Speed Control

Jim Morgans Wood Profits

Jim Morgan's Wood Profits

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The router is a high-speed tool, as you surely know. The general rule is that the faster the cutter spins, the smoother it'll cut.

But when you switch to a large cutter, those high rotational speeds translate into some pretty impressive chip-launching stats. A 3-inch cutter spinning at 20.000 rpm is moving about 262 feet per second at the cutter tips. That's about the length of a football field in the time it takes to say, Oops."

Moreover, with such large bits, the high speeds tend to burn the wood and dull the cutters. So for some applications, the router is too fast. What to do?

More and more routers are available with integral speed controls. The very best approach is to buy one of these routers. I believe every major brand of plunge router has at least one model with an electronic speed control. Porter-Cable makes its biggest fixed-base router with a speed control. You just stroke a litde thumbwheel to turn down the rpm.

A second, and somewhat more risky, approach is to buy an after-market speed controller. Commonly, the controller is a "black box" with a power cord, a grounded outlet, an on off switch, and a dial. Plug your router into the controller's outlet and the controller into your shop outlet. Switch on the controller, dial up the speed you want, and operate your router.

So what's the risk? If your black box is a true and proper speed controller, then the risk is probably minimal. The kind of speed controller incorporated in routers by their manufacturers is really a sophisticated switching system that reduces the motor's speed by literally switching it off and on very rapidly. Through a feedback loop, it continually monitors rpm and compensates for varying load conditions by keeping the switch open for additional milliseconds. The machine is much less likely to bog down. This kind of controller is available as a separate unit, for use with any fixed-speed universal motor.

But if your black box is a rheostat, which reduces the motor's speed by reducing the voltage flow, the risk is that your router will burn up.

Here's why! An increase in amper age must accompany a drop in voltage where the power remains constant. In a universal motor (the kind used in most portable power tools, including the router), amps equal heat, and an increase in amperage will cause the tool to heat up dramatically. Unfortunately, the motor—and consequently its fan—is running slower, which reduces the air How. Run the router too long, and it's toast.

A good speed controller is a sophisticated electronic device. You can buy an inexpensive controller, imported from Asia by MLCS and marketed explicitly to control router speeds, from a number of mail-order sources. According to the folks at MLCS. it operates in a manner similar to the controllers built into Makita and Elu routers. It will "heat up some." they report, but so long as you don't use it more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time, it should give you no trouble, and it should not harm your router.

Still, the best approach in my to

Most routers with electronic speed control use a thumbwheel (left) to change speeds. To determine the speeds,you have to consult a chart in the router's manual to translate the thumbwheel's letter markings. The speed control on Porter-Cable's 518 production router, on the other hand, is a slide with distinct stops (top). The router's speed at each stop is clearly marked.

opinion—and Fred agrees, too—is to buy a router with electronic speed control. The controller will be fully compatible with the motor, and. at least during the warrant)' period, it will have the manufacturer's guarantee. You won't have an extra gizmo to drag around, an extra cord to get snarled. And perhaps best of all, you'll get "soft start."

Getting a router up to speed takes quite a bit of force. As Sir Isaac Newton might have put it. "When you hit the switch on your router, the handles want to turn backward just as much as the bit wants to turn forward." That power-on jerk is startling, particularly with the more powerful routers, but more than that, the sudden torque is hard on the router's bearings. Soft start tempers the startup by easing the motor up to speed over a period of a second or so. Though "a period of a second or so" sounds awfully short, there is a distinct difference between a soft start and what I guess you'd have to call a hard start.

COMMON COLLET DE.SICMS

SELF-RE1XASIHC

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tuin vttas wmi HAWY urrs KJJCl COUET VERY rLEUBU.CASAY COMPRISED.

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UICM NECK «OJECTS TUROUtU MUT

COUET IS BLILXY WITH * OEIP MRt.

PORTER-CABLE'S SELF-RELEASING

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COUET IS BLILXY WITH * OEIP MRt.

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PORTER-CABLE'S SELF-RELEASING

DOUBLE-TAPER

TINY COUET IS _ BUT Vt'MCHt fV'AOEPTS V»' V SWANK BIT5 • ONLY.

