until I start churning out a bunch of useful crap, and by “crap” I mean “furniture that makes Thomas Chippendale look like the clearance corner at Rooms To Go.”

View a1Jim's profile


117901 posts in 4178 days

#11 posted 04-02-2013 04:56 AM

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2789 days

#12 posted 04-03-2013 12:41 AM

1/2” bits will do heavier work with less vibration under load and less chance of breaking the shank. I only use 1/4” bits where 1/2” is not available or is obviously overkill.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View Marty5965's profile


161 posts in 2546 days

#13 posted 04-03-2013 03:50 AM

I recently bought one of the PC variable speed routers. It came with a 1/4 and 1/2 chuck. I got it because I was tired of mounting and unmounting my router from the router table. Oh, and, of course, because it was on sale! Anyway, I thought the digital readout was a gimmick I would never use but I have to say, I don’t know how I did without it. For example, I wanted to use my router to skim my bench slabs; so I bought a 2” bit from Eagle America (1/2 of course). I put the bit in the router (25000 default speed), dialed in the bit type and diameter, and the router scaled the speed to 13000. During routing operations, the LED window will flash red if you are laboring the bit and, if you don’t reduce the feed rate, will eventually stop the router (don’t ask how I know that). Thoroughly recommend them.

-- Marty, Wilmington, OH, learning every day....

View knotscott's profile


8351 posts in 3976 days

#14 posted 04-03-2013 09:43 AM

1/4” shank bits are far more likely to chatter and break. Once you get into the larger diameter bits (> 1/2” cutter diameter), 1/2” shank bits is definitely the way to go whenever feasible.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Marty5965's profile


161 posts in 2546 days

#15 posted 04-03-2013 02:53 PM

Edit to my earlier entry, it’s a Craftsman, not a PC…Duh!

-- Marty, Wilmington, OH, learning every day....

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