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Routing Systems Buying Guide

Offering the perfect medium between hand routing and a spindle moulder, the router table has made the ability to mould and shape large pieces of wood accessible to any workshop. Router tables are becoming more and more popular and there are an overwhelming number of options available from small bench top tables to individual table components for bespoke user designed systems.

Anatomy of a Routing System

Anatomy of a Routing Systems

Looking at the router table, it is basically a table top mounted on to a base or leg stand. Recessed into and flush with the table top is an insert plate or maybe even a router lift. The insert plate or lift holds the router in an inverted position with the collet facing upwards. This allows the router bit to protrude above the table.

The insert plate usually has a number of insert rings. These rings are used to change the diameter of the aperture in the insert plate, as better workpiece support is achieved when the diameter of the aperture in the plate is of a similar size to the diameter of the bit.

Also recessed into the table top is a mitre track. This is useful as it allows the accurate mounting of such accessories as mitre gauges, coping sleds, featherboards and other jigs.

One of the most important components of a router table is the fence. Featuring two faces, the face to the right hand side of the router bit is called the infeed fence and the face on the other side of the router bit is known as the outfeed fence. It is normal for these to be adjustable independently in the forwards and backwards and side to side directions.

Straddling these two faces is usually a bit guard. This gives some protection to the user from the rotating router cutter and should be height adjustable to suit the desired depth of cut. The fence should also have an accessory track of some kind to accept safety devices such as hold downs and featherboards. A dust port on the back of the fence helps to remove waste at source and improves visibility when attached to a dust extractor. ©

Types of Routing System

Bench Top Router Tables

A more compact form of the floorstanding table, the bench top router table is a favourite in smaller workshops where space is at a premium but also in professional workshops as an alternative to using a spindle moulder when detailed work is required. Designed to sit on top of a workbench, these bench top router tables feature much shorter legs than their floor standing counterparts allowing them to sit at a comfortable working height for the user. Bench top router tables are also easier to transport and are excellent for on site use. ©

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Floor Standing Router Tables

The floor standing router table is similar in concept to a spindle moulder but without the need for specialist tooling. With the capacity to handle large pieces of work the floor standing router table can also be used for very small pieces, not something a spindle moulder would handle very easily. By keeping the router stationary and moving the wood over the cutter, larger diameter cutters are safer to use; perfect for panel door work. The floor standing router table offers massive creative scope to the user. ©

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Lifting Systems

Some router tables are available with a router lift. This is a mechanism that replaces the basic insert plate and allows router bit height adjustments to be made quickly and efficiently above the table instead of having to adjust it from under the table as you would with an insert plate. Any height adjustments are made using a removable handle. ©

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Fence Systems

Not stand alone routing systems but still worthy of a mention are the fence systems available as an addition to a router table. Offering much more scope than a standard router table fence, these fences allow the creation of complex joints such as dovetails, very easily. These fences are mounted on an arm which is attached perpendicularly to the back of the fence. This arm, known as a carriage, features a number of different measuring scales as well as a micrometer style adjustment to give precise positioning to the fence. ©

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Features to Consider When Buying a Routing System

Features to Consider When Buying a Routing System

1. Fence

The fence is probably one of the most important components of the router table as it is used as a flat reference against which the work is supported. If the fence is not straight or fixed to the table securely, the quality of the resultant work will be compromised. Adjustability, accuracy and how the fence attaches to the table are all factors that have to be considered. A fence with independently adjustable faces will give better support to the work coming off the router cutter as the outfeed face can be set slightly forward of the infeed face to compensate for the material removed by the cutter. Some fences attach to the table top using tracks either mounted in the top or attached to the sides of the top. The fence then slides backwards and forwards in these tracks. Generally, this type of attachment gives better accuracy of set up than a fence which simply clamps on to the sides of the table. ©

2. Insert Plate or Router Lift?

An insert plate is used to attach a router to the table. A standard insert plate is normally a rectangular piece of phenolic, plastic or aluminium that is fastened to the base of the router. This is then set in to the table top. Any adjustments that need to be made to the router such as height adjustment must be made from underneath the table. Router lifting mechanisms give you the ability of changing the height of the router bit from above the table. The router is mounted on to the mechanism underneath the table and can be wound up or down using a removable handle that attaches to the plate for the lifting mechanism. ©

3. NVR Switch

A No Volt Release (NVR) switch is an essential addition to any router table. With the router mounted underneath the table, it is virtually impossible to access the power switch. By plugging or wiring the router into an NVR switch, it can be turned on and off easily. For added safety, the NVR switch will disengage in the event of a power cut. This means that when the power comes back on, the router will not. ©

4. Table Size

The size of the table you choose should be influenced by the size of project you intend to make with it. Smaller table tops are ideal for making boxes, drawers, frames and smaller pieces of furniture. Larger tops are better when making furniture such as cabinets, bookcases, panel doors as they offer more support to the work. ©

Tips From the Experts

1. When working with a panel or other workpiece that requires all four sides to be routed, make the first cut along one of the end grain sides. The second cut should follow on from where the first ended down a long grain side, the third cut follows on from this along the next end grain side with the final cut made down the last long grain side. This method gives the best finish as it removes tearout. ©

Four side routing

2. Using Featherboards is like having an extra pair of hands. Featherboards hold work flat against the fence when table mounted and flat against the table when fence mounted leaving your hands free to guide the workpiece. ©

Featherboard Routing

3. Never attempt to cut a profile in just one pass. Taking a few passes removing a small amount of material at a time will give a far cleaner, more professional looking finish. ©

4. If you are buying a router for the sole purpose of mounting in a router table, choose one that is as high powered as you can afford. This will give your router table maximum scope. ©

5. When routing end grain, place a sacrificial piece of wood behind the workpiece and continue the cut through this extra piece. This spare piece of wood will support the wood fibres at the edge of the work preventing tearout. ©

Brands

Xact Deluxe

This premium quality, floor standing router table comes with a laminated worktop, full length fence, legstand and an insert plate to use with all industry standard routers. To enhance the router table there are a number of optional purpose designed attachments, including the Xact Router Lift, Xact Router Motor, Xact Feather Board Kit and the Xact No Volt Release Switch.

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Xact Professional

This new Xact Professional router table has been 3 years in the making and offers the discerning home woodworker and professional cabinetmaker an exceptional router table at an affordable price. It is supplied as standard with three core components; precision fence, table top and leg stand. You then choose either the optional Xact Router Lift for use with the Xact Router Motor or the Xact Insert Plate to mount your existing portable router.

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Jessem

Based in Canada, Jessem offer a whole range of router tables, components and accessories. Regardless of whether you choose one of their complete table systems or just a single accessory, you are guaranteed a product that is beautifully engineered and made with the highest quality materials. Jessem have created a number of innovative products from the Mite R Slide mitre router fence attachment to the Paralign featherboards.

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Incra

A highly respected name in the woodworking industry, Incra produce woodworking accessories that are very well engineered and extremely accurate in use. From mitre gauges that offer precise, incremental adjustment to full fence systems with micrometer positioning, Incra's products are designed to make your whole creative processes easier, more accurate and much more efficient.

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Maintenance

Maintenance

Keep the table and fence surfaces clean. Resin build up can inhibit the movement of the work across the table or fence. ©

When using a mitre gauge ensure the mitre track is free from debris. ©

A thin layer of paste wax on the table top and fence will reduce the friction between the table top and work piece. This gives a smoother movement over the table. ©