Signs are important!
Without them, we wouldn't know what’s what or what goes where. But making your own out of wood can be trickier than it seems.
Luckily with a router and some knowledge, you’ll be able to make signs in no time.
Here's five of the best router for sign making and lettering -
16,000 - 35,000 RPM
Best for the money
Porter Cable 450
27,000 RPM (Fixed)
What makes a router, a sign-maker?
If you’re going to be routing signs by hand, you’re going to want a plunge base, plain and simple.
The plunge base is going to allow you to place the router on top of your wood and plunge it down, cutting inlays like, say, letters.
LEDs are very convenient...
Some routers come with LEDs to light up the work underneath and make sure your visibility is high.
When making signs, it’s important to be able to see all the detailed work you’re doing.
It’s important for a sign-making router to have variable speed settings.
You want the router to be able to handle a variety of bits, some large and some small.
Having variable speed will allow the router to cut cleanly without burnout no matter the size of the bit (within reason).
Which are the best router bit for sign making?
The router bit is one of the most important parts of sign making. It dictates how you’ll remove material, and you’ll want to use different bits for different applications.
You’ll want at least (at least!) four bits.
One for very fine detail, with a small bit angle (something around 20 or 22 degrees should do well).
Another similar bit for detail and outset letters, with a slightly bigger angle.
A third, 60 degree v-groove bit for inset letters;
And a 90 degree v-groove bit for cleaning out background areas.
In this article we’ll stick to routers, but choosing your bit is just as important as choosing your router, so make sure to do your research beforehand.
A note on CNC routing:
CNC might be the way to go if you’re a professional outputting large quantities of signs.
It would quickly get cumbersome to router each of them by hand.
CNCs do offer the ability to cut a design into many pieces of wood, but can be limited in their own ways.
We’ll focus on hand-routing for the most part in this article, but more information can be found here.
The rest of you can check out this video on cutting inset letters freehand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SazFGDBC32o
Check our article on which are the best CNC router for small shop and hobbyist.
What wood should I use for sign?
Like with most things in woodworking, there’s a tradeoff here:
Hardwoods like maple will generally carve cleaner than their softer counterparts, but also put more stress on the machine.
Redwood is a great option for durability, since it doesn’t decay or rot easily. That being said, it can be a bit pricey.
Cedar and pine can be good options as well--they’re softer but still robust, and have the added bonus of smelling nice.
5 Best Router For Sign Making - Reviews
1. Best Overall - DEWALT DWP611PK
This DeWalt router brings the heat:
It’s our top pick for few reasons.
Why it’s our top pick:
LEDs light up the work
Plunge base essential for sign-making
Great horsepower, RPM range
Single-wrench bit changing system...
...allows for quick bit switches without sacrificing hold. When making signs especially, you might be carving out small letters with a small, precise bit.
Being able to quickly switch to larger bit will come in handy for rough gouging large swathes of material (backgrounds, for example).
LED-lit base keeps your eye on the prize:
When routing out signs, it is especially important to see what you’re working on. Especially if you’re routing by hand.
Here’s the deal:
When it comes to signmaking, even the smallest mistakes can ruin a large piece. Why risk routing in the dark?
16-27k RPM ensures quality of cuts...
...no matter how hard or soft your wood may be. Heck, you’d probably even be able to cut plastic or metal with this DeWalt router.
This router is hot...
...almost too hot. It heats up quickly. Be wary of this if you intend to use it for long periods of time, as the heat will create more wear and tear on the unit.
Use it wisely, and it should last for a long time.
A Sign-making Supernova:
This router offers quick bit changes, fixed and plunge bases, and we really love the LED-lit base for extra guidance. Make sure to invest in the dust collection accessories though!
2. An inexpensive alternative - DEWALT DWP611
Essentially the same router as above...
...but without a few of the bells and whistles.
Like our top pick, this DeWalt shines bright:
With dual LEDs to guide your hand, this router will light up your life and lead you to where you need to be.
Clear sub base...
...means that all that light from the LEDs can shine right down onto the work.
What use would LEDs be if the base wasn’t see-through? Luckily the good folks at DeWalt have got some big brains that they put to good use while designing this router.
Quick adjustments all around:
We really appreciate that this router works on a one wrench system for lightning fast and convenient bit changes.
It’s also got a two tab system to easily switch out the base, so you can switch from task to task with ease.
No plunge here...
