Do you need a router table to use a router?

No, a portable router can be used without a router table. But there are times when it’s faster, easier, and safer to use a router table.

A router table can be safer to use than a handheld router because it gives us better control over the workpieces. The table supports the workpiece. The fence acts as a guide to direct the workpiece towards the bit.

Having better control over work pieces is especially important when working with small parts that may be too difficult or dangerous to work with a portable router.

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What can you do with a router table?

We can use a router table to make our own moldings, make grooves and grooves in workpieces, make raised panel doors, and more.

Related: How to Build DIY Shaker Cabinet Doors

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Types of Router Tables

There are three common types of tables of router. These include tabletop router tables, free-standing or cabinet-style router tables, and router tables that fit inside the extension wing of a table saw.

When choosing a router table, we’ll want to consider the amount of space in our shop and whether we might want to use it outside of our shop. Related: 9 Clever Ways To Make Your Small Shop Feel Bigger

For example, I chose a tabletop router table for my small shop. It’s compact, so it fits well in my 156 square foot shop. Plus, it’s portable. This means I can take it to my backyard or a friend’s house to work on a project.

Related: My 12×13 Small Woodshop Layout


Benchtop router tables are used on top of a workbench. They tend to be small and easy to move. Some can even fold flat to save space when not in use.


Standing or cabinet-style router tables are a good choice for larger shops. This style usually has legs or a cabinet base that sits on the floor. They are usually heavy and not easy to move.

Extension Wing

Some router tables will fit on the extension wing of a table saw. This is a great way to save space and make use of an otherwise unused area.

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Parts of a milling table


The tabletop provides a flat, stable surface for parts of work. The top of many store-bought router tables is made of MDF (medium-density fiberboard).

​​TIP: Be careful with MDF. It will swell if exposed to moisture. In other words, don’t get it wet.

Legs or Base

The table top is mounted on legs or a base.


A portable router is connected to the motherboard. The base plate is fixed to the surface of the table. The base plate should be level with the table surface. The table top usually has screws that can be adjusted to level the base plate.

Many store-bought router tables have base plates that fit common brands of routers. Other router tables have blank base plates and holes need to be drilled to connect the router.

Not all router tables fit all brands of routers. It’s a good idea to read the manual to see if the router table you plan to buy will fit your router.


The fence helps us control the piece. Guide or direct the workpiece toward the router bit.

Many fences have a dust collection port and a T-track. The t-track can be used to attach accessories such as pebble boards. Some router tables have a split fence that can be used to close the gap around the router bit.


The t-track allows us to attach accessories such as a jib edge.

Bit Guard

The bit guard protects our hands from contact with the bit.

Start Pin

Sometimes a guide just doesn’t work for certain cuts. In those cases, we can use a boot pin. A starter pin is another accessory that gives us better control over a work piece.

Creates a fixed point. This way we can turn the workpiece on the pin and easily place it on the router bit. Inserting the workpiece into the bit helps reduce the chance of kickback.

The start pin helps us more safely mill the ends of narrow workpieces. It is also useful when working with curved workpieces or patterns and templates.

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How to use a router table

The first step in using a router table or any tool is to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) . This includes eye protection, hearing protection, and a quality respirator to protect our lungs.

It is also important to work safely and follow all manufacturer’s instructions for your router and router table.

1. Choosing a router bit

We will have to choose a bit with the profile for the type of cut we want to make. The profile is the shape of the cutting edge.

Bits can range from a straight cut bit used to cut a slot to decorative bits such as concave and ogee with a pilot bearing or pilot bearing. The pilot bearing follows the edge of the work piece.

It is important to choose a bit with the correct shank size for our router. The shank is the end of the bit that is held in place by the collet. The collar is what holds the bit in the router.

The shank should fit into the collar of our router. Router collets accept either a ¼-inch shank or a ½-inch shank. Some routers have removable collets that can accept both ¼-inch and ½-inch shank bits.

We should use a ½ inch bit if we have another option. ½-inch bits produce less vibration and produce smoother cuts than ¼-inch bits.

2. Change a router bit

Always unplug the router before changing a bit.

Insert the bit until the cutting edge touches the collet, then pull the bit out about ⅛-inch and tighten the collet with your fingers.

