Unilifts and Triton Routers

Had an interesting question the other day, and thought my response might be useful to others as well.

Hi Stuart. I just purchased a brand new TRA001 and have plans to fit it to my existing Woodpecker Unilft. Some feedback received from an online forum gave the following:

“You don’t need a Unilift.

There is no way to engage/lock the shaft if you can't raise the router up into the footplate. As the TRA001 router rises, a small rod is shoved into the spindle. The rod lives near the spindle, but it’s the action of the footplate moving up that slides it across.

Raising the Unilift may expose the shaft, but it doesn’t raise the router into its own footplate.

You can’t poke your finger in (or screwdriver) to manually engage the locking rod, nor is there a convenient hex nut on the spindle to use another spanner on.”

I know this as I was terribly excited to see the Unilift, but found all this out when I ran it all through my head. It is a brilliant bit of gear, but it seems more suited to routers that use two spanners to unlock the collet, or a Festool OF1400 (or similar) where you press the green switch to engage the lock.

I understand that you have installed a TRA001 to a Woodpecker Unilft. Was the TRA you fitted the newer model with the Micro winder or the earlier version . Did you encounter any issues in getting the router spindle lock to function correctly when fitted to the Unilift.

My response:

 

It is strictly true, sure.  But written by someone who themselves does not own a Unilift with a Triton attached- I’d (almost) put money on it.

Firstly, to your question.  The Triton I have well predates the through-table winder of the later models.  And if I had started with one of those, I wouldn’t also have a Unilift.  And I would have missed out on things because of it.

Being a Triton router owner, I know exactly what you mean about the collet locking mechanism btw.

When I want to change router bits, I go through the following steps:

1. Reach under the table and switch off the router (it is irrelevant whether I use a starter box or not, turning off at the router is a good safety step), and unlock the plunge lock.

2. Grab the macro-height adjuster, and with one quick turn, raise the router to full height, engaging the shaft lock.

3. If necessary, use the unilift handle to further raise the router so the collet is above the table.

4. Change router bits, using one spanner, one handed.  Still no other router lets you do that, above the table as well!

5. Reach under the table, using the macro adjuster, drop the router enough to disengage the shaft lock, and engage the plunge lock.

6. Switch on the router, and choose a router speed (the router isn’t running, as I have the remote starter box)

7. Use the Unilift handle to finetune the height as required.

If you didn’t have the Unilift, you would pretty much do all the above steps as well, except for #3.  So not a really big deal between them at this point, and I don’t find #3 is that big a deal.

So the Unilift hasn’t really lost you functionality, but has it gained any?

If I was to do the same steps with the Triton router, each time I wanted to micro-adjust the height, I’d have to reach under the table to release, then re-engage the plunge lock.  I bet most Triton owners (particularly with the new Triton) don’t use the plunge lock – it affects their functionality.  Hang on- not having a Unilift means a potential extra step elsewhere in the process, or a degraded functionality.

So what is is that extra step, and why can it be useful?

Take the Unilift out of the table, and sit it on the bench, next to the Triton.  Have a look at that mechanism.  4 posts, gears, chain wrapped around the circumference, all that weight, all that strength, all that rigidity.  Now look at the Triton router, and work out how you’d fit all that strength inside that router.  Doesn’t go, does it!   Now if you took your router apart, you would find the micro adjustment gear.  One small, flimsy nylon thread ( or metal in the new router- not sure about that?). It is a significant difference between the two mechanisms.

Sure, both do the same job, and one is internal, and one external, but boy, is there a difference in the build quality.  Which one is going to wear over time. Which one is going to get increased gear backlash over time, to the eventual point of failure?  Using the plunge lock removes inaccuracies caused by gear backlash.

What you have, is a very solid height adjustment system that will far outlast the built-in option.  Sure, there is redundancy there, but the Unilift will outlast the Triton router.  Your accuracy will be better, you won’t get any slippage in height for not using the plunge lock.

Enjoy, and work with the setup you have- it is a much heavier engineered solution than those who don’t have one.

3D Rounding

There are router bits, and router bits.  They come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny and cute, to the massive and scary.  And I have router bits at both ends of that spectrum, and a fair few in between.

The router bit is the real tool after all.  The router is just a motor to spin that bit quickly.  And having the right tool for the job is the name of the game.

Having coped with the idea that some router bits can be cute, and knowing full well some are large and mean looking, I am not sure if I have ever described a router bit as “fun”.

