If you’ve got home renovation or building plans, a router can do lots of useful things for you right out of the box. This tool is essentially just a high-speed electric motor that spins a sharp bit that shapes wood to different profiles. Making trim and molding is one of the best money-saving uses for a router, and a good router can easily pay for itself after the first trim job you tackle. But the thing is, without a router table to go with that router, you’re missing at least half of what the tool can do. Practical value is why router tables have skyrocketed in popularity over the last 10 years, but great equipment alone is never enough. Your workshop success depends on know-how, too. Add a little bit of customized tweaking to your equipment, and your shop will really shine. The skills you need come in small pieces, and some of the basics are what you’ll find here.
Bolt a router upside down in a table and the combination becomes a working router table. It lets you slide wood over the spinning bit instead of pushing the tool over a stationary piece of wood with your hands. Safety and effectiveness are what router tables are all about, but there’s a little more involved here than meets the eye.
If you had to choose just one operation to do with your router table, milling your own moulding and decorative edges would have to be top of the list from a money-saving point of view. Door trim for your home, decorative profiles on projects, plus mouldings and doors for cabinets are a few of the things you can make with a good router table. More than half of all modern router bits are made for this kind of work, and many include guide bearings that also allow router bits to follow curved surfaces. But as useful as these bearings are, you’ll get better results if you mill straight pieces of wood along a router table fence, instead of relying on the bearing exclusively. There are three reasons why a router table and fence makes sense.
Router bit bearings often leave groove-shaped depressions in wood, while using a fence eliminates this problem by supporting work pieces more fully as they’re milled. Another reason to use a fence is safety. By enclosing most of the bit, a fence makes it easier to keep your fingers out of harm’s way. Then there’s dust. Good router table fences include a shroud that allows effective vacuum collection of dust and shavings.
A growing number of routers include a feature called “top-of-table bit height adjustment”. This allows you to raise or lower the router in the table without reaching underneath. Top-of-table designs mean you can insert a crank handle or knob into the table top from above, making both large and small adjustments fast and easy.
Ideally your router table should operate as a team player, and the best team mate you can find for your router table is a good fence. I have yet to see any manufactured fence that’s fully useful in all situations, though you can modify an existing fence so does much better. I’ve made and modified quite a few router table fences over the years, and the one I’m most happy with so far has extra width for a variety of operations, including milling your own crown moulding.
The three bits shown here work together to make it happen. Milling your own crown can save you a ton of money, and you can download your own copy of the plans and assembly instructions I’ve put together for making an extra-wide and extra-useful router table fence here:
Here are a few more router table tips:
1. Consider modifying your router table so it’s the same height as your tablesaw, allowing both machines function as outfeed tables for each other.
2. Add four lockable swiveling casters to the router table for easy portability around the shop.
3. Avoid burned edges on your routed profiles by making the last cut remove just a tiny bit of wood. This is especially useful with maple, oak, hickory and other burn-prone woods.
Getting good with tools that can make you more self reliant comes down to a simple starting point. Choose a tool that makes sense for your situation, get your hands on it, then learn by doing. And if you’ve got aspirations to make good things happen with wood, then a router, router table and fence are a great way to start.
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