How to Plane Wood With A Router


Planing wood is an essential task in many woodworking projects, helping to create smooth, flat surfaces. Traditionally, this process was done with hand planes, which can be tedious and physically demanding. You can also use an electric planer, but if your workpiece is too wide for a planer, there is another option.  These days, using a router for planing has become a popular and efficient alternative.

Routers are versatile tools that you can use for many woodworking tasks, including planing, cutting grooves & dadoes, along with shaping edges. With the right bit, a router can quickly and accurately remove material from a wood surface, creating a level, uniform thickness.

In this article, we will discuss how to use a router to plane wood, covering everything from the necessary tools and materials to safety considerations, step-by-step instructions, and troubleshooting tips. Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or a beginner looking to expand your skills, planing with a router can be a valuable technique to add to your repertoire.

Here is a helpful YouTube video that you might enjoy.

What You Need

Tools and Materials

  • Router – You’ll need a router that is powerful enough to handle the job. For planing, a router with at least 1.5 to 2 horsepower is recommended, as it will have enough power to remove material efficiently.
  • Router Bit – The type of router bit you will need depends on the desired final surface and the amount of material you need to remove. For general planing tasks, a straight or spiral bit works well. These bits have straight cutting edges that create a smooth, flat surface. Look for bits with a large diameter (1 to 2 inches) for maximum material removal.
    • Straight bits are more affordable and readily available but can cause chip-out on the surface.
    • Spiral upcut bits are more expensive but provide a cleaner cut and reduce tear-out.
    • Read more about router bits here
  • Router Jig or Sled: A jig or sled is essential for stabilizing the router over the workpiece. You can build your own or purchase one. It should be capable of spanning the width of the piece to be planed and provide a flat, stable surface for the router. See our article on how to make your own router sled here.
  • Clamps – You’ll need several clamps to secure the workpiece to the workbench and to attach any necessary guides or fences.
  • Safety Equipment – Proper safety gear is a must when working with power tools. You’ll need safety glasses or goggles, a dust mask (or respirator for prolonged use), and snug-fitting gloves to protect your hands from the spinning bit.

Preparation Materials

  • Wood to be Planed – The type and condition of the wood will determine your approach. Straight, clean boards will be easier to plane than cupped, twisted, or damaged pieces.
  • Marking Tools – A pencil, marking knife, or marking gauge will be useful to mark your workpiece and your desired planing depth.

Setting Up Your Workspace

  • Workspace Safety: Clear the area of any unnecessary items or debris. Ensure your work surface is stable and at a comfortable working height.
  • Tool Inspection: Check your router and bits for any signs of wear or damage. Ensure the bit is securely fastened in the router’s collet.
  • Prepare the Wood: If your wood piece has any loose knots or is particularly rough, consider a light pass with a hand plane or sandpaper to knock down any high spots. This can help prevent the router bit from catching and ensure a smoother planing process.
  • Plan Your Passes: Determine the depth of each pass. It’s generally best to make multiple light passes rather than trying to remove too much material at once. This approach reduces the risk of tear-out and ensures a more uniform surface.
  • Dust Management: Planing can generate a lot of dust and chips, especially with larger pieces. If possible, set up dust collection or have a shop vac handy to keep the area clean and reduce airborne particles.

With the right preparation, tools, and materials, you’re ready to begin the planing process with your router. This careful setup not only ensures safety and efficiency but also contributes to achieving the best possible results on your woodworking project.

Setting Up for Planing

Proper setup is essential for achieving a successful and safe planing operation with your router. Here are the key steps to follow:

Choosing the Right Router and Bit:  As mentioned earlier, select a router with sufficient power (1.5 to 2 HP) to handle the task of planing wood efficiently. For the router bit, a straight or spiral bit with a large diameter (1 to 2 inches) is ideal for planing tasks.

Setting Up the Wood Piece:  Secure the wood piece to a sturdy workbench or surface using clamps. Ensure that the piece is stable and won’t move during the planing process. If working with a long or large piece, consider clamping additional supports or adjustable sawhorses to prevent sagging or movement.

