Introduction: Desktop Router Table Using Only 3 HAND Power Tools
Woodworking has been a lifelong pursuit for me, going as far back as making a hand mirror for my mother when I was 8 (okay, my contribution was sanding in the cold the garage until that wooden handle and mirror backing was glass smooth). Later, in both Jr and Sr high school, I used it as an outlet to make wooden piggy banks, cabinets that rarely closed well, cd and book shelves and numerous other things that never made the moves in my life.
A lot of woodworking, I'll admit, has been ingrained into my knowledge of all things, and while I'm thankful for having so many learned opportunities in my past, it sometimes allows me to forget that some people are starting from scratch. With this router table instructable, I want to show those starting out how easy it is to make something as simple as a router table with only 3 power tools, using less than $30 in material cost.
So why would anyone need a router table? In my humble opinion, one of the best ways to supersize a project is by using a router table to add all sorts of decorative touches. These decorative touches, I guarantee, will open up minds to all sorts of creations that someone with very little experience can dream up.
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Step 1: Gather Materials / Tools Needed and Used
- (2) 1/2” x 20” x 20” Plywood*
- 3/16" x 12" x 12" Plexiglass - https://amzn.to/382M7ZP
- (2) 1” x 3” x 8’
- (8) 1 1/2” Screws
- (10) #8 x 1" Screws
- Wood glue
- roll on glue (not a necessity)
Tools Needed and Used
- Jig saw
- Wood cutting jig saw bit
- Metal cutting jig saw bit
- Framing square (Optional, any straight edge will work just fine)
- Tape measure
- 1" Forstner/Spade bit
- Masking tape (somewhat optional)
- 11/64" drill bit
- Countersink bit
- 4 Clamps
- Chisel (somewhat optional)
- Sandpaper (somewhat optional)
* Check your local stores for the plywood. My local Menards sells them as craft plywood sheets for about $3.99 per 20"x20" sheet. They might have 24" x 48" pieces, which would mean you would only need 1 sheet. If you can't cut it down at home, you can sometimes pay something like a dollar a cut to break them down for you. I was able to get my hands on Baltic Birch, but plywood (stay away from MDF or particle board) is generally stable, no matter what you get. Whatever you do, stay at or above a 1/2" thickness when you buy your plywood.
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Step 2: The Tale of Two Ply's
In my list of materials I used 20" x 20" lengths and widths for both ply's. This could be bigger, although I probably wouldn't go above 24 inches as you'd probably want a better structure on the underside of your table. If you're worried about doing long pieces of wood and needing a longer bed, you can always make extensions later on...but honestly, I have never needed more than 24" as a bed for any of my router tables.
With the first sheet of ply I cut it directly down the middle. This, of course, left me with two halves that were nearly 10” wide and 20” long. The plan was to use these as walls with the second ply as the table top.
Step 3: Cutting the Aprons
This step is simple, but let’s make sure we mark our boards with a straight line that is as perfect as we can be. Jig saws aren’t mind readers and...honestly not even that compassionate (the ingrates!) and won’t hesitate to move off of the mark you drew.
We’ll cut both aprons at 19” (provided that both thicknesses of your walls are an inch combined and that you’re working with 20” wide plywood).
After cutting the boards down to size, we’ll use glue to attach them to the walls. Some find gluing and screwing to be an act of redundancy, I use it as a way to tell my future cheap self that these boards won’t be dissembled and used for something else.
Oh the wars that go on inside this odd brain of mine!
Tape was then added to keep the boards together long enough for me to drill and screw. I used my 11/64” drill bit to drill out all my pilot holes and used 1 1/2” dry wall screws to attach the aprons. A total of 8 in all.
Step 4: Adding the Top
Now we'll use a mark to center the walls beneath with the above table top. While I did measure here, it really was irrelevant to the walls below: just be sure to mark the center and then connect them on top. Afteward, I measured 2” from both sides and spaced my marks for the screws I was about to drill.
Because we are gluing, there probably isn't a wrong or right number here as far as screws go. You might be able to measure in 2" from both sides and then one directing in the middle, but that's up to you.
After I had both measured and drilled the holes for my screws, I inserted 1 screw on one of the corners and tilted the board around to add glue. This is probably a good step to see in motion, which is in the link I provided below. You could probably just take the board off the top and add some glue, and then run a drill bit through the top to find the hole below, but I think this is an easier method.
