Types of Router Bits and Their Uses

Picking a router bit can be extremely confusing. Here is a guide to the types of router bits and their application to help you pick the perfect bit for your application.

Various types of router bits on a table

Router bits are probably the most confusing part of using a router. There are SO many types of bits available.

I remember when I first got a router. I realized I needed router bits. All I wanted to do in my project was create a rounded-over edge. So I went to the store and stood in front of the huge number of router bits, completely confused. It can be extremely hard to look at the packaging and understand the exact application of a bit if you are just starting out and have no experience with routers.

Router bits are typically made from high-speed steel or carbide-tipped materials, which are more durable and suitable for heavy-duty use.

Let’s dive into router bits and give you a quick crash course so you know exactly what to look for on the wall of router bits.

Parts of a Router Bit

Router bits have two main parts:

  • The shank – the bottom end of the router bit that is inserted into a router. This should match your router. It can be 1/4″ or 1/2″. A 1/4″ shank is typically found on compact trim routers, and 1/2″ on heavy-duty routers.
  • The blades or cutters – this is the sharp edge that makes the cuts.
  • Pilot bearing – some router bits also have a bearing above, below, or both above and below the blade. These help guide the router along a template. These are only used in bits that glide along an edge.
Flush trim router bit with parts labeled.

Choosing the Right Router Bit

When selecting a router bit, there are three things you want to consider:

  • The exact task you need it for
  • The material or wood type you are working with.
  • The shank size of the bit (the part that fits into the router) – common sizes are 1/4″ and 1/2″. This depends on your router.

Router bits can end up being pretty expensive. However, I highly recommend splurging on them if it works for your budget. A good quality router bit can make all the difference between a quick project and a project ending in frustration.

Speaking from experience – I started with a cheap set of router bits but would end up having burn marks and frustrating moments with them in spite of only using them a few times. The newer, more expensive bits work like butter and produce good-quality results even after many uses.

Types of Router Bits

It may be impossible to break down ALL the types of bits out there, but here are the basic router bits you might want to understand and have in your toolbox to get started.

Bits for Making Grooves

These are probably the most common applications. I use these all the time. They come in various diameters based on the size of the groove you want to make. If you are just starting out, I highly recommend you get started with the Straight bit.

Type of bitWhat it doesApplications
Straight Bits or spiral bitsCuts into the material to create a dado or groove in the wood.
The base of the dado is square.
Basic mortise joinery, shelving, drawers, trimming, squaring, plunge cutting, and decorative inlay.
V-groove BitsCreates a V-shaped groove. Used for sign-making and lettering, decorating inlay work.
Round Nose BitsCreates a rounded groove. Used for fluting and reeding, sign-making.
collage of straight bit and a groove in plywood using a straight router bit

I used a straight bit to cut out the circle for the lazy Susan, make grooves for this clock with metal inlay, and making the hole for the wireless charger in the charging station.

Joinery Bits

Routers can help make extremely accurate cuts and notches, and these can be used to create joints. Each type of joinery technique uses a special type of joinery bit. If you are a beginner, I highly recommend adding a Rabbeting bit to your toolbox.

Type of BitWhat it doesApplication
Rabbeting bitForms an L-shaped shoulder on the edge of the workpiece.
The bearing at the bottom of the bit helps guide the bit along the edge.
Various sized bearings can be used to vary the depth of the shoulder.
For making drawers, cabinets, adding glass to doors.
Flush Trim Bit Used for trimming edges of one material flush with another.Used in veneering and laminate work. Also used to follow a template and cut the material.
Dovetail router bitMake dovetails in the materialBuild strong and durable dovetail joints
Rail and Stile Router BitIt is a set of two bits – one bit for creating the “stile” (the vertical frames of the door) and another for the “rail” (the horizontal frames). These bits are designed to cut the complementary profiles that allow the rails and stiles to be joined together, forming a strong, integrated frame.Making cabinet doors, paneling, and other furniture joinery
Rabbeting bit with a rabbet cut into a door frame using a router

I use rabbeting bits all the time – like adding a door to the bar cabinet, making space for the cane webbing in this nightstand, and even adding a back to a bookshelf or nightstand.

Edge-Forming Bits

Designed to cut a shoulder on the edge of a workpiece.

Type of BitWhat it doesApplication
Roundover bitsCreates a rounded profile on the top of the materialFor decorative purposes – countertops or tabletops.
Ogee bits or Roman Ogee bitsIt is an S-type profile.For decorative purposes in furniture, signs, and molding.
Chamfer bitsCut a bevel or chamfer on the edge of the material.For decorative edges or making beveled edges for multi-sided constructions.
Cove router bitsinverse of a round over bit. For decorative purposes. It is also used as a joint in combination with a round-over bit.
Molding bitsHelp make decorative moldingFor decorative purposes.
Collage of edge forming bits with the type of edge they make in wood

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Specialty Bits

Apart from the above bits, there are many other specialized bits that

Slab Flattening Bits

A slab flattening bit is a specialized router bit designed for leveling or flattening large wooden slabs, boards, or any uneven wooden surfaces. This type of bit is typically much larger than standard router bits and is used with a router sled setup to plane down the wood. The slab flattening bit ensures that the top and bottom surfaces of the slab are parallel and smooth.

A flattening router bit on plywood.

Dish Carving Router Bit

A dish carving bit, also known as a bowl or tray bit, is designed for creating concave cuts in wood. It is flat on the bottom and rounded on the sides. This shape helps to carve rounded depressions efficiently. The most common applications are carving bowls and trays, sign making, and drip grooves in cutting boards.

Keyhole Bit

A keyhole bit, or a T-slot bit, is designed to route a vertical hole and then a horizontal slot in a single operation. This unique design allows it to create a slot with a narrow opening and a wider bottom, resembling a keyhole. The primary application of a keyhole bit is to create slots for hanging objects on a wall.

Router Bits for a Beginner

If you are just starting out with routers and looking to start your collection of bits, I recommend you start off with a handful of basic bits:

These bits should help you make a lot of simple projects. As you build projects and see the need for other patterns, joints, etc., you can add router bits to your collection.

Router bits can be expensive, and it can be tempting to look for budget options, but trust me, this is one place you want to splurge and get a good-quality router bit.

Once you have gathered your router bits, it is time to put the router to work. Here is how to use a router.

More Beginner Woodworking Articles:

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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