Since the early 1990s, woodworkers have been building a router table designed by Norm Abram of New Yankee Workshop and This Old House fame. More than a thousand of these router table/cabinet systems have been built and used with satisfaction.
In this post I show you how mine went together, including a link to my PDF file of dimensioned plans modified to accommodate wheels for my shop and my height, plus a zip of my Sketchup 8 project files.
Let's have a look at the finished product. This unit has a 3-1/4 HP Porter-Cable 7518 Speedmatic router and a Woodpecker PRL Precision Router Lift for serious routing work. This seems to be a popular combination with a lot of the guys on Woodnet. Actually, any router rated at 3 HP or greater will work just fine. Woodpecker makes adapters for several other brands, but the PRL standard is the 7518.
After you read the story below, be sure to download your own copy of my plans the way I built it.
You get more than 40 pages of fully dimensioned illustrations and detailed plans in PDF format:
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See a slideshow of the router tables woodworkers just like you have built from these plans...Gallery.
Next, we'll take a quick look at my starter setup. This unit was based on the Rockler router table system, a very good solution at the time for edge shaping and other light work, but pushed to its limit with tenons and attempts to remove a lot of hard material.
It was housed in a shopmade melamine cabinet I built originally for a vending machine stand. I bought the table top from Rockler, but when I decided to get a 3-1/4 HP motor, the Rockler insert did not accommodate the dimensions of the heavier lift plate. Rockler has since enlarged this model, so it might work as a substitute if you don't plan on making your own top.
That's a Porter-Cable 690 router and bases, a 1-1/2 HP machine that's a staple among woodworkers but too light for router bits measuring more than 1.5 inches in diameter. It hangs in a Router FX lift plate, very nice for changing bits, but limited to 1-1/2 HP routers.
First, I built the carcase using a leftover sheet of 3/4" plywood for the outer sides. Thought at the time it was birch ply, but it turned out to be a handsome remnant of maple ply I had used for my wife's china display cabinet and computer desk earlier.
Here it is, set up for dry fit (not glued up). The insides, lateral shelf and back are genuine birch ply shop remnants cut to fit. Also notice the dry-fit prototype of the dust collection mechanism in the center section. That dust collector change was one of the improvements Norm added to his 2004 design upgrade.
A reader pointed out that it would be helpful to understand the use of dados in the project. Follow my design and use the dados. Butt joints with screws are unsightly and make parallel alignment difficult. The smallest bit out of kilter will mean sticky drawers and a loose assembly. You have five vertical pieces to align perfectly, so do it right with dados.
The red arrows in the image below indicate dado joints that hold the entire structure together. The joints will be hidden once we apply the hardwood face frame.
The front cleat is essential to a plumb and square table assembly. It controls the openings for the bit drawers and the overall width at the top. Your router table drawers will fit better if you insure that the inside width at the top matches that of the bottom.
Follow my plan instructions, but also test fit dry with clamps and blocks. It's best to cut the cleat slightly long, maybe 1/4" over, and then creep up on the perfect fit by shaving off one end on the table saw or chop saw.
Fitting requires two short rabbets in the tops of the sides, long enough to accommodate the cleat width, but definitely not running the entire depth of the cabinet.
A 3/4" x 2 1/2" notch in the top front of each inner wall accommodates the cleat. Test fit a bit drawer before fastening the cleat to each notch with nails and glue. I used glue only for fastening the ends. The result is plenty solid.
Note the hardwood face frame now applied to the front.
Left, the cabinet's right side shows a rabbet 1/4" deep by about 3" long, chiseled out to make room for the cleat and no more. Red arrows point to nails applied with air gun.
Below, the left side is more critical. For the drawer to avoid tipping, attach a 3/4" x 3/4" guide to the inner surface of the left side. Be careful not to cut the cleat rabbet in the side piece too long, or you'll reduce the amount of adhesion surface for the guide.
Next, I took those 1/2" ply sliders you see on the worktable above and glued them to the side panels. These will allow the side-less bit drawers to pull out almost to full length without tipping.
You can see the application of the sliders below. I've also installed the Accuride 18-inch drawer glides for the big drawers below, rated to support up to 100 lbs. The solid maple face frame (3/4" x 3/4") finishes all shelf and section edges.
And by now I've installed the caster wheels and the top cleat across the front, as well as a hole in the right side to accept the power cords from the paddle switch that I'll mount on the right side panel later.
Here are the lower drawer boxes already made up from 1/2" birch ply, topped by the small tool drawer that will go in the top slot of the left bank of 6-inch bit drawers.
Here the drawers are installed for fit. At this point I was still toying with the idea of cherry drawer fronts throughout. The bit drawers actually hadn't been made yet.
The electric chase compartment ready for action. Drill the back and left side holes BEFORE assembly, measuring carefully. If you wait till you've glued up the case, you can only drill from the outside in, and you'll need to clamp a backer piece to the inside to avoid ugly tearout. I recommend Forstner bits for cutting the holes.
The placement of your switch is important for both safety and convenience. Give it extra thought.
Buy your electric switch before scribing the center for the side hole in the chase compartment. Test fit for the ideal location from front to back. Give your electric cables ample room to flex upon entry into the hole. Placing the switch too close to the front may create problems with locating the switch box fasteners.
