Biscuit joinery without a biscuit joiner
If you want to make biscuit joints, you
don't have to
buy a biscuit joiner. In most cases, a
router equipped with
a 5/32-in. slot bit can cut
perfect slots to
fit the biscuits.
you would with
a biscuit joiner.
Then cut a slot that's about
1/2 in. longer than the biscuit. On thick
boards, you don't even have to mark out
anything; just cut one quick, continuous
slot on each board. Add glue and biscuits and then clamp it to create a strong joint.
There are two situations where a router
can't substitute for a biscuit joiner: A
router can cut slots only along the edges of
a board, not across its face; and it can only
cut along square edges, not beveled ones.
Most slot cutters cut slots about 1/2 in.
deep, which suits No. 20 biscuits. If you
want to use smaller biscuits, buy a kit
that includes three bearing
sizes for No. 0, No. 10 and
No. 20 biscuits (available online and at woodworking stores).
Homemade base plates add versatility
When I get a new router, the first
thing I do is explain to my wife why
I need yet another power tool. The
second thing I do is remove the plastic
base plate. Then I make a plate that's
a few inches larger than the original
from 1/4-in.-thick acrylic.
I use the original plate as a template
to position the screw holes and the
center hole. Acrylic has sharp edges,
so I round them slightly with sandpaper.
In about five minutes, I have an oversized plate that I can fasten to a
trammel, stretchers, or any other jigs I
dream up. One of my routers is mounted
on a 12 x 12-in. piece of 3/8-in.-thick
acrylic and does double duty. Although
it's a bit big and clumsy, I can use it as
a handheld router. Or I can screw it to
a pair of sawhorses, attach a primitive
fence, and use it as a portable job-site
Plane a straight edge
When you have a crooked board, the best
tool for creating a straight, smooth edge is
a “jointer.” When you want
to shave down a door just a little—more
than a sander can handle, but not enough
for a saw—a handheld power planer is best.
If you don't have these tools, try the second-best solution for either of these jobs:
a router with a “pattern” bit (a straight bit
guided by a bearing). Just clamp or screw a
straight guide to the workpiece. The
router's bearing rolls along the guide, and
the bit cuts a straight, smooth edge. Use
plywood, MDF or a perfectly
straight board as your
guide. Inspect the edge of
the guide before you rout;
any bump or crater in the guide
will transfer to the workpiece.
If you're shaving off more
than 1/8 in. of wood, make
multiple passes no more than 1/4 in. deep. Choose a pattern bit
that's at least 1/2 in. in diameter. The
larger the diameter, the less risk there is of
chipped, splintered cuts. “Top bearing” bits
are more versatile than versions that have a
bearing below the cutter.
Flatten a bowed surface
Whether it's a cupped board
or a panel that was misaligned
during glue-up, the
best way to flatten wood is
to run it through a planer.
But even if you have a
planer, you've probably encountered
situations where it's not wide
enough to handle the job. Here's how you
can use your router with a straight bit to
plane wide material: Mount an oversized
base plate on your router and screw the base plate to a
pair of stiff, straight “stretchers.” Make
your stretchers at least twice as long as the
width of the workpiece, plus 8 in. Make a
pair of rails at least 8 in. longer than the
workpiece. The height of your rails
depends on the length of your router bit.
Plane the “crowned” side of the workpiece
first. To do this, slide the stretchers back
and forth across the rails. This is a slow
process; you may have to make several
passes, lowering the bit about 1/8 in. after
each pass. When the crowned side is flat,
flip the workpiece over and flatten the
“dished” side. Routers leave a rough surface,
so both sides will need sanding.
Smooth cuts on complex shapes
Cutting shapes with a pattern bit has two
advantages over cutting with a jigsaw,
band saw or scroll saw: Because you perfect
the pattern first, you won't make
mistakes when you cut the workpiece.
And when you're making several identical
parts, a pattern saves time, since you
do the fussy shaping work only once.
