So just what is a Router Table?

Before I begin, this will be the subject of a video in the near future – if a picture is worth a thousand words, nothing beats 24000 words a second for clarity…….

If you asked me what was a router table, and what it was good for just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I had a basic idea of what a router was, but that was about it.

A router is, in simple terms, a motor with a chuck, able to hold various profile router bits, and spin them at high speed.

Without going into all the details, there are routers that are fixed (ie, a fixed depth), others that plunge (ie, you can push down to expose the router bit to a desired depth). There are fixed speed, and variable speed routers, and they take different common shaft diameters, with the most common here being 1/4″ and 1/2″.

To control what the router does, there are baseplates with fences to rest against the edge of the work,

router bits with bearings, and template guides. There are also more elaborate mounts that support the router as it is presented to the workpiece.

The alternate is to secure the router, and bring the workpiece to the bit. (Other than one or two notable exceptions) the router is mounted upside down, under a table with a hole that the bit passes through. Thus we have….the router table.

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Detail View of Router Bit

The router table is made up of three main components. The table (and stand), the fence, and at the heart,the router itself. Choosing a suitable router is important, and in my opinion, is not the time to be concerned about cost cutting – getting a router that is ideal for the job is critical to how successful your router table is. This is not to say that a cheap router cannot do the job, but when you experience the power, the microadjustments, and the bit changing convenience of a good router, it is hard to look back.

So, some features to look out for, and honestly, I am basing these on the Triton 2400W router, as it is one of the best routers in the world for table-mounting applications (it is a bugger to handhold, so I am not recommending it for those situations!!)

Power – 2400W (3 1/4 horsepower) is excellent. If you don’t plan to drive really large bits, then sure, you can decrease the router size to 1400W or so.

1/2″ collet. You want to be able to mount 1/2″ bits. There are some applications where you want a 1/4″ bit, but for those there are reducers you can use. I have found the 1/4″ a bit too prone to shaft breakage (such as when you hit a knot in the timber)

Microadjuster through the entire range (and able to use the macro and micro adjustments at any stage- I have seen a router where there was a microadjuster, but you had to engage it at full router height, then wind all the way down the microadjustment shaft to the required depth – stupid.)

Above-table bit changing.

The second part of a router table is the table itself. This can be as simple as a flat board, or as elaborate as one with built-in height winding (if your router doesn’t already have that), zero clearance inserts (or at least close clearance), and dust extraction. So long as it is flat, anything else goes. The base can be as simple as 4 legs, or as complicated as a fully enclosed base, with drawers for router bits, templates etc etc.

Here are a couple of examples:

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This first one is a commerically produced table (by Triton – made in Melbourne). It has a removable central section for easy access to the router, an elaborate fence, and plenty of hold-downs. It is made from pressed steel, and is generally an excellent introduction to table-mounted routing. This is where I started (and it still is used a lot for demos etc – very portable, and capable)

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This second table is more where I am now (although another upgrade is in the pipeline). The top is laminated, and around 1″ thick – very flat and stable. The insert (black part) has the router mounted below it, and has a number of interchangable close clearance inserts (depending on what bit I’m using). There are rails for stops on the fence, and a track for a mitre gauge, or featherboards.

The fence is about to be upgraded – here it is a RHS aluminium fence, that I have fitted with tracks and a micro-positioning system, but I am looking at the Incra Wonderfence to go with the LS positioner that you can see behind the fence.

The Incra LS Positioner is quite unique, and means I can accurately, and repeatably set the fence position accurate to within 1/1000th of an inch. Certainly that much accuracy is rarely needed, but if it is that accurate, then it will more than suit any other positioning job I can throw at it.

The base at this stage is nothing to write home about. It is a temporary arrangement, that so far has been there for about 1 1/2 years. One day it will be the work of art with drawers and Incra jig holders, bit holders etc that I definitely plan on doing sooner or later. (Depends on how long before I really get frustrated with the current arrangement).

So that is it in a nutshell. I’m currently working on a video that will shed some more light on the topic, so hopefully that won’t be too far away.

3 Responses

  1. Great article Stu. I see your comments on choosing a handheld vs table mounted router. In your opinion, when buying a first router that would be used in both a table and freehand, would someone be better to go for a less powerful router that works better handheld, or go for the powerful router and “deal with” the cumbersomeness when using it handheld?

    Cheers,
    JK.

  2. I would go down the same route that I took – get the best router for the table. Even the Triton 2400W is still perfectly usable for handheld work (I have done quite a bit with it handheld), it just isn’t ideal (it is rather top-heavy). The above-table bit changing alone is hard to ignore!

    I have found that for the little amount of handheld work that I do, that a small $35 router is actually all that I need (at this stage), but that is because 99% of the routing I do is in the table. Edging, planing, joints (mortice and tenon, dovetail & box), detail work etc can all be done with a table-mounted router.

    The only times that I have gone handheld were: doing 3D router carving (see video episode #01), signwriting (see video episode #12) and when I was chamfering the edge of some posts for my gate, where the posts were 120mm x 120mm and 2.5m long – a lot easier to bring the router to the work (and in that example, it was the 2400W Triton that I used)!

    Of course, this is a solution that has worked well for me, I know there are other opinions out there, particularly people who stick solidly with the router being primarily a handheld tool.

  3. […] So just what is a Router Table? (stusshed.com) Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

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