The Ultimate Router Table Revisited
Photos by Rob Brown
Illustration by Len ChurchillWhen I designed it, I wanted to incorporate as much storage into the router table as possible so I added two banks of four drawers, as well as the larger storage underneath the drawers. I have used this router table for the past 20 years and love it. In this article I’m going to detail how you can build the ultimate router table by combining the basic design I started with, but improving on a few essential details.
|INFO:||DIFFICULTY – 3/5, LENGTH/TIME – 3/5, COST – 3/5|
I made the height of this table about 1/4" lower than my table saw so I could use it as an outfeed surface. It’s worked great for this task, as it’s very stable and strong. Unless you have a need for something different I would suggest doing the same.
If you have your mind set on purchasing a router table, in order to get to the fancier builds quicker, check out Carl Duguay’s article “Purchasing a Router Table” in this issue.
I used 3/4" particle board for my router table and I’m glad I did. Particle board is quite heavy, which is good. The last thing you want is a light router table that moves across the floor during use. Plywood might be stronger, but it’s also lighter, so use it just for the top surface. Speaking of the top, plastic laminate makes a great surface to protect against wear.
No need for beauty
Router tables are meant to be efficient, small-shop workhorses, not dining room furniture. I will admit that my router table might not be the best looking piece of shop furniture, but I’m perfectly fine with that. I’d rather spend a little less time and money on this project and have some left over for the next project that will see the inside of my home. If you really want a museum-quality router table you can substitute nicely veneered particle board sheet stock, and use solid wood for the drawer fronts and edging material. I didn’t even use solid wood edging on this project, and after 20 years of use I don’t regret it one bit.Outfeed Support – When planning the dimensions of his router table Brown aimed for about 1/8" shorter than the height of his table saw out-feed table, so it could be used to support extra-long stock.Keep it Simple – Though Brown would use dadoes and rabbets to join his next router table, the particle board edges he made the base from were left raw. After about a decade of use he applied a quick coat of paint to much of the outside of the router table to cover up all the marks and smeared glue.Build the base
If you’re looking for a router table to work a lot of extra large workpieces I would suggest making the overall depth of the router table’s base 20", or possibly 24", though I have never wished I went wider than 16". Stability has never been an issue for me.
Rip the 4x8 sheet into three 16" wide lengths. Cut the gables, bottom, shelves, partitions and drawer dividers to finished length. Set up stops to ensure the gables are the same length, all eight drawer dividers are the same length and the bottom and two shelves are the same length. It’s also a good idea to mark all your pieces with name and orientation. Rabbets first
The first change I would make to my router table would have been to use rabbets and dadoes to secure all the joints in the base. I used biscuits and strengthened each joint with screws. My base hasn’t shown any signs of weakening, but for ease during assembly, as well as increased strength for years to come, don’t do what I did.
Set up your dado set to run a rabbet the same width as the particle board is thick. A few test passes and a few shims will have the width dialled in nicely now, so there’s no fussing around when it comes time to machine the dadoes. With a sacrificial fence clamped to your rip fence, machine 1/8" deep rabbets in the tops and bottoms of the gables, as well as the tops of the partitions.
Dadoes are next
I find it nice to know when extreme accuracy is required, and when it’s not. Some of the dadoes can be located “close enough”, while others need to be positioned very accurately. We’ll start with the tricky ones first. I would lay out all the dadoes with pencil lines before starting, then double-check every dado is positioned properly, before cutting any joints. Ensure you’re taking the 1/8" of material that will fit into the dado into account when laying these joints out. The only joints that need to be located carefully are the “upper-shelf-to-gable” joints (determined by the actual length of the partition) and the “partition-to-upper-shelf ” joint (determined by the actual length of the drawer dividers). Set up and run both sets of these dadoes now.
Dadoes that locate the drawer dividers and lower shelf don’t need to be positioned overly accurate, since you will rip the drawer parts to whatever width is needed. You can machine the remaining dadoes in the gables now. One dado in each gable will accept the lower shelf, while the other three dadoes in each gable will accept the drawer dividers. While you’re machining the dadoes in the gables to accept the drawer dividers, also run the partitions over the blade, as the setup will be the same.Easy Access – So you can get at the router for bit height adjustments, and to remove the router, make a decent-sized cut-out in the back panel.Dry assembly
The best part about working with non-veneered particle board is you can skip the sanding. These parts are going to go together easily if the ends that are going to fit into a dado are slightly eased, so do that now. A dry assembly is a very good idea, as this isn’t a simple assembly. While the base is dry assembled, drill some countersunk pilot holes so you can drive a few screws during assembly. Screws are going to be more helpful towards the middle of the base, as clamps won’t be able to reach in much more than 4" from the front or back edges. If any of the joints are not lining up you can glue 1/8" solid wood into the joint then re-machine the joints in the proper location. These mistakes don’t need to be covered up when making shop fixtures, unless your shop’s a museum.
