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Home > Power Tools

How to Get a Router Bit Unstuck From the Collet

Router Bit Stuck in the Collet?  Here's Some Ways to Release a Stuck bit and How to Prevent it From Happening Next Time.

This is one of the most frustrating things that can happen in the shop.  Before I get to ways to release a stuck bit, let's look at why a bit gets stuck in the first place and how we can prevent it from happening again.

Why a Router Bit Sticks in the Collet

The number one reason for a router bit to get stuck in the collet is dirt, dust, and pitch building up on the inside on the collet.  There's little space between the collet fingers and the router bit shank.  During use the metal fingers can expand due to heat build up causing the metal to expand.  Any debris that builds up on the inside can be enough to push the shank of the router bit off center, causing it to bind in the collet.  What's worse, is that if the build-up loosens during use and falls out, the router bit could come loose from the collet.  A dangerous circumstance to say the least!

Make cleaning your router's collet part of your regular maintenance schedule.  Sometimes cleaning it out with some compressed air is all that's needed.  For those times when a more thorough cleaning is needed, I use the same method to clean the collet of my routers as I do for my table saw blades and router bits.  Drop the collet down into a cup of Simple Green and let it soak for about 10 minutes.  Remove the collet from the solution and using a rag, wipe away the loosened dirt and pitch.  Make sure to dry the collet thoroughly so it doesn't rust (after drying with a rag, I like to use compressed air to make sure all the water is blown out of corners, etc). If you'd like to see our article on comparing Simple Green to Woodcraft's Resin Remover on removing resin from saw blades click here.

Another major cause for router bits to stick is burrs on the shank of the router bit.  Tiny metal burrs on the shank can be caused by over tightening bits in the collet, poor machining, or by accidently dropping a bit on the ground (don't ask how I know about that last one).

Inspect your router bits before installing them into the collet.  If you feel any burrs on the shank, take some fine grit sandpaper and sand the surface smooth.  Be sure you don't sand a flat surface onto the shank as this could cause the collet fingers to grip the shank with uneven pressure.  This in-turn could cause the bit to stick (not the purpose here).  

Something else to consider is how old is your router.  After years and years of repeated use the fingers in the collet may become less able to grip the router bit shank evenly.  It might be worth it to buy a new collet to prevent stuck router bits in the future.

Another thing to consider before even buying a router is to look and see how many fingers are in the collet.  Less fingers mean it's easier for the shank to become off centered in the collet causing it stick.  Look for a collet to have at least four fingers for good alignment and gripping strength.  

If you've done all the above and you're router bits are still getting stuck (not just with one particular bit, but with several) it's probably time to simply replace the collet with a new one.

What to do if you have a router bit stuck in a collet?

First things first.  Make sure you don't have a self-releasing collet in your router.  If you have a fairly new model there's a good chance you do.  These self-releasing models work differently to help prevent stuck router bits.  When you loosen the collet nut, it turns freely until it begins to pull on the fingers.  When this happens the collet nut feels like it's tightening up again.  This is where some people stop and think the bit should come out.  You must continue turing the collet nut past this resistance so it can pull the router bit out of the taper of the collet.  Some router instruction manuals aren't very clear about this.

If nothing else has worked up to this point, you've got a couple of options.  

Hold the collet nut with a wrench or lock it in place and with a thick rag, turn the router bit back and forth until it breaks free.  If this doesn't work you may have to unthread the assembly and punch the bit out with a nail punch (very gently!).

DO NOT use a hammer to try and dislodge a stuck bit.  You're more likely to damage the router (especially the bearings) than dislodge the bit.  Using pliers to try and pull the bit out is not advised either, again you're more likely to cause more damage than good.  If you get the idea to use oil to try and loosen the router bit, be aware of one important point:  An oily residue on the fingers of the collet will make gripping a router bit hard later on.  Make sure you thoroughly clean all the oil off the collet before using it again (any type of degreaser can be used for this).

How to install a router bit properly to help prevent a stuck router bit.

Again, the way the collet fingers work is to pull the shank of the router bit down into a taper at the bottom of the router's shaft.  If you drop the router bit all the way in until it touches the bottom of the shaft, when you go to tighten the collet nut you end up pull the shank of the router bit too far into the taper, thereby causing it to "freeze up".  When installing a router bit, let it drop to the bottom of the shaft and then raise it up about an 1/8" and then tighten the collet nut.  You'll be surprised at how often this act alone will prevent router bits from sticking.

One last thing NOT TO DO!   Don't leave router bits in the collet tightened down for long periods of time, as this can damage the router bits shank as well as reduce the fingers gripping ability over time.  

If you have any questions about this article email me at:

contactus@woodworkersresource.com

-Craig Stevens
(c) Woodworkers Resource 2008