Router Woodworking

Router Table
My router table is 38" high (with 1" ball castors) with a 2' X 2'top. I can manage 8 foot sticks on it not exceeding ~20 pounds. Bigger, heavier boards will require a longer table for safety reasons.

The legs and rails are dovetailed. The top is cap-screwed into tapped holes in the rails.

3 of the 6 rails in the top of the frame. The cross-rails, piercing the long ones, are dovetailed and fixed with 5/16-18 x 4" long cap screws in steel cross dowels; they are not glued.

The rocker switch resides in a mortice. The u-shaped opening is for cee-clamp fixturing as there is no top overhang for clamping on to. I used aluminum dowels to pin the tenons in this one.

I use 5/8" MDF for my tops. This one is stressed and flattened to .002". The material is raw here. A 4' ground Starrett straight edge rests across the 2-3/4" cutter hole. There is not enough space under it to allow a .002" feeler gage access.

The walnut extension skis on my small table bolt and dovetail into the 2-1/4 X 1-7/8" oak connector. The fence, when fastened to the skis, can reside more than 10" from the cutter for wide stock cuts.

80% of all routing can be done on the router table; some guys do "it" all on the table, others are convinced the hand router is all they need. To be sure, there are times when one method is preferred over the other. Templet fixturing, for example, is a lot more difficult to render for the router table than the hand router, especially when safety and quality of cut are factored in.

Whatever the case, it makes good practical sense to have at least one router table.

In my view, a woodworker should make his own. You'll have it your way, you'll learn about woodworking, you'll get smarter, but you won't save any money. Notwithstanding, the easiest way to make a router table is with a router table! Oddly, in routerdom, it often takes the very jig you'd like to make to make that jig; the router table is no exception.

Routing is as personal as your shoes. Each craftsman has his own priorities in router table design. Nevertheless, there are 3 common elements that make up most tables, the stand, top, and fence. Add the router, its installation and the electrics and you have a complicated structure.

The stand is your support for the top, motor and fence. It will house your electrics, perhaps provide the attachment for your (through the cutter hole) chip collection channels or ducting, store a few accessories, and supply some mass to keep the booger from slipping away from you. Make it the right height for your comfort. Would I build a cabinet with drawers, storage and such as my stand? No more than I would for my cast iron planer. Keep it simple; this is an every day tool not a storage box.

The top is critical and can be quite complicated if an insert or router lift is part of it. The routertable has, in my estimation, evolved beyond its practical and engineering safety limits. 2" to 4" cutters, previously found only in the shaper table are now commonly used with 110 volt router tables. As such the top has become a complex element and one that is often over-featured at the expense of precision, flatness and utility.

I restrict my routing to cutters < 2.25" so my table top is simple, cheap, thin (5/8" MDF), has a small cutter hole and no insert. It remains flat and deflection-free, bolted to 6 dovetailed beams in the top of the stand. The router casting (from a PC 7518) has been bolted to the slab and adds a measure of stiffness/flatness right in the center where it's needed most. What's right for you? Only you can answer that. A 1,2 or 3 layered ply or fiberboard top, clad in plastic laminate, trimmed with maple, window-excavated, rabbetted for an aluminum insert/lift, and fitted with concentric cutter hole rings is not an uncommon sight. This teck has kept it simple so far but I have complicated the fence.

The fence is to the table as the steering wheel is to a car. Without either you're out of control. The fence is your control surface and manages the eastwest depth of cut. The router up/down mechanism regulates the north/south cutter bite. There is a lot of variability in fence design and features. A clamped down stick will do. A more complicated piece like my 2-stage micro-adjustable fence will accommodate a 0 to 2-1/4" cutter diameter range, adjust to the nearest .001", offset (verb) for full thickness cuts, police its own mess, and travel 2" in a straight line on its micro-adjust lead screw. A setup and calibration cut from ground zero takes only seconds. A .003" to .005" finish cut to clean off any burns is also an instant setup change.

What to look for in a fence: Repeatability, zero-deflection, straightness, ability to square it up to the table top, chip collection, cutter width accommodation, quick easy clamp to table, easy adjust to and from the cutter, to name the more important features.

Bottom line

If your time budget, skills, and resources are limited, a purchase of an inexpensive router table may be the best move. It may not be perfect, few are, but most are substantial enough to get you started. With the first table you can learn what its limitations are and what you need for the table you should build. I cannot recommend a table; there are at least a dozen and they are constantly being modified, cheapened or upgraded. To be sure, they are good value. You'd be hard pressed to make a table as good for less. Choose a table within your budget, expect to make one from that. Either sell it off when you have your table made or keep it for stage routing, (routing that removes the bulk of material but doesn't do the finish cuts).

The same top with 4 coats of GF tung/poly and wax, a very serviceable finish. I bolted a cast iron lift to the underside, looks trivial, works well, installation takes more than an afternoon.

This is my newest fence (6/03). They get a little sweeter with each iteration. This gem is for precision, experimental and light production work.

For more reference:

  1. For text only (no plans) reference on router table advantages, safety, design and use, consider the "Getting the Very Best From Your Router" book, original manuscript (on a floppy) at the Dedicated Readers link. It is an "e-mailable" file. Can email a 1/2 chapter sample for your evaluation.
  2. For the skinny (table design, safety, some fixturing, accessories, setup and application) in color with pictures and text try my "The Router Book", a Taunton Publication. There are no plans in this text.
  3. For the plans of the straight line, screw driven, microadjustable, router table fence, contact Taunton for FWW no.144.
  4. For the details, price and ordering information of the fence in no. 5 see Router Table Fence page.
  5. For the details of a 50 cent MDF pivot fence, what it can do, and the pros and cons of putting the routertable in or about the table saw, see the CD at the Routing Outing link.
  6. Plunge or fixed base router for the table? Covered at the Plunge Or Fixed link.

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Copyright © 2009 Pat Warner
Last modified: Tue Apr 14 10:52:49 PDT 2015