Router tables are handy accessories for handheld routers. However, router tables are not a necessity.
In this article, you will learn if you need a router table, features to look for, and more!
- Do I need a router table?
- 3 Types of router tables
- 13 Router table features to look for
- Is it better to buy or build a router table?
Do I need a router table?
You do not need a router table to operate a handheld router. However, a router table may be beneficial depending on your woodworking needs.
Router table benefits
Router tables are useful when working with smaller wood pieces and creating joinery.
- Working with smaller wood pieces
- Smaller wood pieces are easier to route with a router table because you can control the piece with both hands.
- Creating joinery
- With router tables, you can create easily create joinery like dovetails, dados, tenons, and finger joints.
Router table drawbacks
Router tables are not beneficial when working with larger wood pieces or when you need plunge router use.
- Working with larger wood pieces
- When using a router with a router table, you use both hands to move the work piece.
- Moving larger pieces of wood is harder, thus making the router table less efficient
- Plunge router use
- Creating cut outs and starting cuts in the middle of the wood is not ideal when using a router table.
- You slide the wood along the router table. Cut outs will require for you to place the wood on the router bit to start the cut.
- This method is not recommended, is not efficient or accurate, and it is not safe.
A router table is a good addition to hand-held routers. A router table is not necessary to operate a handheld router. For any drawbacks that a router table may bring, you can just not use it and use the hand-held router alone.
You should get a router table if you will be working with smaller wood pieces, creating joinery, or if you like the idea of moving the wood with both hands.
3 Types of router tables
Router tables come in 3 main types, which are benchtop router tables, standalone router tables, and router table extensions
- Benchtop router tables
- Standalone router tables
- Router table extensions
1. Benchtop router tables
Benchtop router tables are small, portable router tables that can sit on top of your work desk.
Benchtop Router Table Pros and Cons
|Portable||Not as sturdy|
|More cost efficient||Smaller tabletops|
|Good for smaller spaces||Not as powerful|
Benchtop router table pros
Benchtop router tables are smaller than standalone router tables and weigh 15 to 35 pounds.
Benchtop router tables are also ideal for smaller spaces with most table not exceeding 2 feet high, 2 feet wide, and 3 feet long.
Benchtop router table cons
To optimize benchtop router tables portability, they are going to be smaller than standalone router tables. So you will not be able to use operate larger work pieces.
Additionally, bench top router tables are not as sturdy and cannot handle as much rocking force as standalone tables.
Lastly, benchtop router tables are generally not as powerful as standalone router tables.
2. Standalone router tables
Standalone router tables are individual tables designated for router use. These table differ from the benchtop router table mainly due to portability and stability
Standalone Router Table Pros and Cons
|More sturdy||Not portable|
|Larger tabletops||More expensive|
|More powerful||More space required|
Standalone router table pros
Well-designed standalone router tables are sturdier than benchtop router tables.
These router tables can have larger tabletops to support larger wood pieces.
Lastly, standalone router tables are generally more powerful, can be used on denser wood, and can cut faster than benchtop router tables.
Standalone router table cons
Standalone router tables are not portable as benchtop router tables, with most having a height of 34 inches.
Additionally, they are more expensive for the features that you get.
3. Router table extensions
Router table extensions are tables that are meant to assembled to an existing table.
Router table extensions are most commonly seen with table saws, and they are pretty rare.
Router Table Extension Pros and Cons
|Good for smaller spaces||Require a strong host table|
|Often table specific|
|Sometimes more expensive|
Router table extensions are pretty rare because they do not have many benefits from the benchtop router table.
Router table extensions can only be as sturdy as the host table. So, a table saw router table extension will a sturdy table saw to support the extension.
Additionally, many router table extensions are specific for the host table or handmade. This makes purchasing an extension harder and not practical.
Router table type decision
I recommend a standalone router table for woodworkers who work on larger wood pieces and can use the extra stability.
A benchtop router table are ideal for woodworkers who will not use a router table enough to justify purchasing a standalone table, who need portability, or will need a space saving option.
13 Router table features to look for
No matter which type of router table you choose, you should consider the following features.
- Tabletop material
- Router plate material
- Stability/Router table stand
- Miter slot
- Dust collection
- Emergency stop
- Starter pins
- Fence stops
- Feather boards
- Router lift
- Fence height
- Leveling feet
1. Tabletop material
The 3 main types of material that router tables are made out of are MDF, phenolic material, or cast iron.
