What to look for in a router table

There are many router table variants - floor standing, benchtop models, table saw extension wing mounts, clamped to a Workmate or a folding top hinged to a workshop wall. The choice is driven by space availability, intended use and financial considerations. Regardless of approach a router table consists of three main components:

  1. Router table stand
  2. Router table top
  3. Router table fence

Router table stand

The stand can be a simple open stand with wooden or metal legs or an elaborate cabinet with drawers and doors. The important thing is that the stand is sturdy. You don't want to rout on something that wobbles about. What is advertised as sturdy is not always that sturdy. A stand with four legs and some form of bracing can take up to half a square metre of floor space. A cabinet reclaims this workshop real estate and provides useful storage for router bits and accessories. Height is an important consideration. Stooping over a table that is too low can only lead to lower-back pain. My router table is at wrist height.

I find a benchtop stand too high to work on comfortably and also a little unstable. It needs to be clamped to the bench. A benchtop variant is portable and is the answer if you need to take your router table to various job sites.

The simplest of stands is a pair of saw horses. I have even seen a galvanised dust bin being used.

Router table top

This is the most important component. There are basically two types of router table tops. The first is a direct-mounting top where the router is permanently attached to the underside of the top. The second uses a drop-in mounting plate to which the router is attached. An opening the same size as the plate is cut into the table top. The mounting plate, made of plastic or metal, is between 6mm and 9mm thick and roughly 235mm by 300mm in size. A drop-in or insert plate is used on commercial router tables as they must cater for a variety of router makes and models. The direct mounting is used on shop-built router tables made for a specific router dedicated to table use.

Regardless of type or size a router table top must be flat and smooth. A slight crown is acceptable. A dip is totally unacceptable: it results in inaccurate and inconsistent cuts. The weight of a router (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) plus the downward pressure when working puts a router table under a lot of stress. A cut out for an insert plate and mitre gauge and T-track slots weaken a router table top. Bracing is a must for tops made of laminate covered MDF. I believe that a mitre gauge slot is totally unnececessary. Use of a mitre gauge for short end-grain cuts requires that the fence be set parallel to the mitre gauge slot. A simple sled that rides against the fence, regardless of the fence orientation, is a simple and elegant solution. It negates the he need for a mitre gauge slot and avoids the complexity of setting the fence parallel to this slot.

Router bits range in diameter from 3mm (a veining bit) to 90mm (a panel raising bit). The top or insert plate needs to accept the large panel raising bits. Safety considerations dictate that there must be a way of reducing this large opening when using smaller diameter bits. Click-fit or press-fit reducing rings provide the answer. It is important the these rings (and the insert plate if used) are flush with the table top. A mismatch can interfere with the feeding of of the workpiece and cause a "dwell" mark.

Many router tables position the router in the dead centre of the top. This wastes part of the top. I prefer a two-thirds / one-third front-to-back location.

When using a fence the bit is often buried in the fence and only a small cutting edge is exposed. Cutting a groove, for example, exposes the full diameter of the bit and the use of a bit guard attached to the fence is advised. When using a bearing on a bit as the guidance method (pattern routing and profiling curved edges) the fence is removed. A bit guard that attaches to the top is needed in this situation.

The simplest way of attaching stops, guards, auxilliary fences and horizontal feather boards is by clamping them to the edge of the top. One of my pet gripes is that the the manufacturers of machine tables (be they for a table saw, a bandsaw or a router table) don't take this into account. I can clamp around the entire periphery of my table.

Router table fence

A fence is the most used guidance system and should meet the 4S criteria:

  • Straight: perfectly straight along its length
  • Square: perpendicular to the surface of the table top
  • Sturdy: you should be able to attach a 300mm high auxiliary fence for vertical work and not experience any flexing
  • Safe: the opening on each side of the bit can be reduced to a minimum

In addition a good fence should:

  • provide simple attachment of feather boards, stops and a see-through plastic bit guard
  • allow the connection of a vacuum hose
  • move freely around the table top and be able to be fixed securely at any angle
  • be simple to remove completely
  • allow the outfeed half of the fence to be offset for cuts (such as vertical jointing) where the entire edge is removed

 

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 Last updated 22 December 2015