A router table is one of those “must-have” tools for any serious woodworking shop. But in a small shop, a large table can take up too much space to be a viable option. Fortunately, there are several portable benchtop alternatives. They make it possible to have a fully functional router table without sacrificing key features.
JOBSITE PORTABILITY. For years manufacturers designed benchtop tables with two different types of woodworkers in mind. Many early models seemed to cater to the needs of the finish carpenter and cabinet installer. These users need portability and durability. And they need a table rugged enough to be tossed in the back of a pickup and set up quickly.
SMALL SHOP SENSIBILITY. The other group is the growing number of home-shop woodworkers. This group looks for the accuracy of full-sized tables. These tables include features like split fences, dust collection, easier height adjustment and a few other features many carpenters consider “bells and whistles.”
Now, most manufacturers incorporate the best ideas from both types of users into the benchtop tables you’ll find today. And frankly, it’s a win for everyone.
Today’s router tables can easily be stored under a workbench or counter in the shop, as in the photo at left. The modern designs also offer accurate but easy-to-use fences and other features. Either way, these tables make a lot of sense, especially if you don’t use your router table every day.
Current benchtop router tables can be divided into two types — open base or cabinet style. I picked one of each kind to try out. The openbased Kreg Benchtop Precision table (main photo) and the Benchdog ProTop Contractor cabinet-style table (photo below) are great representatives of the two types.SIMILARITIES. In spite of their differences, both tables satisfy the major requirements of a portable router table. They easily clamp to a benchtop or worktable and they accommodate most common routers. Plus, they’re easy to store, as shown in the lower left photo on the opposite page.
These tables share a number of common design ideas and features. For example, both offer large (16" x 24") tables made from laminate-covered MDF. Both also feature adjustable fences with dust ports and T-track to hold accessories (photos below).
They also rely on phenolic mounting plates rather than directly attaching the router to the tabletop. Finally, both manufacturers provide rubber feet to minimize vibration. In short, you can’t go wrong with either table.
A SECOND TABLE? Even if you have a full-sized router table, there are times when a second one can be a useful addition. Especially when you have to deal with tricky setups like cope and stick bits, template routing using both flush trim and pattern bits, and creating multi-bit molding profiles. In these situations, having two tables for the different setups is a big time saver. Of course, if you prefer a quick and easy shop-made solution for your routing needs, the box below points you toward the plans for a simple alternative.
Build Your Own: Benchtop Router Table
Convinced you need a benchtop router table but don’t want to spend a lot? Here’s a shop-made alternative that will serve you well for years without breaking the bank. The table features a simple fence that’s easy to adjust and locks down tight for precise, accurate cuts every time. On top of that, there’s a handy storage drawer for your bits and accessories.
Best of all, it’s easy to build. And by using 1 ⁄ 2 " plywood, you can also keep the weight down, which can be a big plus when it’s time to stow it away. You can set it up on your workbench or mount it on a portable worktable, as shown in the photo. You’ll find the detailed plan and step-by-step instructions for building the table online at Woodsmith.com.