The circular saw or the power drill might be your more heavily used items in a home workshop, but most woodworkers would probably agree that the router, especially used with a router table, is the most versatile tool one can have a garage. The reason is perhaps its simplicity.
A router is a compact, easily customizable power tool, and when used with a router table, it allows the operator to use both hands on the material, coming at the wood at different angles and depths. A router table can be used for cuts, slots, grooves, signs, and the list goes on. This little guide will give you some basics about router tables and what you should consider when purchasing, and give some info on a highly popular home router table produced by industry favorite Bosch.
Why a router table?
More basic than even a saw blade, a router uses a cylindrical pin or spindle, usually a quarter to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, extending vertically and rotating at high speed. When the material, typically wood—but also great for plastics and various veneers—is run against the spindle it carves the material to the profile of the bit. Bit sizes vary, so the router can be used for all sorts of shaping and detailed edge work, or the straight cylinder can create raised panels and slots.
Most routers are handheld, either with a fixed base or one that plunges down into the material. For many people, this is sufficient, but it does mean that the worker’s hands are monopolized with the tool. As a solution, some people will rig up a table saw to accommodate a router. But to get the full mobility and versatility of a router, a dedicated router table is a must-have for any serious woodworker. This inverts the router, with the bit fixed and extending up from a gap in the table. The user has full control over the material and guides allow perfect geometric cuts.
Some of the more common uses of a router include:
- Making decorative edges such as moldings.
- Other detailed designs such as sign carving.
- Use as a joiner, making dozens of joints such as rabbets, dovetails, and mortises.
- Working with small or narrow pieces of wood.
- Edge trimming or template and pattern work.
- Stopped cuts that don’t continue the entire length of the piece.
- Creating raised panel doors.
When it comes to purchasing a good router table, the main thing you want to look for its sturdiness. A flat, true and durable tabletop is probably the most important feature, preferably cast metal like iron or aluminum. You also want to make sure there’s an accurate, sturdy and easy to adjust fence. The fence is the guide that runs parallel to the direction of the cut, and is used to guide the material. Finally, a solid base plate, the piece embedded in the table where the router attaches, is crucial to make sure the router stays absolutely fixed and level.
Bosch Router Tables
Bosch is one of the most reliable and respected makers of parts, tools and other car and household components in the world. The company was founded in Germany in 1886, and since then has grown to become the world’s largest supplier of automotive components. But it’s also well established in power tools, with the kind of precision and reliability German manufacturers have become known for. The company designed one of the first plastic-cased power tools back in the 1950s and has won multiple engineering awards for its tools. Bosch has two models of the router table.
The Bosch RA1181
This is the most popular of the two models of home router tables. In fact, the RA1181 is one of the most popular router tables on the market, ranked as the highest-selling on Amazon and receiving overwhelmingly positive ratings. It’s a benchtop router table, meaning it’s meant to stand or mount on any standard workbench, which also means it has a pretty small footprint of its own. It’s a rectangular surface, 27 inches by 18 inches. At about 35 pounds, it’s a nice weight such that it’s not going to move around on you and it feels stable, but it’s also pretty easily portable.
The table surface itself is made of cast aluminum, and the router mounting plate is also a strong, cast aluminum, drilled with a number of holes for fitting different routers. The fence is also aluminum, with adjustable faces made of MDF (a strong wood composite). The table also features two dust-collection ports that fit standard 2-1/2” shop vacuum hoses to keep the workplace clean. It’s priced at Home Depot at $183. It’s also backed by a one-year limited warranty, 30-day money-back guarantee and a one-year service protection plan.
Reviews are generally positive, especially for the aluminum tabletop that should last for a long time. For the price, it’s considered a good quality router table, versatile enough but also not a huge use of space. Note that some have said the assembly is a bit complex, requiring around a half hour to put together.
The Bosch RA1171
The 1171 is just a bit smaller than its big brother, a bit less expensive, and a bit lower-rated, but all in all a solid router table. There are a couple of main differences. First, the tabletop surface is laminate instead of cast aluminum. Second, the workspace is about a couple of inches smaller in each dimension. Finally, it’s cabinet style, so there’s storage space underneath, where the 1181 has plastic legs. But the mounting plate is the same sturdy aluminum people are quite fond of. And the fence and feather boards appear to be the same material and quality. The 1171 runs a bit cheaper and enjoys the same warranty and guarantee from the manufacturer.