Configuring the Router for Depth of Cut:  Adjust the router’s depth of cut to the desired thickness you want to remove from the wood surface. For planing, it’s generally recommended to take shallow passes (1/8 inch or less) to prevent excessive strain on the router and minimize the risk of tear-out or chipping.

To set the depth, first lower the router bit until it barely touches the wood surface. Then, use the depth adjustment mechanism on the router to raise or lower the bit to the desired cutting depth. Double-check your measurements and make any necessary adjustments.

Using a Straight Edge or Router Jig

To ensure a straight, consistent plane, you’ll need to run the router along a flat guide. You can use a router slide jig or edge guide that attaches to the router base.  Click here to read our article about how to make your own router sled.

With the proper setup in place, you’ll be ready to move on to the actual planing process. Take your time during this stage, as a well-prepared setup will ensure better results and safer operation.

Planing Process with a Router Sled Jig

Using a router sled jig is an excellent way to plane wood surfaces while maintaining precision and control. The sled jig supports the router and glides along a straight, flat surface, ensuring consistent results.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Marking the Wood for Planing
    1. Use a pencil or marking gauge to clearly mark the areas on the wood that need planing.
    2. Indicate the desired final thickness you want to achieve after planing.
  2. Setting Up the Router Sled Jig
    1. Assemble the router sled jig according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
    2. Adjust the sled’s fence to the desired cutting depth, typically taking shallow passes of 1/8″ or less.
    3. Securely mount the router to the sled’s base plate.
  3. Making the First Pass
    1. With the wood piece clamped in place, position the sled jig at one end.
    2. Turn on the router and make the first pass, pushing the sled smoothly along the length of the board.
    3. Keep the sled’s fence flush against the workpiece to maintain a straight cut.
  4. Checking for Flatness and Making Adjustments
    1. After the first pass, check the surface for flatness using a straight edge.
    2. Make any necessary adjustments to the cutting depth or fence alignment.
  5. Completing Multiple Passes
    1. For deeper planing, make additional passes, adjusting the cutting depth as needed.
    2. Always move the sled in the opposite direction from the previous pass to avoid tear-out.

Tips for Effective Planing with a Router Sled

  • Keep the sled moving at a steady, consistent pace to avoid burn marks or uneven surfaces.
  • Ensure the router bit is rotating in the correct direction for the sled’s motion (check the manufacturer’s guidelines).
  • Use featherboards or hold-downs to prevent workpiece movement during planing.
  • For wide boards, you may need to adjust the fence or make overlapping passes.
  • Consider using a scoring cut first to minimize tear-out on the end grain.

By following these steps and tips, you’ll be able to effectively plane wood surfaces using a router sled jig, achieving precise and consistent results with minimal tear-out or chipping.

Another video you might find helpful…

Finishing Touches

After successfully planing your wood surface with the router, there are a few additional steps you can take to achieve a truly smooth and polished finish.

Sanding After Planing

Even with the sharpest router bit, there may still be minor scratches or imperfections left behind on the planed surface. To achieve a silky-smooth finish, follow up with sanding.

Start with a coarser grit sandpaper (80-100 grit) to remove any remaining plane marks or ridges. Then, progressively work your way up to finer grits (120, 150, 180, etc.) until you’ve achieved the desired level of smoothness.

Sanding not only refines the surface but also helps to slightly round over any sharp edges left by the planing process, resulting in a more comfortable and visually appealing finish.

Optional Surface Treatments

Depending on the intended use of the planed wood, you may want to consider applying additional surface treatments after sanding. Here are a few options:

  • Sealing: Apply a clear wood sealer or Danish oil for moisture protection while enhancing the natural grain pattern.
  • Staining: If you prefer a colored finish, use a wood stain before sealing to achieve your desired shade.
  • Finishing: For a durable and aesthetically pleasing finish, apply a topcoat such as polyurethane, lacquer, or varnish after sealing or staining.

Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application and drying times when using any of these surface treatments.

