How To Choose A Great Router Table

Shop made router table or manufactured router table

There is no limit to what a router can do. That’s why just about every woodworker has one. But if you are using your router only as a handheld tool, you’re not taking full advantage of its versatility. Mounted in a table, the router becomes a super-accurate joinery machine that can spin out perfect sliding dovetails, and tenons that fit their mortises straight from the table. And you can also rout more consistent edge profiles because the router won’t tip.

It’s not hard to make a router table in your shop. All you need is a piece of plywood or MDF for the top and a straight piece of wood for the fence. Bolt the router to the top and you’re good to go. But there are problems with shopmade tables. If you go the simplest route and bolt a fixed-base router to the table, you’re stuck reaching underneath to adjust the bit height, and removing the router altogether to change bits. Even using a router with above-the-table adjustments, you probably won’t be able to change the bit that way because the table will be too thick to allow the collet to get above it. And a simple fence will be hard to adjust.

So, if you are looking for a new router table, it makes sense to get a manufactured one. You’ll get a smooth, durable top, a rigid fence that’s easy to adjust, and built-in dust collection. The top will also accommodate a router lift, which makes it a snap to change bits and bit height from above the table. Add one of those and a powerful router, and you have a tool that adjusts like a shaper, setting up precisely for any task in just a minute or two.

A router table top should be flat

And not only when you first unpack it – a router table top should remain flat when weighed down by your router (and a router lift, possibly). One that dips is difficult to work with, because you’ll have to force boards down into the valley to get consistent edge profiles—and there’s sure to be some boards that won’t bend easily. A dipping top also makes it hard to rout accurate joinery. Even with a flat router plate, an overall dip in the table around it will create problems. A cast iron table top like the one on the Bench Dog 40-300 ProMax Router Table won’t sag, but some cast-iron tops actually have a slight crown, which is better than a dip, because as long as you keep downward pressure on the workpiece right at the bit, you’ll get accurate profiles and joinery.

Fence should be straight, square, and strong

JessEm 4010 Master Fence II

Every router table needs a fence, preferably one that adjusts easily and accommodates featherboards, auxiliary fence faces, and other accessories. Like the table, the fence needs to be flat (no bow) along its length and square to the table when locked in place. Fences made of aluminum extrusions are best because they are extremely rigid and won’t bow when you press workpieces against them. Also, fences need to be square to the table and not move after they are locked in place, even when pushing the workpiece hard against them. Another important feature of a router-table fence is ease of adjustment. They must be easy to lock and unlock, and to move back and forth. Fences that mount to T-tracks attached to the table’s edges are the best because they slide with less resistance. The JessEm 4010 Master Fence II is one of the best on the market.

Better dust collection with an enclosed router

Good dust collection improves both accuracy and air quality. The best tables collect dust from above and below

Excalibur Deluxe Router Table

When upside down in a router table, routers tend to leave piles of chips and dust on the floor. All router tables have a dust-collection port behind the bit opening in the fence. They do a decent job above the table, keeping the chips mostly out of the way. But on their own they leave some chips on the table and a large pile on the ground. The answer is an enclosed cabinet which takes dust collection to another level, collecting nearly all of the chips. That’s because in addition to the fence port, they also have a 4-in. port in the enclosure (or if the don’t you can cut a hole yourself). This allows them to catch the chips that escape the fence port and fall beneath the table. The Bench Dog 40-001 Router Table is a great example of this type of cabinet-style router table.

The base should have a power switch

All stationary power tools—and a router table is one—should have a power switch that you can easily reach. You shouldn’t be reaching under the table to turn the motor on and off – for safety reasons and convenience. Router tables should have a remote power switch mounted to the base. If they don’t, you should buy one as an accessory. The Kreg PRS3100 is an excellent choice.

Our recommendation - Kreg PRS1045

The Kreg PRS1045 has got it all – a rock solid base, flat table top. rigid aluminum fence that moves on a T-track plus a remote power switch. It also comes with a ton of other accessories. The only thing it lacks is an enclosed cabinet, but the jury is out on that one – even though a cabinet collects more dust, a big router used for a long period can overheat in an enclosure. 

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