No matter how long you work with wood, there are always new things to learn.

Lessons Learned

No matter how long you work with wood, there are always new things to learn. Just ask Chuck Hedlund, WOOD magazine's shop manager. Chuck has earned woodworking paychecks for nearly 40 years, yet most every project he builds provides new woodworking insights or reinforces lessons learned long ago.

And that, in a nutshell, is the inspiration for this new series of articles. You'll learn alongside WOOD magazine's project builders or designers as they tackle projects and solve problems around the shop. For this installment, Chuck shares with you three routing observations that he uncovered in building the pastry stand featured in the September 2000 issue of WOOD magazine.

Each of the trays in the pastry stand resembles a plate with a center that's lower than the rim of the plate. To cut the center depression, I originally tried a straight bit like the one at right in the photo below. But, I quickly ran into snags.

First, the straight bit tended to tear out grain near the edges of the circular depression. Also, it left a surface that required lots of sanding cleanup. So, I tried a raised-letter bit, sometimes referred to as a bowl or tray bit, to cut the depression. It worked great.

Like the bit at left in the photo below, these cutters have radiused carbide edges that prevent tearout. And, because they have cutting surfaces on their bottoms as well as their sides, they cut depressions that require little cleanup.

A raised-letter bit, shown at left, differs from a straight bit, at right, because it has radiused edges that cut along its entire bottom.

On more than one occasion I've had to make a plunge-routing cut without a plunge router. To get by I would tip the spinning bit of a fixed-base router into the cut. That doesn't work for the pastry stand. When I tipped the router into the tray depression, I wound up with a tiny indentation at the tip-in spot. A plunge router gets you around this problem because it lowers the bit straight down, making indentations a thing of the past.

Also, to rout each tray, I had to hold the router's bushing against the edge of the depression as I tipped in the router and started the cut. Any hesitation in the movement of the router resulted in burning. With a fixed-base router I felt like I needed three arms and the eye-hand coordination of Michael Jordan. Again, a plunge router gave me control over this situation. In one easy motion I held the bushing against the edge, plunged down the router, and started the cut without hesitation or burning.


To rout a perfect circle, you need a template that's perfectly circular. Any unevenness in the edge of the template will transfer to the workpiece.

To get a good template, I first mark the pattern with a sharp pencil (a mechanical model works great). You just can't work to exacting tolerances with a dull pencil that makes fat lines. Then, I cut just up to, but not into, the marked line. Doing that leaves me some extra material so I can sneak up to the line precisely with a sanding drum on the concave surfaces of the pastry-stand templates. On convex surfaces, use a disc or belt sander.