LAMINATE TRIMMER'S SPLIT-RING DOUBLE-TAPER

COLLET AND HUT ARE. INTEGRAL.

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SOCKET

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COLLET AND HUT ARE. INTEGRAL.

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COLLET HMHIWtO rOtRCCTLY ON EN9 OF ARBOR

SEARS' SPLIT ARBOR

The router collet, like a drills chuck, is designed to grip and release the round shank of a bit. Unlike a drill chuck, which has three lingers that grip the bit shank, the router collet makes full contact with the bit shank. The router collet has one huge design advantage over the drill chuck: It only has to accept and hold a shank of one of three specific diameters: 'A inch, Ye inch, or Vi inch. The drill chuck has to accept a continuous range of sizes, from '/*-inch diameter or less up to '/¿-inch diameter or more. A router-bit shank must be sized to the collet's inside diameter, give or take a couple thousandths of an inch.

But there are a couple of demands placed on the router collet that aren't placed on the drill chuck. One is high-speed operation. A drill press peaks at about 4,200 rpm. The typical fit-inch portable drill is flat out turning 1,800 rpm. Running the machine with a drill bit that isn't perfectly concentric isn't going to rattle your eye teeth loose at those speeds. But a router runs at 22,000 rpm or more, and a bit that's ever so slightly imbalanced, for any reason, will communicate that fact to you very vociferously.

Another demand is side loading. The drill press and its chuck are designed to cope with stresses coming from one direction only. But the router has to deal with those stresses in addition to others coming at it from all sides. The router's collet has to hold that bit firmly and evenly.

Here is how the job is done. The typical collet is a tapered cylinder with a precisely sized, perfectly round, perfectly concentric hole through the center. It has at least one slit through its wall, from top to bottom. It fits into a conical socket in the end of the motor's armature. When the collet nut is turned onto threads on the armature, it forces the collet down into the socket. The slit is forced closed, which reduces the diameter of the collet's bore. If a bit of the proper shank size is in the bore, an even pressure is exerted on that shank, not just at three points, as with a drill chuck, but on the entire surface of the shank.

Naturally, the collet and its socket have to be kept clean and free of grit, sawdust, nist, and the like. The bit likewise must be clean. You can imagine, given tolerances like plus or minus a thousandth of an inch, that grit or dirt carried into the collet along with the bit shank can prevent it from properly gripping the shank.

You can also imagine that, given how you tighten the collet nut, and given how the bit spins and the various forces twist and wrench at it as it cuts, these several parts can get pretty firmly wedged together. Firmly enough that they don't always automatically pop free of each other when the collet nut is loosened. Usually, whacking the collet nut with the wnencli—ii'i» in your hand, after all— will spring the collet free of the socket, and the bit free of the collet. (You shouldn't have to knock the bit free

You may not think of collet nut sty les as having much importance until you tty to change bits. The nut with just two flats (bottom right) can be addressed from only two directions, 180 degrees apart, by the wrench. The hex nut (top left) and the octagonal nut (top right) each offer many more positions, which can expedite bit changes greatly.

PUTTING TUE SQUEEZE OKI - MOW COLLETS WORK

AS THE WOT IS TlCUTCKED.IT DRrvU TUC COLLET WTO THE SOCKET. COMPRESVMC TWE COLLET WALL SO IT CRIPS TUE MT SUANK

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UMSCAEWIM& THE MUT PULLS TUE COLLET FROM TUE SOCKET.

AS THE WOT IS TlCUTCKED.IT DRrvU TUC COLLET WTO THE SOCKET. COMPRESVMC TWE COLLET WALL SO IT CRIPS TUE MT SUANK

STUP TAPE« (IS USED SO IT WILL . "EJECT" TUE CdUuET WUt W TUE UOT IS 'LOOSE MED

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TUWUtU SWOtl COLLET DOUfilE "TAPER COLLET

COLLET IS IOU& ENOU&N TO UU6 ALMOST ENTIRE LIMiTU OF SUANK

COLLET IS IOU& ENOU&N TO UU6 ALMOST ENTIRE LIMiTU OF SUANK

SELF-RELEA5IM& COLLET

UMSCAEWIM& THE MUT PULLS TUE COLLET FROM TUE SOCKET.

