AW Extra 6/19/14 – Soup Up Your Router Table

Soup Up Your Router Table

By Dave Munkittrick

Your router table will really sing with these great accessories. Like all good tools, our accessories will increase safety and improve results. Even though we designed them specifically for the Best Buy Router Table on page 39, they’re easily adapted to use on almost any router-table system.


Stop Blocks

A stop block is indispensable for cuts that don’t go the entire length of the board. Ours mounts on the fence T-track for quick settings that won’t budge.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Cut hardwood runners (V) wide enough to just fit into the T-track slot, but not as deep. Glue the strips on the blocks, and drill out for the 1-1/4-in.1/4-20 hex bolt.




Featherboards make routing safer and better. Safer because they hold the work against the table and fence instead of your hands. Better because the constant pressure holds the piece on both sides of the bit for smooth, washboard-free profiles.

The featherboards are made from clear, solid-wood stock like pine or poplar. There are two sizes (see Cutting List, page 45). The longer ones are mounted on the table and the shorter ones on the fence. Cut the 45-degree angles first. The 1/4-in. slots can be cut on the router table and the feathers are cut using a bandsaw.



Freehand Guard

A freehand guard and a starting pin are a must for routing curved profiles, such as this arch-topped door panel. Dust collection isn’t perfect, but it keeps the bit area clear.

Assemble the base (parts B, C and D) with glue and screws. Then build the hood (parts E through H, N, P and W). Slip the hood over the base and glue the two 1/4-in. guide dowels into the base. The winged bolts allow you to adjust the height of the hood. Drill two 1/4-in. holes at the back of the base for the hold-down knobs.



Router-Table Sled

A router-table sled replaces the miter slot found on many commercial tables. It allows you to safely perform end-grain cutting, such as the cope cut on this rail, without having to set your fence perfectly parallel to a miter slot.

The only tricky part to making this accessory is getting the holes for the bolts just right. Simply hold the completed jig up to the fence with the base on the table and mark the T-track opening. Then, drill your holes in the center of the marked opening. UHMW T-track slides guide the sled along the fence.



Tall Fence

A tall fence makes vertical routing safe and accurate. It provides plenty of support for work that must be stood on end to rout, such as drawer joints, lock-miter joints and vertical panel raising.

The tall fence fits between the two outside supports of the main fence. Build the two supports (U and T) and attach them to the main fence. Use a square to align the top (S) with the face of the main fence and secure with screws or winged bolts.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2003, issue #99.

Purchase this back issue.



AW Extra 5/22/14 – Hang a Router….Perfectly

Hang a Router....Perfectly

Surfire router plate installation

By Jennifer Feist


Are you tempted by the benefits of owning a router table plate but hesitate to take the plunge because of the hassles involved in mounting it in your table? That’s understandable because a poorly fit router table plate leads to endless frustration.A loose fit makes it impossible to maintain a consistent distance between your bit and fence. A plate that’s set too high or too low in the rabbet creates catch points for stock and makes depth-of-cut settings difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to put up with these headaches. Here’s how to correctly install the plate for peak performance.

If you’re still worried about approaching your immaculate tabletop with a screaming router, do what I did and practice the procedure on a piece of scrap first.You’ll need a pattern bit (Photo 1), a jigsaw, a drill,double-stick tape and some 1-in.-thick stock. (The 1-in. material can be made from built-up sheet stock.)


1. Choose a pattern bit with the same radius as the corners on your router table plate.

Click any image to view a larger version.



2. Make an exact template using your plate as a guide.We used 1-in.-thick stock to accommodate the depth of the bit and the bearing (Photo 3). Double-stick tape works great for holding the boards in place without making holes in your router table top.



3. Set the bit depth using a template board and your plate as a guide.The depth-of-cut equals the thickness of the template boards plus the thickness of the plate.



4. Rout the rabbet after adding support boards for the router base to the middle of the cutout.



5. Rough cut the opening with a jigsaw. Be sure to support the cutout so it can’t break off before the cut is finished. Predrilling the corners helps start the cut and makes cutting the corners easier.



Accurately Centering the Router on the Plate

If you want to use template guide bushings with your router table plate, the router must be mounted dead-on center, and that’s not easy.

