Modern Woodworkers Association, New Router Table, Process Improvement
Comments 7

New Router Table: Making Progress and Making Mistakes

The goal - create the case face frame and...

The goal – create the case face frame (shown in blue) and… the back, then put the case together.

…build the back, then put the case together.

Woodworking is often a humbling hobby. I have been working with wood for about 30 years and while I don’t consider myself an expert, I think by now I should know enough to keep from making silly mistakes. But, as I have made progress on my new router table several mistakes have surfaced; two of them being significant ones.

I thought about listing them in this blog post, but remembered a MWA podcast with Jim Heavey of Wood magazine. In the podcast, Jim says this about discussing mistakes with others: just shut up. When viewing a completed project in front of others…

…what most woodworkers do is they say, yea it’s OK, now its the first time I’ve used lacquer before and you know – shut up. I think that 99% of the people I talk to, they are so concerned about a flaw they have on their work, they point it out before you have a chance to find it.

Jim tells the story about seeing some beautiful marquetry work and the woodworker who made it starts talking about all the mistakes he made. Jim didn’t see the mistakes, so why point them out?

I am one of the 99% that Jim mentions. I see all the mistakes in my projects and I talk about them. At this point in construction, I have made a few mistakes on the router table, but I’ll do as Jim says; I am not going to tell anyone about them. 🙂 By the way, the podcast is quite good, so give it a listen.

Forming the Case
With the raised panel sides completed, It is time to form the face frame. So far, the joinery has been stub tenons fitted into slots. This worked well while creating the sides, so I decided to continue using this joinery for the face frame and back. First, take a look at the face frame parts below…

Face frame components.

The face frame components.

Note the parts highlighted in blue.

Note the parts highlighted in blue.

Since the face frame stiles are somewhat short, I decided to pass on making actual mortises. I don’t have a hollow chisel mortiser and cutting the needed mortises would have been time-consuming, especially since the middle rail is so narrow. I decided to create mortises in an unusual way…

I form slender strips of wood to fill the slots...

I create slots and form filler strips to fill them…

...forming the needed mortises.

…which create the needed mortises.

This was a fun step in the project because I used my little Lie-Nielsen rabbet block plane to adjust the fit of the filler strips. Paper thin strips of wood peeled off with each pass of the block plane.

An exploded view of the back.

An exploded view of the back.

With the face frame components glued together, the back is next and it is created in a similar way as the sides, except I went with one large panel for the back. The back comes together without a hitch.

I temporarily bring the front, back and sides together using sheet rock screws (no glue). When I attach a face frame to a case, I always make the face frame a little wider than it should be. This enables me to trim the face frame flush to the case sides.

The front and back are trimmed flush with the sides.

The front and back are trimmed flush with the sides.

To do this, I use a router with a flush trim bit. This process ensures that both the face frame and the back match any irregularity or bow in the case sides.

The Shelf
If you look closely in the photo above, you can see that the shelf has been added. The upper part of the cabinet is the router area and the lower part will have a drawer. I want to keep dust out of the drawer area, so this shelf acts as both a separator as well as a way to stiffen the cabinet.

This illustration better shows the self. Note how the shelf sits flush with the face frame middle rail.

This illustration better shows the self.

A close-up showing the slots needed to position the shelf.

A close-up showing the slots needed to position the shelf.

I took care in setting up the cut for these slots – their location turned out perfect. The shelf is dead on flush with the top of the face frame rail.

So this is where I am currently on my router table build. I still need to add a dust collection port to the back. Right now the case components are still only screwed together, and they will stay that way until I get the drawer completed. I want to be able to take the back off should I need better access while installing the drawer runners and other parts. The goal for my next post is to have the dust port installed, the drawer completed and the case glued up.

And one more thing on mistakes – none of the mistakes I have made required the purchase of additional lumber. There is a silver lining associated with mistakes when you can work through them successfully. I also listen to Fine Woodworking’s Shop Talk Live podcast. In each episode, they talk about the silly mistakes they make and these guys are experts. Ten years from now, I’ll still be making mistakes which means that woodworking will continue to be a humbling past time.

See part one of this build by clicking here. Move to the next post in this series by clicking here.

NEW WOODWORKING PLAN: How to make a large painted bookcase – this plan covers the construction of a bookcase I built for a co-worker and was designed to be simple to build, yet stylish. See the free plan by clicking here.


  1. No one, Jeff, will be as critical as you. It never s fail that I build something and as someone admires it I begin to point out all of the mistakes I made.

    Maybe it is in a woodworkers DNA?

    • David, you are right about the woodworker being his own tough critic. After thinking about it, I hope it is in our DNA. That pushes us to do better. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Pingback: New Router Table: Adding Dust Collection | Jeff Branch Woodworks

  3. As a woodworker we are critical, we have to every little step matters, I like you talking about the little mistakes, a most important thing what we learn in all those years is to concentrate in a non-stressed way and total overview at the project all the time, I call it ‘4D thinking’. A little disruption of that and you make mistakes. But I think as a woodworker we have that in us already.

    • I like that – 4D thinking. And concentration is key while woodworking. Measure twice, cut once, as they say. Thanks for the comment.

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