SHALLOW TAPER MOLD'S COLLET TKUT, WONT ALLOW fT TO "Por PR EE IF MUT IS REMOVED

SHALLOW TAPER MOLD'S COLLET TKUT, WONT ALLOW fT TO "Por PR EE IF MUT IS REMOVED

of the collet every rime. If you do. you need to perform some maintenance. Polish up both the socket and the collet. If that doesn't clear up the problem, replace the collet.)

Just as all routers are not the same, all collets arc not the same. A manufacturer aiming to produce a low-cost router will compromise on materials and design in the collet, just as it will in the motor and other aspects of the machinc. And of course the buyer gets what he or she pays for.

The ideal collet is one that's sufficiently flexible to conform easily to the bit shank and long enough to grasp it along almost its entire length. In addition, the collet, if it's really ideal, will have some little design feature that will obviate the need to rap the collet nut to free the bit.

This ideal collet, sometimes called the self-releasing three-piece collet, is used on several routers currently on the market, including the Elu plunge routers, Ryobi's 600 series, all the Milwaukee routers. Freud's FT2000. the Malota 3612. and almost all Porter-Cable routers. The design particulars may differ slightly from brand to brand, but these features will stand out: It's long—anywhere from Y* to IY* inches long: it's sufficiently flexible that squeezing it with your fingers has a visible effect; and it's very slender, tapering only 8 to 10 degrees. These three features allow the collet to grip the bit shank evenly and firmly.

That shallow taper is one of the key elements in making the collet grip the bit so well. Once it gets pushed into the socket in the armature, it doesn't want to come out. So the ideal collet has one other vital feature: It is somehow connected to the collet nut. In most designs, there's a ring around the collet that fits tightly in a mating groove in the collet nut. As the collet nut is loosened, it literally pulls the collet from the socket. Even though the collet and nut arc separate pieces, you can't pull them apart. (If you can, the pans are damaged or defective, and must be replaced.)

We had just Such ¿1 collet let go of the collet nut in the midst of a bit change. I can testify to the iron grip that collet had on my bit. It wouldn't come out of the sockct, and thus wouldn't let go of the bit. Fred eventually beat it free. (I wasn't a witness, and 1 don't want to know.) The collet itself was okay, and Fred determined that the cause of the problem was a mismatch between the retainer ring around the collet and the groove for it in the collet nut. The manufacturer confirmed that determination and replaced the entire assembly. Suffice it to say, then, that this collet design calls for precision machine-work during manufacture.

A quite common collet style is called the three-piece or the double-taper. depending upon whom you talk to. It's a very diverse style, with variants ranging from the itty-bitty split ring used in laminate trimmers and other relatively low-horsepower, '/♦-inch-shank-only routers, up to

To use a bit with a Yfinch shank in some routers, you're expected to use a sleeve or bushing, because the router doesn't come with a '/finch collet. Fit the sleeve onto the hit shank, then slip the assembly into the '/¿-inch collet. It serves in a pinch, hut if you use this setup too long or too often,you're bound to run into problems with bit slippage. If you do use a sleeve, be sure to line up the slit in the sleeve with the slit in the collet.

To use a bit with a Yfinch shank in some routers, you're expected to use a sleeve or bushing, because the router doesn't come with a '/finch collet. Fit the sleeve onto the hit shank, then slip the assembly into the '/¿-inch collet. It serves in a pinch, hut if you use this setup too long or too often,you're bound to run into problems with bit slippage. If you do use a sleeve, be sure to line up the slit in the sleeve with the slit in the collet.

the ounce-and-a-half behemoth— we're speaking in relative terms here—found until late 1992 in most Porter-Cable machines. This is the "typical collet" I described earlier: a tapered cylinder that is forced into a conical sockct in the armature shaft by a collet nut. Squeezed by the socket, it in turn seizes the bit. The collet taper Ls pretty steep—20 to 35 degrees—and is intended to pop the collet up out of the sockct when the nut is released. This isn't a totally elegant design solution, hence the occasional need for a rap with a collet wTench.