To make the bracket pattern shown
here, we cut 1/2-in. MDF with a jigsaw
and perfected the shape with a belt
sander. We traced the pattern onto boards
and rough-cut each bracket, leaving
about 1/8 in. excess to be removed by the
router. We made the pattern and each
rough bracket about
an inch too long so we
could drive screws
through them rather
than use clamps,
which often get in the
way of the router.
The screw holes were
cut off when we cut the
brackets to their final length. As with
straight-guide cuts, you may have to
make several shallow passes and then a
final pass after you remove the pattern.
Mill trim in a pinch
If you need to replace a piece of trim but
can't find a match for the wood species or
profile at a home center, walk over to the
tool aisle and check out the router bits.
Sometimes a router bit—or a combination
of two bits—can reproduce a
trim profile. Rounded edges
and coves are the easiest to
match. A 1/2-in. round-over
bit, for example,
produces perfect base shoe molding.
Finding the right router bit
Most home centers and hardware
stores carry only common bits. For
slot cutters or pattern bits, visit a
supplier that caters to woodworkers.
To buy online, type ìrouter bitsî
into any search engine and you’ll
find dozens of sources.
Many bits are available with either 1/4-in. or 1/2-in. shanks. If your router takes both shank sizes, go with
the beefier 1/2-in. bit. It’s not much more
expensive, and because it’s a thicker, stronger
bit (more than four times the mass of a 1/4-in. bit), it will be less prone to
breaking, wobbling or vibrating. A more solid bit means a cleaner cut. And the
additional mass will also do a better job of dissipating heat and lessen the
chance of burning a profile.
If you have a 1/4-in. router that doesn’t come with an optional 1/2-in. collet
(the part that receives the bit), you may be tempted to buy an adapter so it
can take a bigger bit. Don’t. It doesn’t have the same power and torque to run
1/2-in. bits. Save your 1/4-in. router for light stuff such as profiling edges and
laminate work. Buy a router designed to accept 1/2-in. bits for heavier work.
Repair and reinforce cracks
When a table top or chair seat splits, you
might be able glue the crack back together.
But often the crack is too dirty and
splintered to form a strong glue joint. And
even with a good glue joint, the stresses
that caused the split in the first place may
crack it open again.
Here's how to make a stronger repair:
Cut a recess in the back side of the wood
with a 1/2- or 3/4-in. straight bit and glue
in a plywood “scab.” Make the recess deep
enough to accept plywood that's about
half the thickness of the
wooden part. When cutting
the recess, start at
the crack and work outward,
gradually enlarging the
recess. If you have to deepen the
recess with a second pass, you
may have to make a homemade
base plate large
enough to span the recess.
Cut perfect arcs and circles
Often, you can create a curve that's “good
enough” using a jigsaw followed by a belt
sander. But when an arc or a circle has to
be flawless, a router is the perfect tool.
Some careful setup is required, but the
results are worth it. Mount an oversized
base plate on your router so you can screw it to a 1x4
trammel. Before you start cutting the arc,
raise the bit just above the wood. Then
position it at the top of the arc and at both
ends to make sure the cutting path is correct.
When you cut, make shallow passes
no more than 1/4 in. deep. Keep the router
moving to avoid burn marks. You can use
a 1/2-in. or smaller straight bit or a
spiral bit to cut arcs. Spiral
bits cut faster with less
chipping, but they cost
about twice as much as standard
straight bits. Don't use a spiral
bit that's smaller than 3/8 in.
diameter. Small spiral bits
break easily when you're
making deep cuts.
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Ease sharp edges with a round-over bit
Whether you're building
furniture or installing
trim, avoid leaving sharp
edges on wood. They're more
likely to chip, splinter or dent
with everyday use. Sharp
edges also create weak
spots in paint and other
finishes, leading to cracking
and peeling, especially outdoors.
Fussy carpenters often ease sharp edges
with sandpaper or a file. But a 1/16- or
1/8-in. round-over bit does the job
more consistently and neatly. These
small-profile bits are difficult to set at the
correct cutting depth, so always test the
cut on scrap wood first.