Understanding the Basics of a Table Saw and Router
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Woodworking projects require various tools to cut, shape, and join wood pieces. Two of the most essential woodworking power tools are the table saw and the router. While they both cut wood, they serve different primary purposes. Before diving into whether a table saw can double as a router, it’s important to understand the basics of what each tool does.
Benefits and Limitations of Both Tools
Table saws excel at making straight, precise cuts through wood boards. They allow adjusting the depth and angle of cut. Routers cut in a different way, using a spinning bit to shape wood or make decorative edges. Routers can make curved, patterned, or angled cuts that table saws can’t. However, routers don’t have the raw power of a spinning saw blade to cut thick wood.
This article will explore using a table saw as an improvised router. While there are some similarities in function, there are also limitations to this approach. Understanding the pros and cons can help woodworkers determine if a hybrid table saw-router setup could be useful for their needs.
The Table Saw: An Overview
What Is a Table Saw?
A table saw is a stationary woodworking saw with a circular blade protruding up through an opening in the center of a flat table. The blade spins at high speed to cut through wood fed into it. Table saws range from lightweight benchtop models to heavy-duty cabinet saws. But all table saws operate by passing wood over the spinning blade while keeping the wood flat on the table surface.
Different Types of Table Saws
Benchtop Table Saws
Benchtop table saws are compact and designed to sit on a workbench. They typically have direct-drive motors in the range of 1 to 2 horsepower. Benchtop models offer adequate power for most hobbyist woodworking tasks. They are the most affordable type of table saw.
Contractor Table Saws
Contractor table saws are intended for professional work like construction sites. They have an open-frame stand with wheels for transport. Contractor saws use belt drive motors of around 3 to 5 horsepower, offering increased cutting capacity over a benchtop. But they take up more space than a benchtop model.
Cabinet Table Saws
Cabinet table saws are the heaviest-duty stationary saws, with enclosed cabinet stands. They utilize the most powerful motors of any table saw, ranging from 3 to 10 horsepower. The cabinet design minimizes vibration for maximum precision. Cabinet saws are the most stable and durable type of table saw.
Key Features of a Table Saw
Some key features that all table saws have in common are:
- A flat table surface to support the wood as it’s cut
- An opening in the table that the round saw blade protrudes up through
- Adjustable fence along the front edge of the table to guide the wood past the blade
- Miter gauge to control the angle of the cut
- Blade height adjustment to control the depth of cut
- Optional accessories like dado blade sets, jigs, extensions, etc.
Safety Measures When Using a Table Saw
Table saws are very useful but also potentially dangerous power tools. Some important safety steps when using a table saw include:
- Wearing eye and hearing protection
- Using blade guards and splitters to prevent kickback
- Keeping hands well clear of the blade
- Using push sticks to feed narrow pieces
- Operating at full blade speed
- Double checking measurements
- Supporting large panels to prevent binding
Staying alert and using caution when operating a table saw is critical for avoiding injuries. Safety training should be a woodworker’s top priority before using table saws.
The Router: An Overview
What is a Router?
A router is a versatile handheld or table-mounted power tool used to shape and decorate wood. The cutting action comes from a high-speed spinning bit. Unlike a saw blade, router bits come in a wide variety of profiles and sizes. Bits can shape edges, cut joinery, carve patterns, and more.
Different Types of Routers
Fixed-base routers are handheld with the motor housing fixed in relation to the base. They are controlled by moving the entire tool. Fixed routers allow excellent visibility of the bit and workpiece. They are the most common type of router for general-purpose use.
Plunge routers have a motor housing that can slide up and down while keeping the base flat on the workpiece. This allows plunging the bit straight down into the middle of a workpiece. Plunge routers excel at stopped cuts like mortises, dados, grooves, etc.
CNC routers are computer-numerically controlled machines that automate the routing of complex patterns. The router bit moves on a gantry while the workpiece remains stationary. CNC routers offer unmatched precision and repetition for production work.
Key Features of a Router
Some key features found on most routers include:
- Variable speed motor to match optimal bit speeds
- Collet and collet nut to secure router bits
- Depth adjustment mechanism to control cut depth
- Edge guide to run along a workpiece edge
- Plunge mechanism on plunge routers
- Dust collection port to control wood chips
Safety Measures When Using a Router
Important safety tips when using a router include:
- Selecting the appropriate bit for the job
- Adjusting bit speed and depth settings properly
- Feeding the router smoothly from right to left
- Keeping hands away from the spinning bit
- Using guards and guides when possible
- Clamping small workpieces for control
- Wearing eye and respiratory protection
Routers require safe operating techniques to prevent accidental contact with the fast-moving bits. Training and experience go a long way toward router safety.
