August 14, 2013 § 2 Comments
“Router tables are one of those items where you can spend more time and money setting up the tool than working with it. I don’t get misty eyed over the beauty of a router-table design. I use it to do work.”
-Gary Rogowski, Router Joinery
I run hot and cold on routers. In the right hands they can be extremely versatile tools. In the wrong hands they can create an absolute mess. And regardless of who uses them, they are loud and messy tools. If I was a professional woodworker where time was more the essence, they would probably get more use in my shop. But I usually forgo the router and choose another way. Up until now I haven’t the need for a router table, but a small remodeling project in our house has changed that. (Is there a bigger misnomer than to call any remodeling project “small”). We’re converting a large closet in our bathroom to a laundry room, and it needs new baseboards. The existing baseboards—from a previous owner—were a comical mismatch of leftover molding and trim pieces (hey, it was a closet). And in this case, time is of the essence, because I want to have the baseboards installed before the washer and dryer move in (novel thought). The pre-made moldings I found at a few different places did nothing to impress, so I decided to make them. Famous last words of the amateur woodworker – “We don’t need to buy that, I can make it!” I currently lack the requisite hollow and rounds to make them solely with molding planes, and there probably isn’t time to get a good pair. And even if there was, there currently isn’t the budget for a new set. So, a router and a vertical raised panel bit are the ticket. But that needs a router table.
The above quote from Gary Rogowski was written almost 15 years ago. Hell, that was just the beginning of out-of-control router table accessories flooding the online and brick-and-morter woodworking stores. My shop will never revolve around this tool, so I knew that I wanted to keep it simple. Nothing is simpler than Rogowski’s router table plan – clamp a piece of melamine to the end of your bench, drill a hole in it for the router bit, and clamp a straight stick on the table for a fence. Sounds good to me.
But I did embellish the fence a little. I made a taller fence from mdf, and added some braces and a dust port. I thought it would be a good idea to inset the braces into shallow grooves to help alignment when they got glued and screwed. The grooves did help, but I was also reminded of the pure misery that is routing mdf. I threw a few coats of an oil/varnish blend on the face of the fence and called it good. In use, the fence can simply be clamped to the table as needed. A Bosch router mounted to the underside completes the router table. No matter how much care I take in making everything square, after gluing and clamping things almost always end up a little wonky. A little bit of painter’s tape on the underside of the fence shims the fence square to the table. For the baseboards I’ll need to add an auxiliary fence because of the bit height, but for a lot of work, this setup can be used as-is. I added none of the extra high-dollar gizmos – that money will instead go to contractors and a new washer and dryer.
I’ll probably leave the table clamped to the end of my bench until this project is done, but I can see the advantage of dedicated router table. It’s not high on my list of things to build, but I’ll probably get there eventually. Or I just may hang this on the wall and pull it out when needed.
(Here is a funny side story – a few years ago I took a woodworking class that was held at a local high school shop. The shop is well-equipped with all manners of power tools, including several Rockler router tables outfitted with router lifts. A few students from the school were taking the class, and as we were talking about using the router table, one of the students talked about getting a router table for his home shop. He lamented the cost of everything – the table, insert, fence, router lift, etc. I mentioned that you could just bend down and raise or lower bit manually from beneath the table, and because you are already bending down, it puts your eye right in line with the bit. He gave me a puzzled look and said, “You can adjust the bit height from below?”)
If you are really into routers, Pat Warner’s site is treasure trove of information.
Rob Porcaro illustrates his very simple router table in a series of posts from his Heartwood blog starting here. It’s no coincidence that my fence bears a striking resemblance to his.
Of course, you could bag the router altogether and simply invest in some molding planes. Vintage ones can be found in all matter of states of decay at flea markets and antique stores. If you want to go vintage, a better bet is to buy them from a reputable dealer like Josh Clark. If you want to go new, Matthew Bickford and Phil Edwards (in the UK) both make hollows and rounds, as well as rabbet planes.