Extending My Router's "Reach" for a Router Table?
Issue: Issue 339
Posted Date: 11/19/2013
At a recent garage sale, I purchased a Wolfcraft router table. It was still in its original box, all of the various parts and pieces were still wrapped in their plastic bags, and it was a larger table size than the Craftsman router table in my small shop. The table is 31-1/2 inches side to side by 18 inches front to back by 3/4 inches thick. There are two aluminum 1-3/4 x 1-3/4 angle bars underneath, about 1/2 inch off the forward and back sides of the table and a recessed 1-inch T-track that runs side to side, situated three inches back from the front edge. The recessed opening where a router base can be attached creates the problem. My Craftsman router can be attached to the table using three screws through the base and the threaded inserts in the bottom of the table. However, once attached, the bit cannot be raised high enough to permit use. I removed the plastic router base and attached the router frame (sans base) using the same three screws and the threaded table inserts with minimal effect (maybe 1/4 inch). The table thickness the bit must overcome is 1/2 inch before the bit rises above the table top. According to my (admittedly) questionable measuring skills, I think I would need a router bit shank at least 1&1/2 inches long with the cutting bit above that, if I want to be able to adjust bit height while using my existing router in the table. As a result, I am thinking a new router will be needed but I am at a loss to know what I am looking for: Plunge or fixed? Is there a model that allows the collet to extend beyond router base? Should I be thinking of purchasing a router lift instead of a new router? Or what?
Do you have any suggestions? Can you identify other options I can or should consider? - Paul D. Bohac
Chris Marshall: There are usually several ways to skin the proverbial cat, but since you've bought that Wolfcraft router table for probably a great deal, let's keep your "value streak" going as long as we can! Here are a couple of suggestions: First, you don't need to buy a new router to make your Wolfcraft router table work. That's a value breaker for sure. Sounds like your Craftsman is a fixed-base machine, but it just doesn't have the depth travel required to get through that 3/4" tabletop with still more projection for table routing. The tabletop needs to get thinner, or the router's collet needs to extend further. Both of those options are doable, and one of them probably makes more sense than the other.
1) In terms of "thinning" the router table where the router attaches to it, the best plan is to buy a router insert plate (usually made of aluminum or acrylic). They're typically 1/4- or 3/8-in. thick, and they are made to replace the table area where the router is to attach, to overcome the exact dilemma you face. They sit in a rabbet machined into the router table top, and the middle portion of the table where the router hangs is cut completely away. The way to install these plates is to buy a pre-made template fitted for the insert plate and use it to rout that section out of the tabletop and as a guide to form the necessary rabbet around the cutout edge. Instructions for doing all of this will come with the template. It's important to buy a template that matches the insert plate, because insert plates can vary in size or shape, depending on the manufacturer, and their corner curvatures can also vary. You want to create a snug and almost seamless fit between the tabletop and the plate (it looks neater, and you don't want the insert plate to shift around in its opening as you're routing).
Here are a couple of links to the insert plates and templates offered by Rockler, for one source:
2) A second, less "invasive" option is to stretch your router's shaft, and thus its bit "reach," by attaching a collet extender to it. I have never used one of these -- I've always opted for the first solution. But, a collet extender is a safe accessory, and you probably wouldn't have to modify your Wolfcraft table at all. Just install the collet extender on your router. However, since the overall up-and-down travel of your Craftsman router is limited, the extender might actually be too long for what your router will allow, and you wouldn't be able to lower router bits completely below the table for setting up very shallow cuts -- it's the opposite problem you currently are facing! A collet extender best suits a plunge-base router, because its plunging-post design offers much more bit travel than fixed-base routers. The other downside to an extender like this, even on a plunge router, is that more collet length invites vibration as the bit spins, and vibration leads to poorer-quality cuts.
My advice: give the router insert plate/template approach a try. It's a tried-and-true method used to outfit a router for broadest use in a table-mounted configuration. And, it's not that hard to make the retrofit while also allowing you to use the router you already own.
Tim Inman: I agree completely with Chris on this. Buy an aluminum router plate that you can cut to fit as an insert into your router table. It not only will make the router work "better," it will also enable you to quickly remove the router from the table for bit changes, etc. Extending the router bits a long ways out from the router will only cause grief. They will chatter and vibrate like crazy. Your router bearings will take one heck of a beating, and you will never be really be pleased with your setup. PBS sometimes airs a program called The Router Workshop. The base insert they use in this program would be a great source for ideas as to how to adapt a plate insert into your table.
One more thing: To do this adaptation will require quite a bit of time and effort on your part. Are you saving pennies at the expense of dollars? Are you about to spend a lot of time jury-rigging something that will never be quite as good as it could have been? I'd carefully consider that it might be in your best interest to resell this table and reinvest in a better one that fits your router and your needs. Sometimes a bargain isn't really a bargain — it is just something that followed you home because it was cute and cheap....