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Specialized Router Bits

The Top Unusual Bit Sets for Project Joinery

So much is going on in the router realm that it’s difficult to stay current. Routers don’t fundamentally change from year to year, of course, and neither do router bits. But each year introduces a few novel and occasionally revolutionary bits. And if you aren’t paying close attention, you simply don’t hear about them. Let's take a look at 9 great bits (including bit sets) that you ought to know about.

The Top Unusual Bit Sets for Project Joinery

So much is going on in the router realm that it’s difficult to stay current. Routers don’t fundamentally change from year to year, of course, and neither do router bits. But each year introduces a few novel and occasionally revolutionary bits. And if you aren’t paying close attention, you simply don’t hear about them. Let's take a look at 9 great bits (including bit sets) that you ought to know about.

Reversible Drawer Lock Glue Joint Bit Offers Easier Front-Edge Joinery

Most woodworkers know of glue-joint bits and drawer-lock bits. But there’s a form of the glue-joint bit that’s scaled for thin stock. And it will cut joinery for assembling drawer boxes.

You ought to get to know this little cutter. Use it to mill adjoining edges of 1/2" stock when making drawer boxes. The advantage in this is that the joint — so long as it is properly cut — forces the faces of adjoining boards to come flush as you clamp them.

Beyond that, use the bit to cut a drawer-lock joint that is believed to be stronger than the conventional routed drawer lock. In addition to the interlocking tabs of the conventional joint, this one has an extra shoulder or two that can give the joint just a little extra resistance to racking stress.

Lonnie Bird Tambour Door Bit Set Cut Tambours Efficiently

For the first time I can remember, I want to make something with tambour doors. All it’s taken to revamp my woodworking desires was about 90 minutes with this nifty three-bit set. Revolutionary, if you ask me.

The set originated in the mind of Lonnie Bird, who I know as one of the gurus of reproducing 18th-cencentury American furniture. While I can’t picture Queen Anne or Chippendale pieces with tambour, Bird has nonetheless designed a great system. The literature and DVD that accompany the set explain it clearly and provide step-by-step directions for making a tambour-door breadbox.

The singular feature is the interlock of the slats. No need to glue the strips to canvas. Each has an integral bead along one edge and a slot in the other. A slat’s bead slides into the slot in its neighbor. Make as many slats as you need, slide them together, and your tambour is done.

Making the slats is remarkably easy. Rip 1/2"-thick stock into 1-15⁄16"-wide strips. Each strip will yield two tambour slats. Four passes across the shaping bit transform the strip into two ungrooved slats linked at their beads. Rough out each groove with a pass over the table saw blade, then complete its shape with a pass over the ball-head groover, the second of the set’s bits. Rip the slats apart on the table saw, and they’re ready for the sanding and finishing.

Bead-and-Cove Bits from Canoe Building to Joinery

A handsome canoe is always pictured with the catalog blurb about this bit. Since you don’t really know a bit until you’ve tried it, I tried one. It’s unlikely I’ll ever make a canoe, but the bits are truly useful.

Any coopered or staved construction is simplified with this style of bit. There’s no need to calculate the angle between adjoining strips in a particular construction. You just rout an adjustable flute-and-bead joint. One edge of each strip is fluted (or coved, if you prefer), and the other gets a matching bead. Put two strips together, edge-to-edge, and you have a tight joint that can be adjusted almost 45° in either direction. This is a good way to assemble wooden hot tubs, planters, barrels, coopered doors or bowed tops for chests.

Usually you see two-bit sets for this application, and in just one size that forms a 1/8"-radius flute/bead. While you can mill stock about 1/2" thick with those sets — producing a kind of tongue-and-groove edge joint — the radius limits you to 1/4"-thick stock for real staved constructions.

Rockler’s innovation is to put both the flute and bead profiles on one shank. To switch from one profile to the other, you only have to raise or lower the bit, not change from one bit to another. In addition, four different sizes are available.

Box Joint Bits Help Create Box and Drawer Projects

This is a bit for cutting box joints in thin, narrow stock for tiny boxes and drawers. One pass cuts all the notches and tabs in the end of a piece 1-9⁄16" wide. Two passes (and a bit adjustment) are needed to form the joinery on anything wider — up to a maximum of 3-1⁄8" wide.

There’s nothing to take apart, switch around or shim for a proper fit. Chuck the bit in your table-mounted router, adjust the bit height carefully, and rout away.

Make yourself a pusher to support the parts on-edge and back up the cuts. It’ll also allow you to clamp the parts so they don’t get pulled in by the cutter.

The width of your stock is critical. Perhaps the easiest approach is to rip your pieces as close to 1-9⁄16” as you can. Then cut the joints, assemble them and hand-plane the top and bottom edges of the boxes to make all the edges flush.

Instile and Rail System Cuts Strong Plywood Panelling Joints

Flat-panel doors are practical and attractive. And making the panels from plywood is economical and labor-saving. No need to plane down stock, glue up narrow boards, then rip and crosscut individual door panels, and finally back-cut their edges. You can cut the panels for a dozen doors from a sheet of plywood in minutes. In addition, because plywood is stable, you can glue it into the frame to reinforce the door. But the panel grooves cut by conventional cope-and-stick cutters have a definite shortcoming. They’re 1/4"-wide. That’s too wide for conventional 1/4" plywood, which is on the order of 7/32" thick, and too narrow for 1/2" plywood, which is thinner than its nominal thickness, too.

