Are you finding it hard to use a router table? Are you struggling to acquire the skill at setting up this workhorse?
Whether you are on your first ever purchase as a woodworker or are an enthusiastic DYI-er who wants to succeed in advanced woodworking, this is the guideline you’ve been looking for. But first, let’s highlight what makes a quality router table.
What Makes a Quality Router Table?
A router table brings versatility to a router by enabling the tool to work in an inverted position. This helps you to avoid running the wood over the router, but rather, run it against a spinning bit that pokes from the table surface.
We can all agree that woodcutting tasks require the utmost accuracy and precision. Thus, the first feature on your checklist for a good router table should be its construction. Check to see if the table is both durable and stable before
Compatibility is another crucial aspect when it comes to buying a top-class router table. Be sure to establish whether or not different routers are compatible with your new work surface. The features that will add a touch of adaptability, convenience, and safety to your router table include an adjustable and secure protective fence, bit guard, miter gauge, and dust collection extension to attach a vacuum cleaner for dirt-free work.
Now that you’re up to speed with what makes a quality router table, we move on to the next segment- choosing a router table.
Step-by-Step Guide on How To Use a Router Table
Before diving to the nerve of this article, how do you select a router table that fits your shop requirements? We look at the diverse categories of router tables below.
Different Types of Router Tables
i. Floor Standing Router Table
This type of router table offers an incredible advantage over the use of small, more conventional router tables. The main feature of it is that it provides the additional storage space to keep router bits in the drawers provided. With this router table, you can efficiently and effectively mount on your bench.
It also takes little space, which means you can place it anywhere you deem best- from the workshop to your garage. The floor-standing router table is suitable for inverted routing, plus it comes with a dust outlet, miter guide, and feather boards for a perfect workpiece- every time.
ii. Benchtop Router Table
Arguably one of the leading brands in the market, the benchtop router table, is extremely versatile and flexible with various kinds of routers. In short, you are assured of excellent performance with this beast. You’ll get ample workplace for routing and woodworking with the benchtop router table, too.
The benchtop router table has become an integral part of modern-day woodshops due to its versatility in terms of portability and durability. If you regularly work on curved wood pieces, this tool’s starter pin and a guard will make each job more efficient.
iii. Extension Router Table
Extension Router Table onboard are premium features including a wood frame, T-slots, T-track slots, router fence, high split fence, robust safety guard, and a measuring tape. If you are a woodworker that has talent but lacks resources, this is the tool to grow your experience. It can fit well in tightly-spaced shops, so you never have to worry about space.
How To Set Up a Router Table
For some, a router table might be a scary tool, one equipped with tremendous power to slice, trim, and shape wood in swift action. For others, it’s an invaluable tool that cuts out impressive workpieces. Altogether, the router table needs careful handling, unless you want to end up with accidental slip offs or rugged boards.
However, by following these easy set-up guidelines, you can tune the router table to work on your conditions.
i. Start by Choosing a Bit
Since you’ll need to use a particular bit with your router, you must ensure that it sits perfectly into the bit holder (collector). The ½ and ¼ shank router bits are the most common ones. Bits typically fit into the collector and get secured with a nut. At the base of the shank will be the bit body having the cutters, which will do all the trimming on your wood pieces.
ii. Fastening the Bit
You need to ensure that the bit doesn’t jiggle or move inside the bit holder, or else it won’t be able to slice through wood properly. Before fastening the nut, pull back the bit roughly 1/32 of an inch from the bit holder to allow space for expansion. Otherwise, the swift action moves will cause the machine to heat up quickly and may not perform as expected.
Once you are done with installing the bit and the router, it’s time to fit the fence.
iii. Fitting the Fence
Precision in cutting depends on the bit, and not on the fence. So you don’t have to position the fence parallel to the bit to gain more accuracy.
AVOID using a miter gauge together with a fence because it’s hazardous and can cause severe damage. If you must use a miter gauge, make sure that you remove the fence before fitting the gadget.
N/B: A miter gauge is a device used to hold pieces of wood that need to be operated on at a specific angle.
You must move on to the height of the bit once you adjust the fence accordingly. Adjust it to an accurate height as well. If you have a hard time making the adjustments, consider using a router lift.
iv. Performance Testing
Testing your machine before running the workpiece on it should be on your to-do list. This helps you to gauge whether the performance and speed of the router table are up to standard. It is also a brilliant idea to monitor the speed if your bit is on the larger end of the table.
v. Feeding the Router Table
Feeding the router table with a workpiece is an activity that requires practice as well as skill. While at it, make sure you push from right to left because the bit always runs in the reverse direction. It merely involves feeding wood in the counter-clockwise direction of the revolving blade on the bit.
