Best Router Table
Router tables transform any router into a shaper for cutting molding edges onto boards, rabbeting and dadoing. This is much more convenient than hand-holding the router, especially when cutting small to medium sized pieces.
I've used a router table for years. In fact, I have one router (fixed) permanently mounted to my router table, while a second plunge router is available for the rare times that I actually need a hand-held one. As my home is somewhat antique styled, pretty much everything I make has extensive routing on the edges. With a router table, I am able to do this quickly and easily, without risk of injury.
Router tables vary extensively in their design and manufacture. While most are tabletop units, there are some free-standing units on the market. With the right router mounted to them, these rival any shaper I've ever seen for capacity and accuracy.
There are a number of important things to look at, when looking at a router table. First of all is the size. How much room do you have in your workshop for a router table and how big a work-piece are you going to be cutting? While a small router table can be used with large work-pieces, it’s difficult to maintain accuracy. While looking at size, be sure to look at the size of the insert in the table. If you are planning on using large diameter bits, such as those for making raised panels, you’ll need a router table that is designed to handle that capacity.
The flatness of the table is extremely important for maintaining a consistent depth of cut. The cut made by many bits, such as beading bits will look extremely bad if the depth isn't consistent. Some of these router table manufacturers go so far as to provide a leveler for the table inserts to help with maintaining flatness. Some also provide special coatings to the table top, in order to reduce friction.
The second thing to look at, after the table top itself, is the fence. If you are working on a lot of curved pieces, you may not use the fence much, but if you are cutting profiles on straight edges, you’ll have to have a good fence. Just like a table saw, the fence on one of these can make or break it. Fence styles differ widely, with some better for one thing and some better for others. I personally like a high fence, as it gives me the option of standing the board vertically for a different sort of cut.
Finally, the miter gauge is important, especially for cutting profiles across the grain. There are times where you will use the miter gauge in conjunction with the fence, holding the piece as square as possible to cut the edge molding or for cutting a slot to be used as a drawer slide.
Although you can do a good job with a low dollar router table (I do), a more expensive model will usually provide you with features that make it easier to work with, especially for ensuring that your profile cut comes out exactly like you want it.
Best Benchtop Router Table:
For those that can't afford the cost of a full-sized shaper for their workshops, a benchtop router table is a good alternative. This is probably the most important accessory to have for any router. With it, a hand-held router can be turned into a stationary tool, used for shaping board edges, cutting dadoes and even making raised panels.
A lot has to do with the router which is selected to go with the table, as the router actually provides the power. Therefore, the size of the cut that is made is more dependent upon the router itself than it is the table. All the table really does is provide a way for you to more easily work, by allowing you to manipulate the work piece over the router, rather than manipulate the router over the work piece. Considering the variables of size and weight, it's often easier to manipulate the work piece than the router.
I've had my router mounted to the underside of one of these for over fifteen years. Considering that most of the projects I do are fairly small, it's rare that I actually have to take the router off the table, in order to use it as a hand-held. Actually, I never do any more, as I bought a plunge router as well.
That brings up an important point, you don't want to use a plunge router with a router table, depending upon the design of the plunge mechanism, you could actually have the router motor fall off the base. Even if it doesn't, plunge routers aren't designed to be set at a fixed depth and left there, which is a requirement for working with a router table.
What makes a router table more effective than a hand-held router is the larger surface area which the table provides in contact with the work piece. That's important for maintaining cut depth and the perpendicularity of the cut to the surface of the work piece. In addition, a router table provides a fence and miter gauge, allowing you to make exact cuts along the edge of a piece or even through the middle. You can't do that as well with a hand-held router.
Like many stationary tools, the things that make a router table good are the flatness of the table, the motor mounting and the quality of the fence. A poorly designed fence is a hassle to adjust and work with; while a good one can improve the quality of your work.
Typically, the table will have a removable insert for access to the bit. The size of the access limits the size of the router bit that can be used with the table. If you are planning on using large bits, such as those needed for cutting raised panels, you will need a router table that has a large insert. Transparent inserts are nice as well, as they can make it easier to change bits.
Another important feature is the dust port. A router creates more sawdust than just about any other shop tool (lathes might actually beat them on this). Having a good dust evacuation system is nice with these tools, as it takes a lot of the hassle out of cleanup.
Many woodworkers remove the guards from their router table. I must confess being guilty of this one myself. It's hard to see what's happening with a guard in the way. However, this drastically increases the risk for injury with these tools. Some manufacturers have provided feather boards to hold the workpiece, in an effort to help reduce injuries to those of us that don't like working with guards.
One final note I want to make is that you can pretty much count on taking a lot of material off quickly, working with a router table. Therefore, it's always recommended to make a test cut in a piece of scrap, before trying it out in your actual workpiece. I've used one of these for years, and I still regularly misjudge the depth of cut. My test piece keeps me from messing up valuable material and having to make extra trips to the lumberyard.
This award winning router table is designed with the professional in mind. The machined fence is reversible, allowing either side of the table to be utilized. There is an extruded aluminum T-slot for use with a miter gauge or other accessories. Read Full Review
Bosch's router table measures 27-by-18 inches and features a die-cast aluminum top. The fence is a full 4-7/8 inches tall, which is great for those times when you have to use it with a board vertically. The fence is also MDF faced for longer life and to protect your workpieces. Read Full Review
Craftsman makes the biggest router table in this class, wiht a top that provides 600 square inches of work space. The fence extends up to 30 inches and is 3-3/4 inches tall. Read Full Review
This Skil router table has collapsible legs to make it more portable and easier to store. The router is held to the table by quick release clamps, rather than screws, making it much quicker to remove it for transit. Read Full Review
Best Stand Alone Router Table:
At one time, the router table was considered the poor man’s shaper as it allowed much of the same molding-type cutting for board and panel edges without the high cost of buying a floor standing shaper. Most router tables were benchtop units, saving a woodworker even more by using the router motor for power, instead of paying the cost for a separate motor and arbor.
