Shank cutter routers, or milling for everyone

A shank cutter router is essentially a modern moulding plane powered by electricity. What had to be made manually using chisels and adjustable moulding planes, is all done by a single machine.

A shank cutter router is essentially a modern moulding plane powered by electricity. What had to be made manually using chisels and adjustable moulding planes, is all done by a single machine. It uses a wide range of replaceable tools and mouldings.

For wood and furniture

To make sure we give you the right definitions, here is a quote from Wikipedia: ″A milling cutter is a multi-point cutting tool used for milling, cutting operations on metals and other materials. The machine tool that uses it is called a milling machine." Thus, the correct formulation is: "Mount the cutter in the milling machine and go!"

Neat drawer fronts

The pergola is more becoming with rounded post corners

Round the corners as well as decorate: the milling machine does it all

Someone has been playing with details: using a fluting cutter or a convex end mill

Everything on furniture and wooden products around you that is treated on the edges or has an interesting moulding or fluting has been made using a milling cutter. In case it is an older product or a heritage from your grandmother, it was a moulding plane. Moulding slats were also used frequently. Again, they could have been shaped by a milling cutter.

All around you

The chest of drawers in the bathroom has rounded edges on the top and the drawer fronts

Gently chamfer the edges and the flower pot looks much better

You will find traces of milling on the edges of your table, the decorative corbel, kitchen cabinet doors and rustic furniture. Milling machines also help chisel out pockets for door locks and handles, grooves for sliding doors, round edges of a shelf or sides of a bed. Likewise, they can liven up your pergola, garden furniture and window sills. Those are mostly products that you bought industrially made. However, milling machines help make tenons, mortises, toothed joints or produce any shape both on a surface and inside a hole. The use of a milling machine gives your final product and materials great value and finished look, whether you simply chamfer the edges or give them deep moulding.

Ready material is of the essence

Milling a groove or treating an edge?

No problem with uni-max milling machines

Even MDF boards can be tooled with milling machines

Adjust cutting depth as needed

For a good milling job and a good result, first of all you need a well-worked board or planed material or timber. The milling machine will help you round or mill both wood and wood-based materials such as MDF fibreboard, plywood, particleboard and even some soft plastics. The rest and guide plate of a milling machine slides well on a properly pre-treated material and copies its surface or edge. Of course only in case you hold it in your hands and work the material from above. We will look at routers fastened on a table for tooling from below next time.

Good fastening = safe working

Safe material fastening using clamps

Consider well the sink, or depth of the cutter blade

A milling machine with a tool is a high-speed cutting device with up to 30 thousand revolution per minute. That is why the material has to be firmly and safely fastened while working. To do that, you can use appropriate clamps that will not leave imprints on the material, or handy clamping vices. The latter can be fastened to the table edge, or you can mill a guide bar in it for adjustable clamps. A guide bar is a very useful assistant if you use the milling machine often. You can also use workbench holes.

Safety First

Wood chips are pelted from turning cutter blades

... so you should always remember to wear protective goggles

When working with a milling machine, goggles protect your eyes from the pelted chips; if possible, use a vacuum cleaner and an exhaust flange, which most milling machines come with. Fasten the material firmly. Only sink a rotating cutter in the material. When tooling solid wood materials, notice the growth lines and work across them carefully not to rip them out.
Caution, the cutter blade has to sink in the material in the sense of rotation, and the whole router proceeds over the material in that same direction. (If you have experience of similar tools, this may sound natural to you, but a complete beginner may do it the wrong way and then be under the impression that the machine is not working or that he has chosen the wrong cutter.)
Use end stops and guide bars, do not push into the cut, and never use blunt tools.

How to choose a milling machine

Different types of cutters

Different shank diameters

Reducing pieces for different shank diameters

Tighten it and go

If you have no experience with one, it is best to try it out, perhaps borrowed from a neighbour or someone who has one. Then you will find that there is no reason to be afraid of a milling machine, that it is really useful and will come in handy in your workshop too. Choose the milling machine size based on the intended use. A smaller one will be more agile and lighter to hold while tooling finished wooden structures, such as visible attic beams, pergolas, etc. Larger milling machines are heavier, more robust, easier to guide and rest on the material better. To help you decide, look at the richness of accessories to the milling machine or whether a worktable can be purchased for it, which will extend its uses considerably. Tools with a smaller shank and clamping diameter will be enough for occasional milling. For more heavy-duty jobs, it is advisable to choose a milling machine with a larger clamping collet diameter. The higher-end ones will have a reducing piece for multiple diameters. That allows you to use both smaller and larger diameters in a single machine.

Good grip ergonomy for easier tool control

Speed control directly on the grip

Depth stop setting

Fine adjustment of the depth stop

Other essentials when choosing are electronic speed control, good grip ergonomy, and a good depth stop with a multi-step setting. Multi-step depth stop setting is useful, e.g., when making composite mouldings or a deep cut, which is better divided into several steps, or "gradual sinking".

Next time

Of course a milling machine can be fastened from below and then move the material towards the milling shank. But we will look at that next time, together with interesting fastening using a vacuum table, and in the following parts we will see how to make some decorative slats or kitchen cabinet doors.