 

Ok, yes, they are not a toy, and they can draw claret with the best of the tools in the workshop, but it is fun when a tool works so superbly, that you honestly cannot think of a way they can be improved.  Perhaps fun is not quite the right word.  Enjoyable?  A pleasure to use.

They are the descriptions I am giving to a bit that I used the first time the other day, while making the wooden toy vehicles.  It is the Amana 3D rounding over bit from Toolstoday.com, and it works brilliantly.  A normal rounding over bit can work in two dimensions – the table (or router base) runs along the side of your workpiece, and a bearing controls the depth of cut so it rounds over your square corner nicely.

But what if you have a compound curve (and quite common in wooden toys, particularly bandsawn components)?  You come across a concave section, and there is no way you can get the router bit to that section.  Out comes the sandpaper, and you try to match the curves and radius.

This is where the 3D router bit comes into its own.  Instead of having just a bearing on the end, this router bit also comes with a sleeve (that can also spin) that restricts vertical movement as well.  The benefit of this is that you can use the router bit above the table, without the need to rest the workpiece on a flat surface.  This sleeve performs that function instead.

And with an overall length of over 95mm, there is plenty of clearance to reach inside concave curves and still effect a roundover.

6207_4_

You still have to keep fingers away (I don’t need my fingers rounded over!), but I found the router bit very easy to use, even when climb cutting, without any risk of a catch.  The bit is still only taking off a small amount of timber, and the double guides (sleeve and bearing) prevent any real opportunity to get a dig in, or take off more than intended.

6207_2_There is both a 1/8″ and a 1/4″ version.  I have the 1/8″ version, as I tend to like having a subtle rounding over – enough to prevent splinters, or sharp edges for the young and inquisitive, but still retain some of the crispness of a tight corner.  Having one of each would be ideal, to keep the options open.

Available from Toolstoday.com as I mentioned, this is thinking outside of the box, and is both really clever, and well executed (quality).  And yes, I’ll stick to calling them fun to use!

Time to don those 3D glasses

We are moving into a new dimension.

CNC machines are not restricted to 2D patterns and simply cutting in to produce a raised (or recessed) pattern.  Nor are they restricted to 2.5D, which is how patterns that are cut in 2D then built up to produce a 3D image are classified.

eds_plane insignia-screen

True 3D means the cutter is moving through all 3 dimensions as it is cutting.  This can still produce something like a bas relief image, but irrespective of how complicated, or simple the result, the motion of the cutter throughout the cut is the defining parameter.

Finding 3D patterns to send to the CNC machine are not as easy to find as I expected.  The 3D printing community openly creates and exchanges their creations, including the required files, and open source development programs, whereas the 3D CNC community charges significant fees for each and every pattern, and the software to develop your own costs $thousands.

I did download a sample file from VectorArt3D.com who also provide the code generator program (for free, but it only works with their files) called Vector Art 3D Machinist.  Bit of an experiment-was not sure if it would work on the CNC Shark, but it was fine.

va3dm-1-largeThe program produces the required G-Code for the CNC machine control program, but has an interesting additional output, that of a roughing out pass.

Given how much material the can be removed to create a 3D object, it is good being able to first run a heavier cutter to take a few quick passes to remove the bulk of material before the fine, final cutter moves in to refine the design.

Rather than just use any router bit to attempt to machine a design, I turned to the precision Amana Tool bits that are specifically developed for 3D CNC routing.  These come from Toolstoday.com, and are Zirconium Nitride (ZrN) coated router bits.  I know it says coated, (which to the layman suggests painted or dipped) but I suspect they may be produced using one of the physical vapour deposition techniques.  This is an important distinction.  A coating can rub off over time.  A vapour deposition has characteristics somewhat akin to welding, where the coated layer fully penetrates into the surface of the base material, effectively creating an alloy at the surface.  Localised, controllable, surface alloying is a particularly effective modern technique for producing exceptional products.

6225_7_The bits are all up-spiral, pulling material up and out of the cut, while the cut itself is not a chipping action, but a slicing one.  They are particularly sharp, and smooth.

Photo 8-02-2014 16 41 17

The first pass was a roughing pass, using the largest bit seen to the left here.  It quickly scallops away the bulk of material, leaving the finer router bits to produce the detail, without having to push through tonnes of material.

Photo 8-02-2014 16 45 58Once that pass was done (4 minutes), the bit was swapped over for the one making the final passes for detail.

