What is upcycling?
“Upcycling” is the creative art of turning discarded items into beautiful or useful objects that are better than the original material. In other words, it’s what DIYers have been doing for centuries. We just didn’t have a trendy name for it before.
Twenty years ago, I barely had enough money for a router, much less a router table. So I built a quick, crude version from a hunk of old countertop supported by steel rails from a bed frame. I always intended to upgrade, but when I test drove other tables, I always found that I liked my homemade one better. It’s tough, easy to take to job sites and easy to store. But my favorite feature is the screw-on fence face. In two minutes, I can switch to a face with a larger hole for larger bits or a super-tall face for vertical routing. And since it’s replaceable, I don’t mind driving screws into it to secure featherboards or guides.
Over the years, I’ve built three of these tables—including an 8-ft. version for making long trim. The only tricky part is cutting the hole for the router plate, so this article will focus on a goof-proof method for that. For the rest of the project, cut and assemble the parts as shown in Figure A.
Stuff You’ll Need
Countertop: At least 6 linear feet to build a 3-ft.-long table. Go Dumpster diving or check the bargain bin at a home center.
Metal rails: If you can’t find a bed frame to cut up, buy 6 ft. of 1-in. angle.
T-nuts, washers and eye bolts: I used 3/8-in. hardware, but anything over 1/4 in. will do.
Vacuum port: I used a rubber vacuum hose adapter.
Miscellaneous: A 1/2-in. pattern router bit with bearing at top, router table insert plate, wood glue, coarse-thread screws (1/2, 1-1/4, 2 in.).
Photo 1: Build a guide for routing the plate opening
Screw the plate to the table and assemble a two-layer guide around the plate. Place washers along two sides of the plate so the guide opening is slightly larger than the plate.
Photo 2: Rout a groove first
Clamp down the long ends of the frame, remove the plate and cut a groove with a pattern bit. The bearing guides the bit perfectly along the inside of the guide.
Photo 3: Cut out the plate opening, leaving a lip
Drill a starter hole for the blade and cut along the inside of the groove with a jigsaw. That will leave a perfect lip to support the plate.
The first step is to cut up the section of countertop. Some countertops have a hump just above the rounded front edge. If yours does, you’ll have to cut off a couple of inches and lose the finished front edge. Next, cut off the backsplash. Lay the countertop upside down and clamp on a straight board to guide your circular saw. You can make the other cuts with a circular saw or table saw. Keep in mind that saw teeth leave chips as they exit plastic laminate. To avoid chipping, cut with the laminate face up on a table saw or face down with a circular saw. A cut laminate edge is sharp enough to slice skin. To dull those sharp edges, make a few quick passes with sandpaper.
After the table’s cut to size, create a hole for the router insert plate. Place the insert plate 3-1/2 in. from the back edge of the table and build a guide around it (Photo 1). My guide is 1/2 in. thick; perfect for a 1-in.-long pattern bit. For a shorter or longer bit, use thicker or thinner material. Before cutting the groove (Photo 2), set the router bit depth. Stack two scraps of the guide material and the plate. Set your router on the plate and adjust the depth. To finish the hole, cut along the inner edge of the groove (Photo 3).
Figure A: Router Table Fence
All parts are cut from 3/4-in. particleboard covered with plastic laminate. The table (not shown) is 20-1/2 x 36 in. The steel rails that support the table are 34 in. long.
A complete cutting list is available in PDF form in Additional Information below.
Photo 4: Add the rails and T-nuts
Stiffen the table with metal rails and hammer in the T-nuts that will lock down the fence.
Build the fence as shown in Figure A. Assemble the fence with screws and glue where particleboard meets particleboard; screws alone where plastic laminate meets particleboard. Drill pilot holes and use coarse-thread screws; fine-thread screws won’t hold. To cut the slots in the fence base (A), drill 1/2-in. holes and then cut with a jigsaw. Two of the fence brackets (E) are double thick. To make them, glue scraps together back to back and then cut them to size. The size of the dust pen hole depends on the size of your vacuum hose. I bought a rubber vacuum hose adapter and cut off the stepped end. To fasten the fence face, drive 1-1/2-in. screws through the backer (B) into the face. Before you drill the T-nut holes and install the T-nuts (Photo 4), mark their locations using the fence base as a guide.
Perfect For a Crowded Shop
This router table is bigger than most but takes up less storage space because it isn’t mounted on legs or a cabinet. To use the table, lay it across sawhorses. To store it, hang it on a wall or slip it into any narrow space.
Choosing a plate
Manufactured insert plates come with snap-out rings for larger router bits, with pre-drilled holes for standard routers.
Flattening a plate
Insert plates need to be perfectly flat. If it’s not, clamp it for a few days to straighten it out.
Insert plates made for router tables start at about $30 for a basic model like the one shown here (Rousseau 3509, available through our affiliation with Amazon.com). Search online to browse a huge selection. For about half the price, you can also make your own plate from an acrylic sheet (at least 1/4 in. thick; available at home centers). Despite my legendary cheapness, I prefer the manufactured versions; better results, less fuss. My one complaint is that they’re not always perfectly flat. But when I sentence them to a couple of days of corrective clamping, they flatten nicely.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- 4-in-1 screwdriver
- Adjustable wrench
- Air compressor
- Air hose
- Brad nail gun
- Circular saw
- Cordless drill
- Countersink drill bit
- Framing square
- Miter saw
- Safety glasses
- Shop vacuum
- Table saw
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- 1" metal angles or rails from bed frame
- 1/2" particle board (for guide)
- Coarse-thread screws (1/2", 1-1/4", 2")
- Laminate countertop
- Router table insert plate
- Rubber vacuum hose adapter
- T-nuts, washers and eye bolts (1/4" or larger)
- Top-bearing 1/2" pattern router bit
- Wood glue