By taking the time to sand and potentially apply additional finishes, you’ll turn your freshly planed wood surface into a beautiful and long-lasting piece, ready for your next woodworking project.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with careful setup and technique, you may still encounter some issues when planing wood with a router. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

Uneven Planing

  • Cause: Inconsistent router bit depth, wavering sled/router movement, or a warped/twisted workpiece.
  • Solution: Double-check the depth setting, use a straight edge guide, and consider flattening/jointing the workpiece first before planing.

Router Slipping/Losing Traction

  • Cause: Insufficient clamping, worn router base pads, or a slippery workpiece surface.
  • Solution: Use more clamps to secure the workpiece, replace worn base pads, or apply friction tape to the router base and workpiece.


  • Cause: Cutting against the wood grain, dull router bit, or excessive cutting depth.
  • Solution: Cut with the grain direction when possible, use a sharp spiral upcut bit, take shallower passes, and consider scoring cuts on cross-grain edges.

Burn Marks on Wood

  • Cause: Feeding too slowly, dull bit, or improper bit selection for the wood type.
  • Solution: Maintain a steady feed rate, use a sharp bit designed for the wood species, and take lighter passes.

Router Vibration/Wandering

  • Cause: Loose router bit, excessive cutting depth, or inappropriate bit selection.
  • Solution: Ensure the bit is securely tightened, reduce the cutting depth, and use the correct bit type for the task.

Wood Chipping/Splintering

  • Cause: Planing against the grain direction, excessive cutting depth, or dull bit.
  • Solution: Adjust the grain direction, reduce the cutting depth, and use a sharp bit designed for planing.

If you encounter any other issues, consult the router and bit manufacturer’s guidelines, or seek advice from experienced woodworkers or online forums. Proper troubleshooting can help you overcome challenges and achieve the desired planing results.

Advanced Techniques

Once you’ve mastered the basics of planing wood with a router, you may want to explore more advanced techniques to expand your capabilities and achieve even greater precision and efficiency.

Using Templates for Precision Planing

For projects that require complex shapes or patterns, you can create custom templates to guide the router during the planing process. Templates can be made from materials like hardboard, plastic, or thin plywood and are designed to follow the desired contour or shape.

To use a template, secure it to the workpiece and then run the router’s bearing-guided flush trim bit along the template’s edges. This technique allows you to plane intricate shapes with exceptional accuracy and repeatability.

Planing End Grain

Planing end grain can be particularly challenging due to the wood’s tendency to tear out or splinter. When working with end grain, consider using a specialized end grain planing bit, which features a curved or spiral cutting edge designed to shear the wood fibers cleanly.

You may also want to employ techniques like scoring cuts or applying thinned wood glue to the end grain before planing to help minimize tear-out.

Planing Figured or Highly Figured Wood

Woods with intricate grain patterns, such as burls, figured maple, or highly figured woods, can be problematic to plane due to their irregular grain direction. When planing these types of wood, consider using a spiral upcut bit with a high number of cutting edges, as this will help reduce tear-out.

Additionally, take lighter passes and adjust the feed direction based on the grain orientation to minimize chipping or splintering.

As you gain experience with planing wood using a router, don’t be afraid to explore these advanced techniques. They can open up new possibilities for your woodworking projects and help you achieve even more impressive results.

Maintenance and Care for Your Router

A well-maintained router is essential for achieving consistent, high-quality results when planing wood. Proper care and maintenance will not only extend the life of your router but also ensure safe and efficient operation. Here are some tips for keeping your router in top condition:


  • After each use, thoroughly clean the router to remove any sawdust or debris build-up. Use a brush or compressed air to clear out the vents and motor housing.
  • Regularly clean the base plate and other moving parts to prevent sticking or binding.


  • Consult your router’s manual for specific lubrication instructions.
  • Generally, you’ll want to apply a few drops of lightweight machine oil to any moving parts or adjustment mechanisms periodically.

