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10 Ways to Get the Most from Your Plunge Router

Here are 10 ways a plunge router beats a fixed-base router.

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  • 10 Ways to Get the Most from Your Plunge Router

    To many woodworkers, a plunge router is like one of those deluxe TV remote controls that has lots of buttons and functions: Most people only use a few of them because they don't understand their full capabilities. Welcome to the plight of the plunge router. Too often this versatile tool gets pushed to the side in favor of its simpler sibling, the fixed-base router. But here are 10 ways a plunge router beats its brother.

  • 1. Mortising

    Store-bought or shop-made jigs increase the accuracy of a router as well as its ability to make identical, repeated plunge-router tasks. For example, you don't need to own a hollow-chisel mortiser to make mortises quickly and easily. Simply build the jig shown on the next page, grab your plunge router and an upcut spiral bit, and you're in business. Install a 5/8" guide bushing in your router's subbase and a bit that matches the width of your mortise. Center the scribed lines on the jig to your mortise layout lines, and then rout in 1/4"-deep increments. Depending on the position of your mortises, sometimes only one of the jig's aluminum cross bars will rest on the workpiece. To keep the jig parallel to the workpiece in these instances, add a 1/4" spacer, as shown in the photo.

    For the tenons, you have three options, all of which work equally well. First, you can rout mortises in both of the mating workpieces and make a loose tenon to fit. To do this, dimension stock to the thickness and width you'll need, and then round over the edges on your router table. Second, machine a tenon onto the mating workpiece as you'd do for a rectangular mortise, and then simply round the edges with a knife or rasp. Or third, square the mortise corners with a chisel to fit a matching tenon.

    Insert a spacer in the mortising jig where this leg's taper begins. That keeps the jig parallel to the mortised surface as shown in photo.

  • 2. Doweling

    Make the same jig as for mortising, but rather than slotting the acrylic top, simply bore two 5/8" holes. Make multiple tops with different spacing between the holes for different dowel setups. To use this jig, set it up as you would for mortising, and then plunge the holes to your desired depth. Repeat for the mating workpiece, and assemble the joint with glue and dowels.

  • 3. Interior pattern routing

    When you need to rout any type of closed pattern in the interior of a workpiece, such as the chip/dip tray, shown in photo, choose a plunge router. With a fixed-base router you have to tip the router into the cut—risky because you can damage the workpiece or template or possibly injure yourself.

    Whether you use commercial templates or make your own, you'll need to use either a guide bushing or a top-bearing pattern bit to register against the template. For cuts deeper than your bit can reach, use a collet extension, which fits into your router collet and has another collet for your bit.

  • 4. Stopped dadoes, grooves, and flutes

    When you need to make field cuts like these, tilting a fixed-base router into the workpiece might cause it to veer off track and damage your workpiece. With a plunge router you simply use a clamp-on straightedge or an edge guide, shown in photo, made by your router's manufacturer. Add stops at each end, and it's almost goof-proof.

  • 5. Circle routing

    To create perfect circles, mount your router to a trammel arm that rotates around a fixed point, shown in photo.With a plunge router you can quickly cut out the workpiece from a larger blank, without need of a saw.

  • 6. Sign-making

    You've got two options here. First, you can sketch the lettering onto your workpiece, and then freehand rout along the lines. But that requires a steady hand—one slip-up and you'll have to start over. Or, use a commercial sign-making system, shown in photo, with a guide bushing in the plunge base.

  • 7. Inlay

    As with sign-making, it takes a steady hand to rout inlay recesses freehand. Mess up and you're forced to mend the goof. By using templates with bearing-guided bits or guide bushings, you eliminate the chances of veering off course. And whether the inlay serves for decoration or to patch a flaw in the wood, store-bought kits, shown in photo, provide everything you need to rout the recess as well as exact-fitting inlays.

  • 8. Keyholes

    Hanging something on a wall but don't want to use a hanger bracket or wire? A slotted keyhole, as shown in photo, does the job nicely and won't be seen, because the screw head and shank slip into the slot. Many manufacturers make router bits specifically for making these keyhole slots in several sizes; choose the one that best fits the screws you'll use. You can use one keyhole slot for small projects or two or three for larger ones. It's always best to drive the screws into wall studs, so lay out your keyholes accordingly. Whether you place the keyholes on vertical or horizontal elements of your project, the technique is the same. Plunge into the back to the preset depth, and then rout about an inch or two of slot. Turn off the router and return to the spot where you plunged in before lifting the router.

  • 9. Dual-light offset subbase

    Laser locators and LED lights make this subbase from MLCS ideal for many plunge-routing tasks even if you never hold it by its offset knob. The crosshair lasers prove especially useful for lining up a plunge cut, such as the marble holes in the Chinese-checkers board shown, shown in photo. Flip the switch the other way, and bright LED lights illuminate hard-to-see tasks.

  • 10. Dust hoods

    Some router manufacturers include dust hoods with their routers, but many also come as accessories. Typically made of clear plastic, these prove helpful in gobbling up chips and dust when hooked to a shop vacuum.

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