Router Table Tips and Techniques

Updated: Jun. 30, 2017

Make joints and edges using a router table.

FH02MAR_ROUTER_01-2Family Handyman
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.

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A full day

Tip 1: Make your own moldings

Photo 1: Shape board edges

Clamp feather boards to the fence and tabletop so they apply moderate pressure to the board. Feed the board through the router at a steady rate. Hook the notch on the push stick over the end of the board and use the stick to push the board past the bit at the end of the cut.

Finished molding and router bit

A good set-up and steady push result in a smooth, burn-free molding.

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

Photo 2: Rout with a push block

Get tear-out-free end-grain routing. Screw a 2×2 handle to a 10-in. square of wood. Hold the work piece firmly against the wood square and push it past the bit. Maintain slight pressure against the fence to make sure the edge of the square push block stays in contact with the fence throughout the cut.

Clean-cut end-grain

The results show no tear-out when routing the end-grain.

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

Photo 3: Set the fence

Plane straight edges. Shim out the left half of the fence with a piece of plastic laminate or thin cardboard. Lay a straight board across the shimmed-out fence and against the router bit. Adjust the fence position until the bit just touches the straightedge. Spin the bit by hand to make sure it barely touches at its deepest cut.

Caution: Make sure the router is unplugged. Don’t touch the sharp edge of the bit!

Photo 4: Make the smoothing cut

Test the setup on a scrap of wood. With the fence accurately adjusted, the planed board will glide over and rest tightly against the shimmed-out half of the fence. If the board hits the shimmed-out fence, move the fence back a little. If there’s a gap behind the board, move the fence forward slightly.

Smooth, straight edges

These plywood edges were smoothed to receive solid wood edging.

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

Photo 5: Set up a pattern and pivot point

Rout freehand with a pattern. Start freehand routing against piloted bits (bits with bearing guides) by pivoting the board into the bit. The pivot can be a pointed stick as shown or a pin or dowel mounted to the tabletop. Keep pressure against the pivot until the bit is engaged and cutting.

Photo 6: Smooth a rough edge

Move the work piece away from the pivot while maintaining moderate pressure against the router bit bearing. Move the work piece at a steady rate in a right to left, or clockwise, direction.

Smooth routing on small pieces

Smooth edges and then rout a shape using the same technique.

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.

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.

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