Why Your Router Burns Wood and How to Fix It for Good?

Don’t let your wood get burned by your router. Otherwise, it will leave a burnt or black mark on your lumber, and it may be a tough job to remove it. This article is about answering the question of why a router burns wood. Later on, we’ll also give you solutions on how you can fix it.

Some reasons why a router burns wood is because of too much speed that generates substantial bits causing wood-searing heat. Massive and deep passes and a slow pace also add in building up high temperatures that may cause a wood fire. Finally, dull and dirty router bits that cut poorly resulting in heat build-up.

Burns on the wood is a serious problem that can ruin the quality of your workpiece. If not appropriately addressed, you may end up wasting your precious material. So, find out some tips on how you should use your router properly to avoid wood burns.

What is a Router?

A wood router is a handy and portable tool in woodworking for both professional and decorative purposes. It is for routing out or hollow out a relatively hard area of a workpiece. More often, wood routers are primarily for flat pieces of wood to trace designs.

This tool is perfect to use in cutting edges, making classic shapes, molding rabbets, cut easy dadoes, creating patterns, and recessing lock faceplates. Also, a wood router is an excellent tool for cutting and trimming various materials other than wood.

A Short History of Wood Router

Wood routers started as hand-powered tools and have evolved into an electronically-powered spinning device. The first models of wood routers feature a hand tool form with a full blade wider than its broad base. There are various styles, additional features, and types of wood routers – but its purpose has always been the same.

Modern wood routers today have an electric motor causing it to spin rapidly. It features a flat plane, and a rotating shaft or router bit at the bottom. Wood routers are especially for making furniture easy, revolutionizing cabinetmaking, edging, and precise cutting.

Why Your Router Burns Wood and How to Fix It for Good?

There’s nothing worse than a burned wood when it comes to woodworking. You can remove the burnt part, but its quality will never be the same. Never let router burns ruin your skills. Soon as the signs of black marks appear, eliminate them as quickly as possible. So, you have to understand why a router burns wood and figure out what went wrong.

  • Too much speed. Too fast router bits can generate wood-searing heat as quickly as you could ever imagine. The key here is to control the speed rotation correctly depending on the diameter of your router bit. As a rule of thumb, bits with less than 1-inch diameter should only have a maximum of 24,000 RPM (revolution-per-minute).
    • SOLUTION. Know the material. There are some types of wood that don’t burn quickly because of their density and the oils and extractives they contain. Hence, dense forest requires slow the router and increase feed rate to minimize burning – and vice versa.
  • Slow Pace. In contrary to the first one, a slow pace in using a wood router can also cause wood burning. It is crucial to feed the stock as quickly as possible without leaving chatter marks, to avoid heat build-up that causes burns.
    • SOLUTION: Too low feed rate generates more heat quickly. A fast and consistent feed rate is safe to keep the router bit cool. Always refer to the user’s manual of your wood router for the correct speed. Otherwise, you can refer to the chart that we will provide in a while. Also, take into account the diameter of your Router Bit.
  • Heavy Passes. Make sure to take off or remove the wood router with no more than 1/8 inch of the material for each pass. Most modern routers have sharp carbide-tipped bits that can rout out massive cuts. A deep and heavy pass removes a lot of content but can burn the wood.
    • SOLUTION: Measure the part of the wood that you have to remove. If it’s more than 1 ¼ inches, then only make multiple shallow passes. So, take two or three passes instead of one deep entry.
  • Dirty Router Bits. It can cause burns on your wood. Resins and dust build-up cause the router bits to get hot faster as it revolves, which makes them burn the wood.
    • SOLUTION: Wipe the router bits and clean the whole router after each use is the ideal answer. Wipe the sawdust with a dry cloth and a blade-and-bit cleaner. Clean bits remain sharp because it eliminates unnecessary heat under the carbide cutters.
  • Dull Router Bits. Replaced and resharpen bits are less accurate because they have lost their original cutting edge. It cuts poorly and can build up the heat because of its insufficiency. If you run the cutter over your fingernail without shearing off a shaving, then your bit needs sharpening.
    • SOLUTION: To sharpen router bit cutting edges, using a diamond lapping stones is more effective. Make sure that you count your strokes on each side to remove an equal amount of material. Take note that it only requires 6 to 10 strokes with each stone. If nothing happens, have a bit sharpened by a professional or buy a new one.
  • Incorrect Bit Installation. Loose or improper installed router bits may also cause wood burning. It’s because the bit may have a low or fast feed rate, depending on its position, which may cause heat build-up.
    • SOLUTION: Make sure to mount the router bit correctly in the tool. Insert the shank completely into the collet, and pull it out slightly to avoid bottoming out the bit. It also ensures that the collet holds the bit tight.

