Don’t be Afraid to Reach for the Router

Author: James Jackson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: February March 2021
reach for the router
reach for the router

A powerful and efficient tool in the workshop, the router can make quick work of some tedious tasks.

You never forget your first time using a router.

The high-pitched whine of the motor as the bit reaches speeds of 20,000 RPM and the hypnotic spinning blade can make the tool a little bit intimidating.

My first experience was with my father’s router table about 12 years ago while I was building my homemade cedar post lamp I wrote about in an earlier column. The base was made from a 1/2″ thick piece of cherry and while I was content leaving the sharp angles of the wood intact, my dad suggested I round them over using the router.

I practised for a few minutes using a few scrap pieces and was amazed at how the tool effortlessly carved into the wood and cre­ated a beautiful finished edge. To this day, routers still fascinate me. They’re such a useful and flexible tool capable of doing so much around the shop.

I do a lot of research and self-education via myriad talented (and not-so-talented) woodworkers and DIYers on YouTube, and they’re always finding new ways to use routers.

One of the most inge­nious I’ve seen is using a router and wooden sled to flatten warped, twisted or misshapen pieces of wood instead of using a jointer. The router adds a little more precision to the process and often means less wastage compared to the larger, less flexible jointer.

My dad used this technique a few years ago to flatten the top of a piece of apple wood he turned into a serving tray. It also provided a good reminder of just how dangerous the spinning blades can be when he accidentally sliced half an inch from the top of one of his pointer fingers while reaching for it.

Routers are also handy at making dado slots and rabbet joints. I’ve never tried this technique myself (and to be honest, not too long ago I thought they were called “rabbit” joints), but I can see how this powerful and accurate tool would make quick work of these projects.

Believe it or not, one of the best uses for a router I’ve seen is the simple yet effective flush trim bit.

As I wrote earlier this year, precision isn’t exactly my strong suit when it comes to measuring or cutting wood in the shop. It’s nice to know if I’m working on a project and the edges don’t quite line up, I can fall back on this little trick to ensure a per­fectly aligned edge.

Is it cheating? Maybe. I guess I could have used a hand plane and sandpaper to round-over the edges of my lamp or to flatten that piece of rough-sawn apple wood. And maybe I should learn to cut my dadoes or rabbets by hand first before moving on to the power tools.

No doubt there’s an argument to be made for doing it the old-fashioned way, but with fewer people building handmade items these days, maybe reaching for the router is the lesser of two evils.

Just try to be careful when reaching for it.


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