12 Fixes for Router Roadblocks

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This article is from Issue 24 of Woodcraft Magazine.

For most of us, the router already holds the workshop MVP award. It’s hard to imagine that the tool you’re trusting to shape edges, cut mortises, dovetails, identical parts, etc., is capable of doing that much more. Believe it or not, it probably can…and a little faster, safer, and more cleanly than you might expect.

Each year, hundreds of routers, bits, and accessories come and go. The major difference between a shelf-sitter and smart buy is just how well it solves a real shop problem. Here’s a list of top router-related problems and our editors’ choice store-bought solutions to those problems. 

Editor’s Note: To put my money where my mouth is, here’s my list of the items that I’ve bought for my own shop. If you have any favorites that you think deserve a place in my shop, send me an email at joe_hurst@woodcraftmagazine.com. 


Bearing and bit cleaner (above).

Tool Saver System (#829399, $19.99)

Want to know why a good bit goes bad? If you don’t regularly look at your bits, then you need to look in the mirror. In truth, router bits give plenty of warning before they give up the ghost. Pitch build-up seized bearings don’t happen overnight. There’s plenty of time before that bit burns a black skid mark along the edge of your nearly-finished project.

A few bucks worth of prevention is worth many bits’ worth of cure. At the end of the day, make a habit of wiping down the bits you’ve used with a blade and bit cleaner. Every other time, give bearings a spritz of a lubricant. As an added benefit, the cleaner leaves a film that helps keep rust from getting a toehold.


A super smooth round-over bit.

Freud Quadra-Cut #828712 ( 3/8" R), $33.99

Considering that radius bits are used for miles of edge work, it makes sense to invest in a bit designed to shave the time you’ll spend with a sander. These bits employ four cutting edges: two larger cutting edges that do most of the shaping with an up-cut, and two smaller cutters angled down to shear off the fuzz left by the first set. The extra cutting edges result in a smooth, sand-free cut along both edge and end grain.


A multi-function rabbet set 

Woodcraft #129688 ( 1/2"  SH), $30.99

This $30 bit serves as a handy backup for my $200 dado set. Instead of switching out my sawblade, I set my router table to rabbet the end of a board or panel. The rabbet bit isn’t a perfect replacement, but the rabbets and dados within the bit’s reach are as clean and square as those from my saw. A rabbet bit can reach where you can’t go with a table saw, like the inside lip of a finished box (don’t forget to use an offset base).


Over-Under Flush Trim

Whiteside #147971 ( 3/4" D, 1/2"  SH), $29.99

Template routing is the easiest and most accurate way to shape identical parts. Cut one hardboard pattern, and you’re halfway to the finish line. Unfortunately, when the grain reverses, such as when routing the curved legs on Scott Phillips' two-part chair in the April/May 2008 issue, you’ve got trouble. To avoid tear-out, you had two solutions: carefully reattach the template onto the opposite face of your work, then continue routing; or buy a pattern-cutting and template bit.

For the cost of one good bit, the over-under is like the two-bit solution only you don’t need to switch bits or have a second router on standby. To use, simply adjust your cutting depth so that the bit rides against the template, flip your stock, then continue routing.


Adjustable tongue-and-groove bit set

Freud #825745, $79.99

Like the rabbet bit, the tongue-and-groove set earns its keep when doing projects that might otherwise require switching back and forth from the sawblade to dado cutter. Like the rabbeting set, they can be employed for cutting rabbets and dadoes, but the real value comes from setting the matching bits to cut half-lap or tongue-and-groove joints in stock from 1/2" to 11/4" thick. (If you have a spare router you might consider knocking together an extra router table, thereby allowing you the flexibility to rout two different setups, and still use your table saw for ripping and crosscutting.)

Having owned a home with ailing heart-pine floors, I wish I had this set for a few patch jobs. Looking forward, this pair will be perfect for the flat-panel Shaker-style doors I’m planning to build for my new shop.


A one-handed quick-change artist.

Eliminator RC Quick Change Chuck (#140368, $64.99)

The price of a quick-change chuck is a bit steep to retrofit on every router in my shop, but for my router table, the convenience of one-handed 10-second bit switches makes it a steal. Tighten the chuck onto your router’s collet and put your big wrench away. To change bits, all you need is a hex drive wrench. Depending on your work, the chuck saves as much time as having a second router table. As a nice side benefit, the chuck adds about 3/4" to the length of your collet, extending the reach of your bits.


Use stackable setup gauges for sub-inch measurements.