Several years ago, the tooling engineers at Amana came up with cope-and-stick bits incorporating adjustable slotters for the panel groove. The two-piece slotter can be shimmed to expand it from 3/16" to 9/32" for thin ply. For thicker plywood, you add a third element to the slotter. Using the shims, you can expand its basic 7/16" cut to 17/32" for 1/2" plywood.

Finger Joint Bits Add Strength to Miter, Plywood and Sheet Good Joinery

You’ve seen paint-grade moldings at the home center — the stuff made up of those short pieces joined end-to-end with finger joints. Have you ever thought how great it would be to “stretch" a board like that? Did you know you can cut that joint on your router table?

The finger joint is a positive-negative interlock, in which tapered projections (the fingers) on one piece fit into tapered grooves in the other. It expands the glue area threefold, but more importantly, it exposes long grain surfaces for gluing. That’s why it works for end-to-end joinery.

It works great for miter joints as well as for joining plywood panels to each other and to edge banding. The bit that cuts the joint is not cheap, and when you see it, you understand why. The Sommerfeld bit comprises a stack of four-wing finger cutters and a thicker shoulder cutter, along with a ball bearing guide on a 1/2"-shank arbor. The full assembly is impressive, though at just over 1-1⁄2" in diameter, it can be run at full speed in a 1-1⁄2 HP router.

Out of the box, the bit has five finger cutters stacked atop the bearing and capped with the shoulder cutter. You must reorder the stack according to the stock thickness. For example, you use only two finger cutters and the shoulder cutter to mill stock that’s 5/8" to 13/16" thick.

To set up, you remove the spindle nut and the cutters. (It’s easiest to do with the arbor chucked in a router.) Leave the bearing at the bottom. Add the appropriate number of finger cutters for the given stock thickness and then the shoulder cutter. The shoulder cutter always tops the “working” stack. The remaining finger cutters go on top of that, where they’ll be “out of play.”

You rout one workpiece face-up, the other face-down. When the bit height is correct, the two pieces should slide together with their faces perfectly flush.

Window Grill Cutter Sets Make Sash-Bar Joinery Easy

A number of bit vendors have specialized bit sets for constructing divided light doors and for making window sashes. A finicky aspect of any divided light construction is the sash-bar joinery. Do you cut tiny mortises and tenons for each joint or depend on the strength of a simple cope-and-stick joint? A crosslap joint is traditional and strong, but it’s tedious to cut accurately.

Not anymore! Unbeknownst to us poor woodworkers, bit makers have come up with a pair of cutters that make this cross-lap doable. And easily doable, too! One bit is a 1/4" straight bit, the other a V-groover with the point clipped off. It cuts a V-groove with a 1/4"-wide flat bottom.

Here’s how the system works. Cut a 1/4”-wide dado across the top edge of one sash bar and across the bottom edge of its mate. The depth of the dadoes is half the stock thickness. Next, use the modified V-groover to cut across both sides of both sash bars. Center this cut on the two previous cuts, and set the cut depth to leave a 1/4" of wood between them.

When the cuts are done, the two bars should slide together. You have a strong and invisible joint.

When you are making a grid of more than four lights, you do have to lay out the crosslaps precisely. Your router table setup must enable you to locate the cuts precisely from piece to piece. Cut the cross-lap joints before routing the profile and the rabbet for the glass. The profiling cuts parallel to the grain, so it’ll clean up cross-grain blowout from the joinery cuts.

Screw Slot Bits for Cutting Countersinks and Counter-Bores

Making slots for screws — rather than simply drilling around pilot holes — is sometimes essential to allow for wood movement or for adjustability. But making those slots can be really putzy.

Did you know you can get a router bit to cut those slots? Two, in fact: one to make a slot with a countersink for a flathead screw, another for a counterbored slot for a roundhead screw. Both are proportioned for #8 screws.

Use the bit in a plunge router (or in a table-mounted router) to cut a slot in one quick operation.

Edge-banding Bits Cut Plywood Veneers with V-Groove Joinery

A lot of woodworkers can’t accept a plain old glue joint for edge-banding plywood. They just don’t believe that glue spread on the plywood’s edge will secure a thin strip of solid wood to the plywood. So, here are a couple of profiles designed specifically for edge-banding.

I like these V-groove-based edging approaches. You chuck the “plywood” bit in your table-mounted router and just center the cut on the plywood edge. Given the shapes of the cutters and the odd number of plies in veneer-core plywood, it’s surprisingly easy to do. When you switch bits, you use a sample of the cut plywood to adjust the height of the edging bit.

The profiles give you a positive fit; you won’t find the edging squirming out of alignment as you apply clamping pressure. Moreover, you get some long-grain to long-grain gluing surfaces, yielding a stronger bond than the long-grain to endgrain match you get with conventional glue-ups.

The edging has enough substance to allow tight miters at corners. And you can trim the edging very, very close to the plywood veneers without fearing the edging will delaminate from the plywood.

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