When Routers Make You Swear

Back in the 1980’s I was newly married and setting up a workshop in the basement of our first home, a 1930’s Montgomery Ward kit house. Back then, the only place to purchase power tools near the small town where we lived was a Sears store in a shopping mall about a half hour’s drive away. I owned a Craftsman contractor’s saw, a Craftsman router, and a few other power tools from Sears.

I was too young to know much about routers but eager to learn. I really put it to the test while I was building a stereo cabinet as a gift for my brother-in-law. It was made of plywood edged with hardwood. The shelves fit into dadoes in the cabinet sides. So I got out the Craftsman router and chucked up a 3/4″ straight bit. As a matter of fact, it was probably a bit made from high speed steel (HSS). Carbide wasn’t that common yet for home woodworkers and if it was, it was too pricey for my newlywed budget.

The idea was to rout a 3/4″-wide dado about 3/8″ deep across the cabinet sides to house the shelves. So I clamped a straightedge across the cabinet side to guide the cut. I set the bit depth and started routing. The first dado went fine. So I moved the straightedge to complete a second dado across the panel. I started the second cut and noticed that the pitch of the router motor changed as I made my way across the panel. Then I noticed it became difficult to pull through the cut. It wasn’t until this point I realized something was terribly wrong.

I stopped the router, cleared out the dust and chips from the dado, and discovered what the problem was. The dado was progressively deeper. So deep that when I had stopped the router, it had routed all the way through the panel for a few inches. I was furious. And puzzled. I scratched my head trying to figure out what had happened. Then I looked at the router. The bit had crept out of the collet. I understand now why some people call them “Crapsman” tools.

I was so disgusted at what had happened and upset because I really couldn’t afford to buy more plywood. So I turned out the shop light and went to bed.

They say you’re most creative when your lying down. As I lay in bed thinking about my dilemma, it occurred to me to try to make a matching plug to repair the hole the router left in the cabinet side. The next evening, that’s what I did. I found a scrap piece of plywood that had similar color and grain to the area surrounding the hole. I cut a plug to size, carefully rounding the end to match the radius of the router bit. After gluing it in, I finished routing the dado, making darned sure I had the collet super tight. After the cabinet was finished, only I knew where it had been repaired.

Fast forward to 2013. I’m making a shadowbox out of cherry plywood. A 1/4″ groove routed in the box sides holds a glass panel. I have an old Porter-Cable 690 single-speed router mounted in my Kreg router table. So I set it up with a 1/4″ spiral upcut bit to rout the groove. I had a “déjà vu” moment as I was routing the second piece. All of a sudden I saw the bit pop through the opposite side and plow a really nice-looking slot. I probably said a few words I shouldn’t have. So I shut off the router, turned out the lights, and went inside.

After a nap and a couple cups of coffee, I was in a better frame of mind. So I went back into the shop to try again. Fortunately, I had some plywood to cut some extra workpieces. And I made darned sure I had the collet super tight.

So the question for me is what causes this to happen? I had been suspecting the that bearings in my P/C 690 are on the verge of failing. It’s been a little noisy lately. Can the additional vibration work the bit out of the collet? A dirty collet could be the culprit, so I made sure it was clean and free of sawdust. And of course, a dull bit doesn’t help matters. Perhaps in both cases, the bits had reached the end of their useful lives.

And that brings me to my next decision: Should I try to install new bearings in my router, pay to have someone rebuild it, or just go buy a Bosch router kit I’ve had my eye on?

Reconfiguring my router table

Back in 1982 I was a newlywed and setting up a shop in the basement of our first home. My income wasn’t all that great, so I was on a tight budget.

At that point in time, I was a subscriber to Woodsmith magazine. In issues 20 and 22 of that year they published plans for a router table and stand. I don’t have a photo, but I drew up a SketchUp model you can see and download here:

It’s made from a few 2×4’s, ¾” plywood, and hardboard. It has served me well all these years.

Some time ago, I added a new 1″-thick laminated top to the router table. I didn’t even bother to remove the old top. But lately, the clear acrylic insert plate was showing signs of sagging.

So I decided it was time to give this old router table a little more attention. I started by removing both tops and discarding the original top. Next, I cut out the recess to fit a larger Kreg insert plate. I used Kreg’s insert plate levelers. They’re easy to install and it means I don’t need to create a rabbeted opening for the insert plate.

With the insert plate fitted, I turned the top upside down and added a 3″-wide apron at the front and back. Finally, I added a short rail at each end to engage the top of the legs of the router table base. I redrilled pilot holes and installed the original lag screws to hold the top in place.

Now I’m back in business and will find out soon how much of an improvement this will be over my old setup.

Curves in red oak can lead to swearing

I’ll start with a confession. I don’t like red oak. I don’t like it mostly because it was so overused in the 70’s and 80’s I got sick of looking at it.

I don’t mind actually working with it. But only if I’m making parts with straight edges. Once I start rounding corners and forming arcs, you might hear me say a swear word or two.

Take a look at the part below.

The grain runs in the long direction. To cut out the shape, I fastened a 1/4″-thick plywood template to the blank and used a shop-made template jig on my band saw. (I’ll talk more about the band saw template jig in another post.) Cutting it this way on the band saw got me within about an eighth of an inch of the final shape. This is key to the success of the following step.

Leaving the template in place, I headed over to the router table. I used a flush-trim bit to do the final shaping. That’s when the trouble began.

Freud Downshear Helix Flush Trim Bits
Freud Downshear Helix Flush Trim Bits

When routing at the router table, you rout from right to left. I placed the template against the bearing on the bit and started rotating the piece counterclockwise. As I progressed over top of the semicircular shape, I was essentially routing against the grain. Chunks started flying. That piece went to the scrap bin.

So I tried again with another workpiece. This time, I slowed down the feed rate a bit. This seemed to help, but wasn’t a perfect solution.

So I backrouted. This means routing the piece in a clockwise direction. This requires a lot of nerve and extreme control of the workpiece. The bit wants to grab your workpiece and rip it out of your hands. But the advantage of backrouting is that there is always wood backing up the cut and this technique greatly reduces tearout and chipping.

Freud Quadra-Cut™ Rounding Over Bits Freud Quadra-Cut™ Rounding Over Bits
Freud’s exclusive Quadra-Cut™ 4 cutter design provides the smoothest cuts possible. You’ll get crisp, clean edges every time, even with cross-grain cuts in difficult materials.Rounding over bit a..
Freud Quadra-Cut™ Rounding Over Bits

Later, when I needed to add the 1/4″ roundover with bead profile, backrouting was the answer to getting a smooth edge. (The next time I do this operation, I’m going to try the Freud Quadra-Cut bit and see if it helps.)

It’s okay to backrout to improve your results. Just use caution.