Scouting Out Routers
Routers are a way of life for some woodworkers. They are probably the most fun woodworking tool, and the tasks they can perform are greatly varied. One of the most common router uses for the homeowner is edging plastic laminates on countertops and other projects. Routers can also be used to make molding and house trim, as well as create picture-frame molding. Routers can be used for repairing wood floors, by cutting slots to remove damaged strips. With a hinge jig, routers make quick work of hanging interior and exterior doors. A router is also commonly used to cut a decorative edge on furniture tops, and to create raised panels for doors and drawers. With a variety of purchased or home-made jigs, routers can also do a number of amazing things. With the appropriate jigs, routers can be used to make finger, box and dovetail joints. One of the most interesting jigs is the 3D Router Carver System from Woodcraft. This unique system allows you to create intricate carvings quickly and accurately in door panels, doors or drawers. Sign-making templates allow you to rout signs in wood. Home-made templates allow you to “carve” almost any design you can imagine.
Routers consist of a power head that slides up and down in an exterior housing, which also has handles for holding the tool. The power head holds a bit in the bottom side. A wide variety of routing bits are available. Some of the most common include straight bits in a variety of sizes, trimming bits, round nose (core box), dovetail, round-over, beading, round-over-beading combos, Roman ogee, cove and bead, chamfering, Vee-groove, pointed round-over, tongue and groove, lock miter, locking drawer glue-joint, classical pattern and multi-form. The latter can create more than 40 different moldings with just one bit. Slot cutters, door construction sets for stile and rails, rabbeting bits, pattern-cutting bits, panel raising, key slot, hinge mortising, veining, radius end cove, vertical-panel raising bits, rule-joint, plywood dado and antique beading are other bits available. The No-Drip Edge bits from Grizzly allow you to create a rounded countertop edge on solid-surface materials such as CORIAN. Some bits come with a spindle and cutters that can be interchanged for different cuts. Bits are also available in kits of the most popular shapes from many sources including Craftsman, Grizzly, Tool Crib and Woodcraft. Individual bits are also available. Bits are available with 1/4- or 1/2-inch-diameter shanks. The 1/2-inch-shank bits provide more support, with less chatter, especially on the larger-size patterns. Purchase only top-quality bits that are carbide-tipped for long life. Woodcraft, Grizzly and Freud offer anti-kickback router bits. The design of these industrial-quality carbide router bits limits the stock feed rate for safer routing operations. Some bits also come with a pilot or small roller on a bearing located below the bit cutter. These allow you to free-hand cut edges, with the pilot following the shape of the edge, which can be straight or irregular. A guide bushing set allows you to match the cutter to a variety of templates. Templates can include such things as sign systems or hinge mortising guides. Or, you can make up your own templates for almost anything you can imagine.
Traditionally, changing router bits has been neither fast nor easy. Conventional routers use a split collet and jam-nut arrangement to secure the cutting bit. To replace or change a bit, you must use one wrench to hold the spindle and another wrench to turn the chuck. Or use one wrench if the router has a spindle lock. In either case, it’s awkward and time consuming. It’s also impossible to get the bits set to the exact same depth if using them for matching cuts. The Craftsman QuikRout system is “tool free.” The quick-change mechanism is designed for one-hand use. Bit installation is easy by placing it into the bit adapter then snapping it into the QuikRout system. Removing a bit requires only slight pressure on the quick-release collar. Each bit can be outfitted with its own adapter that once installed, doesn’t need adjusting. This allows for consistent repetitive cuts at the same depth without having to calibrate the router every time a bit is changed. With the 1/2-inch connector, changing between a 1/2- to a 1/4-inch bit can be done in seconds. The system comes with the QuikRout connector, four bit adapters and a convenient storage case. In addition to the basic router design, some spiral saw tools, such as the Roto Zip also offer router bases and bits. Even little rotary tools, such as the Dremel have an accessory router base that allows for miniature routing jobs. Dedicated laminate trimmers, similar to routers, are also available. Dedicated routers range in size from 1 3/4 up to 3 1/4 horsepower. Routers may have one speed, several speeds or variable speeds. The latter allows for more precise matching of the speed to the hardness of the wood. Some of the better routers also feature soft-start, which reduces torque at the beginning of the start and provides longer tool life. Another feature to look for is a spindle lock. This allows for one-tool changing of the bits. A work light inside the base is also helpful. Routers come with two base designs; fixed and plunge. Fixed-base routers have the cutter head firmly secured to the base, with up and down movement governed by a locking dial. Fixed-base routers are used for edge work or in router tables. Fixed bases may consist of either a dual handle or a D-handle design. Some routers have the start-stop switch conveniently built into one of the handles. Others have the switch on top of the motor housing, which means you must remove your hand from one handle to use the switch.
