Shop Project: Without a doubt, the router is one of the most useful tools in our shop and to really get the most out of this tool it is best to mount it in a table. Not only does this increase the utility of the router, but for many operations it makes it easier to rout smaller parts safely. With a table mounted router you can also use large panel raising bits.
Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo; Lead Photo courtesy of Rob Nichele
I prefer heavy steel tops for most of the tool surfaces in the shop and as a result decided it best to purchase the top as a manufactured unit. This ensures you will have a flat, stable surface that won’t change over time. While it is possible to make a top out of sheet stock like melamine or plywood, over time, these tops will sag under the weight of a router and there is no guarantee that the piece will be perfectly flat to begin with. If the weight of the router causes the top to become dished it will be virtually impossible to get accurate results, and using the router table will be an endless source of frustration.
I've provided two options (at two different price points) for the hardware for this project. One version uses the ProMax cast iron top from Bench Dog tools, and the other uses a Lee Valley steel router table. Both versions feature above the table bit height adjustment and bit changing which, if you use your router on a regular basis, you will soon come to regard as a real convenience and a significant time saver. The Bench Dog version uses a ProMax router lift with a Porter Cable 7518, 3 ¼ hp production router while the Lee Valley version uses a Freud FT1700VCE 2 ¼ hp router which offers above the table bit changing and height adjustment as part of its design. I've used both of these tables extensively and can recommend them both without reservation.
The basic cabinet is the same for both versions. It contains a compartment with dust collection for the router, and three drawers fitted with full extension ball bearing slides. Over the years I have found that my router table is most often used out in the open, so on this version I provided ample space for bit storage on either end. A previous version of the table had the bit storage in a drawer and I was always concerned with a bit changing wrench or similar tool falling into the open drawer packed with router bits. To prevent this from happening, the bits are now stored in holders mounted on shelves in the ends – nothing can fall on them in there. The shelves are deep enough to accommodate large 3 ¼" panel raising bits. If you are unlikely to use such large bits you could make the shelves somewhat narrower and gain a little extra space in the drawers.
I've chosen to prepare all the pieces and finish them in advance before assembling the cabinet using dowels, and the method of construction reflects this. The router table is held together with dowels and using the DowelMax jig provided foolproof alignment of all of the parts during assembly and glue-up. If you choose another method, such as biscuits, read through the entire process, as you will need to modify some of the design as well as the order of operations. The table is built around a plywood core that is then edge banded and all of the remaining parts are fitted in sequence. When the entire cabinet is finished, it is then taken apart and the curved pieces shaped to give it a softer, less blocky look. With all of the shaping done, the parts are sanded and finished and the cabinet assembled and the hardware installed.
Begin With the Body
I've chosen to use Baltic birch for the core of this project and for the drawers for several reasons. The light colour makes the interior of the cabinet brighter and the greater quality and number of plys in the Baltic birch results in a stiffer cabinet. This also allows the drawers to be assembled using ½" material without sacrificing strength. Another reason is of a more practical nature. Baltic birch plywood is sold in 5' x 5' sheets and is much easier to handle in a smaller shop, and when compared to a decent sheet of plywood, it was actually the cheapest option.
• Cut the Baltic birch plywood parts for the bottom (A), two sides (B) and the back (C).
• Cut two ¾" dados on the top side of the bottom piece, 3 ⅝" in from each end to house the sides.
• Cut a ½" dado down the length of each side piece, 1" in from the back edge of the plywood. This will house the back.
• Cut a ¾" dado across each side piece, 12 ⅞" down from the top edge.
• Dry fit the base, sides and back. If everything comes together smoothly, confirm the measurements for the horizontal divider (D) and cut it to size.
• Sand the panels with 220-grit paper and apply a coat of oil. Be sure not to get any oil in the dados. Follow the oil with a coat or two of paste wax. The wax will make it easier to clean the dust from the cabinet after use.
