Handheld Routing Part 2

8 great “get-r-done” jigs

Woodworkers typically buy their first router for profiling. Unfortunately, some routers never make it beyond the edge. Bearing-guided chamfer, ogee, and round-over bits are useful, but profile bits only scratch the surface of what your router can do for you. With a little guidance, a router can machine all types of cuts–grooves, dadoes, curves, and mortises–safely and efficiently.

To help you make the most of your handheld router, we selected a collection of fences, guides, and other fixtures that can transform this tool into a true multitasker. We’ve kept the designs simple, not just to keep your jig-building time to a minimum, but to make it easy for you to adjust the sizes to suit the router you own.

Stock Up Before You Start

Some of these jigs require double-sided tape and a few pieces of hardware, available at your local Woodcraft store or home center, but most of the material you’ll need is sitting in your scrap bin. Remember that function trumps form. Baltic birch and matching knobs look good, but medium density plywood, hardboard, and thumbscrews can get the job done.

The factory-supplied screws that secure your router’s sub-base may not be long enough to attach these shop-made jigs. You can counterbore deeper holes with a single flute countersink, but your best bet is to take the screws to a hardware store and stock up on a handful of matching ones with longer shanks.

Guides for dadoes, grooves, and rabbets

T-Squares, Straightedges, and Offset Gauges

T-squares and straightedges are used for cutting dadoes (Photo A), grooves, and rabbets, trimming sheet goods, and straightening edges. Routing might be a tad slower than using a tablesaw, but think savings: a $20 bit can cut just as cleanly as a $200 dado head.

Make the guide fence at least 6" longer than the piece you plan to rout. Fasten the fence to the crossbar with a single screw; then check the assembly with a reliable square (such as a 12" drafting triangle) before driving the remaining fasteners.

To make an offset gauge, affix a piece of scrap against the fence and rout to width.
Place the gauge against the fence to locate the bit’s position. Clamp the T-square before routing.

To position fences with built-in guides, simply set the stock between the two built-in offsets.

The first time you use your jig, you’re likely to rout into the crossbar with your bit. This notch can help with positioning, but an offset gauge (Photos B and C) provides a more reliable means of positioning (especially after you’ve nipped the crossbar with a few different bits).

Built-in offset guides attached to the fence can save time when routing dadoes that are wider than the bit (Photo D). Attach 1⁄8"-thick Marlite or hardboard to the back face of the fence with double-sided tape, and then run the router along both fences to trim the material to exact width. (Note the router and bit used with the jigs so that you can reuse the same guides in the future.)

Trammels for circles and arcs

Basic Trammel

To get a router to go in circles, all you need is a means of smoothly moving the router around a point. This basic trammel design is simple (Photo E), but it works and can be easily modified for larger diameters. (The brace isn’t a necessity, but for jigs longer than 24" it provides extra rigidity.)

To use the jig, measure out from the bit and drill a hole in the base. Then drill a pivot hole in your workpiece. Using the bit as your pivot, mount the base to the workpiece. To make the cut, switch on the router and plunge down no more than 1⁄4" deep, and then feed the router counterclockwise around the workpiece.

Sliding-Arm Trammel

This jig’s adjustable trammel arm (Photo F) is easier to set than the basic trammel. With the pin end of the trammel arm inside the lower base, the jig can cut circles as small as 1 1⁄2" in diameter; by reversing the arm, it can rout circles up to 22".

To make this jig, cut the base parts slightly oversize; then adjust your tablesaw blade to 25°, and rip the opposing edges of the bottom plywood parts and both edges of the trammel arm. Set the router on the upper base, rotate it to allow the sliding arm to fit between the baseplate screws, and then mark out the holes and insert the T-nuts. Sandwich the sliding arm between the lower base pieces, and then fasten the two pieces to the upper base, using glue or pin nails. If the lower base extends past the upper base, rip the edges flush.

Guides for edges and face work

Pivot-Strip Edge Guide

Unlike a straightedge, an edge guide ensures that cuts are parallel to the ends or edges of a workpiece because it’s guided by the work. This small-scale guide excels at cutting rabbets (Photo G), but you can also pivot the guide’s fence to rout grooves up to about 4" away from the edge. (For larger cutting capacity, make a larger base.) Despite this jig’s simplicity, it outperforms some of the flimsier commercial guides that tend to slip in use. This screwed-in strip isn’t going to move.

With minor adjustments, you can also use the jig to rout a series of evenly spaced dadoes. Simply size the fence to fit the desired dado. Fasten the strip to one corner, and then adjust the arm to the desired position. After routing your first dado (either with this jig or a T-square guide), set the fence in the first dado and rout the next.

Double-Fence Edge Guide

Routers sometimes run off course, especially when used on narrow stock or along an edge. This guide prevents this by providing a pair of lockable fences. (This model can also be used with a single fence, for rabbets and dadoes.) Use your router table and a 1⁄4"-diameter straight bit to make the slots in the base. Attach stops to the table’s fence to control the start and end of the cut.

For routing flutes, like those shown in Photo H, lay out the center lines for each cove cut on a scrap piece of stock that’s the same width as your workpiece. Align the center line on the jig with your layout lines, slide the fences so they rest against the edges of your workpiece, and make a test cut.

Mortising guides

Base-Guided Template

This mortising jig only requires a router and straight or spiral bit. And because the cutout is the exact size of the desired mortise, you can check the layout against the mortise before routing your workpiece.

To make this jig, lay out the mortise on a scrap of hardboard large enough to support the router and cleats. Then use an offset gauge (see "T-Squares, Straightedges, and Offset Gauges," above) to lay out the cleat locations. Now attach the cleats with double-faced tape. (By arranging the cleats as shown in Photo I, you won’t need to waste time trimming them to exact length.)

Rout through the base and then double-check the size of the cutout. Finally, clamp or stick the template to your workpiece and rout.

Mortising Platform

A wide variety of loose-tenon mortising jigs exist, but this one (Photo J) boils things down to the basics. Thick fences support the router’s base and provide a long reference edge. Stops control the length of cut and help register the workpiece flush with the fence’s top edge. (Note: Depending on the material you’re routing, you may not need the second fence.)

Build the jig as shown at right. To set up the jig, lay out your mortises on your workpiece, and then butt your stock to the inner stop and clamp it to the fence. Position your router on the fence, and then adjust your edge guide so that the bit’s centered between your layout lines. Attach the router stops so that the bit can’t cut past your mortise lines.

To rout the mortise, first plunge the bit to full depth on each end. Then working in 1⁄4" increments, rout out the waste between the two holes. To feed the router so that the bit’s rotation pulls the guide to the work, position the fence as shown in Photo K and make your cutting passes from right to left. 

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