Project: Basic Router Table



The router is easily one of the most versatile woodworking tools today. It can cut, shape, gouge, carve, flatten, groove, and mould wood. Its versatility and productivity can greatly be enhanced by mounting it on a router table. What this does in effect is to make the router stationary and the work piece mobile – the reverse of what it is in the hand held position. The greatest advantages are increased accuracy, safety and repeatability. Once set up, the router does not have to be adjusted and repeated operations can be carried out quickly and efficiently.

The Basic Router Table inspired by Carol Reed's Great Design
I had been planning to build a router table for over a year but kept putting it off because of sheer laziness. But when my latest project required routing rebates on two opposite sides of over a dozen strips of wood, I felt I better get down to building the table. For, repeated rebating operations on over two dozen sides can be a very tedious job with the hand held router since every piece has to be properly held (I tend to use double sided tape for such tasks) and routed individually. Also, even a slight tipping of the router can lead to inaccuracies in the depth of the rebate and so on. The way to go I felt was getting this done on a router table.

I had been greatly inspired by a wonderful book on routing written by Carol Reed, an American woodworker who became famous as “The Router Lady”. Her book “Router Joinery Workshop: Common Joints, Simple Set-Ups and Clever Jigs” (Lark Books, New York, 2003, ISBN 9781579903282) is considered a classic. This book has detailed instructions for building a basic but very functional bench top router table. All that is required to build it is some plywood, optional MDF, a sheet of acrylic or polycarbonate and some screws. 

The design is simple: a plywood base on which two pieces of plywood are screwed on to form the sides of the table. A stretcher across the top back of the sides stabilises the assembly. The top is a sheet of acrylic or polycarbonate. I prefer the latter because it is much stronger than acrylic and shatter proof. Both acrylic and polycarbonate can be drilled, cut and sanded like wood, except all operations must be done at slow speeds or else the plastic can melt and be ruined. Below is a photograph of the polycarbonate sheet, I sized and drilled holes into.

Polycarbonate top with holes drilled for mounting screws and router bit
The hole in the middle was cut by a 1 ¾ inch diameter holesaw while the holes for the screws to hold the router were drilled by ordinary HSS drills and counterbored with a half inch Forstner bit. Four more screw holes were drilled and countersunk to attach the polycarbonate sheet to the plywood sides.

Router Table with Polycarbonate sheet attached

This is the router table with the polycarbonate sheet attached. All polycarbonate and acrylic sheets are covered with a tough plastic paper that has to be peeled off once all holes are drilled. I normally buy the Lexan brand of polycarbonate which is tough and reliable. Acrylic is much cheaper but breaks pretty easily and can shatter if too much pressure is applied. Polycarbonate, on the other hand, will not shatter or even crack when dealt a mighty hammer blow. It is that tough.

A Fence for the Table
The last part to make is a fence against which the work piece will ride while being routed. It is critical that the face of the fence be absolutely flat and rest at a right angle with the polycarbonate bench top. The best choice for a fence is MDF or laminated particle board, both of which tend to be absolutely flat and stable. Here I have screwed on the MDF piece to a plywood backer to prevent   bowing or warping. The fence is held in place by C-clamps at both ends and by pivoting the fence on one side very accurate cutting depths can be set.

Router Table with Router Attached
Rear View with fence

I attached the DeWalt router to the polycarbonate easily because the two holes I had drilled were done very accurately. To achieve this I used a transfer punch to exactly determine the centre of the screw holes. The bit hole was positioned after the router had been attached; I inserted a grooving bit and plunged it down to mark the centre of the bit hole and then cut it out with a holesaw. Everything is simple but the slightest error in marking the holes for the attaching screws will end in frustrating failure.

I also made a simple fence for the table (see photo above) with MDF and some plywood. It is important that the face of the fence be absolutely perpendicular to the router table base or else there will be some error in routing pieces, particuarly those that require a precise fit. My fence was off by about a degree or so but was easily corrected by attaching shims (visiting cards in this case) to the outside edge of the fence base.

Fence angle adjusted with visiting cards as shims

The square shows that the fence is perfectly perpendicular to the base

Outline of a Push stick drawn on Plywood
For safe routing, a push stick is essential to guide the work piece over the router table surface. In this case, too I copied a design from the Router Lady’s book and marked it on a piece of ¾ inch plywood. Using a jigsaw I cut out the handle outline, refined it with a Dremel sanding drum and then routed the edges to make it a comfortable for holding. A one by one inch piece of wood was glued on to the bottom and so was a small piece to act as a stop.