Despite being the same router as our top pick, it’s missing the very heart and soul of what it means to be a sign-cutting router:
The plunge base.
Without a plunge base, you won’t be able to drive the bit into your piece from above. If you wanted to make inlaid lettering for example, you’d be out of luck.
Look, this is still a great router:
It’s got all the horsepower and RPMs of our top pick. But you’re simply not going to have a good time making signs if your router can’t plunge.
If you like this router, please get a plunge base for it. Or you know, just buy our top pick-- it’s literally this router, but also comes with a plunge base.
3. Best Budget - Bosch PRS20EVS
This Bosch has usability in mind:
A nice durable aluminum base and comfortable rubber-molded grips make this router a pleasure to use that will last.
The RPM range on this thing...
...is huge. From 16,000 to 35,000 RPMs, this thing can really spin. That higher RPM range is going to work better with smaller bits.
Tearout and burns are always going to be possible issues when routing. Make sure to test your setup on scraps before taking it to the actual piece.
The precise depth adjustment system...
...offers more accurate height adjustments than some of the leading brands out there. It is a little touchy at first, but once you get the hang of it your adjustments will be within a hair’s breadth.
Aluminum fixed base and rubber over-molded grip:
This router has got the user experience front and center. The aluminum base ensures durability and the rubber over-molded grip ensures comfort.
This unit is a fixed base...
...which is a bummer. Luckily, there’s a separate plunge base you can buy for it. It just wouldn’t be a complete sign-making router without a plunge base.
It won’t break the bank but...
...this Bosch router does pack a little less power than our previous routers. It comes in at 1 horsepower.
Probably a delight to use:
We really appreciate the design and construction of this router. It’s our budget pick, but if you’re looking to make signs you’re going to want to spend the extra cash for a plunge base.
At that point, aren’t you better off getting our DeWalt top pick with the extra horsepower and LEDs anyway? Your choice.
4. You May Also consider - Makita RT0701CX7
This Makita router comes into the ring swinging:
The RT0701CX7 is a heavy hitter. In fact, it’s almost perfect. Almost...
By this point, you know what we’re going to say...
...this router kit comes with a plunge base! God bless. For any other article that small detail wouldn’t matter as much.
We’re trying to tailor this one to sign-making specifically. And plunging and sign-making go hand in hand.
10,000-30,000 RPMs for increased bit variety:
The wider your range of RPMs, the more bits you’re going to have access to. The lower RPMs work great with larger bits so they don’t vibrate as much.
Cam lock system for easy depth adjustments:
We appreciate any features that make a tool quicker and more versatile to use. Switching out bases and making quick ‘n’ dirty height adjustments feels great with the Makita.
Sunglasses not required...
Unfortunately, the Makita does not come with LEDs. For sign-making, lighting is crucially important to make sure you’re not botching your cuts.
A respectable option:
This router would be nearly perfect if it had LEDs on it. This seems like quite an oversight on Makita’s part.
A run-of-the-mill router with one glaring weakness:
Look, the Porter-Cable 450 isn’t going to break your heart--it’s all in all a solid router with a plunge base sold separately.
It’s just unfortunate that it had to be compared with a number of other routers that outshine it in some key ways.
Bit depth changes to 1/64”:
We appreciate the eye to detail here on behalf of Porter-Cable. For a detail-oriented craft like sign-making, it’s important to have tools that are as accurate
--or more accurate--
than you need them to be.
1.25hp motor delivers:
Boasting the same power as our top pick, this Porter-Cable router won’t let you down in the horsepower department.
27,000 RPM, fixed...
This router unfortunately comes without variable speed control. This is a major drawback, but not completely condemning.
Nothing to see here...
This Porter-Cable router just doesn’t offer anything that some of the others do offer. By our estimate, the lack of variable speed control is just too much of a drawback to make this router worthwhile.
Choosing A Winner...
We like the DeWalt DWP611PK for a number of reasons:
For some reason, the two DeWalts on the list were the only routers with LEDs. LEDs on a router seem like a no-brainer to us.
Being able to light your subject not only produces better cuts: visibility also increases safety.
The Makita was the only other router on the list to come with a plunge base, although the other brands generally had them available sold separately.
While the Makita proved to be a strong option, it ultimately lacked the coveted LEDs of the DeWalt.
At the end of the day...
...visibility is crucial in sign-making. And without a plunge base, you won’t be able to get those clean inset letters that are the cornerstone of any sign-making endeavor.
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