Rousseau has developed a baseplate mounting system that’s simple and accurate. The bit includes a centering disc, alignment pin, longer mounting screws and pointed tapping screws that accurately mark where to drill your plate.This system works with any plate that accepts 1-3/16-in. guide bushings. Priced at $5, it’s well worth the headaches it saves!




Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Hartville Tool,, 800-345-2396, Top-Bearing Pattern Bits: # R3004, 1/2-in. dia.; Double-Stick Tape: #12638, 1 in. x 36 yards.

Rousseau Baseplate Mounting System,, 800-635-3416.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker February 2000, issue #85.

February 2000, issue #85

Purchase this back issue.



Butterfly Inlay

Butterfly Inlay

Make a perfect fit with a shop-made template.

By Tom Caspar

Don’t you just love it when something that looks extremely difficult turns out to be oh-so easy? Making butterfly inlay with a plunge router is a good example. The technique is very easy to learn. All it takes is a set of router accessories and some 1/4-in. plywood or hardboard to make your own template.

Butterflies appear to bind two pieces of wood together, but they’re really just for show and are only 1/8-in. thick. Few pieces of authentic Mission-style furniture were dressed up with butterflies, but in recent years they’ve become a common decorative theme in reproduction Mission furniture, adding a light touch to heavy-looking pieces.


Your router

The easiest way to make inlay is with a plunge router, but it’s possible to use a fixed-base router instead. The only problem with using a fixed-base router is that you’ll have to tip it into the cut by hand, which takes some practice. This technique may also put a good deal of stress on a fragile router bit.

Whatever kind of router you use, its base must accept a Porter-Cablestyle template guide. This is a stationary ring that screws onto the router base. If your router’s base doesn’t have a hole sized for a Porter-Cablestyle template guide, you can buy an adapter base.


The inlay kit

Inlay kits are available from several manufacturers, but they’re all very similar. You get a template guide, a 1/8-in.-thick collar that snaps onto the guide and a 1/8- in. solid-carbide bit. The bit is usually a spiral downcut that cuts exceptionally clean, chip-free edges.

The inlay set we used also includes a centering pin for installing the template guide in your router base. If the guide isn’t centered, the inlay may not fit well in the recess.

Click any image to view a larger version.


This kit has everything you need to make both the inlay and the recess it fits into:

1/8" Bit

Snap-on collar

Template guide

Guide-mounting ring

Make the template

All you need is one template to make both the inlay pieces and the recesses they fit into. Our shop-made template produces perfectly symmetrical, straight-sided butterflies, but you can modify the template for any shape or size butterfly you want. You can also buy a template that has seven different sizes of butterflies (see Source, below).

The material you make the template from should be 1/4-in. thick. If it’s thinner, the router’s template guide will bottom out on your workpiece. Most of the material you probably have on hand, such as plywood or hardboard, is actually less than 1/4-in. thick. You can use it, however, if you add a shim, as shown in Step 4, below.

Cutting List

1. Make two rectangles of 1/4-in. material (A) and cut them in half at a 15-degree angle.

2. Flip one half of each rectangle over and glue it to the other half. You don’t have to clamp them. Simply apply a thin bead of glue to one edge and rub the two pieces together. Pull the joint tight with a piece of masking tape and set them on a flat, non-stick surface, such as a piece of melamine or waxed paper.

3. Cut two larger rectangles (B) from the same material and glue all four pieces together. Use the same rub-and-tape technique. Make sure all the top surfaces are even.

4. If your material is less than 1/4-in. thick, shim the template with cardboard, plastic laminate, mat board or whatever you have on hand. The total thickness of the template and shim should not exceed 5/16 in. Cut a hole in the shim that’s about 1/8-in. larger than the hole in the template. Glue or tape the shim to the template.

5. Draw centerlines on the template. (If you’re using dark hardboard, first apply a dab of white correction fluid to make these lines more visible.) Cutting the corners off the template makes it easier to clamp the template to a workpiece.

Rout the butterflies

Prepare some straight-grained blanks 3/4 in. x 1-1/4 in. x 16 in. It’s a good thing to have a little bit of contrast in color or grain pattern between the butterflies and the surrounding panels. Butterflies made of white oak go well with panels made of red oak, for example.

