Table-Routing Without a Fence
With a starter pin, a bit shield, and a little practice, you can safely rout freehand on your router table.
How to Safely Table-Rout Without a Fence
Q: I notice that a lot of woodworkers rout "freehand" on router tables, using a guide-bearing bit and no fence. Is this safe?
—Louis Rebideaux, Sparks, Nev.
A: With the right techniques, Louis, it's a safe procedure. But it does call for caution, because a spinning router bit can throw a piece of wood or yank your fingers toward it in an instant. We checked with Rick Rosendahl, who appears on public television's The Router Workshop with his dad, Bob, and got his advice.
Rick recommends the use of a safety guide pin, or starter pin, when you rout freehand. Use a 1/4" rod or dowel made of steel, brass, or a dense hardwood, and drill a hole of the same size into your table, located about 2" from the bit, as shown at above right. The pin must fit snugly in the hole, and project above your workpiece. Push the workpiece against the pin, and use the pin as a fulcrum to support the wood as you carefully ease it into the spinning bit.
Rick suggests that a novice practice first with a good-size scrap of wood and a nice, small, 1/4" roundover bit. That will give you a feel for the forces at work before you try a larger bit that generates much more torque. Always grip the workpiece well away from the router bit.
Finally, Rick encourages the use of a plastic shield like the one shown, to keep your fingers out of harm's way. Use a screw to mount acrylic or polycarbonate plastic on a piece of wood that's slightly thicker than your workpiece. Make this wood base large enough so that you can easily clamp it to your router table. Position the plastic over the bit, and tighten your clamp. Now your fingers can't touch the bit from above.