Dremel vs. Router: Can You Use Dremel for Routing Wood?

Although different in appearance and often in use, many people will find themselves deciding between a Dremel and a router for their needs. Their similarities include using a bit and its rotation to chip away materials, but it pays to know the basics of a Dremel and router before making the decision.

Overview of the Tools

Using Dremel as Router

What is a Dremel?

A Dremel multi tool is a versatile rotary tool that can be used for a wide array of tasks. While it’s frequently utilized for woodworking, it’s by no means limited to this material. Equipped with the right bit, this compact power tool can work efficiently on materials ranging from plastics, ceramics, and glass to metals. The accessory or tool bit is inserted inside a collet or chuck, which rotates at high speed when the tool is running.
Dremel 3000 with abrasive cutting wheel
It should be noted that Dremel is a brand name which became synonymous to rotary tool, just as Skil has become for circular saws.

What is a Wood Router?

A wood router is one of the most useful power tools in any woodworking shop. This powerful tool is designed to hollow out, or “rout,” an area in a hard material, primarily wood. It achieves this by using a spinning router bit to chip away the material, creating precise grooves, straight slots, edges, or decorative patterns in the process.
Rounding wood edges with router
There are different types of routers, including fixed-base router tables and handheld plunge routers. However, regardless of the type, wood routers are known for their ability to deliver precise and clean cuts, making them indispensable for professional woodworking and carpentry.

Dremel vs. Wood Router: A Detailed Comparison

While it is possible to use the Dremel as a router, understanding the key differences between these tools is crucial before you choose your go-to device for routing tasks.

Design

The design of a Dremel and a wood router differs significantly, largely due to their different functions and scales of operation.

The Dremel rotary tool is a handheld power tool designed to operate at high speed. The tool resembles a thick electric tooth brush, with a rotating spindle with tool bit held at the end.
Its small size and lightweight design make it easy to maneuver, which is crucial for fine detailed work such as carving and engraving.

A Dremel is primarily designed to be operated with one hand, allowing you to use your other hand for steadying the material or guiding the tool. While you can get accessories that will help you to cut straight lines and circles, the accuracy of work will largely depend on your hand skill.

A wood router, on the other hand, is considerably larger and requires two hands to operate properly. Most routers have a flat base, and the bit protrudes from the center, cutting into the wood as the tool is guided over it.

There are two primary types of routers:

  1. fixed-base and
  2. plunge routers.

Fixed-base routers are best for straight, precise cuts as their depth is set before cutting. Plunge routers, as the name suggests, allow the bit to ‘plunge’ into the material, offering more flexibility for start and stop cuts.

So, how do you use a Dremel tool for wood routing?
To do that, you will need a Dremel Router Attachment to mount the rotary tool. You will also need to get router bits for Dremel since the shank size of the regular router bits will not fit in the small collet.

This attachment can hold the Dremel tool and plunge it into the material, much like a regular plunge router, albeit on a smaller scale. However, it should be noted that even with the attachment, a Dremel’s capability as a router is relatively limited compared to a dedicated wood router, particularly in terms of power and cutting depth.

Primary Function:

Both the Dremel and the wood router have distinct primary functions that cater to different kinds of tasks.

A Dremel rotary tool is a multi-purpose tool, and its primary function largely depends on the bit or accessory in use. It can perform a wide variety of tasks, including cutting, engraving, sanding, polishing, carving, drilling, and even grinding, given the right bit. It can also work on different materials including wood, plywood, metals, plexiglass, resin etc. Its ability to operate at high speeds and accommodate a number of different Dremel bits makes it well-suited for detailed, precision work.

On the contrary, a wood router is primarily used for milling wood or to hollow out areas in a piece of wood. The router bit spins at a high speed, cutting the material as it moves across it. This is useful for milling steps and slots for wood joints, rounding wood edges, creating decorative edges and intricate inlays, etc.