Attach the template guide to your router base and install the bit. Adjust the plunge depth of your router so it cuts 1/8-in. deeper than the template and shim.

Clamp the template to a blank. You can center it by eye. To cut butterflies near the ends of the blank, support one side of the template with another piece of 3/4-in. wood. Set the router on the template and butt the guide against one of its inside edges. Plunge the bit and follow the pattern clockwise.

Cut the butterflies

Stand the butterfly blank on edge and glue it to a backer board about 6-in. wide. Run a piece of tape along the top of the butterfly blank. Then put a zero-clearance insert in your tablesaw, which is essential to make this cut safely. Rip a 1/8-in.-thick strip from the blank, remove the tape, and you’ve got six identical loose inlay pieces.

Rout the recess

Put the collar on the template guide. Adjust the plunge depth of your router to cut a recess 1/32 in. to 1/64 in. shallower than the thickness of the butterfly inlay.

Clamp the template to the workpiece. For vertical alignment, match the template’s center glue line with a centerline drawn on the workpiece. For horizontal alignment, match the centerlines on the template with layout lines on the workpiece.

Rout the recess. Take it easy, because the 1/8-in. bit is fragile.

Glue the butterflies

Cut the corners of the recess with a chisel or knife. They’ll be rounded after routing, but they must be cut to acute angles so the inlay fits.

Spread a thin layer of glue in the recess, put in the inlay, scrape off any glue squeeze-out, and cover the inlay with a small piece of white paper. Clamp a thick board over the inlay and let the glue dry. The paper will absorb any further glue squeeze-out. After the glue dries, remove stuck pieces of paper by lightly wetting them. Level the inlay with a block plane or by scraping and sanding.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Woodcraft,, 800-225-1153, Router inlay set, #09I16; Replacement 1" bit, #09I17; Router adapter baseplate, #144931 (fits routers by Sears, Ryobi, Makita, Bosch, Porter- Cable, Milwaukee, Hitachi, DeWalt, Fein, Elu and Freud); Butterfly inlay template, #146903.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2003, issue #99.

March 2003, issue #99

Purchase this back issue.



A Trickier Ruler Trick for Router Planes

A Trickier Ruler Trick for Router Planes

Sharpening router plane blades can be no fun. For years now, I’ve made things easier for myself by honing the flat back of the iron through the grits and then removing the “burr” from the bevel with a polishing stone. This is way faster than trying to hone and polish the bevel while it is … Read more »

The post A Trickier Ruler Trick for Router Planes appeared first on Popular Woodworking Magazine.


On the Precision of Chisels

On the Precision of Chisels

When it comes to doing precision work that has to be performed over and over again, it’s easy to fall into the siren whine of the router. The router is probably my least-favorite woodworking tool. I don’t like how it is noisy. It never produces a ready-to-finish surface for mouldings. And it can destroy a … Read more »

The post On the Precision of Chisels appeared first on Popular Woodworking Magazine.


Creating CNC Textures

Creating CNC Textures

By Randy Johnson

CNC routers are opening up lots of new ways to create textures in wood. Here are my three favorite ways of creating textures using a CNC. Th e fi rst method uses the repetition of shapes to create a design that is routed using one or more bits. If you enjoy doodling patterns, this is a technique that you will enjoy. Th e second method uses programming built in to the design soft - ware to generate a texture design that simulates a handcarved pattern. Th e third texturing method starts with a photograph and converts the light and dark areas into the routing paths. Each method has a few basic rules to follow, but add some imagination and the variations you can achieve are virtually limitless. I used Vectric Aspire CNC design soft ware to create the textures for this article, but other soft ware packages such as ArtCAM and EnRoute can also be used to create textures.

