For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that we all know the difference between a "Router" and a "Router"!
The first one is that electronic gizmo (pronounced "Rooter") that you use to connect to the interweb enabling you to email silly sayings to people you have never met, the second one is reserved for woodworkers only!
In almost all home workshops today, the portable router is a staple tool. I know one enthusiast who has eleven of them! (It's not me, I promise!)
So what is it about these tools that has made them so popular?
Thinking about it, all that a woodworking router consists of is an electric motor, an adjustable jig that holds the motor firmly and a chuck that holds the dangerous and oddly shaped spinning thingies.
In routing nomenclature, the chuck is called a "collet", the jig is called the "base" and the motor is called the..uum..."motor".
In South Africa, we don't have access to the wide range of Fixed Base Routers that one finds in North America, but we do have an excellent and wide variety of Plunge Base Routers to choose from, for our routing tasks.
If you have had the chance to visit a professional production workshop, you will no doubt have seen portable routers, but you will also have seen the router's big brother...the Spindle Moulder.
This is the ultimate wood milling machine, perfect for door frame parts, window frames, mullions, muntins and production runs. If you have ever looked at one of these machines with "spindle envy", don't fret, you can have one too, maybe a little smaller, a little less powerful, but most definitely a lot more versatile.
One of the reasons for this versatility, is that there is an incredibly wide range of router cutters available to us and therefore your upside down router becomes a highly cost effective mini spindle moulder.
So invert your router, attach it to a flat surface, cut a hole through the flat surface and add a fence. That is pretty much it. Or is it really that simple?
For many years in South Africa, we as amateur and professional woodworkers alike, have been short changed, so to speak. If we wanted a decent router table, the only real option was to use a piece of kitchen Postform countertop and hack our way through badly milled plasticky router plates, ending up with a basically functional, but rather limited form of a router table. We were also limited to building our own fences from MDF and we survived! The alternative was to import your own system from the USA, which is what I after much frustration, eventually did about 10 years ago.
Backtracking a little, a router table is not simply about an upside down router screwed to a flat board. It only truly comes into it's own when it is used in conjunction with all the "Jiggy" bits!
A good router table system has to have the following boxes properly ticked:
- Good Quality √
- Plunge Base or Fixed Base √
- Variable Speed Control √
- Preferably a 1/2" Collet √
- Reasonable Power (2-3HP) √
- Vertical Micro Adjust Capability √
- (Adjustment from the top of the table, although not essential, does make a world of difference) √
- A reasonable size ( I recommend about 600mm deep by 900mm wide as a minimum) √
- Made from thick, stable and very flat material (Very Thick MDF, Phenolic Material or 32mm Postform Counter Top. Covered with a wear resistant surface such as Formica or similar.) √
- It should have aluminium "T" Slot Tracks or proprietary systems to enable the fence to be attached and to move and set positions. √
- It should have a "Combo" type Aluminium Track running along the front to enable the use of Mitre Gauges and Featherboards. (Combo Track has both a "T" Slot and a Mitre Gauge Slot.) √
The Router Attachment Plate:
- This should be made from Aluminium, or very stiff Phenolic Plastic, at least 9-10mm thick. √
- It should have a circular opening that accepts locking reduction rings to accommodate various sizes of router cutters. √
- It should be adjustable via grub screws or similar to enable you to set it exactly to the same height as the table itself. √
- If using a router that allows you to adjust the height and and change cutters from the top of the table, the Router Plate must have the corresponding position access hole for your height adjustment tool as well as the correct screw attachment positions for your specific router. √
- The fence must be of a "Split Fence" design, allowing offset work. √
- It must be Macro and Fine Micro adjustable. √
- It must have "T" slots on the fence faces to allow for attachment of essential accessories such as Stops, Featherboards, Guides and Sacrificial Fences. √
- "T" Track on top of the fence is an added bonus for attaching Flip Stops and Safety Guards. √
- It must be able to be settable to exactly 90º to the surface of the table.
- It should have good dust extraction capability. √
Now what does one put this contraption on? My preference is for a free standing cabinet on braked castors. Sometimes I have the need to run long strips of moulding, so I need to move the Router Table System away from it's normal usage position to enable me to mill 2 metre lengths and longer. The braked castors make this possible. They also allow me to easily move the cabinet when cleaning the workshop.
The height of your cabinet is entirely up to you. As long as your final Table Top height is comfortable and safe for you to work easily, you're fine. Mine is 900mm high including castors.