Photo 8-02-2014 17 00 10The final result looks a bit rough – more refinement by me I think.  It is definitely not the router bit – the ZrN bits performed superbly.

Photo 8-02-2014 17 24 24Final pass, which was about 16 minutes for this size pattern.

The additional benefit of these router bits, is their ability to handle other materials, such as aluminum, brass, copper, graphite, phenolic composites, plastic, sign board, & wood.  The ZrN surface is particularly useful in preventing buildup of the material being cut, such as plastic and other gummy materials.

The benefit of having a set of bits is having the right ones available when you need them (and less costly than purchasing individually).

The set of 4 covers a good range.  If you are heavily into 3D CNC woodworking (and as a business), consider the 8 piece set.

Spindle Moulder

Been a long time since I even thought about spindle moulders.  Last time was when I was lamenting the fact that router tables are the poor cousin of the primary workshop machines.  That situation has not changed significantly in the intervening years, although some companies have come out with some pretty nice aftermarket versions.

There are some router tables around – cast iron tops, no motor, some fence that looks like it hasn’t changed in design since the ’30s.  Whoever designed them I’d seriously question if they were a woodworker, let alone if they used the table they came up with.

The spindle moulder is the machine the router table should have been, and there is quite the range.  The reason I wrote them off before is if it came down to a router table or a spindle moulder, the router table won simple because of the range of bits that I have.  Yes, you can fit router bits in a spindle moulder, but they have a top speed of around 10000-12000RPM.

A router table can reach 20000-25000RPM whereas a spindle moulder typically only gets to 10000RPM.  That is fine for the much larger spindle moulder cutters, but is slow for the small diameter router bits.  Perhaps not as restrictive as I once considered.

However, I now have a couple of different spindle moulder cutters from Toolstoday.com and they are quite spectacular.  I’m looking at them and thinking that it would be really useful to to be able to use them in the workshop and therefore the whole spindle moulder concept has reemerged.

There are a few definite advantages to a spindle moulder (although you’d have to ensure the model chosen had these- no point getting a machine and missing out on the very advantages possible).

Other than the overall size, moulding cutters etc, a spindle moulder is not restricted to the one direction of rotation.  If the item you are working on would be better approaching the cutter from the other direction, this is achievable.

Secondly, you are not restricted to working with your cutter (or router bit) perpendicular to the table.  A spindle moulder can be set at an angle, thus significantly increasing the range of profiles that are possible by presenting the cutter or router bit at an angle to the work (or rather, at an angle that is not 90 degrees!)

I am sure there is more to the whole concept, but I don’t have that real insider’s knowledge of the machine (yet).  However, there is another machine that I will in all likelihood be getting a lot more familiar with before even the potential of having a spindle moulder surfaces…..more on that if things come together…..(intrigue….)

In the meantime, these are the cutters I have that I will be reviewing shortly, and both are really piquing my interest.

cutter1This one is a planing head, and is about the size of a fist, or a slightly shorter version of a jointer head.  The difference between it and a jointer head is that bearing at the base.  You can use this head to surface a material that isn’t flat – it will follow a template, and that makes it like the offspring of a jointer and template copying bit.  Why be restricted to making something smooth and flat, when it can be smooth and curved?

There is a lot of similarity between a spindle moulder and router table – some tasks could be done on either.  But I wonder how the quality in finish changes between a very small diameter router bit doing a finished surface, and the much larger moulder cutter doing the same with a significantly shallower angle of attack?

A template copying bit looks like a baby, or a toy alongside this surfacing cutter.

cutter2

This is not the best photo of the Profile Pro, but it gives you an idea.

cutter4 There are HEAPS of interchangeable cutters for it.

cutter5Appears to be around 140 different profiles available, plus blank cutters so you can get your own made!

While looking this up on the Toolstoday.com website, I came across some other cutters for the spindle moulder, such as this variable width groover.

cutter3And again – remember these can be used in a reverse direction if that is a better direction of approach for the work.

Some cutters (such as for the Profile Pro) are high speed steel, others are replaceable carbide.  Either way, there is no excuse not to have a sharp tool.  They are easy to remove and resharpen, or can be rotated (or disposed and replaced very cheaply).

So the spindle moulder has raised itself up into my awareness again, as a very serious workshop tool.

Interesting.

Groovin’ on the Dancefloor

A CNC machine may be capable of placing a router in precisely the right place, and follow an exact path, but still a router is just a motor.