Afterwards, I flipped the entire thing over and cleaned up the remaining glue. Not necessary, but a good habit to get yourself into.
Step 5: Cutting the Plexiglass
If you're watching the video as you read this, this step...sorta bleeds into the next step. We'll be working with the plexiglass, but I confused things by making my diagonals first. So, before we go to the plexiglass, let's make diagonals on the top of our router table. This will give us a huge 'X' that will allow us to line up a square sheet dead in the middle of it.
Now that we've done that, we need to find the total diameter width size of our router. I have a Bosch router that is about 8 1/2" (maybe 9?) inches wide with the handles on. With the handles removed it drops down to about 6". Why is this important? In order to remove (or install) the router, it'll have to be narrower than the opening of our table. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. Because the plexiglass needs to hang from the table top, there will also need to be a 1/2" lip on all 4 sides, removing another overall inch that will need to be accounted for. For me, the easiest thing to do was to remove the handles and use an 8 1/2" overall diameter. I could have an 8 1/2" circle, but instead went with a square that's 8 1/2".
With the 8 1/2" size in mind, I used an 11" x 8 1/2" piece of printer paper and folded the top corner down, giving me an 8 1/2" square (after cutting the excess off). But let's say you have a 9 or 10 inch area you need for your router. You could use newspaper (if you can find any anymore) or just tape printer paper together.
After I had cut my size out, I used a little roll on glue to add it to my plexiglass...which, honest, wasn't absolutely necessary. In the future, I'll just hold it down to the plastic and run my marker over the edge. After my edge was marked, it was time to cut it.
This is where we'll switch out the blade on our jigsaw from a wood cutting bit to a metal cutting bit, and we'll do this because the wood cutting bit can be too aggressive, with a blade that can actually crack the plastic. With a metal cutting bit we'll have smaller teeth which will keep that from happening.
Now don't make the mistake I made. Make sure to turn the speed down on your jig saw or you'll likely cause the plastic and blade to become so hot that as you pass through the plastic it'll end up fusing on the opposite side of the blade. This is a mess that you'll want to avoid by turning down the speed to the lowest setting and taking your time.
Now that we've cut our plexiglass (and maybe sanded it to create a smooth edge), line the corners up on the giant 'X'. Each corner of the square will sit on a part of the diagonal line. The only reason this won't work is if your square isn't square, or X...isn't an X. Believe me, if both are square, you'll have a perfect center.
Step 6: Cut the Router Table Top
I traced around the plexiglass square we previously cut out and marked where the diagonals intercepted each other before measuring a half inch in on all sides and placing a secondary line in the inside of the square we traced. This half inch lip will be what our plexiglass will rest on.
To cut out the center, we'll drill holes on the inside of each 1/2” lip corner and switch out the metal blade in our jig saw back to a wood blade.
There's not much more to this step but be sure to make sure you don't cut into the 1/2" lip. This line is detrimental to the router table...I mean, the entire thing and will make you kick and break things if you somehow mess it up. Nobody wants that.
Step 7: Attaching the Plate
Your router should have a plate that was attached to it when you bought it. If not, you'll need to find bolts that fit into the holes underneath. They'll need to be cone head bolts. In this step we'll put our plexiglass on the top, centering the plexiglass to the center of our router hole (where the router bit fits in). Then we'll use a marker to mark where our bolts will go in. Then we'll drill the holes out.
Drilling out plexiglass can be tricking. When you come to the end of your drilling it can very easily chip out. To avoid this, we'll use a brad bit that's just narrower than the bolts that fit inside of your router base. We'll drill enough into the plastic that the tip exists on the opposite side. Next, flip the plexiglass over and drill the opposite way. This is nearly fool proof way to cut this and avoid the almighty chip out.
Now, in the video I said you could use a larger drill bit to widen the hole for your bolt to enter into. I'm going to admit that I really don't like that method of doing it as it has caused me problems in the past. Instead, use a countersink bit...you can get them for a few dollars, to make a cone for the screw to fit into.
After that we'll use a forstner or spade bit to drill out the center (from the mark we made in the previous step), again, allowing the point to exit before flipping and drilling from the opposite side. I used a forstner bit on mine and think that the spade bit might have been a better solution.
Now, before you remove that protective sheeting from both sides of the plate (I was the dummy that did that), we'll need to make a couple holes in that will allow us to pull the router and the plexiglass from the table. You can do that by running a ruler from one corner of the plexiglass in a diagonal line to the other corner and then measuring in about 2 inches. Place a mark and use a 3/4" forstner/spade bit to drill those holes out.