Start by working on the smaller cuts. Once you gain enough confidence, move on to larger projects but always give yourself room to adjust to the operation and speed of the router table.
vi. The Right Gear for Routing
Part of using a router involves taking safety measures. As you get the hang of your new beast, don’t forget to cover your years and wear googles. Focusing on the project should be your main priority. Thus, ensure you protect yourself from flying debris and outside noise.
With consistent use, your router table might need maintenance or some upgrading, so keep an eye for any faults or slow performance.
Router Table Hacks & Techniques
Now that you already have a grip on how to use a router table let’s take a look at some of the basics of router table techniques.
i. Jointing Techniques
When doing rounds on online woodwork forums, you’ll likely bump into questions like: “Can a router table be used as a jointer?” The answer is YES, and in fact, edge-jointing is a popular technique that can save you on space and plenty of bucks in the long run.
With the appropriate type of bits- finger joint bits, drawer lock bits, and lock miter bits, you can use your router table for a variety of joinery operations. If you’d like to improve the locking power and quality of the joint, the lock miter router bit helps you achieve just that.
The drawer lock bit replicates or even betters, the efficiency of traditional joints by curving out stunning shapes. If you want to shape out finger joints, be sure to try out the finger joint bit.
ii. Pattern Work or Edge Trimming
Trimming the edge of a workpiece to achieve a smooth, flat, square surface is one of the router table’s strengths. If, for instance, you want to make a specific arch or curve for a door, all you have to do is attach the template or straightedge with the desired door shape to the door’s panel first. Then operate the router table such that it curves the workpiece to the exact same shape.
As you’ll have both hands free to get a firm grip on the board, you can manipulate the pattern and attain the results you wish for. However, if a similar task were being tackled with a handheld router, you would have to fix the board firmly on a surface while taking extra caution with the router tool.
iii. Stopped Cuts
Many woodworking jobs may require you to use stopped cuts- cuts that do not cover the entire breadth of the stock. Stopped cuts can either be practical, like a half-blind dovetail pin or decorative, as in the case with a chamfer that starts and ends at a specific point on a table leg.
Since router tables have T-slots, you can seamlessly and very safely position the cuts for desired results. On the other hand, a handheld router achieves the same task slowly and inaccurately, which will frustrate you with time.
iv. Molding Narrow, Long, or Small Stock
Using a handheld router to work on a small, long, or narrow stock is a worrisome task. Because you have to keep both hands preoccupied, you will find it challenging to maintain a grip on the wood pieces and may end up with low-quality results.
But with a router table, you can work on any size of the board, and with feather boards, you’ll get a superior grip against the fence, thus allowing you to have full control and an even feed rate. The surface of the table is sturdy enough to support your workpiece while your hands handle other accessories or stocks.
v. Box Joints and Dovetails
Some tasks cannot give optimum results with handheld devices, and cutting dovetails, or box joints is one of them. Most dovetail jigs are tuned to help you make accurate, solid joints in haste, and due to that, only give you limited options for the type and size of joints possible.
With a router table, however, you can set it up to cut a wide variety of joint configurations and sizes, without faltering. Even when you want to attain decorative joints such as the “corner post” dovetail, you only need an affordable add-n to get the job done.
vi. Raised Panel Doors
If you have dealt with a handheld router before, you are possibly aware of how difficult it is to work on raised panel doors. Because you must have big diameter bits, making raised doors using handheld tools might pose significant risks. Cutting all the edges of your workpiece to perfection is also quite untenable with a handheld router.
What are the Features of a Router Table?
If you want to make excellent use of your router table or are thinking of buying one, then you must know the ropes of its specifications and construction. Check out the purpose of every feature plus what is included in the making of a typical router table.
Here are the important features of a router table:
Perhaps the biggest and most-used part of a router table is its top cover area. Most tabletops are made of MDF, which is a medium-density fiberboard. Woodworkers prefer the material to plywood because it offers the table more sturdiness.
If you’d like more heavy-duty table tops, check out Phenolic Resin Surfaces or cast iron tables. The two boast of more stability and durability than MDF.
ii. Base Plate
The base plate is commonly a plate to which the router is attached. This plate is designed to be placed into a slot on the tabletop. The flatter the base plate, the more the functionality of the tabletop.
A fence is what prevents your board from moving during work. So an adaptable fence should be your top priority if you wish to work on different types of workpieces efficiently.
iv. Miter and T-Slots
These are not a must on a router table but can do boost your product twofold if you have them installed. T-Slots are useful when you need to position or attach various accessories while a miter allows you to use a miter gauge more accurately.
We’ve barely touched on the critical aspects of how to use a router table- there are many, many more aspects. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and the same goes for features designed to make router tables more functional. With this guide in mind, more exposure, and a few techniques under your belt, nothing can prevent you from becoming a “router table expert” that you’ve always wanted.