Bit-raising strategies for every budget
When making the raised-panel-bit boxes, shown below, we thank our lucky stars for the lift-equipped router table in the WOOD® shop that allows us to make uber-precise bit-height adjustments without a lot of under-the-table fuss. The rig in our shop is pretty deluxe (read: "more than I can afford for my own shop"), but woodworkers have several really good—and affordable—options when it comes to router-table adjustments. Here are four methods of making your bits go up and down, from bare-bones to super-convenient.
AS BASIC AS IT GETS
Move the motor within its base
No frills here. Make an oh-so-simple router table by screwing a fixed-base router to a piece of plywood, as shown above. To raise or lower the bit, you'll have to reach under the table. Or go one better and mount the router to an insert plate that fits into a tabletop recess. This makes height adjustments easier by lifting the router and plate out of the table.
TWISTING MOTORS; FAST BUT FUSSY
- Low cost, with no need to buy anything more than the router (if you don't have one) or insert plate.
- You can use the router's own dust shields and hoods for effective dust collection below the table.
- If you have a multibase kit, you can mount one base in a router table (typically the fixed) and remove the motor as needed for handheld use with the other base.
- If you buy a heavyduty phenolic or aluminum insert plate, it won't sag under the router's weight, and has leveling screws for flush-mounting to the top. Most come with insert rings and a starter pin, as shownbelow.
ACCESSORIES MAKE ROUTING SAFER
* Because some motors rotate in their fixed bases to set bit height, as shown below, adjusting the height might position the speed control or power switch in a hard-to-reach location.
THE BEST SOLUTION FOR A PLUNGER
- Unless you use an insert plate or removable motor, you make all adjustments and bit changes below the table.
- Fine adjustments prove tricky because locking the base sometimes changes your bit's height slightly.
Choose a router with a built-in lift
Many of today's routers with 2-hp or larger motors—primarily fixed-base models—have a lift mechanism built right in, so you can set bit height without fumbling below. You simply drill access holes for the provided wrench, mount the router base to the tabletop or insert plate, and you're set. Some of these routers use a leadscrew, a long bolt running the length of the router, to make height adjustments. Leadscrews, especially those with 16 threads per inch (tpi), deliver greater accuracy than the rack-and-pinion systems of other routers.
If your plunge router doesn't have a built-in lift, you can add one with the retrofit kit shown below.
- Although a router with a builtin lift costs more than a comparable router without, it's still the second-most affordable option.
- You can usually change bits from above the table.
- * Dust shields and hoods designed for effective dust collection with handheld routing typically work as well below the table.
- * If you have a multibase kit, mount the fixed base in a router table and remove the motor as needed for handheld use in the plunge base.
- * With some models you still have to reach below the table to lock and unlock the base before and after making height adjustments.
- Mounting the router with the liftaccess holes out front to avoid the fence might place the speed or power controls in hard-to-reach positions.
- * Fine-threaded leadscrews require dozens of wrist-fatiguing half-turns to raise the collet high enough for bit changes and then back down to cutting height again.
- Locking the base can alter the bit's height slightly, negating ultrafine adjustments.
- * Removing a dedicated plunge router from the table for handheld use requires you to either remove the insert plate and reinstall the router's subbase, or rout with the plate intact.
GIVE A PLUNGER A LIFT
Install a router motor in an insert-plate lift
Combine the advantages of a phenolic or aluminum router-table insert with the leadscrew accuracy of a built-in lift and you get a router lift that can deliver accuracy, convenience, and durability. Look for a lift with a 16-tpi leadscrew for easiest use; lifts with 8 tpi prove more difficult at making fine adjustments, and those with 32 tpi make coarse adjustments tedious.
To use these lifts, you simply remove a router motor from its base, install it in the lift, do a quick calibration, and you're ready to rout. Most lifts let you change bits above the table. (Some shorter motors require one or two angled wrenches to reach into the lift's bit opening to change bits from above.)
FAST AND PRECISE ADJUSTMENTS
NOT AS FAST, BUT VERY PRECISE
* A geared adjustment mechanism delivers accurate bit-height settings, is easier to use than a built-in lift, and raises the motor up fully to change bits from above the table.
* Lifts come premounted to a heavy-duty phenolic or aluminum insert plate that won't sag under the router's weight, and often have leveling screws for flush-mounting to the top.
* The motor releases easily from most lifts, allowing you to return it to its original base for handheld work.
* Lifts grip the motor with pressure pads, letting you position it so you can best reach the speed and power controls.
* Most lifts include insert rings and a starter pin, as shown below.
ACCESSORIES MAKE ROUTING SAFER
- You can spend more for a lift (from $170 to $400) than for your router. And if you change your router, you might also need to get an adapter for the lift or buy a new lift.
- Only round router motors fit into a lift—dedicated plunge routers will not work.
- Dust collection below the table proves a challenge.
Go deluxe: Buy a lifted-and-loaded table
If you're looking for the ultimate router table—with a price tag to match—opt for a router-table system with a fully integrated lift. The lift mechanism works similiarly to those in Option 3, but comes preassembled as part of the top or as part of a package that includes fence, stand, and other accessories.
* Fully integrated systems, such as the one shown below, have a crank on the side or front of the table to make height adjustments and above-the-table bit changes—the easiest system of the four to use.
* With built-in calibrated scales, these lifts deliver unrivaled accuracy.
* A deluxe package typically includes a stand, a durable phenolic or cast-iron top with miter slot and T-slot, a fence with independent left and right faces and T-slots for mounting accessories, dust-collection port on the fence (and sometimes below the table), insert rings, and a starting pin.
* As with an insert-based lift (Option 3), you position the motor to best access controls, and the motor can be removed easily for handheld work.
- This is the most expensive option, costing from $700 to $1,300 for the table package (not including the router motor).
- Only round router motors fit into these lifts—dedicated plunge routers will not work.