You're forgiven for being a little intimidated by routers. Their powerful motors whirl razor-sharp bits up to 500 times a second, and not too quietly, either. The old ones bucked like bulls when you switched them on and required two wrenches to wrestle bits in and out of the collet. Even so, woodworkers revered them as the most versatile power tool in the shop, capable of plowing out perfect dadoes and dovetails—not to mention ogees, rabbets, and flutes—faster than you can say carbide-tipped bullnose bit.
You don't have to be building a Queen Anne sideboard to appreciate a router. It'll also cut grooves for weatherstripping windows, create decorative moldings, or round over a rough deck rail. Many new routers, like the ones in this roundup, have reduced the scare factor with shudder-free starting, one-wrench bit changes, and adjustable speeds to avoid burning or tearing the work. And where you once had to choose between fixed-base models (perfect for edge work) and ones that "plunged" (great for mortising), combo kits offer one motor and both types of bases. So face your fear, grab both handles, and go for it. You'll be glad you did.
This is where the action is, on a router's underside, where the bit protrudes from the base. On the flip side is a powerful electric motor that can spin the bit at ferocious speeds of 20,000 rpm or more.