The real tool is the router bit – it does the real work.  If you were hand carving an intricate pattern, you’d want your tools to be razor sharp, and have the variety of profiles that you need. Just because a router is a powered version of a chisel, it doesn’t stop the need to have sharp bits and correct profiles.

This is where the Amana Tool In-Groove Engraving bits from Toolstoday.com come into their own.

Normally, if you want a really fine tipped engraving router bit, you either have to go with tool-steel, or a particularly expensive solid carbide bit.  The In-Groove bits have a real point of difference (pun intended).  They have replaceable carbide tips.  And not only that, but a variety of profiles that fit the same router bit body.

Toolstoday.com In-Groove

Toolstoday.com In-Groove

You choose either the 1/2″ or 1/4″ shank, and either just get the components you require, or get the 8 piece set which gives a good sample to start with, that you can then grow as required.  If a tip becomes blunt or is broken, it is a low-cost replacement and not the entire router bit being written off.

There are also a surprising variety of each profile, with different tip widths, allowing you to precisely choose a profile to match the job you are doing.

Profiles

Profiles

There is another real benefit to the In-Groove system that is not immediately apparent.  You can change profile (effectively the same as changing router bits) without removing the bit from the router, or even having to disturb the current location of the CNC machine.

So you can set up a job with multiple paths, and like really expensive CNC machines that can change tools partway through a job, start with one profile to define edges, switch to a second for bulk clearing, then finish with a third profile that refines the design.  All by undoing a single hex bolt on the router bit itself.

Changing tips

Changing tips

As a bit of a test (and only in pine), I quickly threw together a design to test the different profiles out.  It really was simple changing tips on the fly, and matching design to bit.

Different profiles

Different profiles

As much as a V groove bit is the most commonly one used, I really liked the result of the cove tip

Cove Tip

Cove Tip

I also gave a more complicated design a try, with a bit of a Celtic knot, a photo of a saw blade turned into a path, and some text on a curve.

_DSC2485

_DSC2486

This was done with a 30 degree V groove tip mounted.  Forgot to mention, I normally choose 1/2″ shank router bits, but knowing the CNC shark router is 1/4″, that is the way I went here.  The bits don’t get heavily loaded up – it is not bulk material removal after all.

The In-Groove router bits do sound like they are not running true (you develop quite an ear for that sort of thing after a while), but I didn’t see any particular problem at the router bit tip, so I suspect it is more because of some asymmetry caused by the tip retaining plate rather than the bit not running true.  For any bit mounted in the CNC, I made sure they were fully inserted into the collet.  No matter what the size, the router is single speed, and kicking along at 33000RPM.

Finally, I ran the same design onto the laminated board that I did the Mayan calendar and Japanese dragon, to see how well it came out.  I could have refined it further by choosing different bits (and depth of cut) for different portions of the design, but took the simplest option – letting it run from start to finish.

Stu's Shed design

Stu’s Shed design

This isn’t some new design for a Stu’s Shed logo, although I don’t mind the saw blade and text layout, but I’d want to replace the Celtic design with something more applicable.  Perhaps the outline of a Festool Domino, or something!

If you are so inclined, see what you can come up with (Illustrator format preferred!)

So that is the Amana Tool In-Groove CNC Router Bits, from Toolstoday.com.  If you have a CNC router, these are definitely worth some attention.

A Clean Sweep

For people getting into woodworking, the router tends to be a tool that is either disregarded due to an (incorrect) expectation that it has fairly limited use, or one that is treated with a degree of mistrust. After all, holding a tool that is primarily a motor spinning at up to 20000RPM hardly fills the new woodworker with much confidence.

However, those fortunate to discover the sheer brilliance of inverting the router and mounting it under a table find a whole world of possibilities opens up, and the need to handhold a screaming banshee is something that doesn’t have to be the norm of router operations.

It has always been a source of bemusement to me that of all the machines in the woodworking workshop, the router table is both one of the most useful and yet is typically made rather than purchased, or is an afterthought tacked on the side of another machine. If you surveyed 100 workshops that used a router table, 99%* of them would be home made to one degree or another.

The requirement for components for router tables is being recognised by a few companies, and if you bought the various components together, the resulting router table becomes an impressive machine. Long time readers of this site will be aware of the attempts I have made thus far to create the ultimate router table. At one stage I did look at a spindle moulder, and that may one day become part of my workshop setup, but although they can have an adapter to fit router bits, they do not have the speed range needed to drive them properly. If you are intent on using router bits (which have an incredible range of functions and profiles), then there is still a place for router tables. Spindle moulders get up to around 8000-9000 RPM. A router can achieve 21000-22000 RPM.

