Simple Router Improvements | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

The router is a versatile tool. It’s essentially a motor that spins whatever cutter you choose. The accessories you use with it determine how you can use the router, and what you can do. Here are some simple improvements you can make. 

Simple Router Improvements

Simple Router Improvements



Photos by Chris Wong

Routers can take care of many tasks around the shop. Part of your journey as a woodworker is to learn how to use a power or hand tool to do more than just the most basic tasks. Before that happens, you should consider taking care of these basic upgrades, as they will make your time routing safer and more efficient.
 
Build an edge guide
Although most routers have a pair of holes for metal rods, few routers come with edge guides and, if they do, they’re usually not sturdy or well-designed. Build your own with some scraps of hard­wood or, better yet, build two so you can control the router along a narrow edge. Using two guides allows you to set the distance between the edges of the guides to the same as the workpiece, so you can then run the router on top of the workpiece. 
 
Include features like a split fence, tall supports or dust collection if you like. It certainly doesn’t need to be fancy, though. As long as the distance between the guide and bit is adjustable, it will come in handy in many situations.
 
Add a light
When using a handheld router, the bit is usually hidden in the shadows among swirling dust. To increase visibility so I can rout more precisely and confidently, I added lights to my router. The lights I chose are on flexible leads attached to a body housing the battery. The unit is intended to be worn around the neck when reading, but I found that by attaching the main body to the router motor with adhesive-backed Velcro, I was able to then position the lights on opposite sides of the bit to illuminate without the harsh shadows caused by a single light. 

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Shed Some Light – Regular shop lighting is enough for most situations, but when working accurately and directly in the shadow of your router, a bit of extra light goes a long way to allowing you to see what you’re doing.
 
Make a better baseplate
Routers often come equipped with black baseplates with a hole large enough to accommodate most router bits. I have replaced most of these with shop-made baseplates that are more functional. My routers are equipped with a mix of baseplates. While some prefer routers with clear baseplates for improved visibility, I prefer using one with a large opening around the bit.
You might choose to make your baseplate clear, elliptical or compatible with standard brass guide bushings. Or all three.
 
Make an eccentric baseplate
If you frequently use the router with half of it hanging off the workpiece, such as when mortising for hinges or profiling edges, you’ll immediately understand the benefits of an eccentric baseplate. The extended side of the baseplate provides greater registration on the workpiece and gives you increased stability. I mounted my eccentric baseplate to a fixed-base router with the extension directly below my left-hand grip. This allows excellent stability even when holding the router with my left hand. 
 
Another version of the eccentric baseplate serves a different function. By carefully offsetting a polygon baseplate (square or otherwise), grooves of different sizes can be easily routed with a single bit. On my pentagon baseplate, with a 1/2" router bit installed in the collet, I can rout a 1/2" with one pass, and widen it by 1/32", 1/16", 3/32" or 1/8" with one additional pass. 

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Some Added Support – Wong added an eccentric base to one of his fixed-base routers to give him extra support while routing near the edge of a workpiece. It’s easy to make an eccentric base with some 3/8" plywood or plastic.
 
Add an RPM chart
Most variable speed routers have a knob with a range of num­bers like 1 to 6 that indicate the speed, rather than the RPM. You’re left to check speed range on the motor plate to find the slowest and fastest the motor turns, then calculate what RPM speed #4 is. Make a line graph showing the speed setting and range of speeds and attach it to the router’s motor so you know how fast the bit is turning. 

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How Fast? – Printing off a simple chart showing bit RPM will help you choose the right speed for the many different operations a router will assist you with.

Edge Guide Construction
 
My two fences are each made from a 7-1/2 × 4-3/4 × 1/2" hardwood fence glued and screwed to a 7-1/2" × 1-3/4" × 3/4" hardwood body. Because the fence is 3" wider than the body, and the diameter of my router base is less than 6", a fence can be positioned underneath the router’s base right up to the centre of the collet. The reduced thickness allows routing of thinner materials without needing to work over the edge of the bench. The fence can be reversed for larger offsets.

Two bolts passing through cross dowels in the body allow bolts to apply clamping pressure to immobilize the fence on the fence rods. If your router didn’t come with metal rods, gauge the size required with drill bit shanks and order drill rod from your local metal supplier. Take measurements from your router base to find the spacing and height off­set for these holes. Remember to add about 1/16" of height clearance so the fence doesn’t bind under the router base. 

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Add an outrigger for better balance
Routing a profile along an edge is a common task, yet tricky to execute well – especially on outside corners where the router is least supported. An outrigger works with a pair of metal fence rods and provides a place to put weight on the workpiece to ensure the router doesn’t tip like a catamaran. 

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Keep it Perpendicular – Similar to the benefit an eccentric base provides, an outrigger will allow you to apply pressure to the router to keep it perfectly upright while working with the router partially off the workpiece.
 
Add dust collection
Removing dust at the source can increase visibility and reduce health and safety risks, too. Many manufacturers offer dust col­lection attachments for their routers, although they may not be included. Consider making a dust collection attachment that clamps or bolts to the router and positions suction right where it’s needed.
 
Put it in a table
A router table to a router is akin to what a table saw is to a cir­cular saw. A router table offers a larger work surface for better support; larger, sturdier fence; increased visibility; and greater ease of manipulating all but the largest workpieces. 
 
There are many options when it comes to design and style. Basic shop-built router tables can be built in an afternoon, while larger versions that offer more functionality will take more time and effort to build. You can also purchase a router table that’s ready to accept your router so you can spend more time building furniture and less time on shop projects. This approach allows you to skip right to your next interior furniture project and skip the shop project.
 
Add a micro-adjust feature to the depth stop of the plunge base
Being able to micro-adjust the depth stop post on a plunge router is a great asset. If your router doesn’t have this capability, add it yourself. You’ll need a small coupling nut and epoxy (or a drill bit and thread tap), matching bolt and a nut.
 
My Milwaukee router didn’t have a micro-adjustable depth stop, but when I removed the depth stop post, I found that the bottom was already drilled. I drilled the hole larger and taped threads before installing a bolt with nut to lock it in place. If you’re unwilling to drill and trap threads, you could fix a cou­pling nut onto the end of the depth stop post with epoxy. Keep in mind that anything added to the end of the post reduces the maximum plunge depth the router is capable of, so you may wish to shorten the post as well.
 
To use, set the approximate depth required, then turn the bolt up or down the required amount and tighten the nut to lock it in place. Make a note of the bolt’s thread pattern so you can make precise adjustments (for example, a 8-32 bolt requires 32 full turns to move an inch, so each rotation adjusts the depth of cut by 1/32"). 

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Tiny Increments – Adding a bolt to the base of your depth stop rod will allow you to tweak the depth of the bit in small increments. The real magic comes when you learn how far the depth is adjusted with one complete rotation of the bolt so you can use that information to accurately fine-tune your bit depth.
 
Cut the cord
Consider shortening the cord and plugging an extension cord into the tool, rather than the tool into a wall socket. This saves the time to recoil the cord after use, and cuts down on the amount of space required to store the tool. Replacement plug ends are available at most home improvement stores and are easy to install. However, if you’re not comfortable doing this type of work, contact an electrician. 

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Cut the Cord – Wong likes a short cord so there’s no time wasted in regularly coiling up the cord. Storing power tools without cords is also simpler.


Chris Wong
CHRIS WONG
 

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