hen I started working with wood half a century ago, the electric router saw only limited use in small shops. The machines were short on power and adjustments often proved difficult to make. And the bits! The high-speed steel bits dulled so quick­ly that you learned to sharpen them or made a cloud of fine sawdust instead of curly shav­ings. One advantage of steel was that you could grind your own cutter shapes; but you had to do that anyway because there just weren’t that many profiles available. And instead of a pilot bearing there was a steel post on the end of the bit that rode on the work, leaving a nice burnished surface just below the cut that had to be sanded out. When I used a router then it was generally to round over or chamfer an edge because it gave such a nice crisp result.

Five decades later, my old ‘/«-horsepower, silver-colored router is still around and makes an occasional cut in my shop, but it’s been joined by a trio of big, versatile machines that do the real work. Technology has changed the routing and shaping scene with a vengeance. Bearing failures, once common, are rare with soft-start electronics. Meanwhile, multiple speeds let me use large-diameter bits, and plunge routers have eliminated the hazards of “tipping in” to the work.

Then come the cutters which, after all, are the reason the machines exist. With few exceptions they all have carbide cutting edges that last forever, and there are literally hundreds of shapes available, many with pilot bearings that let me faithfully follow a mas­ter pattern. On the shelf over my working routers are racks with enough standard and specialized profiles to let me take on any job.

Today, the focus has moved from the machines and bits to devising clever ways of hold­ing the work and the router. A cottage industry of ingenious clamps, jigs, and “ultimate” router tables has sprung up, and I can now make one or many parts with repeatable accuracy better than the smallest divisions on my ruler. But, as good as the router world seems, I can still wish for better things. Most important, I’d like routers to be quieter and cleaner. The noise stems partly from the machine and partly from the bit, so both need work, but wouldn’t it be nice to run a router without ear protection?

And don’t forget those cutters. There are always more profiles to be made but I think the real changes lie in reduced tearout and improved cut quality. Were already seeing ideas like spiral edges that shear cut and limited-feed shapes that really work, so there may be a w hole world of new improvements out there—so many that I expect to look back in another 10 years and say, “that’s the way things were before routers got really good.”

Howard Wing left an engineering career to be a self-taught furniture maker specializing in ‘fairly complicated geometric and organic shapes with a contemporary flair." He lives in Hartland, Vermont.


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Martin Godfrey invents

Updated: March 2, 2016 — 2:08 pm