How to Use a Router Table: An In-depth DIY Guide

Many professional woodworkers agree that over 80% of the things you can accomplish with your favorite router will need you to have a router table. With the help of a router table, you’ll be able to make raised panel doors, create grooves, slots and dadoes, as well as handle all sorts of edge trimming and template work.

A good router table enables you to double up the effectiveness of your router. Using the table makes it easier and safer to cut long moldings, mold small projects, or smooth the edges of your workpiece.

However, as ugly as it may sound, router tables come with a steep learning curve for inexperienced woodworkers. No need to freak, though. This all-inclusive guide for novice woodworkers delves on how to use a router table safely and productively for woodworking projects.

Now, let’s dive right in, and learn how to use a router table the right way.

Tips & Tricks on How to Use a Router Table

  • Set Up Your Router Table

If using a router table for the first time, you need to begin by setting it up accordingly. Whereas a router table has enough power to cut, shape or trim boards down in lightning-fast moves, it needs to be set up correctly to ensure excellent cutting results on a regular basis.

Failure to set up this speedy tool properly may render it difficult to control. Thus, you could end up with accidental slip offs that are highly likely to ruin your boards.

Setting up your router table correctly allows you to take charge of your power tool and work with it according to your terms.

There are a few simple steps you can follow to set up your device properly and make the essential adjustments. Note that improper table installation will void your tool’s warranty.

To ensure everything’s okay, follow these basic steps:

  • Ensure your machine is standing on a stable base to prevent it from shifting sideways or moving around. This is a vital operating principle of any router table, be it a floor-standing model, a benchtop unit, or an extension wing that needs to be affixed to a table saw.
  • Make sure you can easily access the mains and power connection. Also, check if the table’s power switch is operational. It should be able to turn the tool on or off when needed.
  • Check if the insert plate that holds the router is attached correctly. Make sure the insert plate is also properly aligned with the surface of the router table.
  • Ensure the router table’s fence does not wobble. It should be securely fixed and perfectly aligned. As the fence is responsible for guiding the workpiece in a proper manner, it needs to be extremely fixed and steady to guarantee the precision you expect.
  • Select the Right Router Bit 

You need to choose a specific router bit according to your particular joint or trim project you are trying to complete. Make sure the bit fits snugly into the collet or bit holder.

The ¼-inch and ½-inch shank router bits are the most common bits that easily go into the collet where they’re secured using a nut.  The bit body, which is located at the base of the shank, contains the cutters whose role is to shape your workpieces.

If you’re going to handle more than one project per session, then it is worth learning how to change a router bit. The following steps help you quickly switch between router bits and install them as needed:

  • Ensure the machine is completely turned off and unplugged from the power source. Always do this before changing a bit.
  • Slacken the locking nut on the shaft using a wrench. This will let you remove an old bit.
  • Draw the old bit out of the shaft. If necessary, check if there’s debris in the locking nut and collet and clean them out.
  • Put the nut and the collect back into the shaft. Then attach a new bit into the collet.
  • Tighten the locking nut and the collet to secure the new bit and steady it.

Make sure the bit is tight enough to prevent wobbling or shifting sideways in the collet. Another thing to remember before securing the nut is to pull the bit back around 1/32 of an inch from the collet.

This is meant to allow space for expansion because the machine is gonna heat up quite fast as a result of its swift cutting action.  Once you’ve installed the router and bit correctly, now proceed and fit the fence.

  • Fit the Fence 

Fitting the fence is another essential aspect for how to use a router table. It’s not that complicated to fit the fence, because you don’t have to place it exactly parallel to the bit to achieve cutting accuracy.

It is the bit and not the fence that determines accuracy in cuts. Try to avoid using a miter gauge alongside the fence as it’s not advisable and can lead to damage.

If you’ll be using a miter gauge, then detach the fence before you fit the device. A miter gauge is a device for holding pieces of wood that are to be cut at a given angle.

Anyways, after you’ve adjusted the fence, go ahead and adjust the bit to the accurate height as well. You might want to use a router lift to make the adjustments quicker.  

  • Do the Testing 

After fitting the fence and making all necessary adjustments, we recommend doing a “test” to see if your machine is running as desired. It is important to know if the speed and performance meet your expectations before you run the actual workpiece through your router table.

We also advise you to reduce the speed if you’re using a larger bit. To test how the machine works, place a test piece of lumber off to the side on the router table.

Then, switch on the machine and allow a few minutes for the bit to gain full speed. This action should clearly tell you what to expect from your router table.

If you notice that something ain’t right, switch the unit off and make any necessary adjustments. Then turn it on again and give it another test run before feeding the workpiece. Do the routing if the router table is functioning as desired.

  • Feed the Workpiece and Start Routing 

Feeding the workpiece is all about placing the wood that you need to cut against the fence. The wood has to be fed through the router bit and kept aligned with the fence.

By so doing, it becomes easy to create a grove through the length of your workpiece. Apparently, one of the greatest mistakes new router table users make is advancing the router in the direction that’s not acceptable.

Putting this technique in practice is easier than saying it. Anyways, when feeding your workpiece, first advance the router against the bit rotation.

The bit cuts into the wood better if you move the router against its direction. Furthermore, it lets you have full control over the machine.

There’s a reason why advancing your router in the direction of the bit’s rotation is not recommendable. If you move it in the similar direction to the bit’s rotation, you’ll have to fight to take full control of the router, because it’ll be running along the workpiece’s edge.

Okay, the thing is, the bit spins in a clockwise manner. That’s to mean that you’ve got to move your router from left to right. However – and take note of this – that only applies to situations where the router is positioned at the center, just between you and the workpiece.

Let’s have an example: Let’s assume you need to route the edges of a board, which means you’ve got to move your router from left to right across the edge nearest to you.

But, if you were to route the opposite edge that’s farthest away, you’d need to advance your router from right to left. The reason is that now the workpiece and not the router is in the middle. The router moves from right to left in that position, but it’s still cutting against the bit’s rotation.  

Conclusion and Final Remarks 

Up to this point, you should’ve known how to use a router table and what to do to enhance your capability to create joints and trims without restrictions.

To be honest, setting up a router table as a complete novice may take a bit of time. But with a few trials you’re gonna get a hang of it and use it productively for your woodworking projects.

As our final remarks, we advocate for safety when dealing with power tools like router tables. Always wear safety goggles and put your hearing protection equipment in place when working with a router table.

These personal protection gears (PPE) help protect against flying debris and outside noise, letting you put more focus on your work.

As we part, we’d like to advise you to watch out for your router table if you use it regularly.  With regular use, your machine could develop faulty parts, which may call for some upgrading or adjustments.

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