If you are looking for the next tool for your home wood shop or garage, then it’s no surprise that you are considering a router table. It might not be the first tool you’d buy for home shop (most people like to start with a table saw or compound miter saw), but it’s a solid choice bit down the road.
But what should you be looking for in a router table and which one should you buy?
What Is A Router Table?
Just so we are all on the same page, a router is a power tool that consists of a horizontal table with a spinning cutting head sticking up out of the middle. There is a collet that holds a spindle-like shank with a cutting bit at the end. The bits spin crazily fast and tears through wood, creating a shape that is dependent on the shape of the bit.
Routers are use for trimming edges to shape and cutting holes into wood using that vertically-oriented cutting head. The circular shape of the cutting head means routers are particularly good at creating creating circles and other shapes with rounded edges.
A router table, sometimes called a benchtop router table, is a table with an upside-down router in the middle. It gets your basic router and turns it from a handheld tool into a tabletop machine. This means you have a lot more stability and you can see what you are doing much better, but you can’t work on pieces of wood that are quite as large since you are now limited by the size of the table. Tabletop routers are best for long cuts that require lots of stabilization.
Many woodworkers have creating their own router table with a wood table and a handheld router, but tool manufacturers sell permanent, fixed router tables as well. We’ll be focused on the most popular, versatile design, which is you combine a table and a handheld, fixed-based router.
There are some sub-types of routers, like a plunge router, but we’ll be focused on table router, which is a type of fixed-base router. A fixed based router can be adjusted up and down (adjusting the depth of the cutting tool) before a cut is made but then it’s locked into place while a plunge route can be pushed up and down while active.
Cordless routers do exist, but most routers have cords and they are generally not seen as an inconvenience. This is the case because router work is usually done in large batches in a shop, unlike, say, a sawzall, where your cutting might take place anyway. All tabletop routers have cords.
Here is an excellent video on using a router table. It’s worth a watch if you are thinking of making an investment.
What Are Router Tables Used For?
The list of what you’d do with a router is really limited to your imagination, but an example of a popular use is creating a raised panel door or raised panel cabinet door from a solid wood piece. You can use the router with some rail and stile bits in order to create the horizontal cuts used to hold the pieces of the door together. You’d also use the router with a raised panel bit with back cutter in order to shape the face of the panel, thus creating the raised part.
Routers are really good for any edge cut into wood, creating joints, shaping moulding, creating grooves/slots (as you would in a cabinet door), rounding an edge, creating a 45-degree chamfer, and doing all sorts of other things.
Typical your router would use a quarter inch (1/4″) or a half inch (1/2″) shank. This is the part that goes into the router and is held but a collet and then spun.
Generally speaking, smaller, lighter duty routers use 1/4″ collet but larger routers will take either a 1/2″ or 1/4″ shank.
The capabilities of a router with either shank size will be the same, but the 1/4″ unit will likely have less power and need to do jobs more slowly than the larger one.
The Right Benchtop Router Table
Here are some popular options you’ll want to consider before making your purchase. Keep in mind, none of these options will include a router! These are tables which you mount a router to.
Bosch Benchtop Router Table
The Bosch RA1181 Benchtop Router Table isn’t collapsible but it does upgrade to an aluminum table top, which looks much nicer than MDF and it’ll last longer. While many of the features are the same as the previous Bosch, like those plastic featherboards, this model has upgraded dust collection, but way of two ports which fit standard 2.5″ vacuum hoses.
This model has an ABS plastic base which saves weight and cuts down on cost, but won’t be like by people who would prefer to see a steel or at least an aluminum base.
Note: This model is hit and miss to find online, but it’s a top seller at Home Depot.
- Table Top Size: 27″ x 18″
- Dimensions: 27″ x 22.75″ x 14.5″
- Weight: 30 pounds
Kreg Router Table
If you are looking for a simple, stable router table then the Kreg PRS2100 is a popular option. This unit features a laminate covered MDF tabletop with a steel base. There are some creature comforts, like built-in rubber feet to reduce vibration and pre-drilled holes for mounting this to a bench. The fence is made of extruded aluminum.
The steel based is splayed out for added stability and it’s covered in a handsome painter’s tape blue coating. There is a vacuum shroud so you can add dust collection if needed.
- Table Top Size: 24″ x 16″
- Router Plate Size: 9 1/4″ x 11 3/4″ x 3/8″
- Weight: 26 pounds
Bosch Portable Benchtop Router Table
One of the most popular options router tables is the Bosch RA1141 portable router table. This model collapses down when not in use, making it easy to move and small to store when you aren’t using it. The table top is made of MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and it includes a large fence, guide components, and featherboards.
A major tradeoff with this model is that the expandable design add wobble and decreases the level of precious the table has, so while it’s OK for most jobs make sure you really need the collapsing design before you go with the model.
There are a few clever, useful features with this model, like storage for your bits and the small parts in pockets in the legs and the ability to add dust collection.
This model, like the Bosch below, comes fully assembled so that your first router project isn’t building a router table!
Note, the Skil RAS900 router table is basically identical to this model so you can shop around and find the best deal, assuming you don’t care if your tool is blue or red.
- Table Top Size: 26″ x 16.5″
- Weight: 33 pounds
Light Duty Router Tables
Here are some router tables for occasional use. They are light on features but can be had for under $125.
These tables aren’t collapsible and they are lacking in some of the more interesting features of the above tables, but they generally have the basics, like included featherboards and some option for dust collection. They tend to have lightweight fences and no spare outlets. Still, these will provide a simple, stable base for your router work.
Rockler Convertible Benchtop Router Table
If you are looking for the ultimate in versatility then the Rockler Convertible table might suit your needs. This model will come at a premium price and it’ll be a lot more fiddly than the others because it is so adjustable, but it will be useful under many more circumstances.
This router table can be used on the benchtop, mounted up against a wall, or mounted directly to stud on at a build site. It’s fully collapsible so you can fold it down and throw it in the back of your car when moving it place to place. The design uses folding legs and quick release pins in order to make it foldable, but this does mean many more moving parts harder leveling and lost more wiggle.
Why do routers have speed settings?
Routers have RPM speed settings because router bits vary widely in their width. A wider bit has a higher rotational speed — the rim speed — so you can lower the speed of your router as the bit gets wider. If your speed is too slow you won't get good cuts, but if your speed is too high you might get some bad vibrations and you could even heat things up too much and burn the wood.
Which way do you cut with a table top router?
A router spins clockwise and a table top router has the cutting part upside down, so you always want to feed your work from right to left. This causes the router bit to be spinning towards the fence, with the piece of wood being squeezed between the direction of the bit and the fence.