A collet style found in very low-end routers, the so-called consumer-grade models, is the split arbor. It's not really a collet, since the socket in the armature is the collet. The socket is a straight bore. The armature is tapered at the end and slit. When the collet nut is tightened down, it pinchcs on the taper, closing the slit and gripping the bit. This "collet" doesn't grip the bit evenly, firmly, or concentrically. Worse yet, when it wears, it can't be replaced without replacing the central stem of the motor.

A different design, better but still regarded by many experts on routers and other woodworking machinery as less than satisfactory, is the two-piece collet. It's found on some pretty upscale routers, including all the Hitachi models, one from Makita, and several from Ryobi. As you can see in the drawing, the collet and collet nut are integral, with the threads on the iusiifc of the socket and the outside of the collet/collet nut—just the opposite of the usual arrangement. The collet piece usually has one slit through to the bore, and two partial slits.

The theory is that as the threads pull the collet down into the socket, it will be squeezed lightly to the bit shank. The theory might be sound, but the collet is bulk)'- and stiff and doesn't willingly hug that bit shank. And maybe bccausc the collet is so bulk)' and stiff, the routine tightening and loosening sccrns to wear the threads and, in time, to make the operation all the more difficult. It takes a lot of muscle to tighten, and even more to loosen. Of you are like me. this is the collet that rattles your confidence. You try to loosen it. and when it doesn't budge, you say to yourself, "Am I doing this in the right direction? Am I lightening it? Ummc think here ...")

What struck me about this collet, the first time I used one. was how shallow it is. On most routers I've used, the bit body clunks against the collet nut before the shank end bottoms out. Not with this design.

THE BASE

With a router, you have some pretty impressive power at your fingertips and the ability to make it go or stop. To use this power effectively, you need to have a base to hold the motor in a controlled relationship to the work. There arc two general types: fixed and plunge.

With a fixed base router you set the depth of cut and don't change it while the router is running. As long as you hold the base against the work, the motor will stay the same distance from the work, consequently controlling the depth of cut.

Almost all of the currently available fixed-base routers use the same simple clamping mechanism to hold the router motor securely, but with the possibility* of vertical adjustment. The base is essentially a wide metal band with a slit in it. A bolt with a wing nut tightens this band around the motor housing, much like tightening a clamp on a hose. If you get the wing nut tight enough, the motor can't move. It can't turn inside the base. It can't shift up or down. But when the wing nut is loosened, the motor can be pulled right out of the base.

A key part of making vertical adjustments is maintaining the setting you have when you loosen the clamp wing nut. It's pretty doubtful that you want the weight of the motor 10 drop it as deep into the base as it can go each time you loosen the clamp. The other key to making vertical adjustments is being able to make incremental changes in the vertical position. Router makers have come up with four different approaches, as shown in the photos.

A significant drawback to all of these systems is sidcplay. When you unclamp the base to raise or lower the motor, it also frees the motor to shift laterally. When you reclamp the base, the motor doesn't always return to its original position. It may shift a 64th this way or that. The axis of the motor is seldom precisely concentric to the baseplate. For most practical woodworking, this is not an insurmountable problem, though woodworkers who aspire to machinc-shop precision have fits over it.

A plunge base, in contrast to the fixed base, allows you to alter the depth-of-cut setting on the fly. The router can be preset to a depth and used like a fixed base, yes. But what it can do that a fixed base can't is lower the spinning bit into the work in a controlled manner (and raise it again, too), allowing you to begin and end a cut in the middle of a workpieee. It allows you to make several incremental passes, each slightly deeper, and complete a cut without stopping to readjust the depth setting.

The plunge base consists of a round or square shoe and two hollow posts with springs inside. The router motor is mounted on the posts in such a way that it can slide up and down on them. The springs buoy the motor, keeping it upon the posts so the bit is clear of the work or the workbench. To plunge the router, you release a lock and conscientiously push down on the handles.

Ever)' plunge-base rouier incorporates two separate depth-adjustment mechanisms. One might best be described as a router height stop. It serves on most routers to simply keep the router motor from popping up off die posts. The other is a depth-stop mechanism, which controls how-far down the posts the router motor can be plunged.