• Lay one of the sides on your workbench with the dados facing up. Apply glue to the dados and set the horizontal divider in place, then set the back into its dado. Apply glue to the dados on the other side and smooth it out to keep it from dripping when the panel is inverted. Turn the panel over and set it in place. The two sides and the back should be flush on top.
• Apply glue to the dados in the bottom and spread it out. Set the center assembly in place in the dados. Apply clamps to the cabinet and check it for square.
• While the glue cures on the clamped-up center section of the cabinet, select some lumber to edge band the plywood. Try to choose pieces that look interesting from the edge since they will be the parts that will be showing on the finished cabinet.
• Mill enough stock for the following pieces of edge banding: front and rear banding for the bottom (E), front side caps (F), rear side caps (G), and the horizontal divider edge cap (H). Mill them to width and thickness, but leave a little extra length.
• Trim the edge banding to length for the bottom, and using a dowelling jig, drill 1" deep dowel holes spaced approximately every 2" along the edges of the bottom to receive the edge banding.
• Set the edge banding for the sides on the bottom and trim it to length. Be certain to use the lower edge as a reference point for the drilling since the tops will be trimmed back later to accommodate the upper stretchers. Note that the edge banding on the rear of the sides is only ⅝" thick, so only drill holes to a depth of ¼" and use 1 ¼" dowels.
• Mill the material for side filler pieces (I), legs (J), upper (K) and lower side stretchers (L), and front (M) and rear upper stretchers (N). Do not cut them to final length at this stage.
• Drill dowel holes down both long edges on the side filler pieces as well as corresponding dowel holes centered ⅜" in from the front edge of the plywood sides in such a manner to line up the fronts of the side filler pieces with the front edges of the plywood sides.
• Using the extension arm with the DowelMax jig, drill two rows of shelf holes on the inside faces of the four side filler pieces. It's not necessary to drill holes from top to bottom, each side will hold three shelves, and you only need to drill one or two holes above and below each position to give you all the adjustability you will ever need.
• Mill enough stock for the six router bit shelves (O) and cut them to length to fit between the side filler pieces on each end. Use the dowelling jig in combination with a shim to drill holes into the end of the shelves to house the shelf pins. Drill these so that the center of the ¼" hole is 5⁄16" up from the bottom of the shelf. Use a chisel to remove the wood along the bottom edge so that the shelf will slip down over the shelf pin.
• Cut a ¾" wide x ⅜" deep dado 4" up from the base of each leg. This transfers some of the load from the heavy cast iron top from the leg to the bottom.
• The centerline of the dowels, which will run down the length of the legs in order to mate with the side filler pieces, must be set back an additional ¼" (with the back legs being mirror images of those in the front) to provide a lip to hold back the shelves inside the compartment. Drill the dowel holes, making sure to match them to the holes in the side filler strips.
• Cut a dado on the inside edge of the lower side stretcher, ⅛" down from the top (¾" wide x ⅜" deep).
• Drill two dowel holes into each end of the lower side stretchers with corresponding holes on the inside edges of the legs.
• Drill two dowel holes into each end of the upper side stretchers.
• Drill corresponding holes into the legs, making certain that the top of the legs and the top of the stretchers line up with each other.
Bench Dog work station back
Bring It All Together - For Now
• Before proceeding to the next stage of construction, it is advisable to assemble all of the pieces made so far and confirm measurements for the doors and the length for the front and rear upper stretchers from the actual project. Use the materials list as a guide.
• Using four dowels in each of the longer pieces, dry fit the edge banding and the four side filler pieces. Do not fit the front edge banding for the sides at this stage.
• Dry fit the legs, upper and lower side stretchers into the left and right leg assemblies.
• Using three dowels per leg, dry fit the ends to the side filler pieces and apply clamps to carefully draw everything tight.
• Measure between the leg assemblies for the final length of the front/rear upper stretchers and cut them to fit.
• With the stretchers cut to fit, set them in place lining the top edge up with the top edge of the leg.