The main difference between the Dremel and wood router in terms of primary function is the Dremel is designed for small, intricate work while the wood router is used for milling wood, plywood, MDF, etc.
While routers are versatile within their domain of woodworking, their primary function is more specific than a Dremel’s.

Size & Portability:

The plunge router, with its bigger motor and collet size, is generally larger overall and arguably less portable.

The Dremel tool is highly portable and easy to carry around.

Although, to be fair, portability for both items is relatively similar if you include the plunge router attachment for the Dremel.

Power:

The wood router has way more power compared to a Dremel. A small wood router uses a 5.6 amps motor, but they can go up to 15 amps depending on the design. This generates from 8,000 to 26,000 RPMs.

The quarter-inch collet or larger collect requires more power to operate. The result is that the wood router is a more robust, powerful device designed to be used for larger projects or industrial settings when a considerable amount of wood requires the use of a router.
The powerful motor of the wood router makes it more suited for heavy-duty applications and consistent depth of cuts.

The Dremel is considerably less powerful, but is designed for smaller, more intricate work. A typical Dremel has a motor of roughly 1.6 amps. However, it spins at a very high speed, up to 35000 RPM.

This makes the Dremel easier to control and the results are focused on precision rather than quantity or speed.

Material Compatibility:

The materials a tool can effectively work with are largely determined by its power and design.

A Dremel rotary tool excels when working with softer materials like plastics, softwood, and metals for tasks where high RPM is more critical than torque, such as engraving, sanding, or polishing. However, even the powerful models such as the corded 3000 or 4000 would struggle to cut deep slots in hardwood.

Don’t get me wrong. Dremel rotary tool can be used for grinding and polishing hard materials such as steel. But those are operations that require high RPM, whereas milling or routing requires a powerful motor that can deliver high torque.

In contrast, a wood router with its higher power and torque is well-suited for more demanding materials, including hardwoods. It’s designed to handle rigorous milling tasks that require substantial material removal, making it a go-to tool for most heavy-duty woodworking projects.

Versatility

  • The Dremel scores high on versatility with its ability to carry out a broad range of tasks by simply changing the accessory, making it a great all-rounder for crafters and DIY enthusiasts.
  • A wood router, while less versatile in the range of tasks, offers different types of cuts and finishes in woodworking, essential for professionals and woodworking hobbyists.

Control

With Dremel, the compact size and smaller scale of operation allows a greater level of control for intricate work. Then again, wood routers are superior in control when it comes to depth and evenness of cuts, especially when mounted on a router table.

Learning Curve

Operating a Dremel tends to have a gentler learning curve, suitable for beginners. However, mastering a wood router takes more practice due to its versatile adjustments like depth setting and understanding different bits, making it more suitable for experienced users or those willing to invest time in learning.

Cost

Of the two, the Dremel is far less expensive, with most models falling under the $100 mark. Of course, you may choose it with additional accessories and attachments that drive the price above $100, but still worth it when you are looking for a versatile tool for small projects.

Tip: Get a kit with multiple accessories to save cost.

Wood routers are more expensive, though the smaller models may start at $100. For more powerful versions, you may pay upwards of $1000 or more which worth investing in if you are a professional woodworker. Other price factors include the brand and whether it is corded or cordless.

Safety Considerations

Both Dremel tools and wood routers should be used with caution, always wearing protective eyewear and using clamps to secure your workpiece. Routers, due to their high power and size, may pose a higher risk of injury, particularly kickback. Remember to always feed the router against the rotation of the bit.

When to Use a Dremel vs a Router?

  • Dremel: Put simply, if you need a versatile tool that can do small, delicate work such as engraving, inlay work, carving, etc., then a Dremel is ideal. Its compact size and ease of use make it perfect for smaller, intricate jobs.
  • Wood Router: However, if you need a router for many projects over a long period, then the wood router is the better option. A wood router is the better choice for large-scale, heavy-duty projects, such as milling slots or cutting decorative edges in hardwood, thanks to its power, and endurance for prolonged usage.