On all plunge routers but the Ryobi 600series routers and the Freud FT2000, the height stop setting is altered with wrenches. A stop nut or two hex nuts jammed against one another are turned up or down a threaded rod extending up from the router base. The router motor rides up the posts until it strikes the nuts. A number of accessor)' makers. Wood-haven among them (see "Sources" on page 337), sell adjusting knobs that replace the nuts and allow you to alter the setting with the twist of a wrist. (The Ryobi and Freud models cited are equipped with this knob.) What this mechanism allows you to do is methodically wind the router down the posts without the sideplay that besets fixed-base routers. To me, this is the ideal depth-setting approach lor fixed router operations. It is the main reason I like using a plunge router in a router table.

The depth-stop mechanism varies from brand to brand and model to model. All seem to have bafflement designed into the rotating depth-stop turret, sliding depth-stop pole, and various depth-stop adjusting knobs. The first several times I used them. I discovered myself saying. "What? What?" to no one in particular.

The photos show what. The setup approach shown seems to work pretty consistently, regardless of the brand or models peculiarities.

The goal in setting the depth stop is to establish a measured gap between the bottom of the depth-stop rod and a screw on the turret. The router then will plunge that distance, stopping when the stop rod contacts the screw. Ever)' router has several positions on the turret. This feature can be handy when you have two cuts of different depths to

In the ring and spiral, the motor casing is threaded and there's a metal or plastic ring turned onto it. The motor is lowered into the base, which is itself a simple slee\e, and the ring arrests its descent. Rotating the ring clockwise allows the motor to drop lower in the base; turning it counterclockwise raises the motor. The ring is segmented, and there's a pointer on the base; turning the ring one segment alters the vertical setting by some consistent, measurable fraction, usually Vn inch. This system is used on all Milwaukee routers (shown), and some models made by Makita. Sears, Black & Decker, Ryobi, and Bosch.

In the ring and spiral, the motor casing is threaded and there's a metal or plastic ring turned onto it. The motor is lowered into the base, which is itself a simple slee\e, and the ring arrests its descent. Rotating the ring clockwise allows the motor to drop lower in the base; turning it counterclockwise raises the motor. The ring is segmented, and there's a pointer on the base; turning the ring one segment alters the vertical setting by some consistent, measurable fraction, usually Vn inch. This system is used on all Milwaukee routers (shown), and some models made by Makita. Sears, Black & Decker, Ryobi, and Bosch.

The hclical spiral approach is used exclusively on certain Bosch models. The top edge of the base is a ramp. A nub on the motor casing catches on this edge. Turn the motor counterclockwise and the nub rides up the ramp, raising the motor and bit. Turn the motor the other direction and it descends into the base, increasing the depth of cut.

The hclical spiral approach is used exclusively on certain Bosch models. The top edge of the base is a ramp. A nub on the motor casing catches on this edge. Turn the motor counterclockwise and the nub rides up the ramp, raising the motor and bit. Turn the motor the other direction and it descends into the base, increasing the depth of cut.

One of the best mechanisms for changing the depth of cut quickly is the rack and pinion. Turning a knob on the base rotates a gear in a rack screwed to the motor housing, raising and lowering the motor. This is one system that doesn't clamp the motor in a split base. Rather, the wing nut cinches the pinion, preventing it from turning. The rack and pinion is used on selected Black & Decker routers, which are also sold with the I:In and DeW'alt nameplates. Some Sears mo<lels also use a version of it.

One of the best mechanisms for changing the depth of cut quickly is the rack and pinion. Turning a knob on the base rotates a gear in a rack screwed to the motor housing, raising and lowering the motor. This is one system that doesn't clamp the motor in a split base. Rather, the wing nut cinches the pinion, preventing it from turning. The rack and pinion is used on selected Black & Decker routers, which are also sold with the I:In and DeW'alt nameplates. Some Sears mo<lels also use a version of it.

Only Porter-Cable uses the four-pin double-helix system. The motor housing has four little pins sticking out of it, spaced 90 degrees apart. As the motor is turned, these pins ride up (or down, depending upon which direction the motor is turned) two helixes machined inside the router's split base. With this system, the depth-of-cut setting is held when the clamp is loosened, regardless of whether the router is right-side up or hung upside down in a router table.

