A handheld router is an amazingly versatile tool in its own right. But if you turn it upside down and mount it under a table, that same router is capable of a whole new set of tasks. I designed this router table to be solid, stable, easy to build and easy to use.
The joinery is simplicity itself. Just butt joints and screws—no miters, no fuss. But don't get me wrong. Simple doesn't mean second-rate. This table will withstand years of hard use and offers most of the features found on high-end manufactured models.
1: Double dust collection Vacuum ports in the cabinet and fence provide suction both above and below the router bit, making this router table one of the cleanest machines available.
2: Super storage A big, deep drawer lets you corral all your routers and accessories in one convenient place. Door-mounted bit holders—just wood scraps with drilled holes—let you find the right bit instantly.
3: Safe, convenient switch The external switch lets you switch your router on without opening a cabinet door. When making stopped cuts, you can even switch it off with your knee, leaving both hands free to hold the workpiece. The switch is optional; you can use the switch on the router.
4: MDF for stability The cabinet, top and fence are mostly MDF, which comes flat and stays flat. MDF is also heavy. The extra weight makes this router table stable and dampens router vibration.
5: Fully adjustable fence The sliding fence faces let you adjust the opening up to 3 in. wide. A pair of clamps locks the fence in position—simple, quick and reliable.
6: Rock solid top The top is a thick sandwich: 3/4-in. MDF between layers of 1/4-in. hardboard. It won't warp, sag or flex, no matter what you run across it.
7: Tough work surfaces Wood is surprisingly abrasive and grinds away at finishes and other surfaces. But the laminate top and fence faces on this router table will stay smooth and slick for years. The laminate is optional, though. If you skip it, you'll save about $30 and a few building steps.
8: Movable but solid Hard plastic furniture glides let you easily slide this router table across the floor. But unlike casters, the glides won't wobble or cost you a fortune.
Choosing a router for a table
There is no wrong router for a table. Over the years, I've seen all kinds of routers work just fine in tables: big ones, small ones, fixed-base and plunge models. That said, most serious woodworkers I know prefer fixed-base routers in tables. And everyone agrees that bigger is better; most pros use a 3-hp model.
If you're in the market for a new router, consider a “combo kit” (one motor, a fixed base and a plunge base). That way, you can mount one base in the table and quickly transfer the motor to the other base for hand-held routing. Also consider a model that allows above-the-table height adjustment. By inserting a shaft through the tabletop, you can raise or lower the router. Very precise, very convenient. Craftsman, Milwaukee, Porter-Cable, Ridgid and Triton offer this option on some models. For more router-buying advice, see our review of Midsize Routers.
I designed this router table for easy construction. It's mostly a matter of cutting the parts in the Cutting List and assembling them as shown in Figure A. But before you get started on the cabinet, think about the height of your table. I made mine 34-1/4 in. tall to match the height of my table saw. That way the router table can act as an outfeed support for the saw or vice versa. If you want to do the same, you may have to alter the height of the sides and back.
Cut all the cabinet parts (parts A – G) and band them with hardwood edging (S – W). I used maple. When gluing on the edging, I used masking tape to hold it in place until the glue set, though there were some stubborn spots where I needed the extra force of clamps. The edging has two purposes: It protects the edges of the MDF, which are prone to chipping and denting, and it just plain looks good when the router table is finished.
With all the parts edged, I assembled the cabinet using washer-head screws. You could use other types of screws, but washer heads eliminate the need to drill countersink recesses, add some strength, and—like the edging—they look good.
Important: Before you screw in the middle shelf, measure the height of your router and make sure the shelf location will allow you to remove the router motor from the base. I placed the shelf 12 in. from the top, but your router might require more space. This may also change the height of your drawer parts.
When the cabinet is complete, hang the doors using “wrap” hinges (Photo 1). There are several styles available; just be sure to use a “full overlay” version since the doors fully cover the front edges of the sides. The hinges I used are item No. 00H5833 at leevalley.com. Nail on the furniture glides, mount the external switch and cut one hole for the power cord and another just above the middle shelf, sized to suit your vacuum hose. You'll also have to cut a hole in the top of the cabinet, but leave that for later.
Think of the top as a sandwich. The MDF core (D) is the meat and the 1/4-in. hardboard (N) is the bread. Here's the recipe: First, glue one layer of hardboard (cut about 1/2 in. larger than the final size) to the MDF core (Photo 2). I pressed the parts together using a slab of MDF as a platform, 2x4s and clamps. This is a complicated glue-up, and I strongly recommend that you make a dry run complete with all the clamps first.
