Compact Router Table

Easy to make; accurate to use

Overall dimensions: 28"w x 22"d x 141⁄4"h

Having a router, but no router table, is akin to owning a Ferrari that never leaves the downtown streets. You’re simply not using your tool anywhere near its capacity. A table-mounted router is capable of all sorts of operations that would be difficult or impossible to perform with a handheld router. And it’s often safer, too. (So much for the Ferrari analogy.) 

A good router table doesn’t have to be fancy–just accurate and friendly to use. Here is a solid, compact version that will serve without flinching in any space-challenged shop. The H-shaped understructure ensures that the top stays flat, and offsetting the insert plate toward the front of the table prevents user back strain and increases accessibility for router adjustments. (When more support surface is needed for panels or other wide pieces, you can work from the rear of the table.) A generous overhang allows for easy clamping of the fence, featherboards, and stop sticks. I omitted a miter gauge track because I seldom need one and prefer to keep the tabletop free of recesses that trap chips. That said, you can certainly add one if you like.

Finally, the no-frills fence shown here is accurate, easy to use, and quick to build because it doesn’t have an adjustable split fence or a dust port. If those features are important to you, see the Router Table Fence article in Issue #36.

Make the plywood base

1 Saw the sides (A), bottom (B), and center panel (C) to the sizes in the Cut List, except leave the center panel about 1⁄8" slightly oversized in width (height) for now. Also, mill the cleats (D, E) to size.

2 Lay out the rabbets and groove on each side (A) and the groove on the bottom (B). Then rout the grooves in the sides and bottom, as shown in Photo A.

To rout the rabbets in the sides, outfit an edge guide with a sacrificial fence to spare the edge guide fence.
Trace around the end of a cleat to mark out the top edge of the center panel, as well as the cleat notches.

3 Outfit your router with an edge guide to cut the rabbets in the sides (A), making sure that their width exactly matches the thickness of your cleats (D). Then rout the rabbets (Photo B).

4 Fit the sides (A), bottom (B), and center panel (C) together, clamp a side cleat in place, and trace around its end (Photo C). Then connect the topmost cleat lines to mark the top edge of the center panel. Trim to this cutline (which will be important to the flatness of the top), and then saw out the cleat notches.

5 Notch the upper corners of the center panel (C) to accept the cleats (D).

6 Glue and nail the bottom (B) to the center panel (C). Then attach the sides (A), also with glue and finish nails.

7 Glue and clamp the side cleats (D) into their rabbets. Then attach the center cleat (E) to the center panel (C). Finish up by applying veneer tape to the front and rear edges of the case.

Make the top

1 Referring to the Cut List, saw the core (F) and outer panels (G) slightly oversized. You’ll trim them to final length and width after gluing them together.

2 To prepare for the glue-up, make four thick clamping cauls long enough to span your tablesaw top. 

3 Use a roller to apply an even coat of glue to one face of the core (F) and one face of an outer panel (G). Then clamp the assembly to your tablesaw top (or other dead-flat surface) with the outer panel underneath the core (Photo D). After the glue cures, attach the opposite panel in the same manner, and then saw all four edges of the assembly (F, G) to bring it to the size in the Cut List.

4 Mill the edging (H, I), making the pieces about 1" longer than the sizes in the Cut List and 1⁄16" wider than the thickness of the top.

5 Dry-fit the edging to the top, mitering the ends to meet neatly at the corners (Photo E). Then glue the edging in place, applying plenty of glue to the porous MDF. I first glue both long pieces in place, using the dry-fit shorter pieces for alignment purposes. After the glue cures, I attach the shorter pieces.

6 Trim the edging flush to the panels with a block plane.

7 Referring to the Cut List, saw the plastic laminate at least 1" oversized in width and length. While you’re at it, cut the auxiliary fence facings (Q), again making them oversized. Also, have at the ready three 1⁄2"-diameter dowels at least 24" long, as well as a laminate roller or bullnose-edged board for pressing the laminate into place.

8 Spray, brush, or roll contact cement onto one of the laminate sheets and one face of the top. After the cement tacks up, lay the dowels across the top, and then center the laminate over the panel and press it into place, as shown in Photo F. Follow up by using the laminate roller or bullnosed board to firmly press the laminate into the cement.

