Workshop Mishaps: Router-table safety: Know the no-nos to avoid boo-boos

The story

I was preparing to make the rear legs for six chairs to go with an Arts and Crafts-style dining table that I had just finished. To easily shape identical legs, I decided to try my hand at pattern-routing. After making a template of the leg pattern from 1/4" hardboard, I double-face-taped it to one of the 1/8 × 2 × 36" oak leg blanks. Using my jigsaw, I trimmed the excess blank material to approximately 1/8" from the edges and 2" from the ends. With the leg blank positioned on my router table and perpendicular to me, I began routing an edge starting at the top. As I approached the bottom, I noticed that my arms were “wrapped” around the bit. Not good, I thought. Then, just as I started to rotate the blank to machine the end, the bit caught the end grain and the blank rapidly spun and pulled my right sleeve and arm into the bit. In a split second, my new, super-sharp bit had shredded my sleeve and carved a 1 × 3" gash into my wrist.

I immediately wrapped my wrist with a towel, applied pressure to the injury, and headed to a hospital. After closing the wound with 14 stitches, the surgeon noted how lucky I was to have only nicked an artery and not severed any tendons or nerves. About two weeks later, I decided to face the router table again to overcome my fear and finish the project. This part frightened me more than the injury, but I managed to muster the courage and complete the legs and chairs.

The victim

Garret Ware of Georgetown, Texas, has worked with wood for 27 years. He primarily builds large furniture projects in the Arts and Crafts style. Among his prized projects: a china cabinet, hutch, and curio cabinet that complement the dining set; several bedroom suites; entertainment centers; and desks.

Case analysis

Unfortunately for Garret, his first attempt at pattern-routing resulted in a tough lesson that really bites. Without thinking through the rotational forces at work when using this technique, he began to machine the leg edge from top to bottom, resulting in a harder-to-control climb cut (bit rotation with, rather than against, the feed direction of the workpiece).

When Garret turned the corner at the bottom of the template, the counterclockwise rotation of the bit immediately grabbed the leg end grain, causing the leg to forcefully rotate clockwise. Because Garret was not using a pivot pin to counteract the rotational force, the part’s movement directed his right sleeve and hand into the bit. “Honestly, I didn’t even know about pivot pins until after the incident,” he embarrassedly admits.

Shop-smart strategies

Garret was accustomed to routing using his fence as a guide. He did not realize the important differences in part movement and the control needed when pattern-routing in a freehand manner. To ensure your safety when using this technique, follow these tips.

• Rout workpieces in small (1/8" or less) increments and use pushpads for control when routing freehand with a template.

• Always feed the workpiece in a direction opposite the bit rotation. For example, to rout a picture frame, rotate the frame counterclockwise when machining the outside and clockwise when routing the inside.

• Whenever possible, use a fence or insert a pivot pin in your router tabletop to provide a fulcrum for safe control of the workpiece.

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