Introduction: Flattening a Slab on My Bench With a Router

I had a very nice slab that I wanted to make into a coffee table. I flattened this slab right on my workbench! I am happy to say that flattening a slab of wood with a router was even easier that I thought it would be! Not only was it easy, but the results were great!

Step 1: Make a Simple Jig to Hold the Router

Picture of Make a Simple Jig to Hold the Router

The first thing I did was build a simple jig to hold the router. The jig is just 3 pieces of plywood or MDF with a router bolted in the center. I also added a dust chute.

I cut a piece of 1/2" MDF about 6" wide for the base of the jig. This needs to be twice as long as the width of your workbench. My bench is 32" wide so I made the jig about 65" long.

I wrapped a piece of paper around the base of the router and used a pencil to mark where the mounting holes were. I also marked where the router bit would come through the jig.

Next I transferred the hole locations to the piece of MDF and drilled two countersunk holes to mount the router to the jig. After that I drilled a hole in the center where the bit would come through.

The sides of the jig are two pieces of 3/4" plywood that are about 2" wide. I simply clamped and glued them on to the edges of the base piece.

I happened to have a 4" dust chute laying around, but I think you could probably find something similar in the sheet metal area at Home Depot.

I used a jigsaw to make a little relief cut where the dust chute would be. Then I used a few angle brackets to mount the dust chute to the jig.

Step 2: Make Side Rails and Clamp Them to the Workbench

Picture of Make Side Rails and Clamp Them to the Workbench

The side rails are just two 6" wide pieces of 3/4" plywood that are about the same length as your workbench.

I tested clamping them on edge right down on my bench and it "looked" OK, but I was worried that I might bump them and knock them loose while routing the slab. So, just for insurance I glued a small wooden block at each end so that I could clamp them more securely to the bench top.

I also rubbed some canning wax along the top edges of the rails after they were clamped down to my bench. This ensured that the jig would slide freely across the rails while routing.

Step 3: Setting Up the Router Jig

Picture of Setting Up the Router Jig

It is important that the piece you are routing on is secure and that it won't move while you are routing. In my case the slab was 42" long and 5" thick, so I didn't worry about it moving! If I were working with a smaller piece of wood I would clamp it in place in some way that didn't interfere with the flattening process.

It is also important that the slab is as level as possible. This will ensure that you don't remove more wood than necessary to achieve a flat surface.

In this case the slab had a high spot in the middle. I adjusted it so that the gap under my level was about equal at each end.

From a safety perspective, the most important thing is to adjust the depth of cut so that you don't take off more than about 1/4" on each pass. If you are working with some especially hard or knotty wood then maybe even less than 1/4" would be better.

The only thing left to do is to attach the dust hose and start routing!

Step 4: Using the Router Jig

Picture of Using the Router Jig

I am fortunate that I have a nice dust collection system and was able to hook the jig directly into it. But, a good vacuum cleaner mounted behind the router would help immensely.

Using the jig is really easy. The mass of the jig makes it much less likely that the router will get away from you. That said, you are still dealing with a very large router bit, so be careful!

I had heard that using a climb cut would leave a cleaner surface and help to direct the dust toward the dust chute, but in actual practice it didn't seem to make much difference. I just carefully and methodically moved the jig back and forth across the slab until I got to the end. In my case it took two passes to get it perfectly flat.

Step 5: Finishing Up

Picture of Finishing Up

Even though the surface was perfectly flat when I was done the surface still needed a bit more work. The surface of the slab had little "tracks" from the router bit when I was done flattening with the router. Initially, I tried cleaning these up with my random orbit sander, but it left the surface kind of wavy. I had much better luck when I started using a belt sander.

All in all I am very happy with this process. It was much easier than I expected it to be and I would not hesitate to use it again. In fact, I already did!

Comments

Rigel9 (author)2016-06-30

nice job. you could also make a plate for the belt sander, so you can drop in the same jig setup

Charlie Kocourek (author)Rigel92016-07-01

I never thought of that, but mounting a belt sander to the sled is a great idea! Adjusting how far (or close) the belt is to the piece might be a bit trickier, but I love this idea. Have you tried this yet?

Rigel9 (author)Charlie Kocourek2016-07-01

in the carpenters shop. they had set up the belt sander on a sled. with set screws that you could add shims to fine tune the depth of the sander. they used 3/16" right angle metal to avoid deflexion. the table bed permitted adding another leaf to expand the length for the slab. you could also do butcher block tops too. saved wear & tear on your body. no need to use the drum sander. you can drop a router on clear polycarb plate too.

Charlie Kocourek (author)Rigel92016-07-01

I love it, what a cool idea!! I might have to try that sometime.

pfred2 made it! (author)2016-06-03

I've done similar. It is pretty slow going.

Charlie Kocourek (author)pfred22016-06-04

That looks pretty heavy duty! What bit did you use?

pfred2 (author)Charlie Kocourek2016-06-06

Just a half inch straight bit. So even if I did not overlap cuts at all I had to go about 200 passes just to go down that piece once. Realistically it probably took me more like 300 cuts back, and forth. I thought the router was going to wear out on me. I know my back didn't appreciate it. Then the wood never cleaned up like I wanted it to. It had too many bug holes in it. So I just made a rustic bench out of it, instead of what I'd planned to do.

http://i.imgur.com/0flhQ.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/QPZtB.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/3tMdb.jpg

Charlie Kocourek (author)pfred22016-06-07

Your end result was a pretty good looking bench. I used a 1-1/8" bit for this one and it didn't take too long. I am flattening another one later this week. This time I bought a 1-1/2" planer bit and I am interested to see if it leaves a cleaner finish.

pfred2 (author)Charlie Kocourek2016-06-08

Yes if I had it to do all over again I would use a much wider in diameter bit. Even though the wood was unsuitable for the project I'd planned on using it for, after all that work I had to do something with it. So yeah the bench is OK for what it is. It is certainly a piece out of my normal comfort zone. I do not go in for that raw edge stuff usually. I call it my channeling Nakishima piece.

I can remember seeing him tottering around on the sidewalk in New Hope. I should have picked up some of his pieces off him back then. I'd be wealthier today for having done so. But like I said, I don't much go in for the style.

scott.grove.587 (author)2016-06-03

well done

Thanks Scott!

WoodCrafts 67 (author)2016-06-02

Nice Job Charlie You have done a great job on that. I seen it on FB too :) Looking forward to your table. Take care Mate. Terry Thomas WoodCrafts FB :)

Thanks Terry!

Your very Welcome Mate and keep up the Awesome work :)

wold630 (author)2016-06-02

Very well done! I can't wait to see it as a coffee table!

Charlie Kocourek (author)wold6302016-06-02

wold630 Very well done! I can't wait to see it as a coffee table!

Thanks! Actually, I do have more articles and videos about this table on my website. http://www.jack-bench.com/woodworking-blog/

gm280 (author)2016-06-02

I totally understand what you did with flattening one side, that is how I would have done it as well. But it still looks like the wood slab is still thicker on one side as compared to the other. Are you going to now flip over the slab and cut the other side to get a total even thickness blank?

Charlie Kocourek (author)gm2802016-06-02

You are very observant! The slab was 1" thicker on one end than the other. Making the two faces parallel would have been easy, but I decided not to do that and I intentionally left it thicker on one end. My reasoning was that slab tables are supposed to be rustic and I thought that leaving it thicker on one end would enhance that.

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Bio: I am a woodworker, blogger and YouTube content creator. I love woodworking, problem solving and designing new things.
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