3G Woodworking

© 2014 Greg McNabb aka 3Gwoodworking

Setting up Shop – Part 2: Routers

Routers may be one of the most popular tools in a woodworking shop. Most woodworkers have several of them, each set up in different ways. Routers can be set up in a table or used free hand. Routers come in a number of sizes and bases but I will break them down into 3 categories, Compact, 1 ½ HP and 3 HP.

Let’s take a moment and discuss base styles. There are fixed bases, plunge bases and D handle bases. Fixed bases are adjustable but are locked down before you start cutting. Plunge bases are spring loaded on 2 posts and allow the user to plunge the router down into the center of a piece with more control and accuracy. D handle bases are typically used when cutting edge profiles. They give the user great control helping prevent the router from tipping while making the cut. Some D handle bases also incorporate a dust collection feature.

Compact routers are the smallest sometimes known as trim routers. These are typically light weight 1 HP routers that are easy to use with one hand. They have a ¼ collect although some micro routers such as a Dremel will have and 1/8 collect. These are great routers for light work such as cutting hinge mortises or light edge profiles. They do not have the horsepower to make deep cuts but they are good for light work and are affordable ranging in price from $50 to $200.

The most common routers are the 1 ½ to 2 ½ hp routers. The lower hp range usually comes only with a ¼ collect. The upper end can come with the ½ collect which will allow the use of larger router bits which can take the torque of heavier cuts. These routers can also be mounted to a router table. This allows for better control by allowing the user to move the wood instead of trying to control the tool.

The last one I want to discuss is the 3hp routers. These are heavy and have a lot of torque. They are seldom used free hand but are more commonly mounted in router tables. These can take the place of a shaper in most shops. They commonly come with both ½ and ¼ inch collects although there will be a few models that will only have the ½. These routers have the hp and torque to use very large cutters, like those used for raised panels and crown molding.

When shopping for a router, I recommend starting with a combo package. These will come with a 2 ¼ hp router with both a fixed base and a plunge base. These are large enough to be mounted in a router table and yet still can be used hand-held. 

Key things to look for when selecting a router; First off is to check and make sure that there is no play in it. (make sure it doesn’t wiggle in and out) This can be a real problem with the low cost imports and can be dangerous to the user as well. Also look to make sure that the base locks down with no play. If the base moves while you are using the router, it can dangerous for the user and may ruin a piece.

There are a number of accessories that are available aftermarket. The largest and probably the most important is a router table. When selecting a router table, several manufactures have packages that will include the mounting plate, fence, leg set and table top. Again, the rule of you get what you pay for applies. I started with low cost table and it worked well for me for years, but over time, the lack of fine adjustments bothered me more and more. 

Let’s finish up with a quick talk about router safety. First and foremost, always wear eye and hearing protection. Router bits are a very fast moving cutter on the end of a motor. These motors have torque and when you start them they will want to twist in your hand. Manufactures have started making soft start models that come up to speed a little slower but they still have torque. Routers can also act a bit like a gyroscope and will want to twist if they are tilted. Make sure you have a good grasp of the handle or body depending up on the model. Make sure the base of the router always has good contact with the piece you are working on. When working on a router table; Never run pieces between the bit and the fence, this will launch the piece like an arrow from a bow. Lastly, if you feel uncomfortable doing something, take a break and ask for advice or help.

Setting Up Shop

I’ve been asked a few times for advice on what you need to get started in woodworking. That is a really complicated question with no truly right answers. I know this sounds like I’m dodging the question, but I’m not. How you go about setting up your shop and what tools you buy really depends upon what aspect of woodworking you’re interested in exploring. The set up for woodturning is much different from carving. That said, let’s start with assuming you want to start with a general woodworking shop. There are a lot of tools that will be applicable with most shops.

For this installment I’ll just address the key tool for many shops: the Table Saw.

Let me first talk about safety. All table saws come with safety devices; blade guards, splitters/riving knife, etc. Regardless of all the safety features installed at the factory, the biggest safety feature is you. I will have an blog that deals specifically with table saw safety in the near future. In the mean time, please use the safety features that come with your saw, wear eye protection and use common sense. If something doesn’t feel safe, don’t do it. Ask for help or advice.

Table saws fall into 3 categories: Job Site Saws, Contractor’s Saws and Cabinet Saws. Each comes in at a different price range, size and capabilities. Keep in mind as you shop around that you do get what you pay for in tools. The cheapest tools do not always have the best quality control or accuracy. 

The first category is the Job Site Saw. These are small table saws with direct drive motors. Some come with foldable stands to make it easier to move from site to site. These will range in price from $100 to $600 or more. These saws come with light weight guide fences and small miter gauges. Since these saws have the blade directly attached to the motor, that may increase the wear if you cut thick, heavy hardwoods. These saws are good if you have limited space or budget. 

