If you have decided to make your wooden products look nicer, pleasing to the eye and more decorative, to add value to your work, make it sell better or make your wife praise you more, you will have to get a router or another..
The router and the cutter make one
But you wouldn’t do much with the milling machine alone: you are going to need some straight or profiled cutters. The machine – router – thus makes an integral whole with the bit – the cutter. The bits come in many profiles, so there is a wide choice. To start with, it is advisable to get a smaller set with several cutters. Once you get used to working with the tool, you can splash out and get a large set with more types of profiles and their combinations and radius and taper sizes. It all depends how often you are going to use your router.
Even though the cutter shape is defined, you can utilise a part of its profile only by gradually sinking it into the material, or combine multiple shapes. You learn that with a bit of practice. Not every profile combines or makes a smooth transition. Based on my own experience, I must say the most frequently used ones are a large and small radius, and a small profile for rounding, decorating or chamfering. But as I say, a bit set is beautiful and enhances the potential uses and numbers of profiles. A large set also includes cutters that can make a tongue or groove at the edge of a board for easy production of floor boards. (Although they are typically cheaper to buy.)
You can use the tongue and groove joint for gluing wide battenboards for making a tabletop or stringboard – making it easier to glue wide battenboards together.
An expensive or cheap router?
You don’t need to buy expensive tools for the occasional cutting of edges or a few profiled mouldings. Especially if you are cutting softwood, such as spruce, pine, poplar, larch, alder, linden, etc. But if you are interesting in making deep grooving in balks for a pergola, for example, it will be better to get a more robust and heavier router, with a larger baseplate.
A moulding hides everything
A moulding hides everything, they say, and a decorative moulding not only hides and makes prettier, but also covers areas such as double fake edges of a table or makes a nice photo frame stock.
Mouldings can be used to make fake panelling on doors or cabinet doors. You can also fix a frame or door panel using a profiled moulding. A pair of skilful hands can easily renovate ugly housing estate doors.
Just try to figure out how much you would spend on ten metres, or very well a hundred metres of decorative mouldings that you will need to finish the floors and floorboard panelling in the attic, and you will find out you can have a simple router for that money, which can produce the mouldings with a suitably profiled cutter, and you get to keep the router in the end.
Fastening the stock firmly is the basis. Ideally using clamps. You can also use screws or a vacuum table or vices, all depending on the type of stock to be fastened. First, take a scrap of material of the same thickness and set the profile using it. Keep the scrap to be able to set the profile again should you need to.
And yet it moves – but which way?
For someone who is using a router for the first time, it may be difficult to tell which on side of the stock to start milling, that is, apply the blade to the material. The router machine always clearly indicates the sense of tool rotation, either with a sticker or an embossed arrow. Putting the router down on its base, the arrow points clockwise – this is the sense of rotation of the cutter.
But when you imagine a wheel or a round tabletop, which you intend to produce by milling, you drive the whole router counterclockwise by pulling the machine towards you gently along the stock. The cutter sense of rotation is set so that the blade bites into the stock all the way to the bearing, or to the full cutter depth or profile for cutters without a bearing.
Another beginner error is reversing, that is, mounting the router and driving it backwards. Sometimes you can’t even tell for a while, as the sharp cutter and the high machine speed allow you to produce the profile anyway, but it will be ugly and torn, and you will then wonder what’s wrong and blame it on the bit being dull. In fact the only dullness in this case is on your part. (It happens to all of us sometimes, myself included.) You may reverse, for example, if you need to go back to where you started, or at the corner or when resuming work on a profile, but only ever do so on a short section.
It is best tested on a piece of material: try cutting forward a bit and then backward a bit, you will see the difference immediately and next time you will know for sure whether you’re working in the right direction.
The router is a high-speed machine. If you interrupt the cutting, always continue with the router switched on and the bit running: never start the router with the bit pressed against the stock – the kickback might cause serious injury.
If you are using a bearing at the end of the cutter shank for tracing, you can use it mostly on one side, sometimes on both sides of the stock. The latter is only possible if the stock is thick enough so that the bearing can rest against the original stock, not cut by the first take, when tracing on the other side. You can achieve a broad moulding with a decorative profiling in this way.
Keep your eyes and ears turned on while milling
If the router changes its characteristic high-pitched noise in any way while working, switch it off immediately and check the quality of clamping, stock or bit. At a working speed around thirty thousand rpm, any non-standard noise may indicate a fatal problem. Few tools in the handicraft segment have such sharp blades and high speeds.
In the following episodes, we will shed light on proper router settings and introduce the worktable for upside-down mounting.