Only Porter-Cable uses the four-pin double-helix system. The motor housing has four little pins sticking out of it, spaced 90 degrees apart. As the motor is turned, these pins ride up (or down, depending upon which direction the motor is turned) two helixes machined inside the router's split base. With this system, the depth-of-cut setting is held when the clamp is loosened, regardless of whether the router is right-side up or hung upside down in a router table.

make from a single setup—mortises of two depths on a leg, for example. But it's pretty unlikely that in the middle of a cut you're actually going to retract the bit, turn the turret, and replunge the bit to get the incremental depth change. In practice, every router woodworker I know simply guesstimates the increments and uses the turret only for the final depth.

For the plunge router to live up to its potential, it has to have a secure but easy-to-release lock on the plunge action. Currently available models display at least three slightly different approaches. I've used all three, and the only problem I've experienced is in making the transition from one style to another. 1 experience a moment of indecision as I try to remember how to release the lock to plunge a little deeper.

Plunge routers have been aggressively marketed in recent years and seem to have all die advantages. However. there arc distinct drawbacks to the plunge router. It is usually bulkier than a fixed-base router and decidedly top-heavy. In a lot of situations, it is more awkward to use.

In addition, the extra complex-it)- and parts boost the cost of the plunge router. But there arc special jobs that it can do like no other power tool.

THE BASEPLATE

The baseplate is the one pare of the router you can tinker with and customize. And by doing just that, you can let yourself into whole new realms of router woodworking.

When you look at a new router, fresh from its carton, the baseplate is usually a piece of black phenolic plastic that matches the shape of f

Depth-setting gauges are the key to fast, consistent setups. While such gauges can l*e made by carefully planing wood scraps to different thicknesses, the selection shown were cut from different-thickness scraps of acrylic plastic. To use a gauge to set the depth stop, bottom the bit against the workbench (just release the plunge lock and push the router down until the bit ihc routers base. Three or four screws attach it to the router base. The baseplate always has a hole for the bit. On the typical ftxcd-basc router, the hole is sized for template guide Dushings, about IVt inches in diameter. On plunge-base routers, :hc opening is considerably larger.

Now in addition to greasing the router's slide across the work, the baseplate provides some bearing surface. Those plunge routers with heir huge bit openings get very tip[5y when balanced on a narrow edge or when negotiating a corncr at the end of a board.

A fair number of dedicated router woodworkers almost never use the baseplates fitted to their routers by :hc manufacturer. At the very least. :hey replace it with a clear acrylic or polycarbonate duplicate, on the the-oty that they can better see what the bit is doing. Or they make an assortment of special-use baseplates. Throughout this book, you'll find touches the bench surface). Rest the gauge on the appropriate stop on the turret, and drop the depth rod onto the gauge (left). Ijtck the rod's position, and you are ready to rout. .4s you can see, when the router is plunged to the maximum the stop will allow, the bit projection matches the thickness of the gauge (right).

Most plunge routers have a lever-controlled plunge lock, Utcated within reach of the handles. Most common—used on all Makita, Ryobi, and Hitachi plungers—is the manual lexer-action lock. The router is "sprung" unless the lock lever is pressed down firmly, locking the router's position. A definite effort is involved;you know you are Utcked or unlocking by the resistance. Easiest to use is the self-locking lever, which functions like a dead-man's brake. The mechanism is locked until you depress the le\er, and as soon as you release the spring-loaded lexer, it relocks the mechanism. This style is used on all Porter-Cable and Bosch models, as well as the big F.I us.

THE ASSEMBLED PACKAGE

Here are three ty pical baseplates. Two are stock designs, one a custom-made replacement. Plunge routers (righl) usually have a donut-style baseplate—one with a large center hole for the bit. Baseplates on fixed-base routers

(centcr) tend toward a Swiss cheese style—lots of small viewing jwrts. The teardrop-shaped custom baseplate (left) offers expanded hearing surface and enhanced visibility.

plans and directions for making a lot of these. The chapter "Custom Baseplates" delves into appropriate materials and baseplate-making techniques.

Whatever you do, don't toss that factory-supplied baseplate. That's your pattern for making many custom baseplates and. at the least, for locating the mounting-screw holes in them. It may also be your mounting for guide bushings, should you ever want to try template-guided work. The first router I bought had a baseplate with its bit opening scaled to take standard guide bushings. Not realizing the reason for the smallish bit opening, I reamed it out to accommodate a large-diameter profile bit. I would have been much better off to preserve that factory baseplate and make an acrylic duplicate to open up for that big bit.