• To accommodate the mounting of the Bench Dog cast iron top, the rear surface of the front upper stretcher must be 16 ¼" from the front side of the rear upper stretcher. The exact mounting details for the Bench Dog and Lee Valley tops are covered individually in the materials list.
• Cut a guide block (approximately 11⁄16" wide) to set the distance between the side filler piece and the rear of the front upper stretcher. Use this to draw a reference line indicating the back of the front stretcher, and drill dowel holes in the legs as well as the ends of the stretcher.
• Measure the distance from the underside of the rear stretcher to the top of the bottom and cut the two rear side end caps to length.
• Install the front upper stretcher. Do not cut the edge banding to length at this stage or it will be too short after the stretcher has been shaped, set them aside for now.
Get Into Shape
• When a project contains curved parts it is almost always easier, more accurate and much safer to cut all of the joinery on the piece of wood while it is still square. After all of the parts are cut to size and fitted to the cabinet, remove the legs and front stretcher from the cabinet. Use a drawing batten (see Drawing Curves, Canadian Woodworking, April/May 2006, Issue #41) to draw a gentle arc on the legs as well as the front stretcher. The arc on the legs is ¾" offset and the one on the front stretcher is just a little less than ½". Cut these on a band saw and fair the curve with a sander. Alternatively you could make a template using some ¼" plywood and use a flush trimming bit to bring them to the final shape.
• With the legs and the front stretcher shaped, reassemble the cabinet and measure and trim the edge banding for the front side pieces. Set them in place using three dowels per side.
Of Doors and Drawers
• With the arc cut into the front stretcher, it is time to fit the router cavity door and prepare the drawer components. For this cabinet I chose to use the same hardware as you would find in any modern kitchen. The door is inset and hung with Euro-style hinges and the drawers run on 100-lb, full-extension ball bearing slides. These slides typically require ½" clearance on each side for the hardware, but it is best to have the hinges and slides on hand to confirm any clearances and requirements before beginning construction.
• Cut a piece of ¾" thick plywood for the door (P). The upper stretcher is arched, and I chose to shape the door to match the curve in the upper stretcher. The easiest way to do this is to use the stretcher as a pattern, cut the curve on the band saw and fair the curve with a sander.
• Cut the fronts for the three drawers (Q, R, S) from ¾" thick plywood.
• Cut the sides (T, U, V) and the ends (W, X, Y) for the drawers in one session with one set-up. This will ensure the drawers are all square and of equal size.
• Cut three bottoms (Z) for the drawers.
• Using the dowel jig, drill holes for dowels to joint the drawer sides and ends. The holes in the sides should be ¼" deep, while the holes on the front and back are 1" deep.
• Sand the drawer pieces with 150-grit paper and apply a coat of oil, followed by a coat of wax to the drawer parts.
• Glue the drawers together; clamp them up, being sure to check the diagonals for square.
The Finish Line
• To make the finishing process as tidy and foolproof as possible, I prefer to finish as many pieces as possible before assembling a project. By doing this I am never faced with the prospect of sanding into a corner or trying to get a decent finish in tight areas without making a big mess.
• Take the project apart and sand all of the parts through to 150-grit.
• Apply a coat of Watco Natural Oil to all of the visible parts including the drawer boxes and follow this with a coat of paste wax. Any glue that squeezes out of the dowel holes during assembly will not stick to anything and will pop off of the finished surfaces easily.
• The doors and drawer fronts are painted using milk paint in Liberty Blue. I order my milk paint from Toronto-based Homestead House Paint Company in ½ or 1-pound bags. They are the only company in Canada that manufactures milk paint. It is an easy finish to apply and get perfect results. It also wears exceedingly well. Milk paint is made of pigments, lime and casein and penetrates into the wood causing the colour to become part of the surface as well as hardening to a durable cement-like finish that won't peel, flake or fade.
