Dadoes, rabbets, routers, and me
October 2, 2014 4:09 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me figure out my router? The woodworking kind of router, not the other kind of router.

AskMe has previously helped me with my drill and circular saw. I am now perfectly good with drills and circular saws (if you don't know how anyone could screw up drilling the answer is not understanding how to use drill speed properly and failing to drill pilot holes. Circular saws are terrifying and furthermore I hadn't charged it properly.)

So now I have a Bosch combo router, which I have begun trying to use and pretty much immediately began to suck at. Trying to do dadoes last week for shelving, even using clamped-down wood and a clamped-down fence, left me with a wandering router despite multiple attempts.

I don't have a router table and it's out of budget right now, but I can make templates/guides....which I did, and still the same thing happened. You can say that perhaps the wood wasn't clamped down enough, and I guess that's undeniable, but still I don't think I should have that much trouble controlling it and I did clamp it down pretty hard.

There are approximately a gazillion videos of how to use a router on the internet, and I have watched approximately 1/6000 of a gazillion, and they all make it look like it's a breeze.

The router bits are high end. I'm using the fixed base part. I am clearly very new and am primarily interested in rabbets and dados, though I have a really cool set of bits and if you want to give me advice for something else to try I'm into it.

Can you help further simplify this for me? I really like the tool, it's very nice and it seems like I could do a thousand things with it if I learned how to use it.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you going in the right direction? With a handheld router, you need to move into the wood in a different direction (clockwise vs counter) depending on whether you are processing an inside or an outside edge. Here's an article describing the issue.
posted by Poldo at 4:36 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

For a dado, clamp a guide on both sides of the dado and used a bit with a smaller diameter than the desired dado width. That way, even if you can't keep the router base firmly against the guide, nothing gets ruined when it drifts away, and you can make another pass to clean up the cut.

You may also find it helpful, though more time consuming, to make more and shallower cuts rather than trying to cut to final depth in one pass.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:37 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Realize that the bit spins in one direction. So going one way it draws the work into it (bad) and the other way it sort of pushes against the work (good, because than you control how fast it won't grab the work from you and pull it away from you).

You don't need a router table. You can drill a hole in a piece of nice thick flat plywood and then mount the router upside down (use wood screws that are shorter than your (thick) plywood. You can clamp pieces of wood to that to use as fences.

Not a router expert by any means but that might help.
posted by sully75 at 4:40 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Are you going in the right direction?

I've tried both ways and the same thing happens. I eventually settled on holding it so that the on/off switch is handily on the right side, and I think that's correct, though every time I read about it I find it vaguely confusing.

I think the deal is that the router chews in a clockwise direction, and the wood should be feeding into its mouth, so on an outside edge the router bit (held from the top) would be rotating clockwise as the router itself moved counter clockwise over the outside edge of the piece.

That gets more confusing when I'm moving in a straight line, but basically if I look down the directional arrow showing the bit rotation is pointing clockwise and I push the router into the wood in a straight line.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:17 AM on October 2, 2014

When you're routing a dado, there is no right or wrong direction to feed - both sides of the bit are going to cut. I think what's throwing you is that the router has a mind of its own - typically about a horsepower's worth. So you're going to have to use some muscle to compensate:
- clamp that fence down hard, so you can't dislodge it even by leaning on it hard.
- when you're making the cut, think about pushing the router into the fence, not about pushing it along the cut.
- finally, as you start the cut & as you end it, only about half the router base is supported by the wood, so push down on that side to keep the router base flat.
posted by mr vino at 5:21 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

One way to help think about the direction is that you want the spinning bit to be resisting the direction of movement, not "helping" by pulling the router in that direction, which makes control much more difficult.
posted by exogenous at 5:23 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Heh, I'm so old that computer routers are the other kind of router.
In addition to the excellent advice above:
Make sure your fence extends well beyond your working material.
Don't try and remove all the material in one pass.
Go slowly and stay balanced - leaning causes you to lose your ability to control the tool.
Consider doing the routing first and cutting to length/width after.
This is sort of hard to describe but you might want to clamp and butt some "run out" material at the end, especially for dadoes. This helps avoid chipped corners where the grain doesn't align with the cut.
posted by vapidave at 5:54 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your fence or template is moving, then you have a clamping problem. Solve that first, because it's also a safety issue.

Assuming that the fence isn't moving, it really sounds like you are moving the router in the wrong direction, which will give you bad results. Here is a brief article with pictures showing which direction to follow, and there are many more available via google -- personally I need to see pictures, since it is easy to get confused with clockwise/counterclockwise descriptions, as well as some descriptions assume the router is mounted upside down and others are assuming handheld use.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:25 AM on October 2, 2014

Best answer: That gets more confusing when I'm moving in a straight line, but basically if I look down the directional arrow showing the bit rotation is pointing clockwise and I push the router into the wood in a straight line.

Okay, try thinking of it this way. The bit, assuming it's pointed away from you, spins clockwise. If you're trying to move it in a straight line from right to left then all the cutting is happening on the left side of the bit, where the cutting edges are moving more or less away from you. In reaction to the resistance those blades meet going through the wood as their edges move away from you, the whole router wants to move towards you. So in this case, you'd want the fence between you and the router so that the cutting forces naturally keep the router base pressed tightly to the fence.