What is a Rule of thumb on Wood Router Speed?

Most modern wood routers have an adjustable RPM speed button. It helps in setting the speed to match your needs for your workpiece and your router bits. You have to remember that choosing the ideal rate depends on the type of wood that you are routing, the kind and size of the router bit. 

A Wood Router that spins too fast at a high RPM may lead to burned wood, while too low feed rate may cause rough cuts. Either way, anything too much is never okay. So it is essential to have the right balance and knowledge about your wood router. As a rule of thumb, the larger the router bit, the slower the speed should be. There’s a chart for router speed that will serve as your guideline. 

  • Wood Router Speed Chart. Here’s a chart representing the ideal maximum wood router speed for a particular router bits diameter. Take note that this is only a widely accepted guideline, and you should still refer to the user’s guide of your wood router bit.
Bit DiameterMaximum Speed
1/16 to  ½ inch22,000+ rpm
½ to 1⅛  inch14,000 – 18,000
1 ⅛ to 2 inches 12,000 – 14,000
2 to 2½ inches16,000 rpm
2 ½ and higher  12,000 rpm

  • All About RPM. It means revolutions per minute, which measures how many times the bit spins around in one minute. According to the laws of Physics, large router bits move faster than a smaller bit at the same shaft speed. Hence, the rate of the wood router should decrease in proportion to the diameter of the bit used. In simple words, a more significant router bit has slower rpm to prevent vibration created by bits with higher mass.

What are the Different Types of Router Bits?

  1. Straight Bits. It has various lengths and diameters, which are primarily for making straight cuts to form groove or dado across the wood grain. Straight bits are also essential to hollow out an area for a mortise.
  2. Rabbeting Bits. From the name itself, it is mainly for cutting rabbets or shoulders at the edge of a workpiece to join pieces. Rabbeting Bits also includes various bearings in different diameters. 
  3. Chamfer Bits. It is for cutting angled or beveled styles for decorative purposes or for joining multi-sided constructions. Chamber bits are excellent for those who need decorative pieces or edging.
  4. Molding Bits. They are ideal for incorporating multiple edge-forming proles into a single bit.
  5. Stile-and-Rail Bits. These are perfect for shaping frame-in-panel construction like cabinet doors.
  6. Edge-forming Router Bits. They are the ideal type for making intricate edging tasks.
  7. Joinery Bits. These are specialized bits, which also includes dovetail router bits, drawer lock router bits, finger joint bits, and lock miter bits. Each kind provides precision in routing an area to join pieces of wood.

How to Get High-Quality Router Bits?

The quality of your router bit may impose a considerable difference when it comes to the accuracy of your cuts. Regardless of your experience, a bad router bit will always ruin your workpiece. Usually, HSS and carbide are the primary materials for a router bit. 

HSS bits tend to become dull quickly, so you may want to avoid using it. Carbide bits, meanwhile, can last 20 times longer but more expensive. In the end, the choice is yours. Are you willing to invest in a more expensive router bit that can last for a prolonged period and can withstand wear-and-tear? Or you want a cheaper and less accurate one, but may leave you buying more often?

Understanding Router Feed Direction

First of all, reading the wood’s grain is essential to avoid chipping and splintering. You have to understand the right direction when routing a wood for safety, higher accuracy, and prevents the wood router from climb cutting. 

