Do you really need a router table insert?
By Mark Adams, Senior Editor, Wood Tools Magazine
Way back in the last millennium, my first router table was nothing more than an old craftsman router mounted to a piece of plywood (with a hole for the bit) that was laid over two saw horses. The fence was a 2 x 4. My two shortest pipe clamps held the 2 x 4 to the plywood.
My homemade router table was actually more than most of my friends had. I guess I was the “rich” woodworker. When most people were buying their first router, I had already moved on to using a router table, simple as it was.
I no longer have that router table. It got thrown out with my 8 track player and bell bottoms. But as I wax nostalgic and come back to reality, I realize that the “good ole days” were probably not as good as we all choose to remember.
Router plates had really yet to be invented for consumer use. As I really think back to that setup, I realize why router inserts were invented. Let me explain.
If you choose to mount your router to a similar set up, here’s what to expect. Every time you install your router you will have to take out the screws that hold your baseplate and then reattach them to the table. Without holding back, this is a total pain. Yes, doable, but the kind of work that makes woodworking tedious instead of fun. I’ve long since lost the zeal to bend over and climb under tables…
Since the table is thicker than the baseplate, you’ll have to find longer screws as well. Most routers today have screws only long enough to screw in the thin baseplate. Some of them even use specialized screws so be careful when you use the screws from Home Depot to not strip out the screw holes.
The next step is to cut the bit opening hole. The standard size is 1 ½ inches. This should be enough for all but your biggest router bits. Just remove the router base and center it around the hole to drill and countersink you screw holes.
But here’s a major safety warning! If the hole is too big and the wood you are routing gets caught up in the hole, it will catch, hit the blade and spew very sharp wood chips it all directions. Not really something I bet either of us wants to experience.
Another issue is that many router bits are not tall enough to clear the extra height of the wood. This means you can’t get a full depth of cut. The temptation is to raise the bit in the collet. Obviously not a good idea. Yes there are extensions that fit into the router and then you insert the bit into the extension, but they cost as much if not more that the router plate. This is a workable solution, but to me kinda seems easier to get a router plate in the first place.
If you’re prepared to do all of this extra work to save a nominal amount of money and sacrifice saftey then good luck. I no longer am.
Router Table Inserts Today
Router table inserts today range from about $12 for acrylic to $65 for top of the line aluminum.
A router table insert will make your life easier in a variety of ways. First you won’t need longer screws to attach the router. The insert plate is probably the same height as your existing base plate.
Second you can take the plate out of the router table to change router bits. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize you didn’t have to crawl underneath your router table.
Next, many of you will have router combo kits. One router with a fixed base and a plunge base. This is ideal and designed for a router table plate. The idea is that you mount the fixed base to your router table plate permanently and then keep the router in the plunge base for handheld routing. Easily and simply switch the router between bases using the simple one piece connector clamp when you need to rout using the router table.
The next best thing about router table inserts are additional ring inserts. These simply fit into the plate hole and adjust the opening bigger or smaller to create the safest size opening for your different router bits. Definitely a must have feature.
Starter pin? Yes, most router plates have an opening for a starter pin. This is used as a brace for the wood before you it touches the bit. It prevents kickback when you’re template routing or not using the router fence. Again, a must have feature.
I hope that by now you realize that for very little money you can make your routing easier and safer with a router plate and the days of screwing your router to a piece of wood should be long gone. Like my previously mentioned 8-track…
OK, so what type of router plate should you get. Here are your optons.
- Acrylic – very inexpensive but will probably sag or chip over time
- Phenolic – a very hardened and stiff plastic that will hold its shape for years but is designed for light use
- Aluminum – Will always hold its shape, not sag even if you leave your 3 hp router attached. A little more expensive, but designed for a lifetime of use.
I have put together a link to several different router plates for you to review further. You can check them out here.
Here’s a nice video that shows you how simple it is to install your new plate
If you would like to see out reviews on router tables click here.
To see our router bit article click here
Whatever you choose for your router table, I hope you keep things simple and safe. Good luck!
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