The History of Wood Routers – If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life without all our modern conveniences. Can you imagine doing the same work you do now, for the same pay, without the modern inventions you use everyday? That’s why it’s imperative that you know the history of such items – so that you will have an appreciation for what you have. In this case, we are talking about woodworkers and wood routers.

Wood Routing By Hand

In the beginning, of course, there was no such thing as harnessed electricity so everything was powered by human or animal power. In the case of the wood router, you had to do it all by hand. Those who made wood patterns or wooden staircases essentially had a broad-based wooden hand plane to work with. It had projecting from it a narrow blade that was used to carve the patterns needed. It was truly laborious work using one of these tools, yet it is what was used for centuries.

It wasn’t until 1905 that Kelley Electric Machine Company manufactured a handheld wood router en masse commercially. This router was a 60-lb monster that stood 16 inches high and measured 12 inches in diameter.

Electric Routers

Around the time of World War I there was a lot of technological advancement, and it was at this time that the first electric router was introduced. R.L. Carter, a pattern maker from New York, began selling electric routers of various sizes for various jobs. Carter routers soon became known as the “Wonder Tool” and were quite popular. In fact, many of the features found on these routers are still present on the routers of today. Carter routers had modern features such as:

  • Edge guides
  • Base-mounted template guides
  • D-handles
  • Bits from 1/16”-1” in diameter

Stanley Electric Tools bought out Carter in 1929. Bosch Tools, in turn, bought out Stanley in the 1980s.

Over the next few decades, technological advancement continued on the wood router. In the late 1940s, Porter-Cable bought out the Unit Electric Company and began distributing their power tools under the “Guild” name. Porter distributed two different models of Guild router, many accessories, and conversion components for making the router into a bench top shaper or a portable plane.

For many decades, there really was little advancement in routers. They were metal and they were heavy. They did the job, however. Recently, though, there has been some development. Today’s wood routers are made of plastic and lighter wooden alloys that have brought the average weight down from 35 lbs. to a more manageable 14 lbs. We have new features like soft-starting and variable speeds. Lately, of course, everyone is using the Dremel tools with all their attachments. With the right attachment, your Dremel can be a wood router unto itself.

So that’s where your wood router came from, in case you were wondering. Chances are if you inherited a wood router from your father or grandfather that looks like it’s 50-100 years old, it is. Many of the routers manufactured by Carter in the early 1900s actually still work!

About the Author

Mike Rocha is an engineer from Florida with a passion for woodworking. As an engineer and hobbyist woodworker, he uses wood routers regularly and recognizes the ingenuity and versatility that they represent. Being an electrical engineer who designs and develops medical imaging systems, Mike appreciates more than most the ingenious simplicity of these tools. Check out his website if you are looking for the best wood router for your project or if you are looking for router tables for sale.

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