If the fence is between you and the router, cut right to left.

If the fence is on the far side of the router, cut left to right.

If the fence is to the left of the router, push the router away from yourself.

If the fence is to the right of the router, pull the router towards yourself.
posted by jon1270 at 6:31 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mr. Vino: When you're routing a dado, there is no right or wrong direction to feed - both sides of the bit are going to cut.

This is completely wrong.
posted by jon1270 at 6:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What jon1270 said about router direction. Cut direction is super important (and be careful about trapped cuts, the first time I sent a piece off my router table into the garage door at 100+MPH was an eye opener).

Aaaaand: You are trying to take off too much material in each pass. Seriously. Take less. I actually now sometimes use a router completely freehand, mostly because I'm using a bit that cuts 1/8" of material and I'm only trying o go that deep. And it's completely controllable. The only time I go full depth is when I'm using a dovetail bit, and even then I'll use a straight bit first to hog out most of the groove before I go back with the dovetail bit.

If you're using a ¾" bit (because that's the thickness of the shelf you're going to set into the dado), take off 1/32" or 1/16" on a pass, and then gradually dial it up how much you're cutting. In the end you might find that you can take ¼" at a whack, but don't start by trying to take all 3/8" in one pass, you'll just burn the bit and cut squigglies in your wood.

Also, my first router table cost me a 2x6 and a 2'x4' piece of melamine for the top and fence (and some acrylic from the scrap bin at TAP plastics for my router plate). It clamped on to an existing work table. Router tables don't have to be super expensive (but nor are they appropriate for many cuts, so don't rush right out and build one).
posted by straw at 7:25 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Out of curiosity, what kind of clamps are you using for the fence? You need the type that tighten with screws, not the quick-acting type whose handles you squeeze to tighten, with the rubber-padded jaws. The latter don't grip tightly enough for this.
posted by jon1270 at 7:52 AM on October 2, 2014

Best answer: Use good clamps like jon1270 said if you need to use some kind of non slip padding between. Two ideal materials are cut up old bicycle innertubes (so many uses for this stuff) cut to a single thickness or the stuff they advertise for putting under rugs to stop them sliding across a hard floor (the innertube is way, way better but sometimes can be hard to find-the hardware store doesn't sell old innertubes-but you can by a cheap innertube and just cut up a new one).

I use high quality hardwood for my fence materials. Soft pine is harder to clamp securely and lower grade framing lumber does NOT have a straight edge or grain. I just bought and use some oak 2x2 cut lumber from the store.
posted by bartonlong at 10:38 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The more wood you try to remove in a single pass the harder it is to control the router. Creep up on the depth for your dadoes; make your first pass an 1/8th of an inch, add another 1/8th the next pass, etc. Take your time, make easy cuts and you'll get there. (edit: what straw said)

I find my handheld router to be one of the most useful but least friendly tools I own. There is so much you can do with them but by the nature of their cutting action they constantly wander off line and are powerful enough to make a real mess when they do.
posted by N-stoff at 11:26 AM on October 2, 2014

All good advice, but I wanted to emphasize that when routing, any sort of routing that's deep and cuts out a lot of wood, even on edges, do multiple passes, increasing depth each time. like, I would only go as deep as half the width of the dadoe with each pass -- so if your groove is 3/4" wide, first pass would only be about 3/8" deep, and repeat until you're deep enough -- or judge by how easy it is to control and adjust as needed. There's no shame in reroutering the same path over and over.

Also, make sure your bits are really, really sharp.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:17 PM on October 2, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, all of you rocked it. I'm now the proud owner of some fully functional dadoes.

I switched the side the fence was on (that may or may not have been just mindless flailing around on my part), clamped more tightly, paid more attention to not inadvertently rocking it, basically muscled it more -- but I think the really big thing that mattered was that I started to 1/8" depth, then 1/4", then to 1/2", digging the wood out incrementally rather than what I was doing, which was trying to cut it all at once.

If I had do-overs I'd probably try this on a day without 97% humidity, the fit was really tight and fought quite a bit but I won and the shelf dividers (which happily no one will ever see) are pretty solidly together.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:58 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Something else to consider...

Some routers have a base which is not entirely circular. It looks like a circle with a flat bit on one edge. If you've clamped a fence to the workpiece, the obvious (to me at least) thing to do was to run the flat part of the router base against the fence. Which is the completely wrong thing to do.

If you run the flat part against the fence, and the torque of the router bit in the wood twists the router, then the flat part of the base will lever out against the fence, pushing the bit further away from the desired path. If you can possibly do it, run the curved part of the base against the fence - that way if the router twists under torque, the radius doesn't change, and the bit stays the same distance from the fence.
posted by tim_in_oz at 5:43 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Apropos, and I ran across it today: How to build a router table for $10 (YouTube video). It really can be that simple (though obviously the beefier you build it, the more precise you can be).
posted by straw at 11:35 AM on October 8, 2014

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