Plunge routers have the head mounted on a spring-loaded column. The bit is started, and then plunged down into the wood. This method is used for cutting surfaces, such as sign work, veining, carving and others. The Freud 3 1/4-horsepower model has soft-start and electronic speed control for smooth cuts. Its edge-guide and template-guide kits are handy accessories. DeWALT, Craftsman, Bosch and Porter-Cable offer combo kits with both a fixed and plunge base, and one cutterhead. DeWALT kits come in two sizes. One has a 1 3/4-horsepower, 24,500-rpm motor with an adjustable, tool-free motor cam lock that makes an easy base change from fixed to plunge. The company’s other 2 1/4-horsepower kit has soft-start and variable speed. The plunge base features through-the-column dust collection. The Craftsman kit has a 2-horsepower motor and changes quickly from fixed to plunge without tools. The plunge base also has a dust collection attachment for a vacuum. The Porter-Cable kit has a 1 3/4-horsepower, variable-speed motor and comes complete with an edge guide. The Bosch models feature a 2 1/4-horsepower, variable-speed motor with soft start. The motor does not rotate during adjustment for greater accuracy. A wide range of routers and accessories are also available from Amazon.com’s Tool Crib.
Routers are fairly simple to use, but as with any power tool, proper and safe usage is important. Routers, which operate the bit at high speeds, throw a lot of wood chips and dust. Be sure to wear safety glasses or goggles. Routers are also somewhat loud, and hearing protection is also advised. Before operating, make absolutely sure that the bit and/or any jigs or accessories are properly tightened and adjusted. Make sure all work pieces are thoroughly clamped or secured to a solid work surface before beginning the routing job. Always use sharp cutters; dull cutters may cause the router to jump or kickback. Bits often become gummed with resin. To ensure accurate and smooth cuts, remove the gum with mineral spirits.
To insert a bit, first make sure the router is unplugged and the switch is off. Insert the round shank into the loosened collet as far as it will go, then pull it out about 1/16 inch. Using the wrench or wrenches provided, turn the collet nut clockwise while holding the spindle shaft with the second wrench or spindle lock. To adjust for the depth of cut, loosen the locking lever and turn the micrometer dial. Then relock the locking lever. Plunge routers also have a depth stop that can be set to stop the cutter at the desired depth.
With the router safely positioned flat on the work surface and the bit not contacting the wood, start the router and then move the bit into the wood. The direction of feed is extremely important for safe and successful routing. When routing edges, make the first cut across the end grain and then cut with the grain. This will alleviate any splintering that may occur across the grain. Shape straight grain by moving left to right. Speed can range from 8,000 to 24,000 rpm. It’s important to choose the proper router speed for the project, on routers that provide that option. The operating manual should provide a speed chart for the different woods and surfaces according to the model.
For many operations the router is used in the portable fashion, moving the router across the work piece. An easier, safer and more productive method for other operations is to fix the router in a stand or table top with the bit protruding up through the table. In this method the stock is moved against the rotating bit. Any number of operations may be made with this method. A router table can be hand-made or manufactured. One of the tables I’ve tested is the Craftsman Large Stationary Routing Center. The unit features a heavy-duty floor stand that holds a large, bench-top table. The table has a cast-aluminum top with clear, anti-friction coating. Parallel adjusting, extendable, extruded-aluminum fence with jointing feature and dust port are other features, as well as a miter gauge and router-bit storage panel. Just introduced this year from Craftsman is their Laminate Top Router Table for those who prefer laminate tops. If you’re short on work space, Woodcraft has a folding router table. Also available from Woodcraft is their new Woodhaven Angle Ease. Mounted in the table, the Angle Ease allows you to tilt the cutter to create even more versatility. If you’re interested in creating your own router table, tops, fences and other parts are also available from Woodcraft.
Featherboards are often used on router tables to aid in holding the work piece in position when routing. Pushsticks should always be used when cutting narrow stock. Basic table operations include: full edge-cutting, or jointing; edge-cutting with non-pilot bits; edge-cutting with pilot bits; and grooving, fluting or veining. A miter gauge can be used with many tables to ensure accurate cuts on the ends of work pieces. Routing is fun. In fact, it’s addictive. Once you experience the versatility of the tool, you’ll be looking for more jobs, more accessories and maybe even building any number of jigs and fixtures to add to the enjoyment and productiveness of the tool.
Craftsman/Sears, 800-377-7414, www.sears.com/craftsman
DeWALT, 800-4DeWALT, www.dewalt.com
Dremel, 800-437-3635, www.dremel.com
Freud, 800-334-4107, www.freudtools.com
Grizzly, 800-523-4777, www.grizzly.com
Porter-Cable, 800-4US-TOOL, www.porter-cable.com
Roto Zip, 877-ROTO ZIP, www.rotozip.com
Ryobi, 800-525-2579, www.rybobitools.com
Tool Crib, 800-635-5140, www.amazon.com/toolcrib
Woodcraft Supply, 800-225-1153, www.woodcraft.com