Now you can remove the protective plastic.
Step 8: Finalizing the Base
You might think that the project, outside of routing the top is finished...but we still have one more obstacle to overcome. We need to be able to secure this to the bench, as well as adding a bit more height for the router. I'll admit, 10” wasn't enough for my router, so adding a 2x4 to the bottom solves both problems. The problem of course with a 2x4, is that most jig saw blades aren't quite long enough to cut through a 2x4.
Since we started with 1x3's for our aprons, and there's still a lot of our (2) 1x3x8' left (we are using 16', remember) I decided to stick with them and double them up, creating essentially a 2x3. I cut 4 pieces of 1x3 out that were each 18 1/2" each (2 for the front, 2 for the back). I glued the first set together and put a clamp on either side of boards. Next, I placed the router table up onto the newly cut and glued stack of wood, adjusting the clamps so that they were up close and parallel to where the router table walls were. Next, I moved the router base off the blocks of wood, laid a glue bead down on both sides where the walls of the router sat, and placed the walls back onto the blocks of wood.
Because I'm not crazy about a glue joint that's just 2 boards resting against each other, I cut some inch pieces off of my 1x3 and used them as Corner Moulding to glue both to the base and to the walls. With 2 more clamps I cinched those pieces down.
After that half had been given about 2 hours to dry, I rotated my router table and did this step over again (okay, second paragraph down ward). If you want a good glue time before moving on to the next step, I'd have to say about 10 hours to let both sides dry (total).
Did I explain all this right? I hope so, but the video might explain things a little better than me.
Step 9: Cutting the Inside Lip
To get the exact depth for the 3/16” plexiglass, I used a piece of scrap from the plexiglass I cut to dial in my straight cut router bit to the exact size of the plate its attached to. Of course, we want this to be as perfect as we can as we want the router to fit inside the router table so that it is completely flush with the top.
If you are removing your handles to insert it in the table, be very careful that you reinsert them and use them as you cut the table top. You'll want as much gripping power with any router as you can get as routers can generally be dangerous.
Now we'll remove the 1/2" lip we drew on, careful to not stray past our lines or not go close enough to remove up to the lines. Take it easy and slow and work towards the resistance and not away from it. In other words, cut towards the chew and not away from it. If...this doesn't make sense, consult your router guide for usage.
After the top 'shelf' was cut, we're left with basically a large rounded square. Why? Because routers don't cut squares. Instead, we'll have to use a chisel to square the corners up. If you don't have a chisel, you could probably get away with a razor blade...but honestly, if you're going to do woodworking, you should probably invest in at least a cheap chisel.
Use some sandpaper around the edges if they need to be cleaned up and fit the router inside the hole. If it doesn't fit, you'll need to examine the plate and the top of the router table and find any inconsistencies, and chisel/razor blade it until the square fits inside.
Step 10: Making a Fence
Without a fence you really shouldn't use anything other than a router bit that has a bearing on the top of it (see picture one in this step). This is because the router can very quickly get mean and ugly on you, removing control completely from your hands. Instead, let's make a really quick fence that only needs (2) 18 1/2" boards to make, from the last of your (2) 1x3x8' supply.
You'll, again, cut the boards off and this time you'll glue the long end of the first 18 1/2" board to the long end of the second 18 1/2" board (see pictures above). I used a bit of masking tape to kind of hold them in place, although you'll want to make sure that it's square. Alternatively, you could used a square block of wood on both ends and clamp the boards to it, just be careful you don't glue the other boards to the square boards.
Once that's dry...you're pretty much done. You'll clamp it to the top of the router with 2 clamps.
Step 11: Attaching and Using the Fence
To use the fence, it's simple. You'll move the fence into the wood, very slowly and steadily. Remember, routers can get crazy without much notice, so use an iron grip on the fence as you move it in. You'll decide the distance you want to cut, slowly remove the fence and shut off your router. You'll move the fence back in with the router off and clamp the fence down. Now you should be safe to turn it back on.
Step 12: Thank You!
I love this community! Thank you guys for all the kind words and for taking the time to pour through this instructable. If you find something in error, PLEASE!, don't be afraid to let me know. If you need help with a step or need a little bit more clarity, again, send me a comment down below so that I can clear things up. I take a lot of pride in my work and like to know things are as accurate as they can be.
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