They say the router is one of the most useful tools in your shop. I was using my router the other day and the finish left by the bit had burn marks and didn’t feel smooth. This made me wonder how long it had been since I sharpened it. I decided to research this a bit further to understand how long router bits last.
Router bits can last up to 3 years, with semi-regular use and appropriate care. The bits start losing efficiency, regardless of sharpening, by the second year. Router bits that get used every day usually last up to a year and need to be replaced in the first quarter of the second year.
In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about the lifespan, care, and storage of router bits so they last long, work well, and deliver optimal value for money. Among other things, you will discover which materials are best for a router bit and how you can know that a router bit is dull.
Can Router Bits Be Sharpened?
Router bits can be sharpened and should be sharpened because they can get dull with regular use. If your router bit is dull, it does not mean you have used it improperly. It just means that you need to sharpen it. Some bits even need to be sharpened daily, while most need sharpening once a week.
Some board products can affect how long a router bit stays sharp. See my article here that explains can you use a router on MDF? I found some interesting results.
Router bits can be sharpened by a professional or at home. There are multiple resources like the video below that teach you how to sharpen your router bits.
Do Router Bits Wear Out?
Router bits wear out over time and with constant use. If you use your router regularly, you’ll need to sharpen the router bits whenever they get dull. Eventually, the bits will need to get replaced. Since router bits are generally interchangeable, replacing them is not difficult.
Just because router bits wear out does not mean they wear out quickly or at an even rate. Different bits have varying rates of depreciation. Carbide and High-Speed Steel (HSS) router bits are the least likely to wear out in the short-to-medium term. Still, they need to be sharpened regularly, especially with daily use. On average, a carbide-tipped router bit needs to be sharpened at one-twentieth the frequency of a chisel.
Pro-tip: To tell carbide and HSS apart, you should pay attention to the bit’s color. High-Speed Steel is brighter than Carbide and has a bright silver appearance. In contrast, Carbide is a darker shade of grey.
That means, for the same amount of work, a chisel would need to be sharpened twenty times by the time a carbide bit would need to be sharpened once. Among carbide router bits, there are solid carbide bits and carbide-tipped ones. They both require sharpening at the same rate because their outermost layer features hard carbide.
However, the carbide-tipped ones need to be replaced earlier than the solid carbide bits. Once the tip of the carbide-tipped bits wears out, the core does not have the same cutting speed. This places the tipped bits in the middle of the high-end router bit quality spectrum.
Another type of router bit that requires attention. See how long CNC router bits last between sharpening.
High-Speed Steel bits need to be sharpened more often than carbide-tipped router bits, but at a lower rate than the standard chisel. HSS bits are considered high quality, but within the top brass of long-lasting bits, they are at the lower end.
The following table shows the router bit material relevance in sharpening and longevity.
|Router Bit Material||Sharpening Frequency||Longevity|
|Carbide||Biweekly||2 to 3 years|
|High-Speed Steel||Once a week||1 to 2 years|
How Do I Know If My Router Bit Is Dull?
You know a router bit is dull if its cutting speed decreases and the fineness of its result is compromised with burned edges and a rough-feeling finish. Another way to tell that a router bit is dull is to cross-reference your router use with the time you have had the specific bit.
There are five ways to be sure your router bit is dull.
It Burns the Surface Instead of Cutting
This happens when the router bit is very dull and is one of the surest giveaways of the bit requiring replacement. Other signs can be triggered by things like improper router use as well, which can make you question whether the problem is the bit’s dullness.
Despite being the clearest indicator of a bit’s dullness, it’s not a good metric because it happens when the bit is too dull and obviously unusable.
See the burn marks on my router bit pictured below.
The Finish Feels Rougher
This can be a result of an unsteady hand, but if everything in your work is constant yet the router leaves a rougher finish, the router bit might need some sharpening. Only when sharpening doesn’t change the result should you consider a replacement.
The Result Is Not as Fine
When it comes to engraving details, the router bits’ sharpness plays a big role. And if the bit that used to work for detailing stops producing results as fine, it might be losing its sharpness. This is one of the first signs of the bit becoming dull, so you don’t need to replace it. Sharpening the bit at home can fix this issue.
You Have Been Using the Bit Long Enough
If you’ve been routing daily and half a week has passed, the bit probably needs to be sharpened regardless of the material. Sharpening a carbide bit once a week is considered standard practice with regular use, but that doesn’t apply on your week off.
Similarly, the weekly frequency doesn’t apply if you do twice as much work, which most woodworkers do these days.
The Bits Are Dull to the Touch
Not all bits are built alike, but if you press at a specific angle, you should be able to feel a sharp angle. Even in cylindrical bits, you can feel the edge. When your finger feels the smoothness from every angle, you can be sure that the router bit is dull. Please avoid doing this test when the bit is attached to the router.
The same applies to jigsaw blades. Read my article on why your jigsaw blade bends.
How Do You Preserve a Router Bit?
To preserve a router bit, you must clean it regularly, lubricate it when necessary, and store it separately instead of leaving it on the router. Sharpening when required will keep your router bit from overworking and becoming irrecoverably blunt.
Remove the Bit From the Router
The first step in making a router bit last long is to remove it from the router after every use. This is true regardless of the nature of your projects but especially relevant if you work with softwoods. Frequency work with softwoods can lead to a lot of buildup in the router, right under the routing bit.
Clean the Router Bit Frequently
A router bit that has to work with pitch and tar buildup is a router bit that has to overwork with every use. Using said bit without cleaning for a week could take an additional week out of the bit’s lifespan because it is likely working twice as hard.
When you clean a bit with a toothbrush and a dirt-removing solution, you make sure that all of its energy and friction go towards a productive outcome.
Lubricate the Bit Bearing
Lubrication is not recommended enough but is one of the most useful things for larger router bits. Even without visible buildup, these bits experience significant resistance, which can be reduced with appropriate lubrication. Make sure not to lubricate the bit’s tip, as that would impact your routing results.
This video covers how you can lubricate router bit bearings
Where Do I Get Router Bits Sharpened?
You can get your router bits sharpened by a routing bit manufacturer or a woodworking retailer who provides secondary services. You should contact the party that you bought the bit from to get further guidance. In their absence, you can contact any business that sells router bits.
Final Thoughts – How Long Do Router Bits Last?
Router bits last anywhere between 1 and 3 years, and their longevity is dictated by your usage frequency, type of project, and how well you preserve the bits. It is advisable to get a carbide bit for regular use and a carbide-tipped or High-Speed Steel bit for semi-regular use.
Also, check out if you can use Dremel bits in a CNC Router.
For more helpful woodwork tips, be sure to check us out at Woodworkhubby.
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