Bit Maintenance

  • Keep router bits sharp and in good condition. Dull or damaged bits can lead to poor cutting performance, tear-out, and increased risk of kickback.
  • Regularly inspect bits for any signs of chipping, burning, or excessive wear, and replace them as needed.
  • Store bits properly to prevent damage, and keep them clean and free of pitch buildup.

Power Cord Care

  • Inspect the power cord regularly for any cuts, fraying, or damage.
  • Avoid running over the cord with the router or other tools, as this can lead to internal wire damage.
  • If the cord becomes damaged, replace it immediately to prevent electrical hazards.

Motor Brushes

  • Most routers have replaceable motor brushes that wear down over time.
  • Consult your manual for instructions on checking and replacing the brushes when necessary.


  • Store your router in a dry, dust-free environment when not in use.
  • Consider storing it in a protective case or covering it to prevent accidental damage.

By following these maintenance guidelines and treating your router with care, you can ensure that it remains a reliable and high-performing tool for all your future woodworking projects, including planing tasks.


Planing wood with a router is a versatile and efficient technique that can greatly enhance your woodworking projects. By following the steps outlined in this article, you’ll be able to achieve smooth, flat surfaces with precision and consistency.

Using a router for planing offers several advantages over traditional hand planing methods. It requires less physical effort, allows for faster material removal, and provides greater accuracy and control. With the right set of tools and materials, along with proper safety precautions, you can effectively plane wood pieces of various sizes and types.

Throughout the planing process, remember to take your time during the setup phase, ensuring that the workpiece is securely clamped and that the router is properly configured for the desired depth of cut. Whether you’re using a handheld router with a straightedge guide or a specialized router sled jig, maintaining a steady and consistent feed rate is crucial for achieving optimal results.

While planing with a router may seem daunting at first, with practice and attention to detail, you’ll soon develop the skills and confidence to tackle even the most challenging woodworking projects. The ability to create perfectly flat and smooth surfaces will open up a world of possibilities, from furniture making to cabinetry, and everything in between.

So, don’t be afraid to give planing with a router a try. Embrace the satisfaction of transforming rough, uneven wood into beautifully planed surfaces, ready for the next step in your woodworking journey. With patience, precision, and a commitment to safety, you’ll be creating stunning pieces that showcase your skills and craftsmanship.

Additional Resources

While this article has covered the essential aspects of planing wood with a router, there are numerous additional resources available for those seeking further guidance, inspiration, or advanced techniques. Here are some recommended books, websites, and videos to explore:


  1. “The Complete Guide to Router Use” by Pat Warner – A comprehensive guide to routers, including detailed sections on planing and other woodworking tasks.
  2. “Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Routers” by Lonnie Bird – A well-illustrated and easy-to-follow resource for mastering router techniques.
  3. “The Router Book: A Complete Guide to the Router and its Accessories” by Patrick Spielman – An in-depth exploration of routers, with chapters dedicated to planing and specialty jigs.


  1. Wood Magazine ( – A wealth of articles, tips, and techniques related to woodworking, including router use and planing.
  2. Fine Woodworking ( – High-quality content from expert woodworkers, covering various aspects of the craft, including router techniques.
  3. Router Forums ( – An active online community where woodworkers can ask questions, share tips, and discuss router-related topics.


  1. “Router Planing Techniques” by Steve Ramsey (YouTube) – A comprehensive video tutorial on planing with a router, covering setup, technique, and troubleshooting.
  2. “How to Plane Wood with a Router” by Wood Workers Guild of America (YouTube) – A step-by-step guide to planing wood using a router and sled jig.
  3. “Router Planing Basics” by Popular Woodworking Magazine (YouTube) – A straightforward introduction to planing with a router, including essential tips and techniques.

Online Courses:

Websites like Udemy and Craftsy offer affordable courses that range from introductory woodworking to advanced techniques, including extensive lessons on router use.

These resources can provide additional insights, expert advice, and alternative perspectives on planing wood with a router. Whether you prefer books, online articles, or video tutorials, there is a wealth of information available to help you further hone your skills and expand your woodworking knowledge.

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