These router table plans first appeared in the March/April 2000, issue of HANDY. It was a refinement of previous tables I’ve made and I'm pleased to say that the design has held up well over the years. I have found that overly large and complex router tables (shaper wannabes) defeat efficiency rather than contribute to it. In most instances, you use a router table to mill pieces that are too small or awkward to shape with a hand-held router. Router tables are benchtop tools. Floor-standing, shaper-size router tables may look impressive, but they take up valuable shop space and don’t improve performance. The ability to store this router table on a shelf leaves room for tools with a legitimate claim to floor space (table saw, band saw, etc.).
A router table should be a simple, efficient tool. Simple, however, doesn’t mean crude. This router table, for instance, has precision features such as a flat, rigid top; a versatile table insert plate; efficient dust collection and an accurate, easy-to-use fence. The plunge router that I mounted in the table has features that suit it particularly well for mounting in a router table.
Download the plans for this router table
Router table design considerations
Choosing a router is the first step in designing a router table. When I built this router table, I found the Porter-Cable model 7529 plunge router to be a good choice. It has integral dust collection, which I incorporated into the table design. You can set the plunge-lock lever open to allow micro depth adjustment. Its 2-1/4-in. plunge depth provides lots of cutting capacity. Other features such as a 2-hp soft-start motor and variable speeds further enhance the tool’s suitability for router table use.
Although this Porter-Cable has a second power switch on the top of the motor housing that’s meant to be used when it’s mounted in a router table, I opted to use a separate switched outlet (see photos, drawing) because it’s easier to find and use quickly. Wire the switch using the directions on the box.
I determined the cabinet size based on these factors: the size and plunge travel of the router, the size of the top and plate, the height of the top when mounted on a workbench and efficient use of materials (you’ll need half a sheet of birch plywood). I designed a 2-in. lip on both the top and the base on all sides of the cabinet. The lip allows you to clamp the base to a bench or to clamp jigs to the top in any position. The fence also clamps onto the lip.
I didn’t include a miter slot in the top because you can use a push block off of the fence’s face or the top’s front edge to do the same work as a miter gauge. Miter slots also have the unfortunate trait of collecting sawdust and debris that can interfere with a cut.
Rather than making my own table plate, I used the 147K Phenolic Plate Kit manufactured by Woodhaven because it offers superior performance and versatility (Woodhaven and other woodworrking retailers sell other router table insert plate options that will also work well). The 3/8-in.-thick phenolic plate is extremely rigid, and it’s less likely to deflect from the weight of a heavy router than an acrylic plate. This plate comes with three snap-in inserts: two with bored holes (1-3/16 and 2 in.) and one blank. A starting pin for routing irregular-shaped work is also included. To drill the mounting holes for your router, simply use the router’s baseplate as a template.
The fence has several features that make it functional and easy to use. Rather than cutting slots in the top for the fence’s clamping bolts, I used L-shaped clamping blocks that grip the table from the sides. Not only is the table stronger without slots, but it’s also much easier to remove the fence when it’s not needed.
I cut the top of the clamping blocks at an angle so the top outside edge acts as a fulcrum against the fence bottom. This allows the clamping block jaws to get a firm grip on the top (see drawing, photo) with the help of some self-adhesive rubber weather-stripping. Note that the through hole for the 5/16-in. carriage bolt is 3/8 in. This allows the wiggle room necessary for the pivoting action.
I also cut a 1/16 x 1/16-in. (nominal) rabbet in the bottom of the fence’s front face to prevent dust build-up from holding the stock away from the fence.
Making the router table top
The top is the heart of the router table, so it’s important that you make it as precisely as possible. Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) works particularly well for the top substrate because it’s hard, rigid and stable. I covered all six of the top’s surfaces with plastic laminate. The laminate not only provides a smooth, durable surface, it also prevents warping and further stiffens the top, much like a stress-skin panel.
Laminate the edges of the top before the top and bottom. Because the cut edges of MDF are very porous, apply two coats of contact cement to them. The combination of dust and contact cement often leaves rubbery “flags” on the substrate after you rout off the excess laminate. It’s important to file, sand or scrape off these flags when you level the edges to the top and bottom (photo 4). Leaving them can cause the laminate to lift.
Keep the work area perfectly clean. Even a tiny bit of debris trapped between the substrate and the laminate will create a noticeable bulge. Apply pressure with a J-roller or a rubber mallet and board to ensure good adhesion. With the laminate in place, file all of the edges so they’re smooth and free from catches.
Once you’ve finished laminating the top, you’ll need to make an accurate template to rout the table plate opening. (Woodhaven sells a hardboard template if you prefer to bypass this step.) Trace the shape of the table plate onto a piece of 1/4-in. hardboard. Carefully cut on or just inside the line with a scroll saw or jigsaw. Fine-tune the edges with a sanding block or file (see photo 5) until the plate fits perfectly in the template.
Center the template opening on the top and trace around the inside with a pencil. Then score the line with a sharp utility knife to prevent chipping. Now draw a line 1/8 to 1/16 in. inside the table plate perimeter line as a guideline for your jigsaw. Bore a starter hole for the blade, then cut out the waste. To finish the opening, clamp the template on the top and use a flush-trim bit with a top-mounted pilot bearing to remove the remainder of the waste. The plate should fit with little or no play.
To install the plate cleats, turn the top and plate upside down against a flat surface such as your table saw top. Press the top and plate flat, then glue and nail the cleats (see photo 9). Follow up with wood screws to ensure that the cleats stay put.
Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, Medina, MN
www.rockler.com, (800) 279-4441
Woodhaven, Durant, IA
www.woodhaven.com, (800) 344-6657