When you take into account its cost and size, the portable router wins hands down as the most resourceful power tool in the woodworking shop. With this machine you can shape profiles; make duplicate copies; cut grooves, rabbets, dovetails, and mortise and tenon joints. For most woodworkers, the router is an essential power tool just because it can do so much, whether you are working with solid wood, sheet goods, or veneer.
I started out woodworking with only a few hand and power tools. No tool did as much for me as a fixed-base, 1-hp router. One of my first large projects was a bookcase, and I put that router to good use. The router allowed me to cut the joinery -- rabbets and dadoes -- and then joint the edges of the raw plywood (using a straightedge as a guide), and finally trim the solid wood edging flush to the plywood surface. Considering the router cost me only $50, it accomplished more than its fair share of work. In the 20 years since, Ive collected a few more routers as well as several accessories and jigs. The most valuable accessory is my shop-built router table, which in many small shops, has taken the place of the spindle shaper. A router table allows you to cut miles of moldings, machine fine joints, and do all of these tasks with precision and ease.
Dovetail jigs are another useful accessory for the router. Although I still like the look of hand-cut dovetails, when I need to crank out a batch of drawers and time is limited, I rely on my dovetail jig. And like most router accessories, you can choose to buy one or to make your own.
As woodworkers have come to rely heavily on this tool, manufacturers have kept pace with the demand for better routers in all types and sizes. There are plunge routers, fixed-base routers, routers appropriate for handheld work, and routers so big theyre best installed in a table. Routers can be had with variable speed (to safely run large-diameter bits) and better mechanisms for precise adjustments. No one router will excel at all tasks; if you get serious about woodworking, you will eventually own more than one.
The router stands out as one of the most innovative twentieth century inventions for the woodshop. As you'll see from the chapters in this book, which have been excerpted from the pages of Fine Woodworking magazine, woodworkers continue to invent new jigs and methods for getting the most out of this tool. Although the router is considered one of the safer tools in the shop, like any power tool, you need to understand its workings and safe operating procedures, which are also covered here. Armed with that knowledge, the routers potential is limited only by your creativity.
editor, Fine Woodworking