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I am now the proud owner of a used router and table. I am just getting ready to use it for the first time and was reading some emails and saw the following ad.

Router Table

Image from WoodPeck

So almost all pictures I see of router tables have a fence or guard in play. In that picture they are not using a fence. I would think that the super fast moving blade would be a reason to have something for safety.

So can you operate the router, on a table, without a fence or guard safely? Assuming I can what, besides a fence, can I be using on the router table.

  • Carefully.... Even with a bit with bearing, enter into the bit slowly. – Joshua Feb 22 '16 at 18:41
  • I've done some work using the starter pin (roundover cutting board, etc.) Given a sufficiently large piece and an understanding of feed direction, I've felt fairly safe. Working smaller pieces that way gives me the heebie jeebies, though, so I avoid it. I've seen various jigs that can be used to keep the fingers a little farther away. See the Rockler Small Piece Holder, for example, or homemade equivalents. – gcbound Apr 4 at 3:37
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The bit they are using in that picture has a bearing on the top part that is sticking out of the table (which is actually the bottom of the bit, because routers are inverted in a router table). Bits with bearings like that are safe to operate without a fence, because the bearing spins, acting as a guide as the stock is pushed along the bit. It doesn't matter which angle the stock approaches the bit from, because the bit is symmetrical, and as soon as the stock hits the bearing, the bit will not be able to cut any deeper.

The bit in the picture is known as a flush trim bit. In a router table, the bit can be used to trace a pattern. In the picture, the pattern is provided by the Woodpecker's jig. The curve of the jig will be cut into the work piece. As the work piece is pushed into the router, the bearing is pushed against the jig template. Because the cutting blade is flush with the bearing, the pattern the bearing rides against will be cut into the work piece.

If that is difficult to picture, it may be helpful to view a video of it being done. Here is one I found on YouTube.

Bits without bearings generally require a fence to use. With no bearing, there is nothing controlling the depth of the cut. The fence does that for you.

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    Your first two paragraphs are nearly identical. – Bob Jul 18 '15 at 6:35
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    Indeed they were. Not sure how that happened. Thanks for pointing it out! – Charlie Kilian Jul 18 '15 at 6:39
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Sure. In the picture above, the bit has a bearing on it, which sort of acts as a fence. I have that exact set of Woodpecker's radius jigs and use them exactly as pictured.

I don't know what purpose there would be in using a non-bearing bit on a router table without a fence or some sort of fixture to guide the cut, but you could do it.

You will often see a router table with a place for a post near the bit. This allows you to pivot the work into the bit in a more controlled manner.

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    You can see such a place for a post in the picture in the OP, the little threaded hole to the left of the bit. – ratchet freak Jul 18 '15 at 12:44
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    That post is commonly called a 'starter pin'. – TX Turner Jul 20 '15 at 17:55
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As a point of comparison, I operate a router table without a fence or guide roughly half of the time that I use one.

For example, if I am making picture frames, I will use a rabbet bit with a guide bearing to rout out the space at the inside-back of the frame where the glass and picture go. If one uses push blocks and keeps one's hands sufficiently far from the bit, there is little danger involved. If I am doing a simple edge profile on the frame (roundover, ogee, etc.) I will use the bit's built-in guide as well and not worry about trying to set the fence just right.

Otherwise, I have seen people us a router totally freehand (no bearing on the bit and no table) for a few purposes (clearing the waste from dovetails and inlay for two examples). It can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing, especially if you try to take too big of a cut. You also have to be very cognizant of grain and keep a firm grip on the router to keep it from skating all over and ruining your piece.

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