Wednesday 11 July 2018
Why buy a table?
For most workers the biggest single step forward in expanding the scope of their routing is to buy or build a table in which to invert the router and use it as a static machine. This not only enables large cutters to be used for heavy work; it is equally useful for working with small, odd-shaped items, for example an elliptical plaque.
In the picture, the router is fitted with a bearing-guided cutter, and the workpiece is rotated face down in an anti-clockwise direction with its edge running on the bearing. Contrast this with attempting the same job with a hand-held router. It would be difficult to hold the workpiece without fouling the path of the router, the small size would make it difficult to avoid tilt, and dust extraction for most routers would be virtually useless.
Table routing also has several other advantages over hand routing: it is less stressful and therefore safer, the scope is wider because many of the larger cutters are made for table use only, run/in and run/out problems do not arise, and dust extraction is better and doesn't tend to get in the way of the operator.
The downside is that it can be difficult to install and remove cutters, depth of cut is more awkward to set, and some of the dust and shavings fall into the router.
Make or buy
I have long believed that the best table you will have is the one you make yourself, but many workers prefer to buy in and have it up and running sooner rather than later.
These days there is a middle road. Some suppliers e.g. Woodworkers Workshop, supply top quality complete tables but also offer the major components separately. This enables you to make some of the parts yourself and buy in what you don't want to make. For example, you might lay hands on a suitable piece of kitchen worktop for your table top, then buy a ready-drilled insert plate for your router and possibly a sophisticated fence and guards.
If you opt for a full commercial table the choice ranges from the fairly basic little tables such as the Trend Craftsman and similar models from e.g. Axminster, through the Trend PRT and Triton and Record tables (in both of which the router is held in place by clamps), the CMT and Kreg tables and the top of the range models such as the Incra or the Jessem.
ROUTERS FOR TABLES
Before deciding on your table you have to consider what sort of work you want to do in it. This will determine the power required and immediately narrow the field. From there on, the overriding consideration becomes compatibility – will your router fit into your proposed table. It is quite easy – and sadly quite common – for someone to buy a first-class router and a first-class table and then find that they don't go together.
Your deliberations will depend to a great extent on whether you already have the router or whether you are starting from scratch (or are prepared to buy a second one). If you already have your router you will be looking for tables in which it can be easily mounted. Many models have adopted the long-standing Elu/De Walt/ Trend (EDT) base configuration of two or three (depending on the size of the router) 6mm tapped holes in the base casting. If yours is one of these, a wider range of commercial tables will be available.
Many routers (EDT and non-EDT) can be fitted to the Trend Craftsman table; with some of them, however, you will need to drill additional holes in the router base or the insert plate. Check before you buy.
If you are starting from scratch or if you are prepared to buy a second router specifically for the table you have a much greater choice. One way of ensuring compatibility is to buy the router and table from the same manufacturer. For example you could buy the Trend T5/Trend Craftsman, Trend T11/Trend PRT, Triton 1400/Triton table or, at the top of the market, the Festool OF 2200/CMS table system.
If your router does not lend itself to any of the above solutions you could opt for one of the commercial clamp-based tables. Well known examples include the Record, Triton and Veritas, but again make sure your router can be fitted before buying.
If you are making your own table you will have to attach the router directly to the top or to an insert plate. Most insert plates have to be drilled by the user for the particular pattern of fixing holes in the router base, but some top quality plates come ready-drilled for specified models. See Pic 5 above.
Whether you make or buy there are a few 'new generation' routers that are particularly suitable for table mounting. The main ones are the Freud 3000, Trend T11, and Triton 1400. The innovative features that make them particularly suitable for table routing include deeper plunge, automatic spindle lock, and depth-of-cut adjustment from above or below the table. The Freud and Triton have all three features; the Trend T11 lacks the automatic spindle lock.
Other desirable table-router features include a deep plunging collet, the addition of simple switch, and good size aperture in the base.
