When Routers Make You Swear
Click on the image to open
Click on the image to open
Click on the image to open

Back in the 1980’s I was newly married and setting up a workshop in the basement of our first home, a 1930’s Montgomery Ward kit house. Back then, the only place to purchase power tools near the small town where we lived was a Sears store in a shopping mall about a half hour’s drive away. I owned a Craftsman contractor’s saw, a Craftsman router, and a few other power tools from Sears.

I was too young to know much about routers but eager to learn. I really put it to the test while I was building a stereo cabinet as a gift for my brother-in-law. It was made of plywood edged with hardwood. The shelves fit into dadoes in the cabinet sides. So I got out the Craftsman router and chucked up a 3/4″ straight bit. As a matter of fact, it was probably a bit made from high speed steel (HSS). Carbide wasn’t that common yet for home woodworkers and if it was, it was too pricey for my newlywed budget.

The idea was to rout a 3/4″-wide dado about 3/8″ deep across the cabinet sides to house the shelves. So I clamped a straightedge across the cabinet side to guide the cut. I set the bit depth and started routing. The first dado went fine. So I moved the straightedge to complete a second dado across the panel. I started the second cut and noticed that the pitch of the router motor changed as I made my way across the panel. Then I noticed it became difficult to pull through the cut. It wasn’t until this point I realized something was terribly wrong.

I stopped the router, cleared out the dust and chips from the dado, and discovered what the problem was. The dado was progressively deeper. So deep that when I had stopped the router, it had routed all the way through the panel for a few inches. I was furious. And puzzled. I scratched my head trying to figure out what had happened. Then I looked at the router. The bit had crept out of the collet. I understand now why some people call them “Crapsman” tools.

I was so disgusted at what had happened and upset because I really couldn’t afford to buy more plywood. So I turned out the shop light and went to bed.

They say you’re most creative when your lying down. As I lay in bed thinking about my dilemma, it occurred to me to try to make a matching plug to repair the hole the router left in the cabinet side. The next evening, that’s what I did. I found a scrap piece of plywood that had similar color and grain to the area surrounding the hole. I cut a plug to size, carefully rounding the end to match the radius of the router bit. After gluing it in, I finished routing the dado, making darned sure I had the collet super tight. After the cabinet was finished, only I knew where it had been repaired.

Fast forward to 2013. I’m making a shadowbox out of cherry plywood. A 1/4″ groove routed in the box sides holds a glass panel. I have an old Porter-Cable 690 single-speed router mounted in my Kreg router table. So I set it up with a 1/4″ spiral upcut bit to rout the groove. I had a “déjà vu” moment as I was routing the second piece. All of a sudden I saw the bit pop through the opposite side and plow a really nice-looking slot. I probably said a few words I shouldn’t have. So I shut off the router, turned out the lights, and went inside.

After a nap and a couple cups of coffee, I was in a better frame of mind. So I went back into the shop to try again. Fortunately, I had some plywood to cut some extra workpieces. And I made darned sure I had the collet super tight.

So the question for me is what causes this to happen? I had been suspecting the that bearings in my P/C 690 are on the verge of failing. It’s been a little noisy lately. Can the additional vibration work the bit out of the collet? A dirty collet could be the culprit, so I made sure it was clean and free of sawdust. And of course, a dull bit doesn’t help matters. Perhaps in both cases, the bits had reached the end of their useful lives.

And that brings me to my next decision: Should I try to install new bearings in my router, pay to have someone rebuild it, or just go buy a Bosch router kit I’ve had my eye on?

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.