Shape-Based Textures

Shape-based textures are created by repeating a pattern of either asymmetrical or symmetrical shapes. Patterns can be hand-drawn or drafted with a CAD program such as Google SketchUp. Hand drawn designs need to be scanned or digitally photographed so they can be imported into the CNC design program. CNC design programs are also capable of creating shape-based patterns. One creative aspect of this type of texturing is that you can rout on the lines or between them to achieve different effects. I routed the crackle texture shown below using a 1/4" dia. 60° v-bit. It took about 60 minutes to carve the design into this 10" cherry lid. The dome shape of the lid was created first using a 1/4" dia. ball nose bit.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Software-Based Textures

Using the built-in texturing program that comes with most CNC design software packages is an easy way to create a simulated hand-carved texture. As shown in the program window to the left, there are several options to choose from when designing this type of texture. Adjusting these variables enables you to create a wide variety of simulated hand-carved textures, ranging from those with long, closely spaced cuts, to those with short, widely spaced cuts— and anything in between. Once the options are selected, the program creates a semi-random pattern of lines (see middle image below) for the router bit to follow. I used the settings shown here to create texture on the walnut lid show below. I used a 1/4" ball nose bit to create the texture, but other profiles such as straight bits or v-bits can also be used, expanding your options even further. It took about 60 minutes to carve the texture shown below.

Photo-Based Textures

Another way to create a CNC texture is to start with a photo. Not all photos work equally well, however. That’s because the CNC design software reads the light areas as high points and the dark areas as low points and tells the CNC router to carve accordingly. A good photo image is one that is evenly lit without long shadows, but yet has good contrast. As you can see in the alligator skin photograph below, the highlights accent similar areas, while the dark areas are consistent in the rest of the photo. This type of photo will create a texture that closely resembles the contours of the original. Carving a photo-based texture requires the use of a small ball nose bit to attain the details. For the design below, I first roughed out the texture and dome shape of the lid with a 1/4" ball nose bit and then carved the final shape and details using a 1/8" ball nose bit. It took about two hours to do the final routing and about the same amount of time for the roughing passes.

Texture Variations

Shape-based textures can take many forms, from low relief to high relief, and from subtle to bold. The three textures above are just a sampling of options that are possible with this approach to designing textures for the CNC. The one on the left was created using a collection of small circles that were then routed around with a 60° v-bit. The middle design is simply an array of concentric squares, while the one on the right uses a grid pattern made with a 120° v-bit.

Software-based textures are the easiest—and often the fastest—to create, and can be run on top of a shape (left), around a shape (middle), or overlapping in different directions (right). These options allow you to be selective and creative in where and how the texture is applied. Using different bits will also expand the variations you can create with this method of texturing.

Photo-based textures are an easy way to simulate existing textures—as seen in these three examples. The weathered end grain (left) shows a surprising amount of detail, as does the cloth texture (right). The stones (middle) create an interesting pattern, although they are rendered quite flat. Additional depth can be added to the stones through the use of other modeling tools, if so desired. The thing to remember about creating textures from photos is to always start with a photo that has even contrast.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2012, issue #159.



V-Carve Inlay

V-Carve Inlay

A simple method for creating precision inlays from almost any design.

By Randy Johnson

V-carve inlay takes advantage of a CNC’s ability to precisely rout matching parts. In this case the parts are made as opposites and fit together to create a precise-fitting inlay. The sides of the parts are beveled and fit together like the lid on jack-o’-lantern pumpkin. The technique is surprisingly easy to learn and implement, in spite of the fact that it would be nearly impossible to create these parts any other machine or by hand. It’s truly a technique that’s unique to the CNC. The fact that almost any design can be used, opens up many creative opporutunites. As CNC’s become more common in small shops, I fully expect to see v-carve inlays showing up on furniture in some intersting ways.

Step 1

Layout your design. Almost any design will work, but all individual parts of the design must be made with a single continuous line so the router has a complete path to follow. A shape that is open-ended or has a gap in the line will not be recognized by the v-carving program. I designed this pattern (right) in about 15 minutes, using V-Carve Pro from Vectric. I started with a single “petal” shape and then copied it using a function called “copy circular array” to create the 12 identical shapes. There’s no need to shy away from sharp details such as corners or points. V-carving programs excel at capturing such detail. For more information on v-carving see “V-Carving in 10 Easy Steps”.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Step 2

Set the flat area cutting depth for the pocket portion of the inlay to .15”. Setting the depth to this dimension provides clearance under the inlay to ensure that it doesn’t bottom out in the pocket. The dotted line represents the location of the pattern, which in this case is the surface of the board.

Step 3

Set the cutting depth for the inlay in two stages. First set the “start” cutting depth at .10” and then the cutting depth at .10”. Setting the cutting depths in this fashion will ensure a small amount of clearance between the inlay and pocket boards. The dotted line also represents the elevation or the location of the pattern in the board.

