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How Much Router Table Should I Buy?
By Ken Schulte
Buying a router table can be a confusing experience. Which one do you need? Which size, how many features do I really need? What�s the difference between tables? In this article we will discuss features to look for and tables you can eliminate in your search. Keep in mind , most people think they should have more table than they really need. This is usually the same case for routers. So what are the features out there? Lets take a look.
Router tables come in many basic packages. You usually can find router tables in two basic sizes, benchtop and full size. Benchtop tables are usually purchased because the user has a lack of shop space. Benchtop tables can be stored under workbenches and still handle a variety of chores. Most are made of metal or aluminum but they are a few wooden ones as well. Lets take tables in general and discuss features and break them down into their basic components and then talk about the pros and cons of each.
Made of Metal, wood, MDF, plastic, Phenolic
Not all tables have inserts. Inserts are made so that you can attach the router to them and then install the insert into the top. This is so that bit changing is made simple. When you want to change a router bit you pull the router and insert together up through the table and change your bit. If you table has no insert you have to attach the router directly to the top thus making bit changes more difficult since you would have to remove the router from the top to change the bit. Insert can be made of Phenolic (acrylic or aluminum)
Miter slots are an advanced feature. They can be used for a variety of things. The most common use is for a coping sled to slide along the mitre slot . The coping sled gives the user a very stable platform in which to cut stile and rail joinery for raised cabinet doors. Cutting these cuts without a coping sled or mitre slot is very difficult and somewhat dangereous. You can also use a miter gauge to fit in the miter slot. There are also several feather boards that fit in standard mitre slots.
T-track is very popular on router tops because it gives a way for router fences to be held down and adjusted on the router top. They are usually milled into the top and are flush to the top. T-track can also be installed on the fence front face to be used in conjunction with stop blocks.
Dust ports on router tables are very handy to keep the table clean while working. You can usually find them in 3 basic sizes. Shop Vac, 2 1/2" and 4" Shop Vac sizes obviousely are designed to fit shop vac attachements. These are not popular and you will not find many of these. The standard dust hoses are 2 1/2" and 4". Ports that fit these two sizes fit standard dust collection systems. Once you have dust collection attached and operational on your system, you will wonder how you lived without it. It is a definite advantage.
Starting pins fit in router inserts and are generally used to help start wood onto the bit when free hand profiling on a table.
Generally the thinnest tables are aluminum tables. The increased strength of the aluminum lends itself to being thinner thus lighter.
You can find MDF tables in a variety of thickness. They are 3/4" 1 1/8" 1 1/2" and 2"
3/4" thick tables are the standard thickness of store bought MDF. If you buy one of these tables make sure both sides of the table are laminated. This prevents flexing of the top and throwing it out of true flatness. MDF is a great material because it is very flat. The 1 1/8" size seems like a weird size, but MDF manufacturers make that size standard for the cabinet and countertop industry. 1 1/8th is a pretty thick top, you may or may not need the bottom to have some sort of lamination. It really depends on the climate you live in. If you live in seasonal areas such as the
There are two schools of design on fences. Fixed one piece fences and split fences.
Each have their advantages and each have preferences to the woodworker.
Fixed fences are generally used with bits that have no profile bearing on the top. Using the fixed fence allows the user to adjust the exact distance from the bit to the fence. A good example of this is if you were going to rout a groove down the middle of a board. You would want to have the groove in an exact location. Fixed fences are also good with profile bearing bits even though the fence is not intrical to the operation. The fence holds the dust port in the ideal position to collect dust. The profile bit determines the distance of the wood to the edge of the bit. A good example of this would be a rounover bit which cuts a round over on the edge of a board.
Stop blocks are handy to have if your routing material that has to stop at a certain point. I find this feature nice but not necessarily essential since I can clamp any piece of scrap wood to a fence and thus create a cheap replica that functions the same.
So now you have all these features lets look at some of the common sizes out there
Benchtops are generally sized from 12" deep to 20 and 17 wide to 24" wide. Keep in mind that not all benchtops have a standard sized miter track if at all. Look for benchtops that have inserts installed and a nice fence. Also look for benchtops that have at least 12 inches from the bottom on the insert to the table. This allows for greater flexibility of router sizes. You generally don"t use big 3 HP routers on benchtop tables.
Usually measure 15 x 24 and have more features. They are more heavy duty to standard benchtop sizes. They can have the ugraded mitre slots and t-tracks or be plain. These heavier tables can accomidate any size router.
These generally measure 24" by 32" The main advantage of the size is being able to router longer material with more surface availability. Shorter tables might require making some sort of support on the outflow of the table. Full size tables also generally have more features. You can find both types of fences on full size tops. Full size tops usually sit on a wood or metal base. Look for a good stable heavy design.
These are usually tops that are designed with special purposes. You can find horizontal tables, pin router tables, and sliding tables. Sliding tables are a unique table that offers a very clever sliding miter much like a sliding table on a table saw. These tables eliminate the need for a coping sled and are top quality if your thinking about cutting a lot of stiles and rails. All these tables fetch higher prices but are also jam packed with features and dust collection. Most but not all, are made of aluminum but are larger and incorporate unique features.
Average prices (new)
Small Benchtops $69 to $129
Larger Benchtops $89 to $169
Full Size $129 to $300
Advanced $350 and up
Yes you can, you might have to look harder or ask for some custom work. Having the slot is not all bad, you may advance later down the line.
Some people claim aluminum does not flex at all. I have never seen an acrylic insert flex, so it would come down to user preference. There is a price difference.
Larger routers are generally used for heavier duty applications. However I can get everything done that needs to be done with my 2 HP router. The key is not to take large chunks at a time but to take small passes with small amounts. If you do this large routers do not have the advantage. Larger routers are good if you need features that larger routers have such as speed control. You would want that if you use large diameter router bits.
The top weighs about 48 pounds
You want a high quality horizontal work surface laminate. Melamine is not what your looking for. It qualifies as a good vertical work surface. (shelf sides etc)
Look for a manufacture that you feel comfortable with (their reputation). Just because the popular catalog merchants carry all the different brands does not make them the best, they are the merely the best marketed tables. You can find plenty of manufactures on the internet and even Ebay. Look for someone that you can ask questions too, if they are a salesman, then the chances are not good they are woodworkers. If you buy from a woodworker, you get the best chance the features were well thought out.
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How Much Router Table Should I Buy?