How to Use a Pilot Router Bit

Written by meg jernigan
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How to Use a Pilot Router Bit
Eagle America rebate bit with guide bearing.

Pilot router bits have a guide on the arbor that limits how deep the bit cuts into the workpiece. Most modern pilot bits use a replaceable cartridge guide bearing mounted below the cutting surface. The bearing rides along the template and prevents the bit from cutting too deeply. Others have self-piloting shanks, a smooth round portion of the arbor that limits cutting depth. Pilot bits are a good choice for routing outside or inside edges because they cut predictably and accurately without the need for custom templates or freehand routing. They're especially useful in finishing edges of laminates and panels, cutting slots, dados and biscuit joints, tongue-and-grooving and rebating.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Router
  • Pilot Router Bit

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  1. 1

    Select a bit that is right for the job. Carbide bits cost more but are long lasting and will prove a better value if you use the bit frequently. Less expensive high speed steel bits are fine for occasional use. They'll dull more quickly, and dull bits can damage the workpiece.

  2. 2

    Assemble the bit if necessary. Choose an appropriate diameter bearing and press or screw it in place tightly. Check that the bearing rolls freely. If not, lubricate it with light machine oil.

  3. 3

    Insert the pilot bit shank into the router collet and lock it in place. If your router has an adjustable depth level, set "zero" at the bottom of the cutting surface---not the bottom of the bearing.

    How to Use a Pilot Router Bit
    Freud router bit with self-piloting shank for cutting laminates.
  4. 4

    Allow the router to rev up to full operational speed before starting the cut. Move the router in a counter-clockwise direction so that the cutting surface chips away material with its sharp side rather than knocking it off with the unsharpened side.

  5. 5

    Cut in about 1/8-inch per pass on thicker workpieces. Increase the cut by 1/8-inch with each pass until the cut is finished. A smaller bearing will permit deeper cuts with the same bit.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid damage to the material by keeping your bits sharp and rust-free.
  • Clamp or screw small or light workpieces so they don't move.
  • Routers operate at 10,000 to 30,000rpm. Unplug them before making any adjustments.
  • Wear eye protection.
  • Never use a chipped or cracked bit.

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