How it works

The angled shoulders of the inlay and pocket intersect to create a tight, wedged fit. The cutting depths for these parts are set to provide clearance between the parts (Steps 2 and 3). The excess top portion of the inlay is removed down to the dotted line to reveal the final pattern (Step 7).

Step 4

Rough rout the background and wide areas with a straight bit. Rough routing removes the majority of the wood in the large areas. This reduces the amount of material the v-bit needs to remove in Step 5 and shortens the overall machining time for the project by about 15 minutes. I also routed the cutout profile around each part at this time, although the parts are still attached to the outer boards with tabs. It took about 20 minutes to rough rout and profile this design.

Step 5

V-carve the design details with a 90° v-bit. Notice that the inlay on the left is a mirror image of the design on the right. They must be opposites in both relief and orientation in order to fit together. This is important to remember when laying out and programming your design. This step took about 25 minutes.

Step 6

Apply glue to both parts. A small brush makes it easy to get the glue into the v-carved areas. The inlay portion has been trimmed to rough size on the bandsaw.

Step 7

Tighten the clamps lightly at first and then add a little pressure to each clamp until they are all fully tightened. Applying uneven pressure can cause misalignment of the parts. Leave clamped until glue is completely dried.

Step 8

Rout off the excess material to reveal the final inlay. The ability to control the cutting depth in increments as small as .001” makes it easy to precisely remove the extra material. For this project I used a 3/4” straight bit and programmed it to remove the majority of the material in 1/8” deep passes until it got to within .02” of the surface. I then continued with .005” passes until the bit removed just enough material to expose the inlay and get rid of the dried glue. This step took about 10 minutes.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2011, issue #155.



Digital Probe Duplication

Digital Probe Duplication

By Randy Johnson

Router duplication has been around a long time. Early machines used stiluses to follow the shape of a pattern or master, while on the other end of the machines, routers did the carving. In a similar but computerized fashion, CNC routers are also capable of duplicating existing carvings and furniture parts. A digital “touch” probe is first used in the CNC to sense the surface of the object, while the probe’s accompaning software creates a digital image of the part. The digital image is then coverted to a 3D model and used to program CNC routing paths for a replica. To test the capabilities of this technique, I hand carved a traditional scallop shell measuring about 4" x 4" to use as my original. My test revealed that a CNC digital probe is quite capable of accurately recording the shape of an object, with one exception; due to its ballshaped tip, the probe rounds off the inside corners of fi ne details such as the veins on this shell. A little bit of hand carving easily adds the missing details. The three carvings in the photo below are duplicates of my orginal (photo above). Watch the digital probe in action at

Click any image to view a larger version.

Step 1

Set the scanning parameters. The software control panel is used to set the size of the scanning area, the precision or resolution of the scanning action, and the speed of the scan. The Scan Limits of X and Y represent the width and length of the scan area, while the Z Scan Limit represents the range the probe travels vertically. The Step Sizes are the X and Y distances the probe moves between measurements. The Scan Velocity controls the speed of the probe as it moves across the part’s surface. The Part Coordinates show the location of the probe during operation. I used the Shark CNC Pro Plus to scan the shell for this article, but most CNCs, including the CarveWright and Shopbot, are capable of probe scanning.

Step 2

Scan the part. I set parameters for this shell carving as shown in Step 1. The X and Y scanning limits are penciled on the backer board. The Z limit was set at 1” to provide sufficient vertical travel for the carving’s 5/8” thickness. The step sizes of .005” for this shell equals 800 passes across the shell for a total of 680,000 steps, or measurement points, and took about 12 hours. ( I ran this overnight). The Shark CNC probe has a .075” dia. wear-resistant industrial ruby tip, so certain details such as the fine veins on this shell were not fully captured; but the remainder of the surface was captured with surprising accuracy. A larger step setting can be used on objects with less detail, such as a chair seat. Doubling the step size reduces scanning time by a factor of four.

Step 3

Adjust the digital image. The scanning creates an .stl file, which is a common file type used in 3D modeling. The scanned area surrounding the shell is not needed and is removed at this time.

Step 4

Create the 3D model. The .stl file is converted to a 3D model with CNC design software such as Aspire by Vectric. I also used Aspire to increase the thickness of the shell’s base to 1/4”.

