What Is a Router Table? What Is It Used For?

Router table with a rotating bit driven into material

If you are a (semi)professional woodworker or an advanced DIYer, you might have considered using a router table in your workshop. When you are already using a hand-held router, you will likely appreciate the better precision and improved convenience that sets router tables apart from hand-held tools.

Read on to learn more about the characteristics of router tables and what they are typically used for. If you intend to get a router table, make sure you check out these reviews of 6 router tables incl. expert recommendations for beginners and professionals.

What Is a Router Table?

A router table is a useful piece of kit for the serious woodworker or DIYer interested in making jobs and creating projects using a router but who require greater accuracy than using a standard handheld router.

The router table consists of a flat stationary table workbench with a router tool protruding from a hole, generally in the center of the table.

What Are the Different Types of Router Tables?

The table itself comes in two different formats:

Firstly the router machine is mounted upside down underneath the table with just the machine bit spindle emerging.

Secondly, the router bit is located above the table and can be raised and lowered onto the piece of work similarly to a pillar drill.

Various cutter heads can be secured into the router chuck in a similar way to a standard handheld router and the router speed can be adjusted typically from 3,000 to 24,000 rpm depending on the type of material being cut. The table has fittings for attaching a side guide or fence that can be used to guide the piece of work accurately over the rotating router bit and cutting a profile into it.

Router tables for professional and industrial uses come also as CNC machines, allowing a high degree of automation and precision (source).

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Router Tables vs. Hand-Held Routers?

Router tables allow for higher precision and provide more convenience as the workpiece is moved on a surface towards a stationary router rather than having to operate a hand-held tool.

The router table is also suitable to use on small pieces of wood that would be too small to be cut by a traditional handheld router. Its use is simpler than using a handheld router as only the wood being worked on needs to be held by the operator, pushed past the cutting blade rather than having to manually hold the router and drag it across the wood.

Larger pieces may be tricky to cut using a router table and it may be simpler in such cases to use a handheld router instead.

An obvious disadvantage of a router table is the amount of space they require compared to the hand-held tool. However, there are also foldable router tables (example) available on the market which can help reduce the storage space needed.

Router Tables with Built-in Dust Collection

If you’ve ever used a router table before, you will know that there can be very large amounts of dust created very quickly whilst routing out a job. Without any dust collection system, all this dust will very quickly become cumbersome and obstruct your view of the task in hand. This is especially true if you are routing heavy work.

Good quality router tables almost always come with dust collection systems and accessories. There is usually a box located under the table with a vacuum system that sucks dust from the table as it is created and down into the box (example).

Often there is a second dust collection system located on the fence. This is a tube that attaches to a hole in the fence and down to a vacuum system once again underneath the table. Using these two systems generally reduces the ambient dust significantly and makes it much easier to work with accuracy as it is easier to see without obstruction exactly what is happening on the piece of work.


The Skil RAS900 Router Table
(check current price on Amazon).

How Do You Use a Router Table?

There are 3 different generic ways to use a router table:

1. By using a fence

The fence is a guide that is firmly attached to the router table bed. It can be adjusted to be a varying distance from the exposed router blade.

The piece of work is then guided along the fence and the exposed router blade cuts a profile into the piece of work removing material as the workpiece is dragged along.

2. No fence being used

A template that is required to be copied is fixed to the top side of the piece of work. Then a router bit is used along with a ball bearing guide which is secured directly above the router bit.

The ball bearing guide is then dragged along the template so the router bit cuts into the piece of work making it the same shape as the template.

3. Using a pin router

Pin routers can be either pin up or pin down type. Originally they would have a steel pin protruding from the table and the router cutting bit is directly above this located on an adjustable arm that moves up and down towards the piece of work.

However, this configuration is unnecessarily dangerous as the rotating router bit is exposed and close to where the operator might put his hands. So in 1976, the inverted pin router was designed with the pin on top and the cutting router blade protruding from the tabletop.

A template that needs to be copied is secured to the piece of work in question and placed on the router table. The router bit or pin is then lowered, so the two are close together but not actually touching. The pin is then used as the guide to pass over all parts of the template that need cutting by the adjoining router blade and creating a duplicate of the template.

Because the router blade never has to come into contact with the template, only the steel pin, the template can be removed from the piece of work and re-used multiple times without any damage.

What Are Router Tables Typically Used For?

There are a number of use cases for router tables in woodworking, furniture-making and joinery. Examples of the most common ones are:

  • profiling edges,
  • cutting rebates,
  • cutting out templates,
  • dovetail and box joinery,
  • blind joints and stopped cuts,
  • making signs, and
  • many more.

Read on to learn more about these examples of typical uses.

Profiling Edges

Probably the most common use for a routing table is to profile edges. These can be seen frequently on edges of furniture, tables and other wooden household items. Routing an edge round over or chamfer takes the sharpness of a square tabletop edge and changes the appearance of the table completely. Many different shape and size router bits are available which can create an assortment of different edge patterns depending on taste.

Routing a profile edge is much easier than using say a plane or sanding because you know you have a square reference edge and the result will always be far more consistent and quicker every time.

Cutting Rebates

Rebates or Rabbets are grooves in the edges of pieces of wood that when viewed in cross-section typically look like 2 steps. They are used in carpentry to construct furniture and box type jobs where basic 90-degree joints are required. They are also used for the insertion of glass held in with putty in a window frame, for shiplap planking or for inserting a back panel into the back of a cabinet.

Rebates traditionally were cut manually using a chisel but the use of a router makes the job far easier, quicker and more accurate ensuring the finished job will look professional.

Cutting Out Templates

It’s easy to make many copies of a template using a router table and corresponding bearing bit. Securing the template onto the piece of work can easily be done with double-sided tape, screws or even holding it on by hand. As there is no heavy router to hold anymore, the template and piece of work can easily be held together while working.

Dovetail and box joinery

Dovetailing is a preferred method of making quality cabinets and boxes from wood. The resulting finished job is strong and looks very pretty too, However cutting out accurate dovetails can be tricky if done by hand but using a template and router and the whole process can be completed much easier and more accurate

Blind Joints and Stopped Cuts

Furniture and cabinets often have blind joints or stopped cuts that do not extend to the edge of the wood making the joint invisible from the outside when the cabinet is assembled. This kind of joint is almost impossible to make with a chisel but is easy to do with a router table fitted with a fence. The fence needs to have two stops secured to it, one stop is where the cut should be started and the other is the end of the cut

Making signs

House number or business signs can be made easily by marking out a design on a piece of wood or by using a template. Large plastic numbers and letter templates are available that can facilitate cutting accurate words into wood by using the plastic letters as templates and using a router bit with ball bearing guide, or using a pin router.

Conclusion

If you are into woodworking and joinery, you will likely want to consider getting a router table. Their advantages compared to hand-held routers – ease of work and increased accuracy, for instance – and their great versatility are good reasons why they are common even in DIY workshops.

There is a broad range of different router tables available on the market. Entry-level tables and router table combos come with the main advantages of router tables compared to a hand-held tool at reasonable prices. High-end tables, on the other hand, are ideal for (semi)professional uses but may set you back a 4-digit amount.

If you are interested in getting a router table, click here to read our expert reviews with recommendations for DIYers and Pros.

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