A router table is a coming-of-age woodworking tool that most beginner woodworkers will eventually graduate to.
Maybe you want to venture into production, or your project sizes have been getting bigger and bigger than what can be comfortably hand routed.
Either way, you’ve decided to bite the bullet. So you hop on to your favorite woodworking tools review site. You read recommendations about the best router tables and pick one that fits into your workshop and your pockets.
Then, you suddenly realize that there’s an even bigger conundrum that you failed to foresee. The setup of the router table. Suddenly, there’s a lot of measurements and numbers to deal with.
How do you ensure that each side of the fence is the same length? Maybe that swanky aftermarket table you bought has a surface that sags a bit. But you are unsure whether it’s okay or not. How do you adjust the height of the bit accurately? Is setting up the lift easy?
Our 7 Step Process to Set Up a Router Table
Relax. We know where those questions are coming from. We’ve been there too. Here’s a brief guide for newbies looking to setup their router tables perfectly.
1. Bring out the straight edge rule
First things first, ensure that you have the tools of the trade before you begin setting up the table. In this case, you need a quality straight edge rule that’s at least 24” long. The more conventional 12” one doesn’t work for router tables because it’s practically useless while trying to measure across the entire table.
2. The Table top
Irrespective of whether it’s a minimalistic DIY router table, or a fancy one with bells and whistles, you need a flat table top. This ensures that your work piece does not move when it’s run past the bit. The rule will allow you to evaluate the flatness. There are tons of theories, most of them contradictory about the flatness. Some woodworkers claim that anything lesser than ‘Dead Flat’ is unacceptable. The fact is that there’s no universal definition of dead flat. You can spend days obsessing over it and use feeler gages to ensure that there’s absolutely no gap between the surface and the straight edge.
This largely depends on the kind of accuracy you seek from your projects. But if you are even remotely serious, you should aim for zero sagging. In case of homemade router tables, you can get away with a deflection of.002-.004″. Anything more than that calls for a replacement.
There’s a growing misconception among new woodworkers that since most of the action happens in front of the fence, you only need to check for surface flatness at the front of the table. That’s not true. Ensure that you check side-to-side, from front-to-back and across, that is from corner-to-corner as well.
3. The Lift Plate
It would be safe to assume that your router table features a router lift. If it doesn’t, you might want to consider installing an aftermarket model. It will make your life easier while you are repeatedly trying to adjust bit height.
Most DIY models that we’ve seen do employ an aftermarket lift. In either case, it is crucial that the lift plate is installed flush, or even better, slightly lower than the router table surface.
Once again, that straight edge rule is your friend. Use it to ensure that the lift is perfectly aligned. Be warned that some models may require a fair amount of tweaking to get this right. In some cases, you may have to remove the entire lift, readjust the alignment and refit it. No matter how much time this takes, get it right the first time.
4. The Fence
Router table fences must be flat and square to the top. Period. This is the most critical component of the table that guides you along the cut. Grab the straight edge rule and check the fence along the length. While you are at it, check for flatness as well.
However, ensure that you tighten it down in its slot before you run the checks. One of the commonest doubts that woodworkers have, is how flat should it be.
Just like the flatness of the table top, there are no rules set in stone here. A lot of router tables feature wooden fences and when wood’s involved, there’s bound to be variances. What’s important is that you find a variance that you can work with. Many a time, there can be external factors affecting the flatness. Most of these issues are easily fixable. For instance, there can be some sawdust behind the fence face. Even a bit of dirt can prevent it from sitting dead square.
Tip – You might notice that the fence on your router table does not run parallel to the bit. This may throw you off. But the fact is that it doesn’t need to run perfectly parallel. Even if it runs a little askew, it can still produce perfect cuts. That’s because it is adjusted according to the bit, which is round.
5. The Dust port
Router tables produce a truck load of saw dust, debris and wood chips. Not only does this make your workshop messy, it can also affect accuracy, as we mentioned earlier. The only place that you want wood pieces and dust in, is the vac.
Most router tables feature a dust port on the back of the fence, which connects to a shop vac. However, this is not the most efficient dust collection system. You will discover that most of the dust will find its way below the table on to the floor, or into the cabinet.
You ideally need a dual port dust collection system, with one port on the back of the fence and the other on the back of the cabinet. If you do not have a table with an enclosed cabinet, there are aftermarket tools that can be connected on the underside of the table for dust collection.
6. Adjust the router bit
You can use your router table with the bit fully exposed in front of the fence, or a part of it behind the fence. Both these techniques work equally well. However, you should ensure that you follow safety practices. Feather boards and guards will help prevent a mishap.
Setup blocks will make it easier to adjust the height and depth of the cut, when you are cutting in front of the fence. These blocks vary in size, but 4” x ¾”thick and about 6-8” long is a very useful size for a wide range of purposes. Setup blocks also prevent the fence from opening, which allows you to measure using a standard rule.
7. Adjusting the height
Last but not the least, you need to adjust the height. Most modern router tables feature easy height controls. In case of DIY models, you can adjust the bit height using the lift. You can use a plane check gauge for most short bit height adjustments. If you are looking for a more deeper cut, you can consider using aftermarket snap-check tools.
After adjusting the height, your router table is now set up. Time for you to run a test work piece through the router. Happy woodworking!