Routing Bits, Jigs and Accessories
Essentially, a hand-held motor with a bit holder at one end, the router you brought home from the tool dealer on its own is of little use until you add the various accoutrements that unlock the true potential of this tool. With the addition of a modest collection of carefully chosen bits you can create a wide range of trim and edge profiles, combining various sections of the different profiles for the final result. Add some joinery bits and jigs to turn it into a joint making machine. Remember, until a sharp edge meets wood the router is nothing more than a fancy paperweight and when the cutting starts, controlling the router accurately and safely becomes the order of the day. Consider adding one of the many accessories that make controlling the router both safer to use and easier to control.
A Basic Bit Collection
The first time you take a look at the price of a quality router bit you might feel your heart skip a beat. Router bits can vary considerably in price from one manufacturer to another and so can the quality. One day I was at the local tool dealer and they had a 20-piece set on a clearance special. Already an inexpensive line, at 50% off the temptation was too strong to resist. Before the manager would ring it up, he questioned my choice knowing that I almost always buy from their other router bit line and pointed out that these bits would most likely be a disappointment. I appreciated his honesty and pointed out that they would be ideal for outdoor projects like fences or, more importantly, as a set of bits to offer on loan when someone came asking. Building a decent collection of quality bits costs money and takes time, but starting off with a basic collection of a few high quality bits can get you off to a good start.
Do the Twist
If I could only have one router bit to use in cutting joinery on the router it would be a 3/8″ carbide spiral. This is one of the more expensive bits in your collection but also one of the most useful. With the addition of a jig, this bit can be used to cut mortises and with a guide, this bit will cut grooves and dados in plywood or solid wood. Used on a router table with a split fence, it can joint a rough edge and used in last issue’s Shopjig project, it can quickly surface the tricky surface on an end grain cutting board. If you are using the bit to surface and joint stock then I recommend the 3/8″ version. If you will primarily be using it to cut joinery and predominantly work with ¾” stock, then I would recommend the 5/16″ cutter for more appropriate tenon sizing. Both bits are available at Lee Valley (#86J02.06 & #86J02.09).
This bit is the one edge treatment bit I reach for most often in my shop. A bearing guided version can be used in either a hand-held router or with one mounted in a table. A chamfer is an excellent way to soften or break an edge and the nature of the chamfer is often used as a design element. When light falls on an object, the various facets on the surface reflect it in different ways and while a curved surface allows the light to fade to shadow, a chamfered edge will create a definitive surface that will reflect the light in such a way as to help define the outline of a piece. I regularly use mine to rout a chamfer at the bottom edge of fences and jigs as well. Any dust created will then have a place to go without creating interference between the material and the fence. Another regular use for this bit is to chamfer the bottom edges of a leg. This reduces the exposed short grain at the edge, thus reducing the chance of any splintering if the piece is dragged across the floor.
A wide selection of chamfer bits with different cutting angles and sizes can be found at woodline.com.
Box Making Set
This set has become indispensible in my shop. The set consists of two individual bits: a piloted grooving bit for routing the recess that houses the bottom in a box, and a small drawer lock bit to cut the corner joints. This bit designed by award winning furniture designer Don Kondra and sold through Lee Valley cuts the corner joints for the box with one set-up: the first piece is passed by the bit horizontally and the second piece is run along a fence vertically (Box Slotting Bit # 16J83.02 & 16J83.04, and Small Drawer Lock Bit #16J76.72). With the corner joints cut, the box is held together with clamps and then with the slotting bit in a router table, the groove is cut for the bottom. To install the bottom, simply round over the corners of the bottom, apply glue to the box sides and then clamp it up. If you build wooden boxes and use material ½” or less, this pair is worth its weight in gold.
Another versatile bit is the ¼” slotting bit. In addition to being the ideal bit for long grooves close to the edge of the panel for a cabinet back, I use this bit quite often to cut a reveal at the edge of a piece to create a shadow edge or to provide an invisible coped transition from a square piece to an irregular surface. Using a reveal like this when installing built-in furniture makes repainting the adjacent wall a breeze without the need to mask everything off and edge it in. Used on a router table in combination with a fence, the slot cutting bit will allow you to make rail and stile cabinet doors using a couple of simple set-ups.
