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Router Table Tips and Techniques

Double the usefulness of your router with a router table. Smooth edges, cut long moldings and mold small projects easier and more safely by using the table. We show you how.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Tip 1: Make your own moldings

Router tables are great for cutting your own moldings. Using a router table is easier and faster than using a router alone; you don’t have to clamp the board. And narrow boards that are hard to shape with a router are a cinch on a router table. Use feather boards and a push stick to protect your fingers (Photo 1).
   
Start by tightening the bit into the router, mounting the router in the base and adjusting the height of the bit. Don’t worry about getting the fence square to the table; it doesn’t matter for this type of cut. If your bit has a bearing guide, lay a straightedge against the fence and adjust it until there’s a paper-thin space between the outer edge of the bearing and the straightedge. Clamp feather boards to the table and the fence (Photo 1) to hold the work against the bit. This allows you to concentrate on pushing the board.
    
To avoid burn marks from the router bit, feed the board at a steady rate without stopping. The rate of feed depends on the bit and type of wood. With experience, you’ll learn to judge the best rate by listening to the router and feeling the resistance as you push against the board.
    
Cuts more than about 3/8 in. deep can strain the router motor, put undue pressure on the bit, and leave a rough or chipped surface on the wood. To avoid this, adjust the fence so the bit removes about two-thirds of the wood with the first pass. Then readjust the fence and make the final pass at a faster feed rate.

Router Table Safety

Router bits spin so fast that they demand your constant attention. Accidents can happen suddenly. Here are a few of the most important safety rules:

  • Always unplug the router when changing the bit.
  • Push the bit into the collet. Then lift it to expose about one-quarter of the shank before tightening the collet nut. This will keep the bit from coming loose in the collet. At least two-thirds of the bit’s shank should be engaged in the router collet.
  • Cover the bit with a guard whenever possible (Photo 1).
  • Wear safety glasses and hearing protection.
  • Use feather boards and push sticks to keep your fingers away from the bit (Photo 1).
  • Move work pieces from right to left against the fence.
  • Move work pieces counterclockwise around a piloted bit (Photo 6).
  • Never position the fence so the work piece is pushed between it and the bit.

Tip 2: Easy end-grain routing

Shaping end grain with a router table and square push block (Photo 2) has three advantages over end-grain routing with a handheld router. First, you’re not limited to bearing-guided bits, since the fence is guiding the cut.

Second, unlike with handheld routers, it’s just as easy to rout narrow pieces as wide ones. And finally, the push block backs up the cut to eliminate the chipping and tear-out commonly associated with end-grain routing. Photo 2 shows how to use a simple square push block to support your work square to the fence as you guide it past the bit.

Tip 3: Plane perfectly straight edges on boards or plywood

It takes a little time and patience to set up your router table for planing the edge of a board, but it’s worth the effort, especially for plywood edges. Photo 3 shows you how. The smooth, straight surface left by the router bit makes it easy to create an almost invisible seam when you’re gluing wood edging to plywood.
   
The key to the setup is shimming out the left half of the fence and aligning the bit with it. If your router table fence isn’t adjustable, you can attach a piece of plastic laminate to the face of the left half with double-faced tape so it can be removed when you’re done.

Here are a few of the tasks you can accomplish with this setup:

  • Plane the edges of plywood panels before applying wood edging.
  • Remove saw marks from the edges of ripped boards.
  • Straighten the edges of boards so they can be glued together.

Tip 4: Freehand routing with a starting pivot

Small pieces that are difficult to hold down while you’re shaping them with a handheld router are easy to shape on a router table. Use a bit with a bearing guide that rides against the pattern. Photos 5 and 6 show a 1/2-in. carbide flush-trimming bit being used to duplicate a pattern.

You can also shape the edge of small pieces with any bearing-guided router bit using this same technique. Pivot the wood against the starting pivot block for greater control over when it contacts the bit. Some router tables have a hole for a starting pin that serves the same purpose as the pointed stick we’re using. It doesn’t matter what you use as a pivot as long as it’s firmly attached and placed 2 to 3 in. from the bit.
    
Cut the pattern from MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or tempered Masonite. Sand the edges smooth because the router bit will transfer every imperfection in your pattern to your work piece. Rough-cut your work piece with a jigsaw and attach the pattern with small nails, hot-melt glue or double-faced tape.

Install mounting plate

Install mounting plate

Buying Router Tables

With a router table you don’t have to hassle with clamping the Work piece. Just guide it over the table and past the bit. You can build your own router table and fence using plans included in many basic router books. Or you can choose from dozens of commercially made tables. Buy the biggest tabletop you can afford; you’ll get more accurate cuts on long pieces. Fences with two adjustable, replaceable wood or particleboard sections mounted to a solid one-piece metal fence are the best. You can shim out one side (Photo 3) to plane board edges or slide the sections tight to the router bit to eliminate extra space around the bit.

Make sure the table has an easily adjustable bit guard and slots in the table to mount feather boards or other accessories. Removable base plates (photo) make it easier to mount your router and take it out to change bits and make height adjustments.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Router
    • Router table

You'll also need router bits

Comments from DIY Community Members

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June 26, 12:10 AM [GMT -5]

I am just a bigger and learned a couple tricks from this article. Thanks

June 23, 10:55 PM [GMT -5]

I thought it was an article on how to make a router table, rather than how to use one.

June 22, 3:09 AM [GMT -5]

It sounded like you were going to show how to make a router table, but that wasn't the case at all. I was very disappointed. Next time chose your words carefully for the title of an article. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought we'd be given plans for a router table.

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