Bring It All Together - For Good
• By the time you get to this stage, you will have put the cabinet together a number of times, which will serve as good practice for the final run with glue. Before beginning, prepare an area with enough space to lay out all of the parts and supplies. Be sure to have enough glue and dowels at the ready as once the glue-up starts you will need to proceed without delay. The water in the glue will cause the dowels to swell as they absorb some of the moisture and you don't want to risk having a dowel lock into place before you can fit the piece to the cabinet.
• Glue the edge banding to the plywood section of the core. Begin with the bottom edge banding, followed by the sides and then the horizontal divider. Use clamps to hold them until the glue sets up.
• Glue up one end assembly containing the legs and the upper and lower end stretchers. Glue the corresponding two side filler pieces in place and then glue the leg assembly in place. Apply glue to the dado at the bottom of the leg as well.
• Glue the upper front and rear stretchers into place on the end you just installed.
• Glue up the second leg assembly and glue it in place on the end. Don’t forget to apply glue to the upper stretcher dowel holes.
• Apply sufficient clamps to draw the assembly tight and check it for square.
• When the glue has set, remove the clamps, pop off any errant glue and touch up any areas of the finish that need attention.
Doors and Drawers
• Hang the upper door in the router cavity opening using European hinges designed for inset doors. The 35mm hole for the cup on the door side of the hinge requires a saw tooth or Forstner bit and should be drilled on a drill press while the mounting holes for the plate that fastens to the cabinet could be drilled with a regular drill bit with a depth stop. A far easier method of drilling these holes is to use the Veritas hinge boring jig from Lee Valley Tools. (See the Hinges article).
• The easiest and most foolproof method to mount the drawer slides is to cut a piece of plywood the same length as the slide, and equal to the distance from the bottom of the uppermost slide to the bottom of the opening. Don't forget to add ¼" to this, as the slide is set back ¼" from the bottom of the drawer box. Also, allow for any additional space the drawer front drops below the bottom of the drawer box when determining the height of the plywood spacer. Set this against the side and screw the slide to the cabinet side. Repeat this for the other side. Cut the plywood spacer down for the next drawer and repeat. For the bottom drawer, simply lay a piece of ½" plywood under the slide.
• The bit storage on either end is accessed through a door with a Plexiglas panel. This will provide protection for the bits, yet still allow you to easily locate the profile you need.
• With the cabinet assembled, confirm the final measurements for the doorframe members.
• Mill enough stock for the rails (AA) and stiles (BB). To maximize the open area in the door, these pieces are only 1 ½" wide, which still allows two ⅜" dowels per joint.
• Drill the holes for the dowels and assemble the door with glue.
• When the glue has set, mount a 3⁄8" piloted rabbeting bit in your router and rout a rebate for the Plexiglas (CC) in the door. If this is an upgrade for an existing router table use your old table for this procedure. If this is your first router table then build the doors after you mount the top to the cabinet and install the router.
• The door is mounted using no-mortise hinges. Use a set of shims to fit the door into the opening. Trim one side at a time until the door fits with an even gap all the way around.
• Sand the door and finish it in the same manner as the rest of the cabinet.
• Use wooden strips or silicone caulk to mount the Plexiglas in the door. If you use silicone, select one that cures sufficiently hard as some brands remain very flexible, which will allow the Plexiglas to fall out in time.
• I use a simple shop made jig to set the hinge on the opening and then drill the screw holes with a self-centering bit.
• The same jig is then turned around to mount the same hinge to the door, the foot of the jig establishing the proper gap at the bottom or top of the door. Screw the hinge to the door and then using the holes drilled in the cabinet earlier, mount the door to the cabinet.
• Place ¼" dowels in the shelf pin holes and set the shelves over these.
• Decide how you would like to organize your router bits and fasten the Lee Valley bit holders (Item 16J03.61 & .62) to the shelves.
• With the above-the-table bit changing and adjustment that these versions offer, it only makes sense to move the power switch to the front of the cabinet for safety and convenience. There are several different switches available for this, the Bench Dog version I chose easily mounts in a number of possible positions. Which position you mount it in is a matter of personal preference. Some people who use a router fence for most operations like to have it mounted up on the fence for ease of access. If you do a lot of pattern routing or other operations where you do not use a fence, mounting the switch on the right hand side of the cabinet might prove a more useful option.
