Using a router in combination with a router table has never been more popular. Today, the choices available make it possible for just about any woodworker - even those on an extremely tight budget - to get into the game. The best news for the hobbyist is that the equipment has improved steadily over the years - especially on the more affordable end of the spectrum. Recently, a few advances in router design have made the outlook for the budget conscious woodworker even brighter. Now, with packages like the Porter Cable 892 / Rockler Router Table combo, even the most frugal weekend woodworker can enjoy accuracy and conveniences formerly found only at the top of the range.
What do we mean by "conveniences"? Maybe we should say "lack of inconvenience". If there's one router table complaint that comes up again and again, it's that setting up for a cut can be a huge, time-gobbling hassle. These days, such problems are less likely to be the table’s fault. The serious bugs have long been worked out of a number of commercially available tables. Currently, even in the more affordable range, there are a few router tables with features that actually make them a pleasure to use. In recent years, the real problem has been with the routers available to use with them. Nearly all have made two key operations – changing bits and setting the bit height – somewhat less than quick and easy (to use polite language).
Until very recently, there just weren’t many routers that were well suited to being mounted upside-down under a table. In a router table, changing bits on the routers most of us are used to seeing involves an awkward two-wrench challenge that sometimes ends in taking the router out of the table entirely. “One-wrench” routers don’t make matters better. In most cases, the spindle lock is buried inconveniently under the table while the collet nut is only reasonably accessible from above. This arrangement leads to a sort of over-the-table / under-the-table power tool embrace - and no one looks forward to that.
But the most aggravating operation is almost always setting the bit height. Let’s face it: many handheld routers make accurately setting the cut-depth a challenge under the best of circumstances. When they’re mounted in a router table, most handheld routers are maddeningly awkward and slow to adjust. On top of that, many make fine-tuning the bit height next to impossible.
Some years ago, these router / router table difficulties spawned the “router lift” industry, bringing forth a number of after-market mechanisms designed to make raising and lowering the router’s motor easier and more accurate. Many of them, including JessEm’s Mast-R-Lift, the Rockler/JessEm Router Lift FX and the very cool Digital Smartlift, perform this function admirably. The only drawback for the hobbyist is the investment. When faced with the simultaneous purchase of a decent router table, a powerful-enough router, and a router lift, a good many home-shop woodworkers understandably balk.
That’s what makes routers like the Porter Cable 892 Router such good news. Part of a “new breed of router” – as Roland Johnson puts it in the February, 2007 issue of Fine Woodworking - the PC 892 is designed with an eye to router table use. The 892 offers a fast, efficient macro height adjustment mechanism and an accurate micro-adjustment feature, both of which can be actuated from above the table surface. The 892 offers two bit-change options: there’s a handy spindle lock that works out great when the router is used in handheld mode, and a two wrench above-the-table method that eliminates unpleasant sub-surface fumbling when it’s mounted in a table.
Pairing the PC 892 with the Rockler Router Table gives you the perfect match. You get the Rockler Table’s large, reliably flat 24’’ x 32’’ work surface, the easy to position Rockler fence, a sturdy 1/4’’aluminum base plate (predrilled for the 892) and a 2-1/4 hp variable speed router that offers the most important of the features that you’d look for in a high-end router lift package. In short, the Porter Cable 892 / Rockler Router Table combo is the most affordable direct route to accurate, nuisance-free table routing that you’re ever likely to find. If you’re a weekend woodworker, or even if you own a larger shop and need a second table, this package won’t wear you down and leave you wishing you’d ponied up for the good one. In this range, it is the good one.
For more on what to look for in a router table, read Rockler's article "Choosing and Using a Router Table".