Step 5

Smooth the surface. If needed, the design software can also be used to smooth the surface of the model. My scan was fine enough so I only needed to remove a couple scratches.

Step 6

Remove the background. I removed the background to get the waste material out of the way in order to make it easier to add the final hand carved details in Step 10. I programmed the toolpath for the 3/4” straight bit at a .1” depth-of-cut per pass and a stepover (pass width) of .2”. The tool path was also programmed to leave the shell profile .125” oversize. Removing the background for the three shells took about 30 minutes. The board started out .875 (7/8” ) thick and the routed background is .25” thick. The shell will have a final thickness of .75”.

Step 7

Rout the final profile and tabs. The final profile is made using a 1/4” straight bit that cuts all the way through the material. Tabs are left to hold the shell in place. These tabs can also seen in bottom photo on page 15. A piece of plywood underneath protects the metal machine bed from damage. I programmed the toolpath for the 1/4” straight bit for .125” depth passes. The profile and tab routing of the three shells took about 8 minutes.

Step 8

Rough rout the shape. To accomplish the rough routing I used a 1/4” ballnose bit programmed to a .1” depth of cut and .1” step over (pass width). This roughing phase removes the majority of the material. The amount of material left by the rough pass is adjustable, with .02” being common for a carving such as this shell. Leaving this small amount allows the final pass to be completed in one pass, saving time and wear on the finishing bit. The rough routing of the three shells took about 60 minutes.

Step 9

Rout the final pass. The final carving is done with a specialty .0625” (1/16”) ballnose bit (available at I programmed this bit to make .01” wide (1/100”) passes. The tiny tip of this bit is capable of recreating a considerable amount of detail, and leaves a surface that only requires a light sanding with 220 grit sand paper to make it ready for finishing. The final routing of the three shells took about 70 minutes.

Step 10

Detail by hand as needed. Complete the carving with some touchup hand carving of the veins and finish sanding. There are CNC operations where the goal is to create a part that requires no additional hand work—this application is not one of them. A CNC is a tool capable of many things, but a realistic expectation of what it can do is also important. In the case of these shells, I accepted the fact that I would need to do some hand detailing to achieve the results I wanted, similar to scraping or sanding a board after jointing and planing.

Step 11

Make the boxes. After making the shells, the box shape is simple to program using the profile of the shell as a pattern. It took about 150 minutes to rout the 3 boxes on the CNC using a 1/4” up-spiral bit. They were cut out of 1-1/2” material.

Project Time Card

CNC the lids: 55 minutes each

CNC the boxes: 50 minutes each

Set up and material prep: 15 minutes each

Detailing and sanding: 45 minutes each

Staining and finishing: 20 minutes each

Total time: 3 hours 30 minutes each

I spent 5 hours 15 minutes (total for all three) doing something else while the CNC ran.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2011, issue #154.

June/July 20011, issue #154

Purchase this back issue.



V-Carving in 10 Easy Steps

V-Carving in 10 Easy Steps

By Randy Johnson

V-carving is one of the simplest ways to create attractive carvings on a CNC router. With special software and a little practice, it’s possible to transform almost any lettering style or 2D design into a carving that requires only minimal cleanup before finishing. I use V-Carve Pro software from Vectric, but the steps are similar with other v-carving programs. The software tells the machine to raise the bit at the inside corners; the machine then uses the tip of the v-bit to create corners that are clean and crisp—as opposed to the rounded corners made by a handheld router guided by a template. For more examples of v-carving visit

Step 1

Layout your design. All it takes is a simple hand sketch or photograph. This can be imported directly into the program and then outlined using the drawing tools in the v-carve design program. Since both letters and shapes can be carved, there are not many limits to the kinds of designs you can v-carve. You also have the choice of carving on the inside or outside of letters or shapes.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Step 2

Make sure all shapes are closed. This is one of the cardinal rules of v-carving design. A circle, square or the outline of an object qualifies, but a single line or parallel lines with open ends will not work. The v-carve programs need a continuous outline to follow. Some outlines may look continuous, but even a little break in the line will cause problems. Fortunately, v-carve programs are able to recognize shapes that have small openings and will automatically close them for you.