Turning to the details of the table, the essential requirement is that the top should be flat. The material that it is made of is less important. My home-made tables have tops of MDF laminated on both sides. However, with the cost and increasing difficulty in finding a stockist of the plastic laminate, select offcuts of kitchen worktop are becoming a more attractive option.
Commercial tables come with tops in various materials, including laminated MDF (CMT and Incra), phenolic board (Jessem), aluminium alloy (Trend), sheet steel (Triton) and cast iron (Benchdog and Record).
The material used influences the thickness of the router fixing points. With the Record table, for example, the router is clamped under 15mm of cast iron. This makes one of the new long-reach routers particularly suitable; for most others a collet extension is necessary. If you can't avoid an extension the Eliminator Chuck, available from Woodworkers Workshop and WoodRat, offers an alternative to the usual extensions. It was designed to make cutter handling a very quick one-handed operation, but it gives 10 – 12mm extra reach, which is enough for most router/table combinations.
Mounting the router
Not all tables enable quick installation or removal of the router. The Trend PRT is very easy with its lift-out alloy plate; the Triton and Veritas clamp-based tables are also very quick but the Record is more awkward and time consuming. This can be important if you intend to combine hand-held and table work with the one router since you won't want to spend half the morning installing or removing it from the table.
Another important consideration is how much room there is around the router base. With plenty of room there is no limit on the size of the router that can be accommodated. As an example, the new Festool OF2200 can be clamped in the Record table but not in the Triton. My home-made table, with its Rousseau phenolic insert plate, is also large enough to take all models and there is enough room around the router to fit the WoodRat PlungeBar.
Depth of cut
One of the basic problems of table routing is setting precise depth of cut. A fine height adjuster on the router is a great help. Even better is the WoodRat PlungeBar, provided there is room around the router base for it, but the ultimate solution is the built-in adjuster found in the new generation routers described above. This requires an access hole drilled in the table top for the winding handle but then makes for the easiest and most accurate cutter setting possible.
These adjusters seem likely to spell the end for the much more expensive lifting plates because, apart from cost, they remain on the router when it is removed from the table.
For routers without this built-in facility built in, there is the Router Raizer. This is a US-made accessory, which can be fitted to a number of different models, thereby giving the prospective purchaser a much wider choice. With some, however, fitting is rather tricky and the beginner might hesitate to tackle the job.
Most of my table routing is done with a De Walt 625 mounted in my big home-made table. The Router Raizer is easy to fit to this model and its various clones. Even better, I can leave the PlungeBar on, so I get the best of all worlds as far as depth setting is concerned.
The fence tends to be the weak link in any router table. A good fence will be tall enough and solid enough to enable panels to be run vertically past the cutter, and to carry guards and hold-downs. It will also have adjustable sliding cheeks to cater for different diameter cutters, and a dust-extraction take-off port. Ideally it would also have a precise positioning system. You have to look at expensive commercial fences to find one meeting all these criteria. The Triton table fence comes close but best are the specialised ones from Incra, Jessem and Woodpeckers.
The mitre fence
Most commercial tables come with a mitre fence and corresponding slot in the table top. I am not a great fan of mitre fences and rarely use them, but the slot can also serve to hold a horizontal pressure guard to keep the workpiece pressed into the cutter, so you might think it worth cutting one in a home-made table. The Triton table has its own version of the mitre fence which I think works very well.
On my own tables, I prefer to use a number of simple home-made devices to steer the workpiece past the cutter.
With most router tables, the extraction port is built in to the fence. It may or may not match the diameter of your extractor hose so an adaptor is often necessary. You can buy stepped plastic adaptors, which you cut to match your hose, but I make my own from suitable size aerosol caps, reinforced with an MDF ring.
With most tables, removing the fence automatically removes the guards and dust extraction. Two exceptions to this are the Triton and Veritas tables, where the dust port can be used independently of the fence. With most tables, however, you can make your own as I do for my home-made tables. They provide both a guard and an extractor take-off point. One can be seen in Pic 16.