My new walnut butcher block countertop came unfinished. That also means that the corners on every end of my new counters were not only unsanded, but very sharp.
For Christmas, Dad got me a palm router… complete with a set of bits to play with. And true to form, I waited until there was a BIG project to try her out (don’t get me wrong though; I was VERY happy to see that router under our tree last year. Enough that Mom thought it was hilarious to see her eldest daughter hugging the box like she used to hold a new doll from Santa).
Because I had my uncle in town for a visit, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn a few things from him on how to work my new(ish) toy. There wasn’t a lot of space in the house, so we set up outside to do most of the cutting and had to work against the rainy elements. For the first few minutes, I let the guys (my uncle and his brother were both in town for a visit) figure out how we were going to use it on the new counter and try out our cutting technique on a few scrap pieces.
There were two goals to using the router on that day: for one, I wanted to make a smoother, rounded edge along the counter. Even though I had the bits for making a fancier cut, I liked the simplicity of a simple edge – as long as hitting the edge of the counter didn’t cause cuts or bruising, mission accomplished.
After a few passes on scrap blocks, it was time to go for the real thing. I absolutely loved it.
The second goal for the day was to route a few areas where the 45 degree cuts would join together. We considered using biscuits and my Kreg Jig, but ultimately, my uncle thought it best to re-use the existing bolts from the old laminate countertop and try the same technique on the butcher block. By cutting several spots along the block, the two sides would join together with a few twists of each bolt.
See the mushroom shape on either end? That was to allow the ends to turn (but they narrowed down of course to create a stopping point for the bolt – by tightening this as tight as it will go, the joined edges would stay stuck together for the long haul).
With a little bit of muscle, the L-shape came together and fit snugly in its new home. For a house that doesn’t have many perfect angles, they did a damn good job of getting it to fit!
A few tips about using a palm router:
- Having a second set of hands was helpful (for putting even more weight on the top), but not a deal-breaker for using this tool well. The key is keeping the tool perfectly flat against the surface during your entire cut along the wood. Since one side hangs off if you’re routing an edge like a countertop, you just have to get used to putting your weight on the side that will slide against the wood.
- Swift, smooth cuts are ideal – to keep from burning the wood, you want to continuously move the bit along.
- I experimented with pushing the tool away from me and pulling it toward me. I found that I had a little bit smoother of a cut when I pushed it away from me, but when it comes to corners, pulling it toward me was actually easier to control. For example, for one particular cut, I wanted to route one edge and leave the other rough (because it was going to butt up next to the other piece and I needed it to stay perfectly square). When I pushed it away, the cut veered off at the very tip and routed the end of the other side slightly. I am a perfectionist, so I wasn’t happy about this. But lesson learned, & the other corners got the opposite technique of pulling it toward me.
- As always, safety goggles are important, but be careful with where you put your hands too (a small blade is still a blade!). I liked that when this particular brand was plugged in, the guide light came on, so I knew to be more cognizant about hand placement. But even after unplugging, the bit is very sharp, and after the friction of cutting against wood, gets very hot. Best to keep your hands on the handles only.
- Clamps: BFFs when making cuts.
My router days are definitely not over; I have several sections of leftover butcher block that I can’t wait to create new projects with & plan to knock several of those out by Christmas (hint hint). Got any of your own tips or stories to share?