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How To Use a Router Table

One of the common mistakes prospective buyers make when learning how to find the best router table is to ignore the fact that learning how to use a router table is as important to getting a good cut as buying the best in the market. Thankfully, even if you have already purchased one and are at sea regarding the cutting method, you’d be glad to know that the procedure is far simpler than that of the average woodworking tool. To illustrate this, we have provided below the basic contours of the cutting procedure.

Pre-Cutting Procedures

Every cutting session begins with a series of quick but vital preparatory steps. Now these steps vary according to the location, direction and depth of the cut desired and the material being cut. For purposes of convenience we’ve assumed the following:

  1. Material: Thin softwood/plywood sheet
  2. Weight/Quality: Featherboard
  3. Bit size: 1/2” (with negligible bearing obstruction)
  4. Cut position: Edge of the board
  5. Cut Type: Standard

We are also assuming that the router has already been fixed to the table and that it is the standard under-the-table variant.

To prepare the router table for cutting, you must:

  • Rotate the collet till it comes loose. Place the bit in it.
  • Screw on a bearing of appropriate size. Most manufacturers of routers and bits will prescribe the thickness of the bearing.
  • Push bit assembly into the mouth of the router till it goes in completely.
  • Pull out the bit about 1/16th of an inch and then rotate the collet to fix it into position. Initially rotate with your hands and then with a wrench. One of the most important points to remember while learning how to use a router table is to avoid leaving the collet loose as this may cause the bit to come loose during operation thereby causing grievious injury.
  • Lower the bit and collet apparatus to a level where the collet is completely underneath the table surface and only the bit and bearing are visible. One of the key features of the best router table is a special mechanism for adjusting this height from above the table, thereby making unpleasant under-table modifications unnecessary.
  • Take the fence and position it according to the position of the cut. Since we shall be cutting along the edge, the fence needs to “isolate the bearing” ie the frontal edges of the fence should eclipse the bearing such that it does not participate in the cut itself. To do this, pull the fence to a position where it covers the bearing and only the remaining part of the bit is visible.
  • Use clamps to fix the fence in place. If the fence comes with a dedicated fixing mechanism, use it instead.
  • Place the piece of wood you wish to cut on the table and note whether you would be comfortable pushing the piece along the table. The wood should glide without friction between the base plate and the remainder of the table.
  • Attach the power cords and run the router for a few seconds to see if the bit is working properly. Also note if the stands/feet are wobbling or are otherwise unstable. Cutting wood on an unstable table can be extremely dangerous and if needed the legs should be changed or stabilized before proceeding.
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Cutting Procedure

Learning how to use a router table to get the best cut requires one to achieve good alignment. As a rule of thumb, one should always align the wood in a manner that causes it to move through the bit right to left because the bit rotates in an anticlockwise direction. Pushing the wood in the opposite direction would cause the wood to be pulled away from the user and off the table. This will not only ruin the edge but also expose the user to chances of serious injury.

To align and cut the wood:

  • Place the wood along the fence in a manner that at least 75-80% of the wood surface is on the table. Further, the thickness of the wood should never be greater than the height of the fence.
  • Push the wood till the edge of the wood is about an inch or so away from the bit.
  • Start the motor and put on safety equipment. Safety equipment in case of router tables includes protective eyewear and earmuffs to protect the ears from the intense sound of the router.
  • Start pushing the wood slowly towards the bit. As the bit makes contact with the wood, the sound of the router would get a little muted.
  • Continue pushing the wood while ensuring that the wood is perfectly aligned. Doing so can be tricky at times because one also has to make sure that the hands do not come too close to the bit. If for any reason the wood is misaligned, stop the router and realign the wood at a point that is a few centimetres behind the point of misalignment. Resume the cut from this point.
  • As the bit begins to exit the wood, be prepared to be greeted by a large amount of sawdust. Keep your eyes at a distance from the table to avoid any getting through the protective eyewear and into your eyes.
  • Once the wood has passed the bit completely, shut down the motor and use an abrasive material to wipe away the sawdust from the cut.
  • Observe the cut carefully. Maintaining proper alignment throughout the cut would have provided you with a perfect cut with no deviations. If however any signs of error or deviation are found, align the wood as before and run it through the bit once more.
  • Wipe the sawdust from the table. Skipping this step would increase the steps required to maintain a router table and may cause blockages later on.
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Conclusion

Router tables are unique among cutting machines in that they do not have large saws or blades running freely inches from the user’s body. Instead, the bit is almost completely obscured by the wood during operation and this makes learning how to use a router table a lot safer than it otherwise would have been. Such benefits of using a router table notwithstanding however, one should never forget that any cutting machine can be a hazard if not used properly. Proper and safe use, of course, begins with learning the basics and then proceeding with advanced procedures. For this reason, we have omitted some of the more complex cutting and handling procedures in this guide. With due respect for the variations that exist among router tables, projects and routers themselves, we believe that the above guide should be able to provide decent guidance to most people looking to start their woodworking careers with a router table.

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