Can a Table Saw Be Used as a Router?
Pros and Cons of Using a Table Saw as a Router
While table saws and routers both cut wood, there are some key differences that make a table saw less than ideal as an improvised router:
- A table saw provides a large flat table surface to support workpieces, similar to a router table.
- The blade height adjustment offers some control over bit depth, like a router.
- The miter gauge and fence help guide the workpiece, as on a router table.
- A table saw blade only cuts in a straight line, while router bits can make curved/patterned cuts.
- Saw blades have large gullets that remove a lot of material, unlike most router bits.
- The teeth on a saw blade leave distinct serrations, unlike a smooth router cut.
- Saw blades are designed mainly for cutting, while router bits also shape profiles and edges.
- Changing saw blades is slower and requires adjustments compared to changing router bits.
In summary, while a table saw provides some features that aid in controlling and guiding workpieces similar to a router table, the actual cutting action of a spinning saw blade is quite different from a router bit. The limited profiles that can be cut make most routing tasks impractical on an improvised table saw setup.
Steps to Use a Table Saw as a Router
If attempting to use a table saw as an improvised router, here are some steps to follow:
Installing the Router Bit
A special router bit adapter would need to be installed in place of the normal saw blade. This adapts the arbor size to fit common router bit shanks. The adapter must be rated for spinning at the table saw speeds.
Setting the Depth of Cut
Adjust the max blade height to limit how deep the router bit can cut. Use shallow passes rather than trying to cut the full depth in one pass.
Running the Workpiece
Feed the workpiece slowly over the spinning router bit using the miter gauge or fence to guide the cut. Move smoothly from right to left to avoid climbing or gouging.
Safety Precautions When Using a Table Saw as a Router
Special safety steps when attempting this unconventional technique include:
- Use light passes to avoid excessive strain on the bit and potential kickback.
- Feed the workpiece firmly against the fence or miter gauge to prevent slipping.
- Use push sticks, jigs, and guards to keep your hands away from the spinning bit.
- Wear eye protection to shield yourself from flying chips and debris.
- Unplug the saw when changing bits to avoid accidental startup.
- Double check setup and clear area before making cuts.
Converting a table saw to rout requires extra caution. Forcing the wrong cuts or losing control of the workpiece can lead to dangerous kickback when using a saw in this unconventional way.
When to Use a Table Saw vs. a Router
Situations Best Suited for a Table Saw
Table saws work best for the following tasks:
- Ripping long boards lengthwise with straight parallel cuts
- Crosscutting boards to precise lengths at 90 degree angles
- Cutting dadoes, rabbets, lap joints, etc. that require straight defined edges
- Cutting angles or bevels where the entire edge needs to be trimmed
- Sawing thick, dense material where raw cutting power is needed
The straight-cutting action, wide-cut capacity, and material removal speed of a table saw make it ideal for these types of full-depth straightline cuts.
Situations Best Suited for a Router
Routers work best for tasks like:
- Edge profiling – Adding decorative edges like roundovers, chamfers, etc.
- Detailing – Carving patterns and designs into surfaces.
- Jointing – Cutting precision joinery like dovetails, grooves, tongues, etc.
- Trimming – Sneaking up on exact dimensions by removing thin amounts.
- Template guiding – Cutting identically shaped pieces using a template.
- Sign making – Inlaying letters and shapes with precision.
- The focused cutting action, versatility of bits, and fine depth control of routers make them perfect for detail work, finesse cuts, and creative shaping operations.
Final Thoughts on Utilizing a Table Saw as a Router
While table saws and routers have some similarities, attempting to use a table saw as an improvised router has limitations. The specialized cutting action of router bits enables shaping and detailing that isn’t practical on a table saw. For best results, dedicated routers or router tables should be used for typical routing tasks.
However, in a pinch, a table saw can achieve some basic routing functions. With care and improvisation, straight-edge profiling and shallow grooving are possible on a table saw. But the limited profiles and increased safety risks make this an inferior solution compared to using the correct tool for the job.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both tools allows woodworkers to use table saws and routers in an optimal way. Relying on the right tool for each cut leads to better results and a safer workshop. With practice and experience, you can master both the versatile router and the powerful table saw to tackle any woodworking project.