Routers are great tools for shaping edges in furniture making, but they also have a number of other uses too, as John Bullar shows in the next part of this series.
Routers are great for shaping edges – turning a plain square-edged board into a friendly round-edged tabletop, for example – but they also have a multitude of other uses. While this article is a general introduction to using the hand-held router and the router table in furniture making, being such a versatile tool, router applications also crop up in other parts of this series.
The first type of furniture maker’s router was a humble block plane with a narrow blade protruding beneath it, which was intended for routing out deep channels or rebates.Early makers would also own a set of moulding planes, often running into dozens, for shaping the edges of panels and cabinet tops. Over the past 100 years, the electric router has progressively replaced both these tools.
In theory, a modern router is simple enough: a geared electric motor is vertically mounted over a flat plate known as the ‘sole’, which slides across the wood. A cutter, clamped to the motor spindle, pokes through the middle of the sole to cut the wood beneath. The motor can be lowered to cut deeper and raised to reduce or stop cutting, usually with a spring-loaded ‘plunge’ mechanism.
Putting this into practice requires planning and care. You can work freehand to make a groove just a few millimetres deep with a small diameter cutter, such as for patterns or signing your initials on a piece of wood . However, for larger or deeper grooves, the router must be guided to stop it running away and damaging the wood. We will look further into this below, but first a word on cutters.
Routers come in two main sizes with 1⁄4in chucks for small trimming jobs or 1⁄2in chucks for heavy-duty routing. Cutters or ‘bits’ in both sizes are made from high-speed-steel (HSS) or tungsten carbide (TC). Steel-edged cutters tend to have more complex shapes while carbide edges last much longer .
The router turns extremely fast, around 20,000rpm, and the cutter should slice off a minute shaving on each turn. This requires the edge to be razor-sharp otherwise the tool tip heats up and the wood scorches. To avoid blunting, router cutters should never be forced into the wood, nor allowed to remain in the same spot; they must be gently fed forward in a slow, controlled manner. With care, old router cutters can be sharpened although many makers regard them as disposable once the edge is dulled .
Depth & direction
Avoid making deep cuts with a router as this is when it will try to veer off on a path of its own, damaging the work and possibly the tool as well. Instead make a series of shallow cuts, increasing the overall depth at each stage. To help with this, the mechanism on a plunge router has a rotating turret stop, which guides the user to cut in three stages .
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