  • How to Rout the Edge of a Wood? As a general rule of thumb, go counter-clockwise when routing the outside edge of your wood. On the other hand, go in a clockwise direction when working inside the side of a frame.
  • How to Rout All Four Edges of a Board? It is essential to make the rout in the right sequence accordingly. Start routing on the end grain, going slightly to the adjacent edge. Also, take into consideration the direction of your wood grain.
  • What is the Feed Direction For Freehand Routing? Technically, a router bit rotates in a clockwise direction. Rout from right to left over the outside edges of your workpiece. The guiding principle to graze against the bit’s rotation will always remain the same. It will give you optimal control and excellent cutting performance.
  • What is the Feed Direction For Router Tables? When working on a router table, it means that the router bit flips upside down. Hence, the spin is already counter-clockwise. It implies that the feed direction reverses to the clockwise direction. You have to feed your wood from left to right side so that the router bit pushes the wood back against you.
  • Climb Cutting. Feeding against the bit’s rotation is the safest technique to use in routing. However, some types of wood have uneven or complicated grain that makes it harder to rout smoothly. So, the only option to do the method called Climb Cutting. It improves the routed surface is to do slightly deeper pass and move the router with the bit’s rotation.
    • What is Climb Cutting? It is a crucial technique for routing. This process involves feeding with the bit’s rotation, which may cause the wood router to climb out instead of drilling. The router may pull away, which makes it harder to control. Hence, it requires experience and knowledge about routing.
  • The Right Feed Speed. If you have a super-fast feed speed, you may have lousy vibration on the wood. On the other hand, if it’s too slow, it can burn your material. The rate of the router and the feed speed should compromise to create the best possible cut. Practice on scrap wood before making your final cuts. Feel your wood router and see how much pressure you have to apply. It may vary depending on your wood.

How to Use a Router in Woodworking?

Wood Router is a tool for diverse projects for cutting and trimming plastic, metal, and laminates. It is an ultimate tool for most artisans. There are various types and designs of a wood router, but the procedure of using it remains the same. So, without further ado, here’s how to use a wood router to create a beautiful wood workpiece.

  1. Install the Router Bit. First, lose the collet by turning the collet nut counter-clockwise and attach the appropriate router bit for your project. Be careful not to overtighten the collet because it may lead to inefficiency. Then, turn on the power button to test and make sure that everything is working fine.
  2. Check Your Router Bits. Make sure that they are clean and sharp to avoid excessive chatter, splinter, or burn the wood. The shank of the router bit should reach the bottom of the collet. Ease it for approximately ⅛ to ¼ inch before tightening the collet. There should at least ¾ inch shank in the collet regardless of the length of your bits.
  3. Secure the Wood. Attach and secure the material using a wood clamp to avoid chasing it around your working table. It will ensure that your workpiece is stable, and you’re free to do whatever you want.
  4. Wear Gear for Protections. Protect yourself before starting your wood router. Wear goggles for your eyes, noise cancellation headphones, and masks for wood dust. A wood router may look simple, but it has sharp edges that can impose injury. So, safety should be a primary concern.
  5. Take the Time When Using a Router. Hold the router firmly from left to right since the bit rotates clockwise. Make an effortless and smooth cut when you’re routing across the grain.
  6. Start with Shallow Cuts. Do several shallow cuts to keep the wood from burning, tear-outs, and splintering. It will also provide more control over the wood router. Keep your momentum until you get the desired outcome.

Removing Router Burn Marks from Wood

Oops! You already have a burn mark on your wood before you could even read this? Don’t worry because we will help you remove it. Removing burned areas on the wood can be a job, but it is doable and possible. The workpiece may not have the same condition as before; what matters more is that you can still use your material or save your workpiece. 

  • Hand Planes. Soe woodworkers find it more convenient and fast to remove burn marks using a hand plane. It is no less time. You can remove burn marks using a No. 4 smooth plane, block plane or any hand plane that you may have. It will take a few lights passes to remove the burn marks. However, you might want to limit it to small planes because they are easier to grip on hands. 
  • Chisels. This method might be a little bit more complicated than the first one. You need to have better control in passing through the burned area of your workpiece. You may or may not need a mallet or a  hammer depending on the density and hardness of the wood.
  • Card Scraper. It is a woodworking shaping and finishing tool that is like a chisel, except that it has no handle. With the use of card scrapers, you can remove residues and burned part of your workpiece. Scraping will give you a clean surface than sanding, but it does not guarantee a smooth one. Also, card scrapers don’t clog the pores of the wood with dust and don’t tear its fibers.
  • Drum Sander. It’s almost the same with handheld sandpaper, except that it makes the job a lot faster. You’ll just put the burned area of the wood on the drum sander, and the device automatically revolves. It is a more convenient and efficient method.
  • Sanding. Sand the burned part using fine-grit abrasive sandpaper. However, be aware than sanding takes the longest time and can give you a hard time. You can try applying mineral spirits on the burned part before sanding. Then, the mineral spirits penetrate the glazed portion of your workpiece, which makes it easier to sand off.
  • Palm Gouges. It looks like a small chisel, except that it has a spoon-shaped edge and an oval-shaped handle. Palm Gouges is ideally for carving, but you can also use it to remove glazed parts on your wood.