THE ASSEMBLED PACKAGE

Your first reaction to any router is probably not based on any of its four main parts. You look at the handles, judge the size and the router's stance. You pick it up. heft it. think about how comfonablc the handles are. You look for the switch: Can you reach it without letting go of a handle?

It's only after you've made this largely tactile evaluation that you look for the plunge lock or consider the vcnical adjuster. You may never look at the collet or try to find out how well the motor is constructed.

My initial response to a router is based on the material used for the base and housing. Most professional-grade routers have a fair amount of metal in them. The base is always metal, usually an aluminum casting. The motor housing may be metal or plastic, or a combination. If plastic-is used, it's usually a super-tough, high-tech material, chosen by the manufacturer not because it's less expensive than metal but because it performs better than metal. It definitely provides belter electrical and heat insulation. Some plastics are Stronger, more resistant to breakage. Corrosion-proof. A plastic may be lighter.

But there is a plastic that says. "Cheap!" It's used i n consumer-grade routers, and it's the first thing about one of these routers that catches your attention. I don't know what it is about the stuff, but 1 know it when 1 see it. And so do you. In these cheapo routers, there's too much of it. and it seems to be inappropriate for some of the elements.

The result usually is an extraordinarily light router.

That light weight can signal more than that the router is cased in plastic. It's also, to me. signaling something important about the internals. A motor made with aluminum windings. rather than copper, will be lightweight.

Weight in a router is not bad.

Seldom do you really carry a router. When it's in use—motor running, bit cutting—it's resting on the work, and you arc merely guiding it. not supporting its full weight. In fact, weight provides some stability.

So you pick up the router to evaluate its heft, and you have in your hands two of the most crucial controls on the router: the handles.

The handles give you control of the router. If you are uncomfortable with the handles, are you going to be comfortable with the router? The problem, of course, is that although lots of different styles arc available, the style you prefer may not be available on the router you prefer.

Every router has two handles, nearly always spaced 180 degrees

Routers typically have two handles, hut many styles arc used. Vertical (top left), pistol grip (top right), and D-ring (lower right) handles provide the easiest, surest grip because you can get your entire hand comfortably around them, putting your opposable thumb to optimum use. Such handles are common on high-horsepower routers. The traditional knob (lower left) is common on small and mid-sized fixed-base routers.

The D-handle configuration, available on sonic Bosch and Porter-Cable routers, has several practical benefits. The handle is easy to grip firmly and givesyou good directional control, even with one hand. The on/off trigger is underyour index finger—as with a circular saw or power driJI or bell saitder—which allows you to switch the motor on and off without lesseningyour hold on the router. Not to he overlooked is the fact that you can unplug the motor at the switch, making it easy to disconnect the power every time you change bits. The D-handle is supplemented by a knob on the opposite side of the base.

apart. In most cases, they are twins— two knobs, two hand-grips, two hand-sized rings. A few fixed-base models have one D-handle (with a trigger switch) and a knob, making die router "handle" more the way a circular saw or belt sander docs. The bigger and heavier the router is. the less satisfactory the ball-type knob is. That 's why you won t find a 2-horse-power or larger router with knobs; you get a better grip on the machine with the ring-style or grip-style handles.

On fixed-base routers, the handles are low on the base, in keeping with the generally low center of gravity. On plunge routers, the handles are a pan of the motor assembly, positioning them fairly high. On a fixed-base machine, the handles allow you to pick the router up and can)' it around, as well as guide the router through a cut. On a plunge router, the handles serve these purposes, but they are also your means for plunging the machine.

The next thing you may look for is the switch, which turns the motor on and off.

On some routers, you'll find it conveniently located under one of your fingers when you're gripping the handles. If it's there, it'll be a trigger, like on a power drill. Squeeze it and the router motor runs. Relax and the motor stops. Is this a dangerous arrangement? Are you likely to hit the switch inadvertently? I've not found it so I'm partial to D-handled routers, which have trigger switches. 1 like the arrangement in part because of the trigger. I don't have to relinquish any control to stop the motor. I don't have to run the motor any longer than necessary to make the cut. Nevertheless, some folks don't like triggers, bccause then they have to worry about unintended router acceleration.