To make a rail and stile door, use the slot cutter centered on the stock to cut the grooves for the panel and then lower the bit, and using a cross cut sled, cut the tenons on the rails. I’ve become a real fan of the new Freud 4-wing cutters (Freud #58-112 & #60-102); they provide a clean, precise cut in all materials. Slot cutters are typically sold as two separate items; a shaft and the cutter.
With some shafts you can also fit a bearing to the end making it a piloted cutter.
A rabbet is a common element in furniture and investing in a rabbet set early on is a good idea. These cutters are the ideal solution for cutting all types of rabbets both on the router table as well as well as with a hand held router. A rabbeting set contains several bearings of different sizes and by changing out the bearings the cutter will automatically cut to a different depth.
Decorative Edge Bits
Routers excel at milling decorative edges but the choice in these bits is largely a matter of personal taste. If you are unsure as to what type of bits you might use most often, I recommend buying one of those large boxed sets of assorted bits that you often see on sale at large chains or at your local wood show. These certainly are not the highest quality bits. However, they will allow you to sample a wider range of decorative bits. As you use them and they become dull, simply replace the ones you like with higher quality versions.
Fixtures and Jigs
When shopping around for a router, you’ll notice that some routers come with an impressive range of accessories as standard equipment while others simply include just the basic router. Consider purchasing or making some basic jigs in order to get the most out of your router. The basic purpose of a jig is to precisely control the position of the cutting edge relative to the wood and some of the most useful jigs can be made in the shop. On the other hand, the commercially available jigs will be much more versatile and precise and worth the additional cost. These are some of my essential jigs.
Having an edge guide for your router is essential for hand-held use. This is the type of accessory that may or may not be included with your router, but it is a necessity when you want to end up with a straight cut without using a piloted bit. They mount to the router base and can vary in design and capacity. To extend the stability and ease with which the fence slides along the material you can simply attach a length of melamine to the face.
Flush Trim Jig
This is a simple jig, featured as the Shopjig project in Issue #54, it can be easily made in the shop for next to nothing. Using a spiral bit or a hinge mortising bit, this is the ideal jig to trim plugs and edge banding flush with a surface. Keep the bottom waxed to allow it to move freely.
Mortise and Tenon Jig
Another Shopjig, the mortising jig from Issue #56, can be made in the shop for very little. For a woodworker that has a limited budget this jig can be an entry into router cut mortises. It has the capability to cut very accurate mortises but it requires diligence from the user. For someone who has a more generous budget and is looking for the best mortise and tenon jig on the market, then the Leigh FMT is your tool, leighjigs.com. They have refined this jig to the point where there just is no equal. With a plunge router you can cut virtually any mortise and tenon joint you may need in furniture construction as well as cutting mortises for louvered doors.
The router is a power tool and all power tool safety precautions should be observed. Over the years manufacturers have worked to reduce the decibel level at which these machines operate and the new multispeed routers run very quietly at the lower speeds, but make no mistake, you still need to wear hearing protection when using a router. Select a comfortable pair of slipon hearing protectors to save your ears. As well, whenever a high speed cutting edge meets the material to be cut, you must wear some form of eye protection. Choose a pair that you feel comfortable wearing. If they are uncomfortable, your tendency will be to pass them by, so invest in a quality pair you will use, after all, you only have one set of eyes.
When you invert a router and mount it under a table, it puts the router in an environment that is harder on its health. Mounting a router in a table without adequate dust collection and periodic cleaning will shorten its life. I am in the habit of blowing out all of my tools every few days with compressed air. The reward for this investment of time has been that I have never had any issues with any of my routers.
Whether used as a hand-held tool, or mounted in a table, a router can do more in your shop than any other tool. With the addition of a few jigs and a smart collection of bits, you are only limited in what you can do by your imagination.
Explore the possibilities and diversify your work.