Dust Collection and Cooling
• When the cabinet has been fully assembled, cut a 4" hole in the back of the router cavity with a hole saw. Fasten a dust collection flange to the back with a blast gate and affix a 4" hose from a dust collector. It is important to use a dust collector with an enclosed router for two reasons. When the router is working it will generate a fair amount of heat, and in a confined space this will cause excessive heat build-up which will degrade the motor windings over time as well as causing additional stress on bearings and other parts. The airflow provided by the dust collector will help keep the router cooler as well as collecting the debris and dust that will inevitably make its way into the cabinet. In addition to the heat build-up, not collecting this material could plug the cooling vents and inner works of the router.
• When hooked up to a 4" hose, there is sufficient airflow to keep the router cool and clean. In addition to the dust collector, I also prefer to have my Fein vacuum hooked up to a port on the fence as well to catch material above the table. The Fein has a built in receptacle that the router plugs into, and when the router is turned on it automatically turns on the vacuum. Using both of these methods of collecting the shavings it is possible to capture almost all of the debris generated during most routing operations leaving the shop a much cleaner place to work.
Work station with Veritas top
Top: Lee Valley Version
• The Lee Valley router table is designed to be elevated leaving the perimeter free. This top is one smooth steel surface without any tracks and the accessories such as the fence clamp to the edge of the steel table. To mount this top on the cabinet will require you to build a base for the steel top.
• Cut the plywood parts for the top (DD, EE, FF). You could cut a full size top and then cut a hole in the center for the router but this will use much more material. Dowel the four parts together to form the top.
• Sand the top and paint it using the same milk paint used for the door and drawer fronts.
• Cut the edge banding for the base (GG, HH), sand and finish them as the rest of the cabinet and dowel these to the edges of the plywood top.
• Cut the four pieces for the table support ring (II, JJ).
• Modify four 3" x 3" angle brackets to mount the router table to the base using the four bolts on the underside of the table. Notch the top edge of the ring for the brackets so the top sits flat on the wood.
• Sand the four outside faces. Use two dowels in each corner to hold it together and screw it to the top from the underside.
• Place the top on the cabinet, centered on the opening and use some metal or wooden straps to tie it to the base.
• Place the steel top on the ring and fasten it to the table using wood screws through the angle brackets.
• The Freud FT1700VCE router features above-the-table bit changing and adjustment. You will need to drill two holes in the top, one to access the lift mechanism and the other to access the locking mechanism. Use the template and follow the instructions that come with the router.
• Mount the power switch at the back of the cabinet and drill a hole in the back of the router cavity for the cord.
Top: Bench Dog Variation
• The Bench Dog Pro Max top is one heavy-duty chunk of cast iron and it sits directly on the cabinet. It is held in place using four angle brackets.
These steps must be done before the cabinet is assembled:
• The four angle brackets butt up against the inside faces of the front and rear stretchers. To make room for the rear bracket, cut a mortise into the rear side filler piece to accommodate the bracket.
• To provide clearance for the bolt that fastens the bracket to the Pro Max top, cut a ½" deep notch in the top of the four side filler pieces.
These steps are done after the cabinet has been assembled:
• Drill a ⅜" diameter hole 1 ¼" down from the top, 113⁄16" in from each leg for the connecter bolt.
• Place the cast iron top on the cabinet and fasten it in place using metal screws.
• Mount the Porter Cable 7518 in the Bench Dog Pro Lift following the detailed instructions that come with the Pro Lift.
• Set the Pro Lift into the opening in the Bench Dog top, level it using the adjustment screws to provide a smooth transition between the two.
• Mount the switch toward the back of the cabinet on the right hand side and drill a hole in the back of the router compartment for the power cord.
In coming issues, we will be featuring a number of projects/articles on routing, so get going on this project so you'll be ready to rout.
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