Getting the Edge

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Getting the Edge

When you look at the furniture nearby, those decorative edges were probably created by a router.  You can make furniture, doors, boxes and other projects without a router, but they’re hard to beat when you want to add detail and take your project to the next level.  Plus you can create paneled doors, make moldings, cut grooves, trim laminate and even make delicate inlays and signs.

How do they do it?  A router is basically a motor with a collet attached that lets you mount variously shaped bits.  They spin at very high speeds, up to 24,000 RPM, to make thousands of cuts per inch for a smooth finish.  That is an over-simplification, but it really is a simple machine to operate.

In addition to the motor and collet, there are several basic router configurations that are used for different tasks:

Fixed Base Router 

This is the most basic setup.  The router has handles, and on-off switch, a flat base and a depth adjustment mechanism.  It is perfect for adding fancy edges, trimming and cutting grooves.  For edge treatments you will need an edge guide router or a bit with a bearing to make a smooth straight cut.

Plunge Router 

Similar to the fixed base router, but with one significant addition; it can move smoothly up and down so you can lower the bit into the wood precisely for stopped cuts.  Once it’s lowered in place you can lock it in place like a fixed base router.  It’s the best of both worlds; lock it down for edge treatments or plunge it to make interior cuts.

Router Table

For real versatility, turn your router upside down.  Mounting a router under a table makes the bit much more visible and frees both hands to control the work piece.  Plus you can use a fence to help guide your work.  It is the best way to route smaller parts and the safest way to use large bits like the rail and stile bits used for panel doors.

If you are thinking about adding a router to your tool arsenal, look for one with enough power for the bits you want to use, a smooth operating depth adjustment, soft start, and a push button arbor lock for easier bit changes.  You will need a few router bits.  Some folks like to get a large set of bits so they are ready for most basic operations, but you can also acquire bits one at a time as you need them.

Some basic tips for using your router safely:

  • Always wear eye and hearing protection.
  • Never start the router with the bit in contact with the stock.
  • Always move a handheld router left to right and feed the stock on a router table from right to left.
  • Take light cuts. Heavy cuts invite kickback.

A router is a versatile tool that can enhance almost any project.  With a little practice and some basic bits you can really give yourself an edge.

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