There are many designs for Router Table cabinets on the internet and they all follow the same basic principle. A central "box" for the router itself and a few drawers or cupboards for your router cutter collection and the inevitable array of spanners, collets, cutter bearings, starting pins, insert reduction rings, etc.
If you are short on floor space, you can always build yourself a table top router table.
The principles and rules all stay the same, the only thing that changes, is the height of the "Box". It needs to enable the router to move freely in the vertical plane, with a bit of spare space and due to weight and transportability, your table top would possibly be a bit smaller than a full floor standing cabinet design.
In South Africa, we are now at long last lucky enough to have very high quality Router Table Systems available from the world's three top manufacturers; Incra, JessEm and Woodpeckers. These three manufacturers work closely together and really do make the best systems available worldwide.
Both Woodpeckers and Jessem make outstanding standard router table systems. If you want to make creative joints on your Router Table, Incra takes the router table concept to a whole new level with incremental joinery and their systems are the world leader in this field.
Some of the amazing cabinetmaking joinery created with
Incra's Incremental Router Fence System
Whether you build a Woodpeckers, Jessem or Incra Router Table System, the basics all remain the same.
From personal experience, I prefer the Woodpeckers System for general Router Table work and the Incra for the "Full Monty Creative Stuff" like Eagle Post, fancy Finger Joints & Double Dovetails!
My current Router Table System is as follows:
- Triton TRA-001, 3.75 HP, 1/2" Collet,Variable Speed Plunge Base Router. (Adjustment and bit replacement is from the top of the Router Table)
- Woodpeckers Aluminium Router Plate for Triton TRA-001
- Woodpeckers TwistLOCK Insert Reduction Ring Set
Router Table Fence:
- Woodpeckers Single Offset Superfence
- Woodpeckers Micro Adjust for the Superfence
- Jessem Clearcut Stock Roller Guides
- Jessem Single Featherboards x 4
- Woodpeckers Flip Stops x 2
- Woodpeckers Large Coping Sled
- Incra Mitre 1000HD Mitre Gauge
- Postform Kitchen Countertop 32mm (900mm deep x 1200mm wide)
- Woodpeckers Aluminium Combo Track across the front of the Table for Mitre Gauge and featherboards.
- Toolcraft "T" Slot Track x 2 (For adjustable fixing of the fence position)
- Material - Shutterply.
- Left Hand side drawer for cutters. (Multiple levels).
- Right Hand side drawer for cutters and tools. (Multiple levels).
- Central Router "Box" with hinged door.
- Large lower full width drawer for other routers and their accessories on full extension heavy duty drawer sliders.
- Dust Extraction - From both the excellent built in port on the Fence System and from the "Router Box".
- Rubber Castors - 2 x braked, 2 x non braked.
- External Power Switch.
There are a few things to remember if you are embarking on building your own router table:
- Your existing router might be awkward to adjust from underneath the table and to conjure up a lift mechanism for it, will usually be a royal pain in the butt!
- Once you have allocated your router to the Router Table, freehand routing becomes a mission, because you have to remove the machine and refit it accurately, each time you need to change over. Most woodworkers I know have at least three routers. One in the router table, one for freehand and general work and a small laminate trimmer router for edging.
- Don't skimp on the Router plate and it's bit and bobs!
- If you only own a plunge router that can't be adjusted from the top of the table, use that one for all your other work and get another dedicated router for the table such as the Triton TRA-001, you won't be sorry!
- Don't make your floor standing Router Table flimsy and light in weight, Sharp spinning thingies are very dangerous when they get a mind of their own!
Finally, if you decide to build your own Router Table Cabinet, here are three very important points to take into consideration:
- Cater for storing double the amount of router cutters than you currently have and don't let them bash against each other.
- Put all the other bits and bobs in a top drawer, closest to the router plate.
- If you have the space, rather go bigger, make more drawers and use full extension heavy duty runners.
Ok Brian, Denis and Don, in the interests of full disclosure, I own four routers:
- Triton 3.25HP TRA-001 permanently mounted in the Router Table
- 20 Year old De Walt 3HP #625 for my Leigh D4R Pro and freehand
- 15 Year old De Walt Laminate Trimmer (I wish it had variable speed)
- Dremel 3000 on a plunge base for miniature work.
As much as I enjoy and revel in hand tool woodwork, I openly admit that certain jobs are easier and faster on a router table, BUT it is not a silver bullet that will turn you into a wonderful woodworker....... Machines simply can't do that.
Plenty of practice, planning, care, patience, attention to detail, sharp well tuned tools and good coffee....... can!
Until next time, let's make shavings, and if you have to make dust, make sure it goes into the extractor and not all over your workshop.
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