There are already fences, featherboards, switches, stands, tops, and through fence, or above-table dust collection has been built in, there hasn’t been a commercial solution for below-table collection until now. Some routers dealt with this onboard, which allows the finer dust collection, but clogs with the heavier production.

The router table would be about the second largest waster of wood (and I say that with love – using the term to mean turning the timber machined into shavings, rather than offcuts), following only the thicknesser. The jointer generates a lot of shavings, but as it only typically takes a few light passes to achieve the job of flattening a side, it doesn’t make as much overall sawdust as the router, especially when used for edging, shaping, template copying and joinery (and often all in the same project). Of course, if you have a lathe, then this jumps right into first place!

So dust collection. To really handle dust production, both fine and coarse, light and heavy, you want to be using a 4″ collection system (at least!). But how do you plug a 4″ hose into a router?

Simple – you don’t! Instead, you can box the entire router in, and collect not only everything that falls under the table, but also draw air and dust from above the table as well.

Given so many of the improvements and refinements for the router table are Incra, it would come as no surprise that the latest improvement comes from that stable as well.

Incra CleanSweep

Incra CleanSweep

This is the CleanSweep. It attaches to the underside of a router table, and surrounds the router completely. At the base is a blast gate leading to the 4″ connection. The rear door has a clip to secure the power cable, minimising dust leakage. The front door is also steel, and is on a very simple, foolproof (and fault-proof) mechanism – dropping down to allow access.

I know what the CleanSweep looks like in the photos – a bit of a box. However, what you get in practice is significantly more spacious than what appears in the photos. It is designed with a specific purpose in mind, and is well constructed. You get to appreciate that during assembly.

Mounted under Table

Mounted under Table

My current router table (not pictured!) has the Incra frame, the LS Positioner fence system and the cast iron top, and although now very functional still feels unfinished.

My next mod will now be to remove the current surrounds, fit the CleanSweep, and create new sides, shelves and drawers. I can already testify to the benefits of 4″ dust collection from under the router- the amount of dust drawn from above the table is impressive, let alone keeping dust from building up under the router (and in the air- fine dust has no chance!)

detail5

You may be concerned about dust being drawn down, past the router, but let me reassure you on a couple of points. Firstly, and speaking from experience, the only time I have had dust issues with an inverted router is when I wasn’t actively collecting dust, and the MDF (particularly) got into the switch and the plunge shafts (and bearings & gears of the height winding mechanism). When collecting, especially with 4″, I have had no reoccurences.

Secondly, the cooling for the motor is often on top (and therefore underneath when the router is inverted), and will get very little dust in (if not sucked immediately away).

Thirdly, although the air can get a lot of dust entrained into it, overall the amount of relatively clean air that the router is exposed to is significantly higher than times it has to deal with dusty air.

detail6

If the router table is flat, it is very easy to attach the CleanSweep directly to the bottom of the table.

If not, then some infill can be made with MDF. It doesn’t have to be a 100% tight seal- the 4″ system will still create a decent degree of negative pressure irrespective of a few gaps.

detail2

I haven’t any pictures (yet), but I have checked the CleanSweep on the bottom of the Triton Router Table, and I am very confident it can fit with some infills. For any infills, you can add space filler, but it really is messy stuff. On the Triton table, the CleanSweep will block the sliding table, but I never used it in that fashion anyway. It was always a much better option to use the sliding extension table if you want that function.

detail3 detail4

So if you have an existing router table (Trition, homemade, or even just a wing on a tablesaw), the CleanSweep is a stylish and functional upgrade that will significantly decrease the amount of uncontrolled dust that your router table will produce.

Available (as with all the other best router table upgrades!) from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.

*This statistic is not based on any real-world survey

Router Bit Storage

This is a screenshot from a Highland Woodworker video that the Roving Reporter suggested I look at – given my collection of router bits (and the ever increasing number of Amana Tool bits I have been adding from Toolstoday.com), my original router bit storage is groaning under the load.

A cabinet along the lines of this one seems would be an ideal solution – like a large version of my Triton Routerbit POS display I have been using, this not only openly displays the bits, but also protects them from having too much dust build up.

Seems like a great project for the new woodshop!

Router Bit Storage

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