Understanding Router Feed Direction

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Feed Direction For Freehand Routing 

When you’re holding the router in hand with the bit facing downward, it will spin in a clockwise direction. To feed against the bit’s rotation then, you’ll move the router from right to left when feeding the router along the outside edges of a work- piece. If you’re routing all the way around a board, feeding right to left creates a counterclockwise motion — exactly what you want to do. You’ll feel an even and controllable resistance from the tool as the router bites into the wood. 

Sometimes when freehand routing, you’ll need to rout around the inside edges of a cutaway area. Imagine routing around the inner cutout of a donut. In these situations, the feed direction changes. In order to move the router against the bit’s rotation on an inside edge, you’ll feed the tool clockwise — not counterclockwise. It’s the mirror opposite of routing outside edges, but the guiding principle stays the same: feed against the bit’s rotation for optimal control and cutting performance. 

When routing by hand, the proper feed direction for inside cutouts (left) is clockwise. Feed the router counterclockwise for routing the outer edges. 

Inverting a router in a router table changes the feed direction from handheld routing. For inside cutouts, feed the workpiece counterclockwise. 

Feed Direction For Router Tables 

Working on a router table means flipping the router upside down- and this reverses the bit’s spin direction. So, feed direction reverses also. On a router table, bits spin counterclockwise. For routing the outside edges of a work- piece then, you’ll feed the wood from the right side of the table to the left side. Doing this forces the bit to push the wood back against you. When the router fence is attached, the router bit will also press the wood against the fence. You want to maintain this resistance against the bit to keep the cut under control. The resistance you feel from the bit also helps you determine the right amount of force to apply and how fast you can move the wood past the bit to create a clean cut. 


The normal feed direction on a router table for making outside cuts is to feed the work piece from the left to the right.

A safety issue you’ll face every time you turn on a router is which direction to feed the tool over the wood or the wood over the tool. In most situations, you want to feed the router into the wood against the rotation of the bit. Doing this will present the wood to the bit’s cutting surfaces so they bite into it but can’t pull it along. Feeding against the bit’s rotation will have the effect of pulling the router and wood tightly together and make the operation more predictable for you. 


When working around the inside edges of a cutout on a router table, feed the workpiece counterclockwise, against the bit’s rotation. Again, you should feel an even amount of resistance from the forces created by pressing the wood against the bit’s cutting edges and direction of spin. 

Climb Cutting 

Working against the bit’s rotation, as outlined above, is always the safest and recommended approach to use, regardless of the routing situation. Sometimes, however, the wood you’re routing will have uneven or difficult grain that doesn’t rout smoothly. Working against the bit’s rotation will cause the bit to tear out fibers in the wood; that leaves a rough and unacceptable surface. When this happens, one option to improve the routed surface is to set the router for a slightly deeper pass and move the router with the bit’s rotation instead of against it. This practice is called climb cutting, because feeding with the bit’s rotation will make the router want to climb out of the cut instead of digging into it. Instead of feeling the effect of resistance against the bit, the router will want to grab the wood and pull away from you when climb cutting. So, the router is harder to control and less predictable. 

Climb cutting is a somewhat controversial technique for routing. It must be done cautiously, with workpieces safely clamped in place or with the router anchored in a router table. For more on how to make a climb cut, see Chapters Six and Seven. 

This article is excerpted from "The Complete New Router book for Woodworkers". ©2006 Handyman Club of America.

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  • NR
    This is called Conventional Cutting. Incorrectly called Climb here.
  • NK
    In the router table section first it says for outside edges, feed from right to left. In the next paragraph it says the 'normal' feed direction is left to right.

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