It is important to leave a ⅛ inch gap between the bit and the collet.

The collar attracts the bit as the lock nut is tightened. The bit may not fully tighten if the cutter is touching the manifold. This means the bit could come loose and fly out of the router. This is dangerous.

Router bits get hot quickly. Heat causes expansion. The gap between the bit and the collar will also allow for expansion.

Use a wrench to tighten the locknut on the collar.

3. Set the height of the bit

Next, we will set the height of the bit. Bit height is the amount of the bit that is exposed or the amount of the bit that will cut through the workpiece.

There are several ways to adjust the height of the bit. We can raise and lower the height of the bit using the depth adjustments on the router itself or by using a router lift.

  • Combination Square – A combination square is one of the easiest and most economical ways to set the height of a router bit. Place the combo box next to the bit, and then raise or lower the bit to the desired height.
  • Gauge blocks: Gauge blocks are stacked next to the bit. The bit is then raised until it touches the gauge block.
  • Digital Gauge – A digital gauge like the Wixey Mini Digital Height Gauge allows us to position the bit precisely where we want it.

The opening in the table or the space around the bit can catch the edges of the workpieces. Some router tables have rings that can be installed to reduce this space.

The opening in the fence or the space around the bit can also catch the edges of the work pieces. Split-style fences can be adjusted to reduce this gap. A split-style fence should be set so that it almost touches the bit.

4. Put up the fence

A while back, I took some furniture making classes. One of the students in the class asked “how do you square the fence on the router table?” The instructor, Bob, said that the router fence doesn’t need to be exactly parallel to the bit for most cuts. This sounded crazy! When using a table saw or miter saw, we always want the fence to be parallel to the blade.

Related: When to use a miter saw vs. a table saw

The difference is a flat blade vs. a round bit. Bob said the important thing is to get the fence the proper distance from the bit and the bit will do the rest of the work.

The configuration of the fence will depend on the type of bit we are using.

Straight Cut Bits

First, adjust the fence from the front. Disconnect the router. Place a ruler in the center of the bit. Then, turn the cutting tip of the bit toward the guide. Adjust the fence so that it is the desired distance. Then tighten the guide and make a cut in a test piece.

Do you need to make an adjustment? First, draw a pencil line along the guide on the router table. Then loosen only the left end of the guide. This allows the guide to rotate closer to the bit or further from the bit. Adjust the guide and tighten the guide. Make another cut in a test piece and re-adjust if necessary.

Guided bits

For bits with guide bearing or guide bearing, we will place a ruler through the guide. Then we will adjust the guide until it is the thickness of a sheet of paper between the bearing of the bit and the ruler. Then tighten the guide and make a cut in a test piece.

5. Test the setup

We should always test the setup on a few pieces of scrap wood before cutting the pieces for our project. This way we are sure that everything is set up correctly

Related: How much should you cut in one pass?

Which direction does it feed the workpieces?

When using the fence, start the workpiece on the right side of the router table and move or feed to the left.

When using a pattern or jig with a guided drill, use a start pin to ease the workpiece onto the drill and move it counterclockwise. A piloted bit has a bearing on top of the bit.

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What is feed rate?

Feed rate is how fast the workpiece moves through the router bit. Too fast a feed rate can cause the surface of the wood to crack. In other words, the surface of the wood will be rough or chipped. Too slow a forward speed can cause wood burn.

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How much should you cut in one pass?

We must avoid making cuts deeper than approximately ⅜” in a single pass. Making cuts deeper than ⅜” in a single pass can cause some problems:

  • Tensions the motor
  • Puts pressure on the router bit
  • the surface of rough wood

Instead, we must make several passes. For the first pass, adjust the bit or fence to remove about half of the wood. Use a slow, steady ground speed for the first pass.

For the second pass, adjust the bit or fence to remove the rest of the wood. We can use a faster feed rate for the second pass.

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Final Thoughts

In this beginner’s guide for woodworkers, we learned how to use a router table. We look at the parts of a router table, how to change a router bit, how to set up the fence, which way to feed workpieces, and much more.

Thank you for visiting us. If you enjoyed this tutorial, could you take a moment and pin it on Pinterest? I would really appreciate it!