The Push Stick
With everything ready, I chucked in a half inch straight bit into the router and after several attempts managed to set the router depth to exactly 3/16 of an inch. I used a piece of straight wood for a fence and gouged an insert itno it by simply pivoting the fence into the running router bit. I also pushed the fence to 3/16 inch depth. The aim was to cut 3/16 by 3/16 inch rebates on both edges of a dozen pieces of wood that was 3/8 inch thick. The set up worked and soon I had a dozen wooden strips for a shiplap back.

Boards with Shiplap Joints
This router table has some disadvantages that I must mention. One is the problem of dust collection. The fence needs a dust collection outlet where a hose from a shop vacuum cleaner could be fitted. Otherwise routing operations generate enormous quantities of waste. My shop and I were covered in wood dust after I routed the boards.

The other problem I initially faced was the absence of any way to adjust the height of the router. I had not taken out the springs of the plunge mechanism of my router and had to set the depth of the cutter by overturning it and adjusting it as in the hand held mode. This required quite a bit of effort and strained my arms.

This problem was solved by purchasing a commercial height adjuster for the router.  I decided to buy the plunge bars made by the UK company Woodrat. The plunge bars worked remarkably well and lifting and raising the router is now a breeze.

Another essential addition was the provision for a featherboard to hold the work tightly against the cutter. For this I drilled holes on the polycarbonate top for attaching a commercial featherboard. Hopefully this will make many routing tasks even safer.

Featherboard attached


I clearly need to make make further adjustments as I go by.  Whatever I eventually do, I cannot but thank the venerable Router Lady who made all this possible.



By Indranil Banerjie
12 September 2012

Comments

  1. Fantastic and simple. I was waiting for something like this and perhaps I will shamelessly copy your design of the table. :-)
    Some questions though. Is this a plunge router with the spring removed? Or is it one that also has a fixed base?
    Secondly are you planning any mechanism to lift the router or do you manually do so? Thanks

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  2. Please copy as I have and be happy. Never forget to thank the Router Lady though.

    I initially used the router with its plunge mechanism in place. Needless to mention, it was a drag to set the precise depth.

    I have purchased plunge bars for my DeWalt 625EK from woodrat.com in the UK. It seems to be a good way to control the plunge action of a router. I have yet to fix it though.

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  3. Nice little table. Router really shines with a table and jigs. What is thickness of Lexan? How is it priced?

    Do you get router kits in UK with plunge and fixed bases? I was looking online didn't find any.

    I see your table saw in the background. Are you getting comfortable with it?

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  4. Thanks Kittu and Vinay. Yes, I am quite pleased with the little router table. I think it is a good design for beginners who would be intimidated by fancy tables, fences and so on. As I progress as a woodworker, I will hopefully make more complex tables with T-Tracks and fine adjustment fences.

    Lexan comes in different thicknesses. I probably used a 12mm thick sheet for the router table. I forget exactly how much I paid for it but it was quite pricy - something like Rs 150 a square feet.

    In the UK the choice seems to be between plunge and fixed base routers and not combo machines. Bosch has introduced a combo kit in the UK market but I have not seen the details. The preference seems to be for plunge routers.

    As for my table saw, yes, I am happy to report that it has made life vastly easier. Even more than accuracy what I find extremely useful is its ability to cut exactly similar size pieces. This is a huge time saver.

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  5. This is a great writeup Indrail. I am also on the lookout to build a table and this is a simple design. I will try of i can replicate this.

    Joseph

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  6. Thanks for the write up Indranil. It encouraged me to make my own table from a sewing machine table.
    http://vtoommens.blogspot.in/2012/10/router-table.html

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  7. Indranil, what is a transfer punch? I am unable to position holes accurately for a router base. I don't want to use the base itself as a template for the drill bit.
    Inspiring project, BTW.

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  8. There is a photo of a transfer punch set here: http://indiandiy.blogspot.in/search/label/Transfer%20Punch%20Set

    Each set contains a number of punches of different diameters and has a hard point at the centre of one end. So when a matching punch is placed in a whole, it will mark the centre of that hole. Hope this helps.

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  9. Kenneth Lobo02 November, 2014

    Simple yet efficient design! For height adjustments on my table, i simply put a car jack under the router.

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  10. sir which router are u using with this table.

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  11. Very useful information, Nice job man, I think I'll made something similar. Thanks for taking the time to show off your design and methods.

    ReplyDelete

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