The Top 10 Router Table Buying Mistakes
...and How to Avoid Them!
These mistakes (and their solutions) are not in any particular order of importance. However they do include a lot of information that you can digest before you make your purchasing decision. I hope that your research will make you a better woodworker and a better purchaser in the future.
Mistake #1: Getting Hung Up on a Brand
Some people come into the market with a specific brand name in mind to buy. Some have no idea what brands are good and which are lousy. Some swear to only buy things made in America and some are just focused on price. Let me tell you this, I have tested just about every brand of router table there is. The ones I have not owned, I have held in my hands at woodworking shows and poured over their details with others. I write a ton of reviews and work with manufactures in design and features. So I will say this, most people get hung up on brand.
I call this the Hyundai principle. When Hyundai first started making cars, they targeted the low price market and made some decent sales. After being in the marketplace for a while, they switched their strategy and started to target quality. It has been recorded by certain Toyota executives that Hyundai is the company that Toyota is the most nervous about competing with. And rightfully so since they started to target a market in one way and continued to develop their quality after entering the market. However some people have trouble getting over the stigma of a newer brand that they or their friends associate with as an inferior brand. So instead of taking a chance, they stick with something they have heard of.
So what is the best brand? Is it Rockler, Woodpecker, RTD, MLCS or Bench Dog? The answer is, “It depends on what you are looking for.” The features of the brand are what you should focus on instead of the make and model. Newer brands are being more and more innovative than established brands. Overlooking a brand because you have not heard of it steals your opportunity to save money or enjoy a new feature.
Mistake #2: Mixing and Matching
Most of us started with a piece of wood that we bolted a router to and we then started making sawdust. In essence, that is really all there is to it. The most important features are a good fence, a good flat insert, and a decent table top work surface.
Guess what? All the brands already mentioned deliver that. So now the real question is, “How do you balance brand name with price and features?”
Just because a brand is established does not make it the best. Even the best brands sometimes have problems or get damaged in shipping. Newer brands sometimes over deliver in price and features in order to compete with established manufacturers. If I were to advise anyone today on what brand to buy, my advice would be to choose the brand that works for you. When I say this I mean by putting all the information that you read here together, you will figure out which one to buy. Getting the facts is the key and then incorporates them into your buying decision.
Most manufacturers are proprietary, so don’t think you can mix and match. Have you ever wondered why all router table inserts are different sizes? The tables sizes are all roughly the same but the inserts and lift sizes are all slightly different. The reason is so that you stick with one brand when you buy it since it will fit nothing else.
For example let’s say that you buy a Bench Dog router table and you’re happy with it. Later on down the line you decide you want to add a router table Lift to your table. You have to buy a Bench Dog lift for this table since a Woodpecker’s lift will not fit it. To change brands would mean you would have to lose the money you spent on the original table and most woodworkers do not want to do that. Manufacturers purposely do that so that you are more or less “all in” with a specific brand.
The same goes with Inserts. If you build a table around a certain size Phenolic insert and you want to change over to an aluminum one, you will have to use the same brand to fit that size. The same would also go for most fences, but there are always some exceptions. A router table depot fence may not line up exactly with the T-track on the Woodpecker’s table. You get the point.
Mistake #3: Buying Too Small
If you are new to router tables, you may have trouble with this tip but it is still good to understand it when choosing what table to buy. The plain and simple fact is that you are going to love adding a router table into your shop. I have never heard of anyone saying that they did not like it. In fact, there is a reason that it’s the most popular shop tool; it opens up a whole new world.
It is tempting to buy the inexpensive beginners’ router table to see if you will like it. The price is good on this table, but you can quickly outgrow it. So if you can consider the fact that you will most likely love the table, you may want to consider spending a little more and getting a table that you can grow with. Some smaller tables have smaller or “not industry standard” parts which will keep you from using the included accessories such as miter gauges and fences with another table. Just knowing that will help you make a better decision in the long run. If you need a bench top sized table, look for features that are “industry standard” size, such as the miter track, t-track and insert. Those three items are commonly scaled down on inexpensive tables.
Mistake #4: Don’t Be Wary of Drilling Your Insert
I could go on and on here, so I will try to make it as short as possible. If you are considering buying a table that does NOT have predrilled holes for your router, rest easy, it is not that hard. I hear a lot of people get concerned over doing that. There are video directions and text directions on the Router Table Depot site that helps you.
You are basically using the base plate of your router as a guide. If you buy a pre-drilled model, then you will not have that decision. The pre-drilled models cost about $20 extra. What is better Phenolic or Aluminum? Remember, it depends on what you are doing.
If you are insisting on using a 3HP router in your table, buy the aluminum model. For some reason people have to have the biggest and baddest router they can find and they want to hang it on the most inexpensive router plate they can find. Then they are upset when it eventually bows and displaces the flatness of the insert.
The other significant problem is woodworkers who store their router installed on the router plate in the table. Gravity is a powerful force of nature and will eventually pull the flattest insert out of level. All inserts are priced basically the same so as to be competitive. The nicer, heavier duty aluminum inserts (Woodpecker) tend to run around $90.
Mistake #5: Analysis Paralysis
Most people want to be able to use after market accessories for their router tables. There are a ton of really good and ingenious items to choose from. Most fall into two categories. The ones that fit in the Miter Track and ones that fit into T-track.
