How to Use a Router Table

A router table comprises a flat surface with a spindle protruding from below. Cutter heads, called routers, can be mounted on the spindle. The router spins at speeds between 3000 and 24000 RPM.

The cutters create a profile on the workpiece as it is pushed into the machine. The cutting depth may be controlled by guiding the workpiece against a vertical fence. Router tables work to make the use of routers more versatile. They help where handheld routers would not perform efficiently.

For instance, if you are looking to shape multiple small pieces, a handheld router will be complicated and impractical. However, if the pieces are significantly large, they might not be suited to a router table and require a handheld router.

How to Use a Router Table in 6 Steps

Using a router table requires skill and practice. It is best to start with some scrap workpieces to understand how to use a router table.

What You’ll Need

Before you even go near the router table, you will need the following protective equipment:

  • Approved Safety Glasses
  • Class 5 or above hearing protection
  • Dust Mask

For the machine, you will require:

  • Correct size and shape of the router bit
  • Wrench to mount and tighten the router
  • Combination square to measure the bit height
  • Steel ruler
  • Workpieces for testing adjustments
  • Pencil

Step 1: Choosing the Correct Bit

Depending on the type of cut you want to make, you will need to choose a router bit accordingly. Bits come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Bits vary in shape and size. They can be straight cutting bits used to make a straight groove or decorative bits such as a cove.

When selecting a router, it is essential that you select the correct shank size according to the collet on the machine. The shank is the metal bit that goes into the machine, and the collet is the mechanism on the machine which holds the bit in place.

Shanks come in two sizes, ½ inch and ¼ inch. It is better to use a collet that accepts ½ inch shank. They produce fewer vibrations and deliver smoother finishes.

Step 2: Mount the Bit

Remember to unplug the router before touching the router.

Push the bit into the collet until the cutting head is just touching the collet. Then pull the bit out about 1/8th of an inch and tighten the collet with your thumb and forefinger. It is essential to pull the collet out 1/8 inch because when you fully tighten the collet, it will draw the bit in. if your bit is pushed all the way in, the collet may not tighten properly and can become loose.

Once you are sure of the space between the collet and the cutting, use a wrench to tighten the collet correctly.

Step 3: Adjust Bit Height

The bit’s height determines the amount of the head that will process the workpiece. There are multiple ways to adjust the height of the bit. There are depth adjustments on the router to allow you to set the desired height. To measure the bit height, stand a combination square next to the bit, and raise or lower the bit until it reaches the desired height.

Step 4: Adjust the Fence

Adjusting the fence will greatly depend on the type of bit you are using. Remember to unplug the router before making any adjustments.

Straight Bits

Start by adjusting the fence from the front. Use a ruler to measure the distance of the fence from the bit and tighten the fence in place. Remember to make the first cut on a test piece.

If the fence needs adjustment, use a pencil to draw a line along the present fence line. Then, loosen only one end of the fence. This will allow you to pivot the fence closer or further away from the bit. Once readjusted, tighten and make another test cut.

Guide Bearing Bits

Place the ruler or straightedge along the fence. Then adjust the fence until there is a thickness equal to a sheet of paper between the straightedge and the bit bearing. Tighten the fence and run a test workpiece.

Step 5: Determine Feed Rate and Cutting Depth

How fast you move a workpiece along the router is called feed rate. If you move the piece too fast, you may end up with a chipped or rough surface. Pushing the piece too slow can cause it to heat up and burn in places.

Similarly, if you try to cut too deep in one pass, you can end up damaging the router. It is recommended not to process cuts deeper than 3/8 inch in one pass. Doing so can

  • Put unnecessary strain on the router motor
  • Put undue pressure on the router bit, risking damaging or snapping it
  • Cause the wood on the workpiece to tear up, leaving an uneven surface

It is better to make multiple passes if you need to take off a thick piece. You can adjust the fence or the bit before making the second pass. Remember to keep a steady feeding rate for the first pass. You may use a faster feeding rate when conducting a second pass.

Step 6: Test the Adjustments

Before starting your official work, it is essential to run a couple of test pieces through your setup to ensure the adjustments are correct and the results are satisfactory.

Our Final Thoughts

A router table is a flat surface with a router protruding from a hole. The cutter, called the router bit, is mounted on the machine on the collet. The collet is tightened to hold the router in place. Workpieces are slid across the table and come in contact with the router, which grooves and shapes them.

After mounting the router, the next step is to adjust the fence and make some fine adjustments until you get the desired results.

The fundamental essentials of how to use a router table are safety and practice. Remember to use the correct safety equipment and practice on test workpieces before doing official work.

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