Whiteside 5-piece Brass Setup Gauges (#144932, $16.99)

Ask around, and you’ll be surprised to learn how many woodworkers already have this solution tucked into the pocket of their shop apron. This 5-piece set will set you back just a few bucks more than a tape measure, but these brass bars hit sub-inch measurements much more accurately than a loose-tipped tape.

I use my set for setting bit height and fence depth. Combine the 1/8", 3/16", 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" bars to obtain different measurements outside of the 5-piece set, then hang one over the edge to serve as a can’t miss stop bar. I appreciate the fact that brass won’t ding my carbide-tipped bits.


Use universal baseplates.

TurnLock Universal Baseplate (#148724, $19.99)

If routing, switching, setting, switching, setting, routing doesn’t sound tedious, then you haven’t tried to cut a dovetailed groove in the side of a case. Screw two identical bases on any two routers, and your jigs won’t know the difference. (For an exact match, look for a base that comes with a centering pin. That way, you can be sure that the distance from the bit to the edge of the baseplate is exactly equal.)

Besides saving time, you may find that identical baseplates save plywood. I chewed through quite a few plywood dado jigs before I figured this one out.


Stop. Step away from the router table, buy a better bit guard, and nobody gets hurt.

Pinnacle Premium Freehand Bit Guard (#148871, $29.99)

Straight fences don’t offer much help when routing outside curves, and get in the way when routing inside curves. The temptation is to remove the fence (and guard) and place your trust in a good pushpad and steady hand. There’s a better way. This offset guard keeps dust from flying up, and, most importantly, fingers from touching down onto the spinning bit. The plywood edge of the guard doubles as a pivot point to help feed your work. The biggest plus is the easy-on/easy-off convenience. The guard quickly attaches to any Pinnacle Router Plate with two knobs. (The guard comes with hardware and instructions for use with other baseplates.)

(I’m sending this guard to my father-in-law, a hard-core wind chime and whirligig woodworker. For routing those small parts, he needs this fixture. With a little luck, this little gift may prevent him from writing next month’s “Workshop Mishaps” column.)


Ready-made router baseplates suddenly make sense

Pinnacle Phenolic Router Table Insert Plate (#830478, #147785; $59.99)

The Pinnacle insert plate seemed a bit pricey, until I put one to use and calculated the time and money spent making my own inserts. You can make decent inserts from acrylic or plywood scraps; however, they start to sag from the weight of a larger-horsed router. Pinnacle’s phenolic base is stiffer and slicker than my old acrylic base. (At one time I might have tried making phenolic plates for myself, had I found a phenolic supplier. I’ve since learned that it’s expensive and nasty to machine. Save yourself the hassle and buy a pre-made plate.)

The predrilled Pinnacle comes with a few handy features you won’t find on most homemade plates. The eight set screws made leveling a snap. And I really liked the way that the two side-squeezing plungers pressed the plate into the opening so that it could not shift in use. Unlike my single-holed inserts that get chewed up when used in a big panel-raising bit, the twist-in insert rings now enable me to adjust the opening size without sacrificing the plate. (Woodcraft sells an extra 8-ring set: #834122, $64.99.) This may be the last plate until it’s time to retire the router it’s attached to.


Try an oFFSET base

Offset Router Base (#146771, $22.99)

A few extra inches of acrylic can shift the router’s center of balance in your favor. Keeping one hand on the offset knob and the other on the router is a sure-fire tip-stopping solution. 

In my shop, I keep an offset base attached to my go-to router. This simple switch eliminated the time-saving temptation of not reattaching it (at that moment, the three minutes it takes to screw on the base seem so unreasonable), and then tipping the router and ruining the edge. Think of the number of times you’ve used your router to finish an edge with a roundover, chamfer, or cove, and you can immediately appreciate this affordable upgrade.


Don’t buy a router lift, buy a new router. Get the lift (and a bunch of added accessories) for free.

Triton 21/4 HP Plunge Router (#147400, $209.00)

I didn’t think I needed another router, until I did the math. Router lifts start at around $190; an extra $20 buys me a Triton 21/4 HP router with built-in lift. With the included winding handle I can easily adjust the bit in 1/128" increments. (Granted, the Triton’s lift thread isn’t as fine as the Mast-R-Lift–that lift can adjusts with 1/512" precision–but it’s good enough for me.)

A few other routers also offer above-board adjustments, but here’s why the Triton’s my favorite. The rack-and-pinion height adjustment works smoothly, but holds tightly enough for most cuts. (For heavy cuts, you should engage the motor lock.) With a one-wrench bit changing and a collet that extends past the base, switching bits is a breeze. Last but not least, the plastic shroud surrounding the base catches dust almost as well as a boxed-in router. The bits, bushings, dust port, and baseplates that come standard with the Triton make the deal even sweeter.


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