With enough clamps, lots of glue and your pneumatic nailer by your side, start with one of the “gable-to-upper-shelf ” joints. I would strongly suggest assembling the router table base with the back edges of all these parts standing on a flat surface, as if the whole router table had been tipped over on its back. The first few pieces are going to be tricky, but things will get easier as you go. The next step is to add the lower shelf, then the second gable. With some screws in each joint, add a clamp to the face and back of each joint and ensure the assembly is somewhat square. The bottom is added next, followed by a few more clamps to bring the gables together. Moving up top now, glue in the drawer dividers on one side of the base then add that partition. It will likely be easiest to install the uppermost drawer divider after the partition has been installed. Clamps parallel with the dividers, as well as one pressing the partition into the upper shelf, are needed. Move to the drawer dividers on the other side to finish the assembly.
Simple and Strong – Dadoes near the end of the sides accept short tongues in the backs. No need for hand-cut dovetails here.Store Your Bits – The bottom two drawers have no sides or back, and the bottom is 3/4" thick. A series of holes can be drilled in the bottoms to keep often used bits nearby. Notice the 90° angled blocks which help secure the drawer fronts.Back panel
Cut and install a 1/4" plywood back panel. It can sit flush on the backs of all the pieces that make up the base – no rabbet is needed. Make a cut-out in the back so you can easily access the router. There is no need to make this cut-out small, as a bit of extra room will come in handy. Pneumatic nails, screws and glue will keep this router table base square and strong for decades.
I made the drawer sides and backs from plywood, and used particle board for the fronts. There’s no problem with doing this, but I have no idea why I did it this way. Possibly because I didn’t have enough particle board material left over, as most of the sheet I bought was already used up. Use whatever material you have on hand for the drawers. If money was no object I would go with 1/2" Baltic birch plywood. Some of the 3/4" plywood that will be used for the top will also work fine, as will particle board.
The upper six drawers can be constructed like most drawers. The lack of slides means the drawer should be about 1/16" narrower and shorter than the opening. A groove or rabbet in the inner surface of the drawer will house a bottom. If I was building these drawers again I would opt for a rabbet, as that would give me a little bit more room inside the drawer for storage.
The lower two drawers have no sides or backs and store a healthy selection of router bits. For these drawers I used a 3/4" thick bottom, rabbeted into a front, strengthened with a pair of super simple 90° glue blocks. A series of holes were laid out and drilled on my drill press. It sounds unnecessary, but once the holes were drilled I chucked the twist drill bit in my cordless drill and widened each hole ever so slightly by moving my drill while the bit is in the previously drilled hole. This allowed the router bits to be easily removed from the holes whenever needed. An anti-tip block was glued to the inside of each partition, about 13/16" above the upper shelf and 3" from the front edge. This stops the lower drawers from tipping as they are pulled outward.
Simple pulls work fine, though I clamped two finished drawers together, with their upper edges facing towards each other, and drilled 1-1/2" diameter holes with my drill press. Simple and cheap.Anti-Tip – The sides of the upper six drawers keep them from tilting when they’re opened. Because the bottom two drawers don’t have sides, Brown added a small block just above the drawer bottom so the drawer wouldn’t tip when opened.The top
The top needs to be strong and flat. I started with a piece of 3/4" plywood and covered its four edges and two faces with durable plastic laminate. A small step up would be to opt for solid wood edging after both surfaces were covered in laminate.
Run a groove in the top to accept a mitre gauge. The fit must be perfect, so take your time to get this right. Don’t go any deeper than is necessary to accept the bottom rail of the mitre gauge, as this will weaken the top. I would have thought a groove in the top would have weakened the top too much, but after a lot of use I don’t think it’s a problem. If you wanted to be extra safe you could screw a few pieces of solid hardwood to the underside of the top, perpendicular to the mitre gauge groove. I think it works fine without the extra structural additions because the top is fastened to the base with the four 15" long hardwood cleats, which add a lot of strength and rigidity.
Mill the four cleats to fix the top to the base. When in doubt, make these cleats larger. The most important thing to keep in mind at this stage is to secure the top to the base so it is flat. I first used a straightedge to get an idea of how flat and even the top of the base was. Starting at one side of the router table’s base I screwed one cleat to the base so the upper surface of that cleat was flush with the uppermost point of the base. Using the straightedge to make sure it was flush with the uppermost point of the base, I added a second cleat to the opposite side of the base. These two cleats should be parallel with each other, and their upper surfaces should be flush with the upper surface of the base. I then fixed the top to the first two cleats and ensured the top was flat. The last two cleats were then positioned against the partitions, and lightly pressed up against the underside of the top and screwed in place. At this point you should remove one of the cleats, add glue to its side and screw it back in place. Repeat this with the other three cleats so they are strong and will stay in place. If, on the off chance, the top goes out of flat in the future, you can add spacers between the cleats and top.
