How to Choose and Use a Router Table

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Woodworkers of every experience level can benefit from a router table. Router tables allow you to hold down projects, collect dust and have a fence to help guide your project. Learn more about routers and other power tools at www.toolselect.com.

MIKE: You want it all to stay nice and flat, and so the longer table helps get around that a little bit. But if you use this to control it, that's real solid.

BARNABY: Hey, what's up. Barnaby here. Let's say you're a woodworker and you're thinking you want to create a piece of molding with a nice profile. We're talking about thin stock. Are you going to try to use a fixed-based router? I think not. Oops, sorry about that brother.

MIKE: Ow.

BARNABY: Mike, let's talk about it, the need for, ta da! The router table.

MIKE: The router table. Exactly. Yeah. You know, you start getting into thin stock, or you start getting into a situation something like this.

BARNABY: Or just like this.

MIKE: Oh, yeah.

BARNABY: Look at this beautiful joint.

MIKE: Oh, those are pretty.

BARNABY: Yes.

MIKE: Anything where you're getting into a place where you can't clamp it down and then run your router around it.

BARNABY: Right.

MIKE: You may be better off getting into a router table. Not that expensive, certainly less expensive than your fingers, trip to the doctor.

BARNABY: Sure. And you're going to need a bigger router probably, at least 2 horsepower about, right?

MIKE: Oh, there's another plus.

BARNABY: Another reason to pick it up.

MIKE: You got to buy another tool.

BARNABY: But, you know, you got to be thinking about certain things. Certainly, router table off the bat, the stability of the deal.

MIKE: Yeah. Yeah, you're going to be ...

BARNABY: So you're looking for at least an inch-thick top router table there.

MIKE: Yeah, you're getting a bigger router. You're going to get a heavier router.

BARNABY: Right.

MIKE: So, yeah, you don't want to have deflection in the table. So a sturdier top. In a basic model like this, you're getting a lot of what you see all through the line of router tables, on up to the real expensive ones. You're getting, you're going to get an adjustable fence on it. You're getting a feather board here to help hold stack down. You're getting dust collection on it. You get a switch up front, keeps you from having to stick your hands way up under there to turn the thing on and off, which I don't like to do.

BARNABY: Yeah. And you've got the mitre.

MIKE: Yes. Mitre.

BARNABY: Yep. All right. So there's that. And then we work our way down to a little bit longer table, because as the stock gets longer you want it to be supported, obviously.

MIKE: Exactly. Getting one of those narrower tables, and you get a long piece of stock, like the one you chucked over there, violently.

BARNABY: That's two pieces of stock now, right?

MIKE: Yeah, those two pieces over there.

BARNABY: Sure.

MIKE: You know, that stock wants to bow on each end of that table, and what that does also is it lifts the stock up at the cutter head. And you don't want that. You want it all to stay nice a flat. So the longer table helps get around that a little bit. And speaking of flat, we've got an insert on this table here. This is a plastic one. They come in metal as well.

BARNABY: Right.

MIKE: But this case here, you've got adjustability to raise that up to the table height, and you want to make sure even then that you're not dropping down around that cutter head.

BARNABY: See, my concern is deflection, when you have like say a plastic piece router table here in the hot of the sun if you're using it outside.

MIKE: Exactly. Yeah.

BARNABY: You know, the weight of the router pulling down on it. It can actually dip on you.

MIKE: Yeah. I've had that happen. That's why I changed mine to a metal one.

BARNABY: Yeah. And we will see your most magnificent machine that you made in moments.

MIKE: Oh, it's it's so fantastic. I love it.

BARNABY: But what I like about this, too, is the switch that activates the power strip router table here, when you can actually ... You know, your vac is going to come on along with your router.

MIKE: Yeah. That's important. I mean, I use the vacuum on mine all the time. That's one of the tools I use the vacuum on the most, because you get those chips in here, and they start getting between the fence and your stock. Another problem. You're running a nice piece of stock through there. It's an expensive piece of stock sometimes. You mess it up on the router, you've got to go back and buy another one.

BARNABY: Right. And it starts looking like a popcorn maker in here. Just b-b-b-b.

MIKE: It's fantastic.

BARNABY: Right. Now we're into the metal base.

MIKE: Yeah. Metal base, obviously the base place on this one is not going to be affected by sun the way a plastic one would, and it shouldn't deflect nearly as much. This one's got holes drilled all through it, and what that is there is you can hook up all sorts of different routers to it. You still don't have router lift capability at this level.

