Woodshop tools: Making the most useful table in the shop. (See the woodshop tool photos in the image gallery.)
Building Woodshop Tools: Making a Rolling Router Table
I used to know a guy who never bought a nail. He'd pull them out of pallets or old junk wood. He'd salvage the wood and he'd straighten out each nail, securing it in a pair of rusty pliers and beating on it with his hammer until it was just about usable again. Nick wouldn't pay for anything if he could find something that would work just as well. He would've appreciated my router table.
I don't hang on to too much junk, but I just couldn't see getting rid of that big wooden spool that had held the electrical cable I used to wire my shop. The wood might have burned alright, and there were some hefty steel rods that might come in handy someday. Still, it seemed a shame to dismantle such a potentially useful structure. I left it outside the shop for a few weeks while I pondered.
Now it's one of the most-used items in my shop. It serves primarily as a router table, but it's also sized just right to support long boards as they come off the back of my table saw. By mounting a router upside down in the table, you dramatically extend its capabilities. Because you can bring the work to the spinning cutter—instead of the other way around—you eliminate the hassles of clamping the work down. Your router becomes more like a stationery shaper, allowing you to set up for repeatable tasks including template routing and joinery.
The surgical procedure for making a cable spool into a router table is really quite simple. After you tighten the nuts on the rods that run through the structure, the first step is to cut the ends from round to square. I have an old circular saw blade that's missing some teeth; I use it when I have to cut into something that may have hidden hardware. I created parallel long edges on one end of the spool, which I decided to call the bottom. I let the other two edges keep their curve.
Next I tipped the spool over onto its side and used my large drywall square to indicate matching corners on the other end. I tipped the spool up and used my framing square and drywall square together to lay out parallel edges that would match the ones I made on the bottom. When the cutting was done, I flipped it over again to attach casters to the bottom. Then I flipped it one more time to start work on the tabletop. I used a reciprocating saw to make a cutout in the end of the spool for the router to fit down into.
Building Up the Work Surface
The ends of these spools can be extremely uneven with warped slats, jutting nails, and rods with nuts on the ends creating quite obstructive protrusions. I screwed down a plywood frame that spanned the bobbling slats and built up the area around the nuts. I found that 3/4 inch plywood underneath the 3/4 inch melamine top would bring the whole shebang even with the height of my table saw. You may need to use a different thickness to attain this objective. I used some construction shims to fill gaps under the frame, and checked with a straightedge to make sure my screws didn't create any high or low spots (see photo). It is important to get this surface as flat as possible.
Making the Top
Cut a piece of melamine to the same dimensions as your plywood frame. Before you can attach it to the rest of the assembly, you need to make the rabbeted cutout for the router. You will be replacing the plastic base plate on your router with a larger one that it will hang from. I recommend using replacement base plate #141 from Woodhaven or a 3/8 piece of Lexan. You can just leave this plate attached to the router and lift it out of the table for hand-held operations.
To make the recess for the plate, center it on the melamine and trace around it. Now mark another rectangle 1/2 inch away inside this one. Drill 3/8 inch holes in the corners of this inside rectangle and then cut it out with a jigsaw (see photo). This smaller opening will become the lip that supports the base plate. Your next mission is to rout out the area around the opening to a depth that will position the base plate flush to the surface of the melamine. The base plate should fit snugly into this recess with no side play.
The way to do this is to set up guides for a pattern-trimming bit using the base plate to position them. My pattern trimmer (#25204 from Woodhaven) has a flush bearing on top and the cutter is 1 inch long, so I used 1 inch-thick guide boards. Set the base plate in position and apply the boards tightly against it, sticking them down to the melamine with double-sided carpet tape (see photo). Now lift the base plate out and set it on top of the guide boards to help you set the router depth of cut. With the router on top of the plate, lower the cutter until it just barely comes in contact with the melamine. Now remove the plate and rout the recess.
If you've been really lucky, the base plate should fit down in the recess and be flush with the tabletop. I've never been that lucky, so I put layers of masking tape on the lip to shim the base plate up into place.
Attach the melamine to the router-table-to-be with screws driven up through the frame. The best approach is to turn the whole arrangement upside down onto the melamine and let gravity help.
Hooking Up the Juice
For the wiring of my router table, I needed two electrical boxes, a duplex outlet, a light switch, Some 12/3 romex wire, and an old extension cord. I guess the fact that I actually had all these items around would indicate that perhaps I am a bit of a pack rat, after all. The extension cord had been chewed on by the cats, rendering it unsafe for too much extending. I salvaged eight feet between the chewed portion and the three-prong plug and wired that to the light switch in the first box. From there I ran the romex through the slats and around the rim to the second box, where I wired the duplex outlet.
In use, I lock the router trigger on and plug it into the duplex (after all adjustments have been made, of course). I plug in the tail from that old extension cord and use the light switch to turn the router on and off. I drove a nail into the spool next to the duplex box to hang the collet wrench from. Having it there makes it a simple matter to remember to unplug the router before I change bits.
So now I'm just left with those four semicircular pieces of wood I cut off the spool when I squared it up. They'll burn nicely in my wood stove, but first I wonder if I could pull out any of those nails ...