For a simpler approach, use weights. Lay the hardboard on a perfectly flat, sturdy surface, apply glue and set the MDF core on it. Then set weights on the MDF—lots of weights. Six 5-gallon buckets of water will fit nicely on the sandwich and apply plenty of weight (just be careful not to spill!).
When the glue has dried, trim the hardboard (Photo 3) and cut a hole through the hardboard and MDF, using your router base as a template to mark the hole. You can center the hole in the tabletop as shown in Figure A. But I like extra support in front of the router bit, so I centered the hole 8 in. from the back of the tabletop. When you've cut the hole, center the tabletop on the cabinet and trace the hole onto the cabinet top. Then cut a hole in the cabinet top at least 1/2 in. larger than the hole in the tabletop. Now add the second layer of hardboard to the tabletop. But don't cut a hole in it. The upper layer of hardboard forms the work surface and supports the router.
To complete the tabletop, add the hardwood edging, followed by the plastic laminate (Photo 4). Ease the edge of the table with a chamfer bit to prevent chipping the brittle laminate. While you're laminating the top, go ahead and laminate stock for the fence faces too. If you have extra laminate, make extra faces to replace damaged ones later.
Now you're ready to install the router. Using a hole saw, drill a router-bit hole sized to suit your largest router bit. Then mark and drill screw holes (Photo 5) so you can fasten your router base to the tabletop. When you bore countersink holes through the laminate to accommodate the screw heads, go slowly and cautiously. There's just slightly more than 1/4 in. of material there; bore too deep and you're in big trouble. With the router base mounted, the tabletop is complete. Center it on the cabinet and fasten it with screws driven from inside the cabinet.
The fence base and rail will come from one piece of MDF. Cut this blank to 8-5/8 x 32 in. and drill a 3-in. hole in the center with a jigsaw or hole saw. Rip the blank in half and you've got both parts, perfectly matched (Photo 6).
Now it's time to put your new table to work! You'll use it to cut slots in the fence rail, which allow the fence faces to slide in or out. First, mark the slot location on the fence rail (Figure A). Then drill a 5/16- in. hole at both ends of each slot. Chuck a 5/16-in. straight bit into your router and raise it to a height of about 7/8 in. above the tabletop. Set the fence rail on the router table so the bit protrudes through the first hole on your left.
Clamp on a temporary fence, turn on the router and push the stock from right to left (Photo 7) until the bit enters the hole at the other end. Turn off the router and let the bit completely stop before you move on to the next slot. (Aren't you glad you added that external power switch?) Join the two fence halves with glue and screws. Add the triangular fence supports (K) and the dust port (P).
The fence faces need 3/4-in. recesses to countersink the carriage bolt heads and 5/16-in. holes for the bolt shanks. The holes must align perfectly with the slots on the fence rail, so it's a good idea to cut a fake fence face from a scrap of MDF, drill the holes and test the fit. If the fit is right, use the fake as a pattern to drill the fence faces. Bolt on the faces and your fence is ready for action.
When a router table counts
A router mounted on a table does some things better than a handheld router: In some situations, it's simply faster and easier to push wood across a router than to push a router across wood. In other situations, a sturdy table and fence give you more control and accuracy.
And then there are jobs only a router table can do: Making raised-panel doors, for example, requires big router bits that aren't safe in a hand-held router. Other bits—like the ones that cut interlocking door or drawer joints—require precision that only a router table can offer. A router table can also shape parts that are too small for handheld routing. For any type of work, a router table along with your shop vacuum can give you far better dust control than you can get with a handheld router.
I built the drawer box last so I could use the router table to cut the 1/4-in.-deep rabbets in the drawer sides (BB). But you could skip the rabbets altogether and simply make the drawer front and back (AA) 1/2 in. shorter. I mounted the drawer on full-extension slides, though other styles would also work. I gave the drawers, doors and cabinet two coats of polyurethane finish, inside and out. Then I added door pulls and magnetic catches and congratulated myself on a great addition to my wood shop.
A second router table option would be to building a router table from an old kitchen countertop.
Figure A: router table
Overall dimensions: 34-1/4" tall x 32" wide x 23" deep.
These materials are available at most home centers, though the plastic laminate may be a special-order item.
Additional materials: wood glue, 2” washer-head screws, 1-5/8” screws, contact cement, polyurethane finish
We ordered the following items from rockler.com: safety power tool switch, No. 20915; and nail-on furniture glides (pack of 4), No. 18665.