The one drawback to the handle-mounted trigger is found on a few older models. The connection between the motor and the switch is an exposed wire. The wire can hinder your ability to pull the motor from the base. Worse, it is what Fred calls "a failure opportunity." You can catch it on a clamp handle or something and rip it out.

The more common switch setups are toggles and slides. As a general rule, fixed-base routers have a toggle on the top of the motor, plunge routers a slide on the side. There are exceptions, of course. With a toggle mounted atop the motor, you have to release one handle to hit the switch. What's worse, a lot of these routers have a vertical-adjustment setup that turns the motor, so the toggle's not always where you think it's going to be. It might be at your right hand. Or your left. You end up fumbling at some pretty inopportune times. The slide is intended to be within reach of a thumb, so you can turn the router on and off without taking your hands off the handles. Woodworkers with small thumbs may find the slide too far a reach.

A number of qualities are overlooked all too often in the selection

Hlu offers a gripping compromise on its small plunge router. As you can see, it has one pistol grip handle and one knob. The knob doubles as the plunge lock; twist your wrist to unlock and lock it. The handle givesyou pretty firm one-handed control of the machine when you carry it from job to job, switch it on, or adjust the speed. For guiding a cut, use both hands.

The handle-mounted trigger is great for controlling the motor's operation—you don't have to release your grip to turn it on or off, nor does the router have to run longer than absolutely necessary. But a trigger lock can be used to keep the motor running when your finger's not on the switch, if that's what you want.

Unless you have grotesquely long fingers, a toggle on the motor forces you to release one handle to switch on the router. The trick for the operator is dealing with the motor's startup kickback when holding the machine with one hand.

The handle-mounted trigger is great for controlling the motor's operation—you don't have to release your grip to turn it on or off, nor does the router have to run longer than absolutely necessary. But a trigger lock can be used to keep the motor running when your finger's not on the switch, if that's what you want.

Unless you have grotesquely long fingers, a toggle on the motor forces you to release one handle to switch on the router. The trick for the operator is dealing with the motor's startup kickback when holding the machine with one hand.

A slide or toggle that can be reached with a thumb or finger while maintaining a firm, two-handed grip on the router is a reasonable compromise. Most of the high-powered plunge routers have this arrangement.

process. You select a router based on power, style, apparent ease of use, and especially price. And you overlook things like how easy it is to see and change the bit.

In addition to keeping the motor square to the work and providing vertical adjustability, a good router base has to let you see the bit. It's inevitable, given the conflicting demands, that visibility from some angles will.be obstructed. The wider and taller the viewing pons, the better. A plunge router, by virtue of its twin-post motor mounting, should provide the least obstructed view.

How easy it is to change bits also depends upon the router design. Many router users like to separate the motor from the base to change bits. With the motor resting on the workbench, you have unimpeded access to the collet. Obviously, you can't do this with a plunge router, and even some fixed-base routers are impossible, as a practical matter, to separate.

To me. the best routers in this regaid arc those with a flat-topped motor and a cord that comes out the side. You can upend the router, rest it on its fiat head, and use both hands to change the bit. But relatively few brands actually facilitate this. The Bosch 1600 series routers, for example, have flat-topped motors, but their cords are in the wrong place, so you can't really set these routers on end.

The alternative, of course, is to rest the router on its side, and work within the confines of the base.

Typically, two wrenches arc needed to change a bit. One fits on to flats machined in the arbor, so you can prevent it from turning. The other fits on the collet nut. (In some designs, the arbor and the collet nut are different sizes; in others, both arc the same.) Ideally, you can position the wrenches on the arbor and nut so the handles are just slightly offset from one another. You can grasp both in one hand, and a squeeze will bring the handles together, loosening the collet nut. Reposition them, and a similar squeeze will tighten the collet nut.

If you prefer to pull the router motor from its base to change bits,you want it to he easy to do. With fixed-base routers, this is usually easy to do. Occasionally, something like a cable running from the motor to a handle-mounted switch makes pulling the motor a lost cause.

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