Router Table

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Build your own personalized router table from a menu of innovative and practical features: a lift top for easy router adjustments, two-stage dust collection, bit storage, and a lot more.

When I set out to get a floor-standing router table for my shop, I mentally reviewed the memorable strengths and weaknesses of those I d seen and used. And over the years, I've seen and used quite a number of different router tables, both shop-made and commercial.

Right off I knew that Id build, rather than buy. the router table.

Look at what's available through woodworking catalogs: plastic laminate-covered tablctops mounted on trestle or post-and-apron leg assemblies. Here and there you'll see a tabletop mounted on a cabinet. The tabletops have the mounting-plate hole located dead-centcr. and a miter gauge-slot plowed from one end to the other. Are these tables well made? For the most part. sure. The leg assemblies are tightly joined and reasonably rigid. The cabinets are marvels of economical construction, displaying a character typical of lumberyard kitchen cabinets. The tabletops are flat. The retail prices generally are reasonable.

But I knew that if I'd take the money and invest it in materials for a router table. I could build a much better table than I could buy. 1 could incorporate features that suited me. even if they suited no one else. So what did 1 want?

• An expansive tabletop with the router offset toward the front edge. Flat and heavy. No holes or slots in the tabletop. Liminatc covering the entire top surface for long wear.

• A straight, true fence,one with a good dust pickup and maybe even adjustable facings. I didn't want to have to traipse to the clamp rack before setting the fence. I wanted to be able to clear the fence from the table quickly, without undoing bolts. Integral clamps thus would be essential.

• Ready access to the router, so 1 could change bits quickly and easily and make adjustments conveniently. I'm getting too old for the stooping and kneeling.

• Mass. I wanted a heavy piece that would dampen the vibrations of a powerful router making heavy cuts, a solid structure that wouldn't drift or dance away from me in mid-cut.

• Good dust collection. Why is sweeping the shop so burdensome? It isn't hard work, but I hate it. So 1 wanted to capture the router-generated mountain of dust and chips before it got to the floor.

•Orderly, logical bit storage. I've lost and misplaced scores of bits, largely because I don't know what I've got and where to put it when it isn't in the router's collet. A frequently used router table has two or three drawers for Vi-inch-shank bits, a couple of others for '/«-inch-shank bits. Looking for a 5/«-inch roundovcr bit? You end up opening and closing all the drawers. 1 wanted to organize my bits, making a particular spot for each bit,so I don't have to look through them all to find just one. And organizing them by profile makes a lot more sense to me than segregating them by shank size. (Do you sense some irritability on this one?)

• Convenient storage for fcathcrboards, sleds, and other jigs and accessories used with the router table.

• Switched outlets so both the router and the dust collection could be powered up at the same time.

I came up with a design that responds to each of these needs or desires. Few of the individual solutions are particularly original, I admit, but in aggregate, they yield a smashing piece of woodshop furniture. And the best of these features are unique to shop-made tables. Here's what it's got:

• a l'/Mnch-thick, plastic laminate-covered tablctop made of birch plywood with scmiconcealcd hardwood edge-banding;

• a lift-top feature that allows you to adjust the router and change bits without bending, stooping, squinting, kneeling, and otherwise supplicating;

• a clamp-on fence—with its own built-in clamps—that doesn't interfere with the lift-top feature;

• a sturdy, hardwood, post-and-apron leg assembly to support the tablctop;

• a separate cabinet insert to house the router and to provide storage for bits, wrenches, and other accessories;

• two-level dust collection—it pulls chips off the tablctop through a fence-mounted pickup and from the router compartment beneath the tablctop—powered by a common shop vacuum;

• generous drawer for storage;

• electrical outlets inside the router compartment and on the cabinet back controlled by a switch.

With the tabletop tilted up, it is surprisingly easy to change bits and adjust the bit height. The router is suspended at a very convenient height, and you can use both hands to loosen and tighten the collet.

This is an eclectic mix of features. I make no bones about it. I've borrowed brazenly from a bunch of smart designers. Specifically, the stand and upper cabinct design draws heavily on a router table designed by Ellis Walentinc and Andy Rae. Wood working writer Nick Engler claims credit for the lift-top concept, and his was the first working model I ever saw. Woodworker Fred Matlack suggested a slew of little tweaks and fixes throughout the development process.

The router table's upper cabinet envelops the router (when the tabletop is lowered), capturing a lot of its dirt and muffling its noise. In addition, it furnishes orderly storage for bits and other essential paraphernalia, right at your fingertips.

A shop vacuum collects all the dust the router table generates. Its hose is plugged into the lower port on the cabinet back. With the cabinet well sealed, the vac has enough suction to pull chips off the fence via the jumper hose to the cabinet's upper port.

Ol o ai

It may not be the most beautiful router table you've ever seen, but it isn't bad-looking for a hard-working piece of shop furniture. My plan was to make the router table reasonably attractive, without getting into using really premium hardwoods. For the stand and the cabinet faces. I used oak and applied a clear finish (polyurethane). For the casework. I used plywood and poplar, and I painted them.

The completed table, fitted out as shown in the photos, is sturdy, rigid, and heavy. It doesn't wobble or sway, it doesn't vibrate, it doesn't shimmy or jitterbug. I expect it to serve me a long, long time.

A great benefit of the modular design is that you can build the router table in stages. Once you have the stand and the labletop built, you can put the router table to use. When you get time, build the fence.That'II give you plenty of router table; you may never take the project any further.

But I'd recommcnd you add the case that houses the router and provides storage for bits and accessories. Still later, you can finish out the unit by building the big storage drawer to fill the bottom of the stand.This is your custom router table, so make it serve your needs.

Is this the ultimate router table? Heck. no. Creative woodworkers arc still noodling around out there in the workshops of America and the world beyond. New designs and configurations and accessories are bound to crop up. To my mind, there never will be an "ultimate" router table.

For now, though, this one is pretty darn good.

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