BARNABY: Right. So when it comes time to adjust, you're going to be under here monkeying around.

MIKE: Exactly. There are a few routers out there that have an ability to send a T wrench down through what would be the bottom of the router, but now they're upside down in here.

BARNABY: Sure.

MIKE: So it's the top now. And change the height of the router. That may come into play on any one of these. But as far as inherent router lift capability, still not seeing it here. But the metal top's nice.

BARNABY: And this has an adjustable fence here to some degree, because it's got a shim.

MIKE: Yeah. They've got these shims that go in the fence. I just pulled it out. But it sits right back in there. It's 1/16". There's one on each side, so you get a total of 1/8" of play there. What it does is it allows you to make it kind of like a joiner.

BARNABY: Yeah.

MIKE: And so you can set one fence in and one fence out, and send your stock right through there and true it up a little bit.

BARNABY: Right. Well, let's head on down this way because we've got a router table that you can find at specialty stores, like say a Woodcraft or something.

MIKE: Yep.

BARNABY: This one's got a router lift.

MIKE: Yeah. This one does have the router lift. And what we're talking about is this little port right here, where you stick a wrench or something like that there, some are a little bit different, but they're all basically the same idea. You're router's connected to this base plate. Several different routers will connect to it. It doesn't have to have any lift capability in the router itself. And what you can do is use this to pick your whole router up and down. And this is a real nice method of doing it, because it allows real fine adjustment, and real solid adjustment as well.

BARNABY: But it doesn't, as we see it in this mutation, it does not have the on/off switch, but a lot of times you can buy the accessory to put on that.

MIKE: Yeah. They have those you can set up front. I really like those. I think that's great.

BARNABY: Yeah.

MIKE: And in this case, you've also got this fence back here, which allows you to run stock through. So if you're doing five-piece drawer fronts, styles and rails and stuff like that, what you can do on routers, you can set this guy up right here to do some of your side cuts. So you set your stock right on the side here, and it really controls it nice and easy. I mean, if you tried to take a 1" x 4" and run it along the fence here, that's not real safe, and it's not real good for making a nice tight joint. But if you use this to control it, that's real solid.

BARNABY: Because you don't want to be off even 1/32" when you're making drawers or stuff like that.

MIKE: No. It makes a big difference. A 1/16" is huge. A 1/32" will make a big difference, even in height of the bit. You'll end up sanding that joint down. You'll have a door that doesn't look right. All that work, and just because an adjustment was off just a little bit. It doesn't pay off.

BARNABY: All righty. And you probably have a picture of this in your wallet, because he's a proud papa of this right. Because you kind of cobbled it together because you wanted it to be just the way you wanted it.

MIKE: Well, yeah. This is kind of a work in progress. It's got some of the things I like on different router tables all kind of pieced together. It's still got a little work to do. But it's got the router lift on in. In my case, my base plate's a big, thick piece of aluminum.

BARNABY: Sure.

MIKE: No deflection there. A lot of adjustability around the top here to keep it in line with the top. But the thing that's different about mine, and the reason this one's in here today, is the fence on mine. This is a split fence. So the one next to us we looked at had the shims in the back of it. That's kind of the same idea here. And in mine, I've got knobs back here where I can adjust the fences independently, so I can ...

BARNABY: Is that a custom piece of gear back there, the freud.

MIKE: Well, that part right there you can buy. The fences I've altered. The fences that came with it were shorter, and they were made of MDF.

BARNABY: Right. A little metal fab going on there, right?

MIKE: Yeah. So I had those made up. And the nice thing is, I can do that joiner function on there. The off side to a split fence is that most of your work on a router table involves this fence all being the same plane.

BARNABY: Right.

MIKE: All flat, you know, just straight as can be. When you have a split fence, that's just one more adjustment you have to make sure you have right.

BARNABY: Right. So what percentage of the time do you think honestly you would need a split fence.

MIKE: I rarely use the split fence. I used it a little bit to join some lumber. But ...

BARNABY: Yeah. If you have a joiner you can get buy.

MIKE: Everybody should have a joiner. I don't have a joiner yet. If my wife is watching.

BARNABY: We should have like a gift registry.

MIKE: I don't have a joiner yet.

BARNABY: Well, you will. Father's Day is coming.

MIKE: Ha Ha!

BARNABY: So there you have it, a lot of good information about the right, because you're interested in which one might be right for you, and you're always going to get the good information right here at ToolSelect.com.

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