Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Hobbyist or Pro: Hobbyist
Project Name: A simple, inexpensive router table
Wood Species: MIxed
Finish Used: Minwax Wipe-On Poly
I don’t use a router all that much in my woodworking, but decided that a router table would be helpful for certain jobs. I saw no point in spending hundreds of dollars on a high-end table, and the cheap plastic bench top tables left me cold. With more time to spare than money, I decided to build my own. My wish list was that it be lightweight, small and easy to transport; quick and easy to build; capable of precision work; simple and pleasant to use; and should cost about $50 or less. No sweat.
Most of my work is on the small size–building and repairing stringed instruments, etc., and my shop is tiny. So I was looking for a small, portable table that I could set up outside the shop with a minimum of effort. I decided on a table 21″ x 16 1/2″. It needed to be 14″ tall to allow me to drop the motor out the bottom for bit changes. Since I wasn’t mounting a plunge router, and the motor is easy to remove, I saw no need for a mounting plate. The lack of the plate simplified the setup and would be less prone to warping and vibration. The top was to be made of two sheets of 1/2″ thick MDF board glued together, which is reasonably strong and stable. Since MDF is basically glorified cardboard, it’s weak point is friable edges. So I decided to edge it with 1/4″ thick strips of wood. Before gluing, I cut a disk out of the bottom layer of MDF with a saber saw to just fit the base of my router. That gave me a thinner top for mounting, but with little or no loss of strength.
I made a trip to the local big box store and bought two 24″ x 48″ sheets of 1/2″ MDF for about $17. I splurged on stainless steel nuts and bolts for another $6. A combination outlet with switch, and 8′ extension cord dinged me another $18. Finally I added a stick of kiln dried pine for another $3, and I was all set. Cost was around $45 including tax. I cheated a bit and used a few pieces of hardwood from my scrap bin for making the fence and edging. I had some scrap teak for surrounding the table, a piece of hard maple for the fence, and some scrap black locust for the adjustable faces for the fence. Any stray lumber would have worked, but the woods I had should wear well. I made the knobs by epoxying long nuts into levers I made from some scrap cut-off left over from a laminated banjo neck I had built. A little fancy I suppose, but it works, and my wife likes them.
The simplest fence would be a two by four, jointed flat and square on two sides, clamped to the table. I wanted something a bit better, and easier to adjust. I like the simplicity of a fence pivoting around one end. So I drilled a hole through one end of the fence support and the table top and ran a 4″ carriage bolt through both. On the swinging side, I installed a second carriage bolt through 5″ long arc I routed through the table top using the first hole as a pivot for my router’s circle guide. This gives me about 2 1/2″ of travel at the cutter, which should be enough for any edge routing I do. If I need to rout beyond that limit, I can remove the pivot bolts and clamp the fence to the table as needed. I have plenty of overhang to do this. I routed a mortise under the curved slot and inlaid a piece of 1/2″ thick hardwood to toughen the slot where the carriage bolt rides. I wouldn’t trust the MDF to hold up well without this reinforcement. The adjustable faces are attached to the fence block with #14 round head stainless wood screws. A 1/8 turn loosening of each screw will allow the faces to be adjusted to fit the cutter. A quarter turn of each wing knob will lock everything square to the table.
The only critical joinery is the fence. The bottom of the fence must be dead flat, and the cutter side must be flat and at an exact right angle to the bottom. This can be done on any jointer. Finally, the adjustable faces must be of even thickness throughout. If so, then they will also be square when screwed to the fence.
Since I planned to carry this table around a lot, I eased all edges with a 3/8″ roundover bit to make it easy on the hands. I installed the switch to allow turning the router off and on without reaching under the table. I gave everything several coats of wipe-on poly to seal and harden the MDF. I gave extra coats to the top and added a coat of paste wax.
My Bosch router can be fine adjusted through a hole drilled in the top, but it’s so easy to adjust by reaching under the table, I doubt I will ever bother hunting for the allen wrench. The only problem I’ve encountered with the design is the fence. The adjustable faces stick up above the fence block and can interfere with the turning of the knobs. They only require a quarter turn to lock or release, so they function fine unless you want to completely unscrew them. Either the fence should be higher, or the faces should be lower, or the levers should be smaller or taller to clear. After I use the table a bit more, I’ll decide which is the best way to go.
I put the whole thing together over a weekend. It’s not furniture grade construction, but it doesn’t really need to be. The MDF is glued and screwed to the inner frame, and should easily stand up to hard use. (you build wooden boats that way). It works quite well for my purposes, is precise and easy to use, and was built within my planned budget.