At this point I cut and installed an apron between the two banks of drawers, directly under the top. A few screws through the partition into the apron, as well as an L-bracket screwed to each end, is enough. The apron helps support the top between the drawer banks while a heavy workpiece is being machined.
Now that the top is fixed in place, it’s time to rout the area where the router’s base plate will go and drill a few holes. I simply traced the shape of the base plate, and location of the holes, onto the top. First I drilled the bolt clearance holes so bolts could be used to secure my router to the underside of my top. I also cut a 1-1/2" diameter hole in the center of the recess so router bits could protrude up though the top. To remove the waste I used a straight bit in my plunge router to hog out the material to the exact depth of the base plate.A Flat Top – Notice the angled gap between the drawer bank and the top.Even though the router table’s base isn’t perfectly square and flat, the top needs to be. The height of the cleats on either side of both drawer banks can be adjusted to secure the top to the base so the top is perfectly flat.Feet to stand on
The three wooden feet keep the router table from moving around during use, and are self-levelling, but since this router table is heavy I came up with a simple solution to moving it around my shop. I flipped the router table upside down and attached a caster under two corners at one end of the base. Don’t cheap out on casters, as only quality casters are strong enough for this task. I used rotating casters, though fixed casters would also work fine. The feet were to be about 1/16" taller than the casters. I used 2×4 material for each foot, but any wood will work. I positioned the long foot flush with the outer edge of the base and glued and screwed it in place. Towards the end with the casters I added two more feet: one along the front and back edge of the bottom panel. Both of these feet were placed so the casters would miss them by about 1/2" when the casters rotated. You can also use fixed casters. When turned right side up, the router table would balance nicely on the three feet. When the end opposite the casters was lifted the casters would come into contact with the ground and the router table can be moved around fairly easily.
Because there is a lot of weight being transferred through the lower portion of the gable I glued a cleat to the inner corners of both “gable to bottom” joints.Base Plate Recess – Use your base plate to trace the bolt locations, the center clearance hole and the outer perimeter of the plate onto the top. After you have drilled the bolt clearance holes and center hole, use your router and a straight bit to create the recess for the base plate to fit. The router table just gets sandwiched between the router base plate and the router base during operation. The shop-made base plate on the left is used with larger diameter router bits.Moving a Heavy Object – The foot is about 1/16" taller than the caster, so when the opposite end of the router table is lifted up the caster comes into contact with the ground and the router table can be moved around your shop.The fence
One of the most important aspects of a router table is the fence. It needs to be strong, remain secured in place during use, be high enough for all operations, and have the ability to create a gap near where the spinning bit is located.
Break out the fence parts to final size, but don’t split the face into two parts yet. So the split faces can slide left and right, four grooves must be routed into the sub-face – two grooves for each split face. With a plunge router and edge guide cut the 1/4" wide x 2" long grooves with multiple passes. The grooves should be centered on the height of the sub-face. At the center point of the base and sub-face you’ll need to create a cut-out so the bit doesn’t cut into the base and sub-face and shavings have somewhere to go during use. Run a rabbet in the sub-face and join the base to it. To ensure they’re joined at 90°, glue a few wooden brackets in place.
Position the face against the rest of the fence and mark the location of the center of the four grooves on the back of the face. Drill four clearance holes in the face, then remove some material from the front of the face so the bolt will sit completely beneath the outer surface of the face. I used bolts with square necks, so I could create a square notch in the clearance holes in order to keep the bolts from spinning during use. You can now split the face in half and install the two halves on the rest of the fence. The fence gets clamped to the top of the router table during use.
Finally, add a wooden dust collection shroud and plastic attachment to the fence. It works pretty well with the collection hose attached, but I generally only use it for larger runs.A Strong Fence – Brown used solid maple to create a strong, adjustable fence. The split face of the fence can be slid open or closed depending on the width of the router bit being used. The fence is shown with the split faces removed for clarity. Notice the circular notch cut into the sub-fence and the base, for chip extraction clearance.Bells and whistles
As time went on I added a bunch of screws to the outside of the router table, as well as the partitions, in order to store a wide variety of shop items. I also found myself using four different screwdrivers quite often while working on my router table, so I made a wooden block with four holes in it and screwed it to one of the partitions.A Square Hole – So the bolt doesn’t spin when the tri-winged handles are tightened, Brown cut a square notch in the first 1/4" of the hole and used bolts with square notches under their heads.