The second category is Contractor style saws. The most notable feature is that the motor typically hangs out the back of the saw with a single belt running to an arbor attached to the underside of the cast iron table and fixed open frame legs. They motors are typically 1 ½ hp running on 110v. These saws are heavier due to the larger cast iron tops. These saws can handle heavier wood, have professional “Bessemer” style of guide fence and removable inserts around the blade. Users can upgrade these saws with zero clearance inserts and dado sets to cut grooves and dados. It is difficult to control the dust from these saws so that is a drawback. They are typically the saw most contractors start out with in their shops.

The last category is the Cabinet saw. This is the type of saw I use in my shop. These have and enclosed base and heavier duty motor typically running on 220v. There are some that are labeled as Hybrid, they have the enclosed base but the motor of a contractor saw usually 1 ½ hp. They are the heaviest of the three styles which helps dampen vibrations and gives you a better quality cut. They also have better dust collection and are typically easier to adjust. They tend to be the most durable of the saws, with many lasting decades. Due to the weight, they are usually not moved around the shop but mobile bases are available either as a feature or as an aftermarket add on. They all have heavy duty guide fences and better miter gauges. Most users of these saws will buy aftermarket miter gauges to improve accuracy.

There are a lot of saws on the market, from Christmas specials for about $100 to heavy duty professional models that will run into the thousands of dollars. There are several options out there, from used saws listed in the local paper or online sites like Craigslist. I strongly urge caution when buying a used saw. Make sure that all of the safety equipment comes with the saw and if at all possible ask to see it run. If the top is rusted, you will need to spend a good deal of time cleaning it off to be able to use the saw safely.

My personal recommendation is that you decide what you want to do in your shop, how much space you can dedicate to your tools and your budget. If you have limited space like a small garage, a job site or contractor style saw will fit your needs. If you have a dedicated area and can leave a tool in the same place, consider a cabinet saw. Either way, buy the best tool you can afford and avoid poor quality or abused tools. Poor quality tools only cost you more money in the long run either in replacing them or in injury.

Woodworking Safety

When I left the US Army, I headed off to attend college. After my freshmen year, I needed to declare a major so I started looking at the programs around campus. My first love is woodworking and had seriously considered Industrial Engineering but the professor who ran the woodworking course was a real jerk. Needless to say, I only took one class with him and changed my mind. I was talking with a friend of mind at the Student Union and he suggested that I take a few Industrial Safety courses and see how I liked it. I did and quickly declared my major to Industrial Safety.

I learned a lot during those years. First, OSHA has a bible and everyone sins (they are pretty much self funded through the fines they impose) Second, Safety begins with the operator.

Every tool made today comes with a pretty good owner’s manual (I know many will disagree with that statement) and the first thing you should do is at least look through it closely. You will find all kinds of stupid warnings (Don’t use this electrical appliance in the shower or bath.) (The beverage produced by
this coffee maker is hot) BUT not all of them are useless. Things like, “Don’t cut the grounding prong off your power tools cord”, “Use the safety guards that come with your tool.” and my favorite Norm Abrams saying “above all, use these, safety glasses.”

Let me start this week with a few key items about one of the most popular woodworking tool, the Table Saw. This tool is infamous for causing major injuries to woodworkers. In reality, most of the injuries can be traced back to Operator error. Either the user had removed the safety devices from the tool or they were not using it properly.

The most important safety device on the table saw is YOU. Here are few key rules to follow.

1- Never make a cut without an edge support (Free hand.) Always use either serviceable fence
that is properly adjusted or a miter gage. A fence must lock down so it does move during the cut and it must be square to the blade.

2- Never turn the saw on when you are impaired. If you are tired or have had a few beers, leave
the saw turned off. It only takes a fraction of a second for your attention to fade for something to go wrong.

3- If at all possible, use the blade guards that come with the saw or an aftermarket replacement splitter.

Last year there was a law suit brought against Ryobi for an accident by a construction worker. In my humble opinion, Ryobi’s lawyers must have been idiots in presenting their case. The worker was provided a saw with no blade guard, not properly trained in its use and was attempting to use it for a purpose that it was never intended.

I know that there is a huge push for implementing the Saw Stop or equivalent technology on new saws. I have a few problems with that. First, it will drive prices much higher for entry level saws (Saw Stop’s own entry level contractor model saw is around $1500.) Second, it does not address the millions of saws already in the public’s hands. Table saws tend to be around a very long time, there are thousands of old Delta Unisaws still out there being used and many either did not come with modern safety features or have been lost long ago.

The key to reducing tool injuries is public awareness on their proper use and above all, common sense in their use. If it doesn’t feel right to do something, don’t do it. Ask for help. There are many woodworking forum out on the internet and most of the people on them would be happy to help.

Remember Safety begins with you. In homage to Smokey the Bear “Only You can prevent Shop Injuries”