Templates for Router Success
Choose Your Equipment
A straight router bit can cut out just about any shape you want. All it needs is a little guidance from you.
The first time you use a router, you're delighted to realize that it's capable of doing almost anything you want it to do. Soon after that, you're dismayed to realize that it's also capable of doing what it wants to do, such as veering off course when you try to freehand it along a line.
This is where templates enter the picture. You can turn a humble piece of hardboard into a template, or pattern, for a decorative design, structural part, geometric feature, or any other shape.
As you make the template, you can fuss over the details until they're just right, or toss it and start again. Once you perfect the template, you can use it to produce the same shape, and you can do it countless times.
When you rout a raised shape onto the surface of a project, the grain flows without interruption. That gives you a well-crafted effect that you can't get by cutting out the shape with a scrollsaw and gluing it on.
Template routing comes in handy for all kinds of applications, such as lettering, inlays, and shaping identical furniture parts. Here, we'll discuss how to make decorative shapes.
Template guide bushings turn your router into a pattern follower. A guide consists of a round plate that attaches to the router subbase and a tube, or bushing, that protrudes below. The cutting end of the bit projects through the bushing, and the outer rim of the bushing rides along the edge of the template.
Template guides come in two basic styles, as shown at left. The most common type screws into place and fits a wide range of router brands and models. The other clicks neatly into place-but fits only Bosch routers. In both styles, you can buy several sizes of bushings to correspond with router bits of various diameters.
A plunge router does a great job in template work, and becomes especially valuable when you want to save both the "positive" shape that you cut out and the "negative" shape that's left behind. We'll return to that concept in a minute.
The plunge design allows you to start and stop each cut vertically. With a fixed-base router, you're almost certain to create a slight imperfection as you pivot the bit into place.
Make Your Preparations
In most cases, 1/4" tempered hardboard makes the best choice for template material. It's inexpensive and easy to work with.
How are you going to draw the shape you want? If you're not too handy with a pencil, you can find lots of useful samples from scrollsaw pattern books and kids' coloring books.
Print out the shape, trace it, or copy it on a photocopying machine. Doing this enables you to enlarge or reduce it. Remember that the diameter of the template bushing limits your ability to rout into narrow slots and sharp inside curves. You might have to modify the shape slightly.
Affix this pattern to your template material with spray adhesive. Cut around it with a scrollsaw. To make usable positive and negative pieces, drill a 1/16" hole on the pattern line, thread your scrollsaw blade through, and begin to cut, as shown in the photo at left. You'll have a positive template that you can use to make a raised shape, and a negative one that's suitable for making a recessed version of that same shape. After completing the cut, remember to file or sand smooth the tiny dent left by the starter hole.
If you don't have a scrollsaw, take great care with a handheld jigsaw, and finish up with a coping saw if necessary. Carefully clean up any rough spots with files and sandpaper to guarantee a smooth finished product.
Now, Cut It Out
A rubber or foam pad will hold your workpiece in place on your benchtop while you rout. Stick the template on the workpiece with a few dabs of hot-melt glue. If you're going to rout all the way through the workpiece, attach it to a backer board with hot-melt glue.
Use a straight or spiral upcut bit with the same cutting diameter as the bushing to produce a piece nearly the same size as the template. Or, try a V-groove bit to create a carved look. Set your bit to the desired depth, and rout counterclockwise around a positive-image template, or clockwise around the inside of a negative-image template. Make sure to keep the bushing pressed firmly against your template at all times.
To make a recessed shape, use the arrangement shown below. If you want the shape to stand proud of the surface, go with the set-up shown in the photo at left. Once you're done routing, pop the template off the workpiece with a chisel.