9 Rather than using a straight flush-trim bit, use a bevel trim router bit to rout the laminate flush to the edging while slightly beveling the laminate edges at the same time.

10 Clamp the top vertically in your bench vise, and rout the corners with a 1⁄2" round-over bit, as shown in Photo G.

Follow up by routing the edges with the bevel trim bit.

Having roughed out the opening with a jigsaw, clamp the insert installation template in place, and rout to the template edges using a pattern-routing bit.
Screw the insert plate levelers to the underside of the table top. Each is outfitted with two set screws for leveling the plate and one flathead screw for securing it down.

Install the insert plate and attach the top

1 Check both faces of the top with a good straightedge. If there is any slight crown, make that your top face. Locate the insert installation template (see the buying guide) on the router tabletop to lay out the opening, where shown in Figure 1. Trace the opening onto your top.

2 Remove the template, and use a jigsaw to cut to within 1⁄8" of your layout line.

3 Clamp the template to the router tabletop, and outfit your router with a pattern-cutting bit. Then rout the opening perimeter. I clamped the top to a couple of plywood I-beam risers to do the job, as shown in Photo H.

4 With the top inverted, install the insert plate levelers according to the manfacturer’s instructions, screwing them to the underside of the top at the corners of the opening (Photo I).

5 With the inverted case centered on the underside of the top, drill pilot holes and clearance holes through the cleats (D, E), and attach the top with 15⁄8" × #6 coarse-thread screws.

6 Remove your router’s subbase, and attach the tool to the insert following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Make the fence

1 Saw the 1st layer (K) to 31⁄8" long × 28" wide for now. Saw the 2nd and 3rd layers (L, M) and cap (N) to the lengths shown in the Cut List, but leave them about 1⁄8" oversized in width for now.

2 Rout what will be the rear corners of all the pieces using a 1⁄2"-radius round-over bit. Gang-rout the pieces by aligning them at one end, including a piece of scrap to prevent exit tear-out. Clamp them together, mounted in a vise, and rout the corners all at once. Then align the pieces at the other end, and repeat (Photo J.)

3 Lay out a 13⁄4"-radius arced notch on the 3rd layer (M), where shown in Figure 1.

4 Glue and clamp the 3rd layer (M) to the 2nd layer (L), centering the two pieces along their length and keeping their edges aligned. After the glue dries, cut out the arced notch with a bandsaw. 

5 Lay out and cut the 55° mitered center section from the 1st layer (K). Then glue and clamp the two outer sections and the cap (N) to the 2nd/3rd layer assembly (Photo K). 

6 After unclamping the assembly, check its rear edge for layer alignment. If necessary, trim the least amount at the tablesaw to create a dead-straight rear edge. Then rip the front face to bring the assembly to a final 3" width. 

7 Saw the fence (O) and auxiliary fences (P) to the sizes shown in the Cut List. Clamp the pieces together in alignment, and then round over what will become the top corners. For router support and blow-out prevention, use the same backup block shown in Photo G.

8 Lay out the opening in the fence (O), where shown in Figure 1, and then bandsaw it out.

9 Lay out and cut the #20 biscuit slots in the 1st layer (K) and the mating slots in the rear face of the fence (O).

10 Glue the fence to the layers-and-cap assembly (K-N), inserting biscuits in the slots. Make sure that the 1st layer (K) and fence (O) are dead square to each other under clamp pressure.

11 Saw two auxiliary fence facings (Q) about 1⁄2" wider and longer than the size shown in the Cut List. Use contact cement to apply a facing (Q) to each auxiliary fence (P), and then rout the laminate flush to the edges of the fences.

12 Notch an auxiliary fence to accommodate your desired range of bit sizes. (A 1"-wide × 11⁄2"-high opening will serve well for smaller bits.) Notch the other auxiliary fence as needed, perhaps using it for larger bits. 

13 Attach the auxilary fence with four #6 × 11⁄4" screws driven through counterbored clearance holes in the fence, where shown in Figure 1. 

Back to blog Back to issue