I often get asked if a “Brand A” miter gauge will fit into a “Brand B” miter track. The answer is, “Usually yes”, based on what is called industry standard. The Miter track is cut to accept most ¾” industry standard accessories. When something does not fit, it is usually the difference between tolerances of what industry standard is. Items made in different factories may vary from tooling or acceptable standards. This means, they want it to fit, but sometimes it might be a hair off.
Tooling is usually the culprit here and it’s hard to control. This is where a little ingenuity comes into play. Sometimes you can coax things to fit with a little light sanding or a little lubricant. Also a lot of times Miter Track may be tight due to climate changes in MDF tables. Let your new table adjust to your shops climate before getting radical. When it comes to T-track, most ¼” 20 Hex Head Bolts fit inside the track. Sometimes you can go up to 6mm bolts as well. Anything larger than that rarely fit. Again that industry standard mystery sometimes has a factor in bolt head sizes.
Mistake #6: Not Planning for Dust Collection
I answer a fair amount of calls about people not being able to use their shop vacuums directly into the dust port of their new cool fence. Most of the time this will not work and it is usually about economics. It would be great if you could just go down to your local Home Depot or Lowes and buy the adaptor that you need and get back to woodworking. However that is not likely the case.
There are a lot of dust port sizes out there as well as a large amount of dust collection and shop vac hose sizes. Getting one size to fit all is almost impossible and the manufactures don’t really want to accommodate that anyway. You’re better off buying a dust port adaptor or universal adaptor and custom cut it to fit with your own system.
Sometimes just adding the $6 or $8 to the cost is easier than trying to figure out why they did that. One word of dust collection wisdom, if I may; if you do not use a dust collector now, you most likely will in the future. Router tables make a huge mess and dust collection at the fence is an amazing way to cut down on your clean up job. This is one of those features that you will be glad later that you got it today.
Mistake #7: Ignoring the Bench Top Models
Many woodworkers that add router tables to the shop run right by the smaller bench top models on their way to a full size table. The fact is, there are some really excellent sized smaller tables that have all the same features as their larger counterparts. You can save substantial money if you invest in a bench top sized model and attach it to your own stand thus making a free standing unit.
Most bench top models can do all the same type of projects since they usually have the same style fence and inserts. Currently there are even a couple of models that can accept a lift. If you are worried or concerned about table size, you can always create or make an in-feed or out-feed extension that can be used on your router table. This will give you all the work space of a larger table and the flexibility of a smaller table for a smaller budget.
Mistake #8: Misinterpreting Product Reviews
I read a lot of product reviews and I see a trend occurring with a lot of them. Most people do not really review the product; instead they rate their service experience with the vendor or how their product was shipped.
Let’s face it, if you buy ten different things from the same vendor, you will most likely not have a consistent experience. Router tables have a lot of parts that are all susceptible to not being machined properly or having a small blemish. The majority of the vendors want you to be happy since they want to keep you as a customer. A onetime customer is not the goal in today’s competitive landscape. So “screwing” the customer (for lack of a better word, sorry) is a really dumb idea.
The best product reviews mention which router they are using with the table and any unforeseen problems using the table. Assembly notes are always good too, as well as the quality of the parts of the table itself. There will always be the guy who does not read the directions or does really dumb things with his table and then wants to vent to the world at how disappointed he is.
Another good point is to notice if the product is supported well or not. Sometimes items get damaged in shipping and parts can be easily replaced. Most will let you know in the review if the vendor was helpful or not. Another good shopping point to keep in mind is how many people wrote the review after they took the product out of the box verses reviews written after they used it for a while.
Mistake #9: Buying the Whole Store
Another common mistake is that people immediately want to buy everything under the sun to go with their new table. While I applaud that from a sales point of view, it’s not always the best thing for you, the woodworker.
If you never had a router table before, buy one and start working with it for a while. Watch some video (you tube is great for this) and start hanging around in forums to ask some questions. You will have a much better feel of buying all the extra fun stuff after you start using it. You may find you really do not need that coping sled or box joint jig until you hone up your skills a bit. It is tempting to get all the goodies at the same time, but you may end up with buyers’ remorse. Slow and sure is better than blowing your whole budget at once. If you buy anything extra I would recommend getting a nice set of router bits. Over the lifetime of using the table you will use and learn a lot of router bits. Its probably the one accessory that you will need for sure.
Mistake #10: Skipping the Directions
Generally, men are not predisposed to do this for some reason. However you would most likely laugh at how many people don’t read the directions for assembly. Then they have a problem and immediately pick up the phone to get it straightened out. Frustration kicks in when they get an operator who really does not know the ins and outs of the machine and they have to wait for a specialist to call them back. Some sites even put the directions and video online to help you.
Most likely all the help you need is available if you use it. Router Table Depot keeps copies of all the directions for all of their products online for reference. Let’s face it, sometimes those documents don’t make it into the box for some reason. I am amazed at how many calls I get asking if this will fit a Bosch router when it plainly says, “Fits Bosch routers” on the site and instructions…..have a heart. Also please keep in mind there is a lot of information out there about using the tool in regards to directions. Forums and blogs can give you some really great ideas.