- Cost: $
- Durability: *
- MDF board are prone to sagging and it requires a thicker tabletop
- Phenolic tops
- Cost: $$
- Durability: **
- Phenolic tops are thinner, lighter, and more durable than MDF board
- Cast iron tops
- Cost: $$$
- Durability: ***
- Cast iron tops are the most durable type of router tabletops. However, it is very heavy.
- The heaviness gives the router table more stability
Phenolic tabletops are the most common top in benchtop router tables. This is because it is durable and light weight to allow for easy portability.
Cast iron tops are beneficial in standalone router tables that will benefit from the extra weight and durability.
2. Router Plate material
The 3 main types of router plate material are aluminum, phenolic material, and plastic.
- Cost: $
- Durability: *
- Phenolic material
- Cost: $$
- Durability: **
- Cost: $$$
- Durability: ***
Aluminum and phenolic router plates are two really great plate materials. Aluminum router plates are more durable and, depending on the manufacture, are often more accurate and user friendly.
Plastic router plates are very cheap and do not last nearly as long as the Phenolic or aluminum ones
Stability is very important but hard to determine before purchasing a router table.
In general, heavier benchtop router tables of the same design are sturdier. However, the design and engineering of the router table legs are the most important.
A T-track is a track that is placed horizontal on a router table fence. This track is commonly used to assemble fence stops, feather boards, and other jigs.
5. Miter slot
Miter slots are tracks that are on the router tabletop and stretch from the left to right side of the router table.
Miter slots support miter gauges that allow you to feed the wood into the router at an angle.
6. Dust Collection
7. Emergency stop button
An emergency stop button is useful to quickly stop the router without having to reach under the table to find the button.
8. Starter pins
Starter pins are very useful because it allows you to press the wood against the pin and guide the wood throughout the cut.
Starter pins are ideal when router fences are not feasible to use. You can use starter pins to cut around corners of wood and to cut rounded pieces.
9. Fence stops
Fence stops allow for you to stop cutting the wood at a certain point. Additionally, having measurements on your fence stop or T-track will allow for you to easily set the fence stop location.
10. Feather boards
Feather boards are normally attached to T-tracks and are used to keep the wood secure to prevent kick back and to keep your hands away from the blade.
11. Router lift
A router lift is used to easily adjust the depth of the router when attached to a router table.
Normally, you will have to adjust the depth by adjusting the depth on the solid base attachment. Doing so is very hard with the router under the table.
A router lift not only does not require you to use the solid base attachment with the router table, but it also adjusts the depth of the bit more efficiently and accurately.
Some routers have lift mechanisms built into the base for easier use with router tables.
12. Fence height
You should have a fence height of at least 3 inches. If you have a T-track and use feather boards and fence stops, then you will need a higher router fence.
It is ideal to have at least 2 1/2 inches of space in-between the T-Track and bottom of the fence to allow for 2-inch-thick wood to pass through with a feather board installed.
Most router fences are 3-4 inches high.
The more space you have between the T-Track and the fence base, the thicker wood your table will be able to handle.
13. Leveling feet
Some standalone router tables have leveling feet that allow for you to adjust the leg length to make the table perfectly level regardless of the slope of the floor.
Leveling feet are often metal adjusters at the bottom of the legs to adjust the leg length.
Is it better to buy or build a router table?
|Buying router table||Building router table|
|Often comes with more features||Can be made cheaper|
|Often sold more quality features||More expensive with many features|
When buying a router table, you often will get more features and features that work better together than if you built a router table yourself.
You can build a router table with many features as a store-bought one, but you will like spend more money on the T-tracks, feather boards, and router plate for example.
You can build a cheaper router table than you can buy one. You can build a budget router table with limited features with a few sheets of plywood. However, a budget router table will cost you at least 40 dollars. But with that budget store bought router table, you will get more features than the few sheets of plywood that you will make the budget DIY router table.
You should buy a router table if you want features that work well together and if you do not want to design a table with many features.
You should build a router table if you want the most basic, low cost, router table that you can get. You can make a router table with less than one sheet of plywood.
While you can build a table with many features like the store bought ones, it will be more of a time and cost investment. But if you really enjoy woodworking and designing, building a router table may be a pro for you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!
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