Router tables have since evolved since those earlier models. We now have much more elaborate router tables which of course have higher price tags as well. They’re also able to handle heavier cutting tasks, especially when used with today’s higher power routers.
Free standing router tables fill the gap nicely between the benchtop units and a full-blown shaper. With a three horsepower router, they can do pretty much anything that a shaper can, including raised panels. Depending upon the router one chooses to use with their table, these can be much more powerful than a shaper.
The opening for the bit takes this into consideration, providing a large enough hole for a panel raising or other large diameter bit. Of course, this is limited by the router itself, as routers with a 1/4-inch collet can’t work with the larger diameter bits which typically have 1/2-inch shafts.
These units are all intended to be free-standing, making them considerably larger than benchtop units. The tables are all over 30 inches long, compared to the 20 to 27-inch tables that the benchtop ones have. Some of them have much more elaborate fence systems and miter gauges as well.
As with table saws and benchtop router tables, the most important aspects of these tables are their fence and miter system. A good fence is critical for accurate cuts and models with higher fences make it possible to shape wood panels that are held vertically on edge, instead of only laying on their face. This increases the options of what you can do with the router table. Don’t try and cut panels vertically if the router table doesn’t have a tall enough fence for stability.
It is fairly common for these units to come equipped for connection to a dust collection system or shop vac. Good thing too, considering how much sawdust they can generate in a very short period of time. If you aren’t using a dust collection system of some sort, make sure you have good ventilation, as the dust can get thick enough to impede your ability to see what you are cutting.
Before buying, be sure that you understand what comes included with the table. Not all of them have all the accessories included and in some cases, these accessories have to be purchased separately.
Like all Festool's products, this is a high-quality, beautifully machined piece of equipment. The sliding table and optional miter gauge system make the system extremely flexible and provide incredible accuracy. Read Full Review
Woodpecker makes a line of rather impressive router tables, of which this is the largest. They are known for their router lift, which combines rapid height adjustment with pinpoint accuracy. Read Full Review
Bench Dog's full-sized router table with a full cast-iron table. There are two miter slots in the table, one for T-slotted miter gauges and one for standard. Read Full Review
The fence on this router table is a very unique design. It is a hollow extrusion, which provides a full-length dust collection system. The micro-dot covered table top provides very little friction, making it much easier to manipulate your workpiece. Read Full Review
Best Budget Router Table:
For those who like making furniture or accessories for their home, a router is a must. These tools allow you to shape the edges of any piece of wood by providing a molding edge without having to add molding. A table-mounted router is even better as it’s much easier to use and provides superior control over the cut.
Router tables vary from high-dollar large floor mounted units to smaller benchtop ones. The larger ones rival shapers in both performance and price, while the smaller ones allow woodworkers on limited budgets to still get great performance.
While these budget router tables are all small in size, that doesn’t mean that they skimp on performance. I’ve used a router table for years to make things for my home, even creating custom parts to repair antique furniture. While it might be easier to do what I’m doing with a larger router table, I’ve never had any complaint about the quality of work that I can get out of my budget model.
While these tables are all fairly small, they still provide excellent flatness which is the main thing needed from the tabletop itself. The other important factor is the fence. While I can’t say any of these have fences rivaling the ones you’ll find on high dollar router tables, I will say that even a small fence can do a good job if the woodworker knows what they’re doing.
There are three basic differences between the fences on these tables and the fences on higher end models. The first is the ease of setup as most of these use two knob-covered screws, one for each side of the fence. To be honest, setting them to the exact distance you want can be a pain in the neck. However, that’s not to say that you can’t set it accurately and you just need a lot of patience. Don’t expect to just set it your new router table quickly and get a perfect cut as you might have make adjustments a couple of times to get things the way you want it.
As with any cut on a router table, always do a test on a piece of scrap wood, before trying it out on your final project. That way, if your adjustments are wrong, it won’t cause you any serious problems.
The second major difference is the size of the fence. By and large, the larger router tables have larger fences, while these are quite small which can be a problem if you’re cutting large workpieces or if you need to put the board vertical for your cut. Other than that however, you won’t see much difference. The fences aren’t always as flat and straight as the one on the higher dollar tables either. A couple of these are made out of fiber-reinforced injection molded plastic and while that’d highly stable, there can be some warping as the part cools or if it’s exposed to high heat.
Don’t expect a lot from the miter gauge that come with these tools. These are small miter gauges, with plastic heads so if you really want accurate miter work, I’d recommend spending the money for a separate miter gauge. Another option is to use the same miter gauge that you use for your table saw, as the slot in the table is the same size.
Since this is a “budget” list, I’ve set a price limit of $100 on the router tables I’ve included. That’s based on street price at the time of writing which in many cases is less than the manufacturer’s suggested price.
The markings on this router table make it easy to set up for a number of different cut types. The split fence makes it possible to set it up for jointer operations, trimming the edge of a board. Read Full Review
Skil's router table has folding legs, making it ideal for the workshop with limited space. The top is 18 x 29-inches MDF, providing rigidity and a smooth surface. Read Full Review
Craftsman's smallest router table isn't small on features. This table is designed so that depth of cut adjustment can be made from above. The power switch can control both the router and a dust-collection system. Read Full Review
This portable router table from Rockler is designed for clamping to a workbench or pickup truck tailgate. The fence on this model is probably the best one featured on this list. Read Full Review