I waited until I'd made the top before performing this step. Doing so allowed me to place the switch where it's comfortable and the cables are unobtrusive.
The idea of gluing up two panels of MDF and applying a laminate was daunting at first. I'd never worked with laminate before, so instead I thought I'd just buy the table made for the PRL from Woodpecker for an extra $109. However, with shipping it topped $150, besides being white with a gray aluminum miter track and pre-routed fence slots.
Woodpecker has since added another table which might work just fine for you.
I decided to build the whole top unit myself to match the gold-and-red of the PRL plate, using a burgundy laminate to go with the maple.
Below, you can see the two slabs of 3/4" MDF glued with a liberal application of Titebond. Norm calls for one piece at 3/4" and the other at 1/2" but I didn't want to buy a whole sheet of 1/2" MDF because I really didn't want the remnant hanging around the shop. So...
1/8/2017 — I've had a lot of questions about the strength of this MDF laminated top. I built it in 2008 and it's still flat and strong. First five years in Oregon damp and cold, last four in California 100°F summers, 30°F winters.
After gluing up the top, I got busy with the laminate. Take care with this stuff.
For helpful specifics on how to apply laminate to MDF see this Woodworker's Journal article.
As stated in the article, you need the right tools and equipment. Start with a regular box cutter knife, but insert a laminate cutter such as this one:
Next you'll need a J-roller and some adhesive. You can get the J-roller at most hardware and big-box stores. For adhesive I used 3M Fastbond 30NF contact adhesive. I used the green product because your coverage shows better with the color.
The least messy applicator is a small paint roller and a plastic pan for the adhesive.
Or, use an old credit card to spread the adhesive quickly over large surfaces. I saved a used Rockler store gift card for this purpose. However, spreading with the card you will get glue on the work surface, your fingertips (gloves), and your shop apron. (You do wear an apron, right?)
I really worked carefully to get the maple top edging flush and tight by using a biscuit jointer.
With the laminate glued and set on the MDF top, I clamped each hardwood edge piece against the top and scribed pencil marks for the biscuit centers. Then I cut the biscuit slots in the MDF and in the edge piece using the same height setting for both pieces. That's what's nice about a biscuit jointer. In dry fit, the top surfaces lined up perfectly.
To assure flush alignment along each edge length, I used clamps to "force" the issue while the glue was still moist. One of my better efforts.
Here's the completed unit showing the safety power switch from Rockler, the 1/8" plexiglas door (another new experience that turned out well), and the anodized T and miter tracks in place.
Below, the tool drawer in use. Very big improvement over my previous router setup. The wrenches and inserts are right there close at hand, but out of sight when not in use.
The next image shows a drawer for half-inch bits, one of four. The lower left and right bit drawers follow Norm's specs and are taller to accommodate taller 1/2" bits.
To the left you'll see how I built the middle two bit drawers for each side. Using drilled 3/4" material to house the shanks, I glued a piece of that 1/16" laminate to the bottom as a stop.
Norm calls for a 1/4" ply stopper plate, which would make each drawer bottom a full 1" thick. But because I reduced my cabinet's overall height by 3/4", the two middle drawers could only be 3/4" thick to fit. Note that I narrowed the laminate to reveal the ply bottom at both edges where it contacts the slide surfaces. There wasn't room for ply and lam together to slide into the slot.
Couldn't find a manufactured dust port that worked, so made my own from a boogered-up laminated drawer front. I used Gorilla Glue because it expands while drying and I wanted that expansion to fill any possible air leaks. Note the Incra tracks instead of Norm's T-track that he cuts right through the table top. This idea, as well as the burgundy color choice, came from fellow woodworker RedBob on the Woodnet forum.
The dust collection arrangement is complex but works. I've since added a plumbing fitting to the dust port hole.
Operator's view of the business end of this thing. A hand crank moves the bit carriage up and down to allow above-table bit and collet changes.
Incra gold-anodized tracks from my local Woodcraft store. Later on I added a shop-routed T-track to the left fence to hold a shop-made adjustable stop block. The top T-track is for a featherboard yet to come. If you look closely you'll just make out the rows of white-lettered calibrations on either side of the plate that help align the fence perfectly parallel to the cutting direction. No need for a squaring jig.
I found these matching drawer pulls at the Ace Hardware in town for $1.79 each. What a stroke of luck!
The PC 7518 mounted in the PRL lift plate. Is that beef or what?
These fully extendable drawers will fill up fast.
After a few weeks of use, I made an optional fence wing with a T-slot in the laminate face for a hardwood stop block. First I cut a ¼ x ¼ dado on the table saw using an 80-tooth Freud blade. Then I popped a T-slot bit in the router and finished the dado out as a T-slot.
The end product again. Finished the maple with a coat of BLO and two coats of Minwax Helmsman spar urethane, sanded between coats with 320 grit Norton 3X. Applied a coat of Trewax Clear paste wax to the lift plate, as recommended by Woodpecker, and to all laminate surfaces as well. You could eat off it.
I'm really happy with this puppy and think it will be around for a good long time. That's all for this page, but remember to get your free copy of the plans.
Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoyed your visit.