If you own a router table, you have what it takes to create perfect edges for glue up. And thanks to carbide cutters, a router table can joint the edges of abrasive man-made materials like MDF and particleboard, something that can’t be done on most jointers (those with steel knives) without ruining the cutters.
Woodworkers quickly learn that a table saw does not leave an edge that’s ready for gluing. Saw marks and slight irregularities from hand feeding the stock add up to unsightly glue lines. That’s when a woodworker’s desire turns to jointers. But what if a jointer has yet to make its way off the wish list and into the shop? Take heart, there is hope for the jointer-less. It’s your router table to the rescue.
Photo 1. A simple shop-made fence is all you need to edge joint on a router table. Glue a strip of plastic laminate on the out feed side of the fence to act as an offset. The thickness of the laminate determines the amount of material removed in each pass.
Photo 2. Some commercial fences include shim stock to create an offset on the out feed fence. Shims allow you to adjust the depth of cut taken on each pass.
All you need to edge joint on your router table is a fence with an offset in it, and a carbide straight bit. (Photos 1 and 2)
There are a number of suitable carbide straight cutters for jointing on the router table. In general, use the shortest, stockiest bit possible. Tall skinny bits are more prone to chatter. Large diameter bits work best because their greater mass and higher rim speed help them produce a smoother cut. Be sure to use a 1/2″ shank for stock over 3/8″ thick. Long straight cutters can be used to joint stock over 2″ thick. A sharp bit and a slow feed rate will reduce the risk of chatter with these bits. My favorite bit for jointing is a 1/2″ diameter spiral cutter. It gives the best results in stock under 1-1/4″ thick. These bits aren’t cheap, but they produce an amazingly smooth edge with little or no tear-out, even on squirrely-grained woods. For a little less money, you can pick up a 1-1/2″ diameter straight cutter that also does a nice job. Even a regular straight bit will work.
Photo 3. With the router unplugged, use a square and a 1/2
To set up your router table for jointing, first make sure the bit and your router table are perpendicular to each other. (Photo 3)
Photo 4. Set the fence so the out feed half is even with the cutting edge of the bit. First, eyeball the fence and clamp one end. The hold a straight edge against the out feed side and swing the fence until the straight edge contacts the cutter. (see inset) The cutter should just kiss the straight edge.
Once the bit and table are square, it’s time to set the fence. (Photo 4) Get the fence as close as you can to being correctly positioned, but don’t sweat it too much. A test cut will very quickly tell you if you need to tweak the settings. The fence is correctly set when the board stays in perfect contact with both the infeed and outfeed side of the fence throughout the cut.
Photo 4 Inset. Swing the fence until the straight edge contacts the cutter.
Photo 5. Make a test cut. Snipe at the end of the cut indicates that you're removing too much material. Adjust the fence to remove less material and take another cut. If the stock bumps into the out feed fence, then the cut is too shallow.
Next, make a test cut, and adjust the fence as needed. (Photo 5)
Photo 6. Mark the joint with a triangle that points away from you. This will help you keep track of the face side of each board and which edge to joint.
To prep your stock for edge jointing, start by marking the joint. (Photo 6)
Photo 7. A slow and steady feed rate works best. Keel the stock tight against the fence throughout the cut. For the best fitting joint, feed on board face down and the next board face up.
Once your stock is marked, you can joint the mating edges. (Photo 7) A trick I learned early in my woodworking days, is to joint one board face down and the next face up. (Or if you’re using a jointer, keep the face of one board against the fence and the next away from it.) This helps compensate for a cut that’s less than perfectly square and will produce edges that are a perfect mirror image to each other.
Photo 8. The result is a perfect joint that's easy to assemble and invisible to the eye.
Good edges lead to a good glue up.
(Photo Eight) Boards properly jointed and glued create a seam that’s stronger than the surrounding material, and virtually invisible.
images show as broken. Can’t see how to square table to bit.
Good Catch! Thanks for your comment; we will look into the cause of the photo problem and fix it. In terms of squaring the table to the bit, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about that. Because the bit represents a single point in space, there is actually no need to square the fence to it. The fence can be skewed at angle angle and it will work the same.
Woodworkers Guild of America
Great info but can’t see the photos.
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Great article. I’m planning to joint 1 1/8″ thick sapele boards on the router table, with a 1/2″ diameter up-cut spiral bit. Thinking of taking it in 3 passes per board, 1/3 ascending bit depth per pass, to limit chatter, tear-out risk, etc – thoughts on that? Or would you take the whole joint in one pass?
Good Day David;
I have just purchased a JessEm router table top. My Rockler router fence, does not fit on this table. The table is wider than the bracket clamp slots on the fence.
I need to secure the fence to the table top. Is it possible to drill, or cut slots in the phenolic table top material to make T slots for the fence to be secured to the top? Or do you have another suggestion?
The JessEm table and Router Fence clamp and secure onto each other on the side and from underneath.
If i can drill, router or cut through the material, what bit would you suggest
604 807 0880
Hi Allan. Yes, you can machine on the phenolic top and set this table up how you want it. Use carbide bits, as this material will tend to dull a bit more quickly than wood. Take light cuts, and you should be just fine.
I don’t have anything as big as 1 1/2″ diameter in my bit collection. the closest thing I have is a CMT 3/4″ x 1 1/2″ flush trim bit. It’s pretty husky – will it work for this purpose?
Yep. That will work. The larger the bit the better and smoother the cut surface will be but you should be able to get a pretty good cut with that bit.
do you use an up or down spiral bit?
I use an up spiral bit. When chucked in the (upside-down) router on a table it is actually pulling down. This helps keep the work piece tight against the table. You can get a little bit of tear-out with a spiral but you’re going to get it on one side or the other whether you use an up spiral or a down spiral and the for the bits I use the tear-out is negligible.
Despite a cautious set up!, and although the edges appear smooth and straight they don’t match up. They constantly have a gap towards the middle of the boards. Initially though was I need to make additional passes but despite doing that, I still ended up with a 3/16 gap in the middle of the boards.
Can’t move forward to squaring the other edge with the table saw until this is resolved.
Boards are approximately 65 Inches long and and vary in width 7-9 inches wide and eventually want to join them to make a 19 inch wide 63 inch piece of maple to be turned into a breakfast island for the nephew. Hoping to avoid making another jig for the table saw which would be a long one to accommodate the length of these boards.
Any suggestion or thoughts would be truly appreciated
Sincerely Jon K.
Although you don’t want to make another jig on the table saw, that is what I would recommend as a first option in this case. Those are long boards, and you need a good long reference plane. Another approach would be to use a hand held router and follow the steps described here: https://www.wwgoa.com/video/jointing-with-a-handheld-router-004768/
The reason why the boards don’t get straightened is likely that the fence on your router isn’t long enough.