What to look for when choosing a Router Table
The basic components of a router table include a router table top, mounting plate, router fence, router lift, and the stand. There are certain things about each that you should take into careful consideration before purchasing a router table package. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a router table.
Router Table Tops
One of the most crucial parts to the router table is the table top. The router table top needs to be absolutely flat, free of obstructions and very rigid. A router table that flexes even slightly when the downward pressure necessary in feeding wood is applied to it will never reliably produce accurate cuts.
There are different materials that Router Table Tops can be made from. The most common and best include: Cast Iron, MDF, and Phenolic.
Cast Iron Table tops are a good alternative because of their flatness, stability and durability. A cast iron tool surface also has the mass to soak up the inevitable vibration from tool motors and other moving parts, and a hefty weight that helps keep the table firmly planted on the floor.
Cast Iron Table Tops are not the most popular due to both cost, and the heavy weight making it less easy to be moved. MDF and Phenolic are much more popular and economical choices for Router Table Tops. Quality MDF router table tops should be at least 1” thick to provide the proper stability and rigidity needed. MDF router table tops are typically surfaced with either high pressure laminate or melamine to make the surface smoother and easier for the workpiece to move across.
Phenolic table tops are also a very good choice, as they are naturally rigid and very tough, but still have a smooth finish that makes it easy to move your work along. They are extremely high impact resistant and retain their original dimensions and stay flat, even under heavy use.
We like both Incra and Woodpeckers Table tops, but really appreciate that all of Woodpeckers table tops are made right here in the USA. Woodpecker’s table tops come in either laminated MDF or Phenolic and feature an embedded combination miter channel and T-track that is compatible with miter gauges, cross cut tools, feather boards, and even coping sleds. The laminated MDF Tables use 2 pieces of MDF board to give it extra rigidity and durability and have a micro dot low friction laminate that allows the workpiece to slide easily across the table top.
Router Mounting Plate
Most Router tables use a mounting plate for mounting the router. The mounting plate is nestled into an opening in the center of the router table tops. Getting an uninterrupted feed demands the mounting plate be flush with the tabletop surface, and the reducer to be flush with the surface of the plate. The mounting plate must have a hole large enough for the largest available bits and a reducer or two to use with smaller bits. Woodpecker Router mounting plates use a twist lock ring system that makes it easy to adjust the size of the opening for the router bit, while maintaining a completely flush and flat surface.
Making a straight and true cut is vital to the success of a any woodworking project. This is why the router fence is one of the most important and most used guide systems on the router table. A router fence must be straight, rigid, and easy to put into position, stay in place, and allow for a range of positions.
There are two types of router fences, a split fence and a one-piece fence. A split fence has two halves that must be adjusted separately. Both halves of the fence must be aligned to be perfectly parallel to each other to get accurate cuts. Because the two pieces must be adjusted separately, this can be pretty difficult to accomplish. The upside to a split fence is that it allows you to offset the in-feed and out-feed sides of the fence to accommodate the removal of material during the cut.
One Piece fences can be much easier to use, as there is no need to try and align two halves of the fence to be perfectly parallel. Some one-piece fences (like Woodpeckers Fence) have a feature that still allows you to offset the in-feed and out-feed to account for the removal of material during the cut, but without the hassle of trying to align two sides.
At its most basic, a router fence can just be a straight piece of lumber clamped to the router table, but if you like more features, we recommend Woodpeckers Super Fence. Woodpeckers’ router table fence measures nearly 4″ tall x 5″ deep and features a micro-adjustable offset up to 1/4″ for accurate in-feed and out-feed alignment. The fence also features a dust collection port to fit 2-1/4 and 2-1/2″ hose, variable throat capabilities to handle router bits up to 4″ in diameter and multiple T-Slots on every surface. The T-Slots allow for quick and accurate attachment of sub-fences, feather boards and other attachments.
Both Woodpecker and Incra have spent a lot of time fine-tuning their router lifts. We really like Incra’s JessEm Mast-R-Lift II and Woodpeckers’ PRL-V2 and Sidewinder router lifts. Here is why:
Like the previous version, Incra’s Mast-R-Lift II allows fast, incredibly precise height adjustments conveniently made from above the table, and it also provides you with the ability to change router bits from above. It uses Incra’s magnaLock reducing rings for quicker ring changes and a perfect ring fit. Incra’s New Mast-R-Lift uses a total of 5 sealed ball bearings on the lift screw and cam lock, making it incredibly smooth and the lowest-friction router lift you can find.
Woodpecker’s makes 2 great router lifts, both made in the USA. Their PRL-V2 router lift gives you robust construction combined with near instant elevation changes of the Quick Lift. It also features a micro-adjust thumb wheel. This improvement eliminates the need for a crank handle to make fine router bit height adjustments. Woodpeckers PRL-V2 also comes with a newly designed spring-assist lift wrench that allows you to go from routing height to bit changing height quickly.
The Sidewinder router lift, also made by Woodpeckers, allows you to make lift adjustments using a side crank. Woodpecker’s Sidewinder router lift allows you to raise your router bit above the table in seconds with just a ¼ turn of the lift wrench, change router bits, lower it to an approximate position and fine tune with the side crank to a resolution of .001” per scale increment or 1/32nd per rotation.
When investing in a router table, quality is definitely key. You want to look for something that will have the features you want, and the quality, stability and durability that all your woodworking projects will require from it.
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