Step 3

Set the cutting depth for the background of your carving and the inside of the letters (as needed). This cutting depth is mainly a design decision, and of course it cannot exceed the thickness of your board. The cutting preview (example at right) will show you how your chosen cutting depth looks.

Step 4

Select your router bits. Use a straight bit first to rout flat areas. The diameter of this bit determines how much cleanup the v-bit will need to do inside a corner. A large diameter straight bit removes material faster but leaves more for the v-bit to cleanup. A small diameter straight bit leaves less material inside a coner but takes longer to clear the flat areas. I typically use a 1/4" diameter end mill for drawer front or cabinet door carvings.

The three most common v-bit angles are 60°, 90° and 120°. I prefer using a 90° and 120° v-bit for wide or large letters and a 60° v-bit for small or fine letters. If possible, I also prefer to use a v-bit with a cutting radius that’s slightly wider than the width of the final bevel. This allows me to make one final cleanup pass (if needed) to remove any step marks left by the initial passes.

Step 5

Create cutting paths for the recessed background and export them from your v-carving design program to your CNC machine. The cutting paths (shown above in red with tiny arrows) show the areas that will be routed. Here I’m using a 1/4" end mill bit to rout the flat background area. I’m accomplishing this with 1/8" wide passes (shown by the distance between the red lines). This dimension is referred to as the “stepover” measurement. The cutting depth per pass can also be programed, as can the feed (travel) rate of the router, expressed in inches per minute.

Step 6

Rout the recessed background area. To ensure a smooth background on this plaque, I used a couple techniques. First, I routed the background area in two .06" (about 1/16") deep passes, plus a light .01" pass to reach the final depth of .013". Three passes take more time than one, but create a surface that requires only light sanding. Second, I programed the router to cut with the grain (see Step 5). This reduces sanding, too. Milling the background for this plaque took about 20 minutes.

Step 7

Create cutting paths for the bevels around the shapes (the hand plane and perimeter rectangle in this case) and export them to your CNC machine. For this design, I will be using a 90° v-bit, which produces a 45° bevel. The shaded areas above the handle and below the depth-adjustment knob are closely-spaced tool paths where the v-bit needs to make many close passes to mill the background flat. These areas are too narrow for the 1/4" end mill bit to get into.

Step 8

Rout the bevels around the shapes. This requires removing the straight bit and installing the appropriate v-bit. I used a 1/2" diameter 90° v-bit. It has a 1/4" tall bevel—more than enough for the carved bevel, which will be only 1/8" tall. This step took about 20 minutes to rout. Except for some light hand sanding and a little touch-up with a carving chisel, this part of the carving is now complete.

Step 9

Create tool paths for the lettering. This requires a separate step because I’m changing to a 60° v-bit. I prefer a 60° bit for small letters such as these because it creates a deeper, more distinctive v-groove than a 90° bit. The tool paths above show how v-carving requires two lines to carve between. The two lines are parallel in these letters, but they can be any shape or spacing. For example, the outline of the hand plane and outer rectangle represents the pair of lines that were used to create the hand plane carving.

Step 10

Rout the lettering. Notice that “No. 4” is routed into the surface of the plane whereas as the logo is carved into the background. I programed the difference in cutting depth into the cutting paths while designing the plaque. This final carving step took about 8 minutes. To view a video on how I designed and machined this plaque from start to finish, visit

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2011, issue #153.

April/May 2011, issue #153

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Router Table Box Joints

Router Table Box Joints

The perfect fit comes easily with a simple shop-made jig.

By Tom Caspar

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Box joints are a cinch to make on a router table. All you need are a sharp bit and a basic plywood jig.

The biggest problem in making box joints has always been getting a precise fit, because the line between success and failure is only a few thousandths of an inch thick. Fortunately, the solution simply requires that your jig be easy to adjust, not difficult to make. I’ve added a microadjust system to my jig that is incredibly precise but takes only a minute to put together.

This jig is designed to make 1/2 in. box joints in stock up to 5 in. wide. It’s dedicated to only one size of router bit. To make wider or narrower box joints, you must build another jig. For box joints wider than 1/2 in., you’re better off using a tablesaw and a different kind of jig. If your project requires box joints that are more than 5 in. wide, widen the jig accordingly.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2005, issue #113.

March 2005, issue #113

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