The Kreg Precision Router Table and the Bench Dog ProMax RT Cast Iron Router Table are two of the finest options currently available on the market. I picked them to illustrate some of the top-end options for router tables and how various features might serve your needs.
The key element of the router table is the top. To achieve consistent, accurate cuts, your tabletop must be flat and free of obstructions.
Over the years, I’ve heard of tinkers crafting tabletops of plywood, MDF, MCP, sink cutouts, phenolic, Corian®, heavy-gauge sheet metal and even granite. Daunted by the perceived need to have a top that’s perfectly flat, now and forever, many woodworkers decide simply to purchase one.
The Kreg tabletop is fairly typical of the market’s offerings, but it has several nice details that set it apart. Cut from 1″-thick MDF, the top measures 24″ x 32″. It’s got thin plastic laminate faces and plastic edge-banding. The top has a 9-1⁄4″ x 11-1⁄4″ mounting-plate hole in the center, a 7/16″-deep, 1-5⁄8″-wide groove for an extruded aluminum T-track and miter-gauge slot, and, in the left rear corner, a 3/8″-wide by 8-1⁄4″-slot for a studded knob that locks the fence.
Here are the distinctions:
•The surface laminate is embossed with a grid of tiny dots, billed as Easy-Slide™ Micro-Dot, that the company asserts makes it easier for you to slide workpieces across the tabletop.
• The edge-banding is actually bonded to the MDF, rather than being T-molding stuffed in slots in the MDF edges.
• Two steel U-channel strips fasten to the top’s underside on either end of the plate opening, stiffening the top. Pilot holes for all fasteners are drilled, and fasteners are supplied in the package.
Bench Dog’s premium tabletop is unique. It’s a nearly 100-lb. iron casting, machined flat. There’s a centered opening for an 8-1⁄4″ x 11-3⁄4″ router mounting plate, a miter gauge slot, and a T-slot. A 12-1⁄2″-long slot parallel to each end allows the fence to be mounted and adjusted from a position slightly forward of the bit axis to the back edge.
There are those who might contend a cast-iron tabletop is overkill. Yes, it is flat, smooth and won’t sag. But, aside from the benefit of the vibration dampening offered by the heavy top, a workpiece routed on a cast-iron tabletop can’t be differentiated from one routed on a flat, smooth, MDF tabletop. Value is in the eye of the beholder, to edit a phrase, but to put it in a useful context — just the cast-iron tabletop costs as much as Kreg’s entire package. It’s worth noting that Bench Dog offers a nice phenolic top and allows customers to mix and match.
Both Kreg and Bench Dog follow the industry convention for mounting the router — an insert plate nestled into an opening in the center of the table. This plate must be flat, of course, and flush with the top. Kreg includes its plate with the top, while Bench Dog charges extra for it. While the plate configurations are the same, the dimensions and composition differ. Kreg’s 9-1⁄4″ x 11-3⁄4″ plate is phenolic; Bench Dog’s 8-1⁄4″ x 11-3⁄4″ plate is aluminum. Both plates have a hole for the largest available bits and a reducer or two to use with smaller bits.
Personally, I have issues with mounting plates in general, and neither of these plates merits an exception. An uninterrupted feed demands the plate be flush with the tabletop surface. As well, the reducer must be flush with the plate surface. To get everything into the same plane, you adjust set screws — lots of set screws. It’s not difficult, but it is fussy.
When I build my own router tables, I make a smooth, plate-free tabletop with snug-fitting reducers.
The most-used guide system on a router table is the fence. To work properly for you, the fence must be perfectly straight from end to end, and its face must be perpendicular to the tabletop all along its length. If the fence facing is split — and it ought to be — the halves must be coplanar.
In addition, you must be able to move (and even remove) it easily, yet lock it quickly and securely.
Both the Kreg and Bench Dog fences are based on aluminum extrusions with through slots for accessories like bit guards, featherboards and split facings. These extrusions proved to be straight and square. Both fences offer a plastic dust pickup. Beyond these fundamentals, the fences differ significantly.
The Bench Dog fence is utterly simple. It’s mounted with a bolt at each end that’s captured in a tabletop slot. The fence has considerable free movement, and you set it by measuring from the bit to the face, then tightening knobs on the mounting bolts. You make fine adjustments by loosening one end only and pivoting the fence on the still-tight bolt.
Despite being bolted to the table, the fence does come off quickly. The far ends of the mounting slots are enlarged: loosen the bolts, slide the fence back, and lift it clear off the table. The fence is slightly shorter than the tabletop width, so it can’t overhang either end.
The Kreg fence is more elaborate. It mimics a table saw rip fence, riding a track fastened to the left end of the tabletop. The face thus is parallel to the table’s front edge. Flip up the locking lever and measure the distance you move it on a rule built into the track. You can make accurate position adjustments quickly and don’t need a separate rule or tape.
One drawback is that the fence and track lack the rigidity of a rip fence and its rail, so the right end of the fence must be tightened down with a bolt through the tabletop. It’s a matter of twisting a knob. But to free the fence from the table, you’ve got to completely remove the nut under the table from the stud.
The final component of any router table is the supporting stand or cabinet. While stands tend to be simple to make and assemble, they usually lack two essential features — storage for tools you need close at hand and dust containment.
The Kreg stand exemplifies what I’m talking about. I step to the table to set up. But wait … I’ve got to find the wrenches for the router. Forgot the bit. Oh, and the 1/4″ collet for it. Hmmm, and a rule to set the bit elevation and the fence position. I’ve got to fetch these items because the open stand has no place to stow them. When my setup is done, but before I can cut, I’ve got to move the wrenches and 1/2″ collet and rule off the table.
When my cut is completed, I’ve got to sweep up under the table because the dust collection at the fence can’t get it all.
To be fair, Kreg’s stand does feature holes so you can mount a small cabinet of your own making inside it.
Many manufacturers sell cabinets very much like the Bench Dog unit. It can be assembled in about the same time required to assemble a stand like Kreg’s. It provides containment for dust — and a can pull it out of the cabinet. Storage compartments keep bits, wrenches and other essential sundries at hand.
What do you need in a router table? It may be different from what you want, but these two tables give you a taste of what is out on the market, and what it may cost you to purchase them. In the end it is your choice and your pocketbook — make a list of “must have” and “really like” features, and then consult with your checkbook to see which of them you can afford.