Infinity Tools sells brass pilot router bits that might be worth a look, as they address at least one issue with bearing pilot bits, namely they can fit in tight areas a larger ball bearing bit can’t.
They have been on the market for a few years, meaning they’re not newly launched, but perhaps you haven’t seen them before.
Infinity offers this design in six different 1/4″ shank router bits with a 3/16″ brass pilot: 22.5° and 45° chamfer bits, and 1/16″, 1/8″, 1/4″, and 3/8″ roundover bits. All the bits have the size and part number laser engraved on the shank for easy identification.
In this photo, you should be able to see the difference between two similarly sized roundover bits. The bit with a 1/2″ bearing has a much larger body than the bit with the 3/16″ brass pilot.
A bit with a smaller body and pilot will fit into smaller areas. In this example usage photo, one of Infinity’s roundover bits is shown fitting into a small groove or dado that a ball bearing bit couldn’t fit.
You can buy these bits individually for $19 to $25 each, depending on the type and size of bit. Here’s a price list:
- (36-921) 45° Chamfer $25
- (57-200) 22.5° Chamfer $24
- (38-001) 1/16″ Roundover $19
- (38-002) 1/8″ Roundover $20
- (38-003) 1/4″ Roundover $21
- (38-004) 3/8″ Roundover $23
Or, you can get the 6 piece set including all the bits above for $100. The Infinity Tools website states that they have free economy shipping on orders over $100, so you might need to add something like a small bottle of glue in your basket to qualify since the actual price of the set is $99.90.
Price: $19 to $25 per bit or $100 for the set of 6.
Buy Now (via Infinity Tools)
Whiteside also make brass pilot or “small pilot” bits in 1/16″, 1/8″, 1/4″, and 3/8″ roundover styles. Their brass pilots are even smaller, measuring just 5/32″ in diameter.
Whiteside’s brass pilot router bits are slightly more expensive, priced at $24 to $27 each.
See Also (Whiteside bits via Amazon)
I’m curious that Infinity Tools didn’t mention some other possible advantages to the brass pilot bits. First, no ball bearings means there are no separate piece to come loose or seize up and burn your work. When I visited Betterley Tools a few years ago, they told me that they never wanted their customers to depend on bearing in their jigs because bearings eventually fail.
I haven’t had a bearing on a router bit outright fail, but I have had one gum up to the point where I had to give it a good cleaning before it would spin freely again. When you want to quickly round over an edge, checking the pilot bearing usually isn’t on your mind.
A potential secondary advantage might be a potential increase in run time if you’re using a cordless router. These brass piloted bits are smaller in diameter than their ball bearing piloted counterparts, which means there’s less mass to spin. This might not be a significant difference, but with cordless power tools, a lot of little optimizations can add up.
One thing that I noticed that wasn’t quite fair was that Infinity kept comparing their brass pilot bits to bits with 1/2″ pilot bearings. I have many bits with 3/8″ pilot bearings where the body is both smaller in diameter and less massive. Those bits are still larger than the 3/16″ brass pilot though.
Lastly, I’m curious how the brass pilot is attached to the router bit. Is it screwed-in, pressed on, brazed, or maybe fixed by some other method? I suppose it’s not that important as long as it never comes off, but it would be interesting to see how they attach the pilot just the same.