What are the Different Types of Wood Router?

Fixed-Base RouterIt is useful for exterior cuts because its bit has a  bearing on the end. It serves as a guide along the edge of the material. However, it may not be suitable for interior cuts because you can’t bring down the motor while the base is in place.
Plunge RouterThe best type of router for making interior cuts. It has a lock feature allowing the router to move up and down quickly for plunging into the center of the wood. It also has variable speeds for different router bits. 
Trim RouterIt is a handheld router primarily for laminate work, and other small wood projects. It has various bases for both offset and bevel cuts.
Palm RoutersThey are portable to use, and ideal for small quick tasks like mortising door hinges or doing window cutouts. They are lightweight, easy to hold, and most models are cordless. Most Palm routers can only accommodate ¼ inch shank router bits.
Mid-sized RoutersThey offer a perfect balance between control and power that comes in various styles – cordless or corded, and one-handed or two-handed. Mid-sized Routers will give you more versatility when it comes to working on different projects. They can do trimming, edge finishing, dovetailing, and profiling cut jobs.

How to Choose a Wood Router?

As you may already know, wood routers come in different models. Usually, each model differs by handle designs, sizes, and feature sets. As a primary key to choosing a wood router for you, it all depends on the kind of your project. Regardless, you need a top-of-the-notch wood router that you can use for a lifetime. So, here are some qualities or standards that you should want to have.

  • Power. Horsepower (hp) or sometimes Amperage (A) measures corded wood routers motors, while Volts (v) for corded types. The higher the figure, the better. Choose between 1hp to 3.5hp, depending on your woodworking project and skills. For battery-operated routers, stay within the range of at least 20 volts.
  • Variable Speed. The routing speed depends on your bit. So, it’s beneficial to have a speed control feature to have better control. 
  • Depth. It depends on the base of the router. Usually, the ideal depth us under 2 inches for both fixed base and plunge base designs.
  • Collet Capacity. It dictates the size of the bit that the router can hold. It’s ideal to have a collet that can take ¼ to ½ inch router bits.

Wood Router Tips – Maximizing the Use of Your Wood Router

  1. Use two guide boards that’s 1 foot longer than your workpiece. You can screw or clamp it on the bench-top at an equal distance apart.
  2. You can make a sliding carriage for your router and attach it to your guides for easier routing.
  3. Make extra-long molding and leave some uncut wood at the end that will be your handle for more accurate cutting.
  4. For thin and narrow wood, it is easier to rout the profile on the full board to avoid splintering.
  5. Use spiral bits to make smoother and more accurate cuts. A compression bit has spirals running up and down while pulling the chips toward the middle of the bit.
  6. Use a sandwich clamp or a double-sided template to eliminate tear-outs, especially on curved workpieces.
  7. Use sharp and top-quality bits to avoid wood splintering, chattering, and burning. 
  8. As a general principle in routing, feed against the bit’s rotation to have the effect of pulling the router and wood tightly together. It will give you the right feeling and anticipation to predict the right amount of pressure to apply.


Can You Use a Router on Plywood?

You can use a router on Plywood and many more types of wood. For as long as you have a sturdy and sharp bit, your router will do just fine. Also, be aware of your wood grains. Some have sensitive ones that may cause tear-outs, so be careful in working with those.

How Much Horsepower Does a Router Need?

A wood router has approximately 1HP to more powerful models with up to 3.5HP. Choose accordingly to your purpose and the degree of difficulty of your projects. Each model has a peak horsepower, which is the highest power that the tool operates for a brief time. It also has a sustained strength that refers to the router’s capability it runs with throughout use. 1HP is sufficient for home use, anything more than that requires higher horsepower.

Do I Need a Variable Speed Router?

Most modern wood routers today already have variable speed control. It’s like a regulator of the right speed according to your router bit and your material. It is helpful to have this feature to get more accurate results.

Final Words

Overall, the wood router can burn your wood without proper care and knowledge in writing. First of all, make sure that your bits are all sharp. Use the highest quality router bit to ensure accuracy and efficiency. Second, make sure that you are going in the right direction in routing. As a general rule, you have to rout in the opposite direction of the router bit’s rotation. Finally, take into account the type of lumber that you are working for your workpiece. They have unique and sensitive grains that may cause tear-outs.

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