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Flattening Slab on my bench with a Router

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Blog entry by CharlieK posted 03-22-2016 07:48 PM 1522 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch


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Making a Slab Coffee Table

I have a very nice walnut slab that I plan to make into a coffee table. I am happy to say that flattening a slab of wood with a router in my shop was even easier that I thought it would be! Not only was it easy, but the results were great! This is one of those tasks where an adjustable height workbench came in very handy because setting it to a very low height made it easier to move the router across the slab.

The slab is a slice out of a tree, some people call this a “cookie”. The dimensions are 26”x38” and it started out 4-1/2” thick on one end and 5-1/2” thick on the other end. I like that it is thicker on one end that the other, I think it will add to the rustic look of a slab coffee table. Keeping it thicker on one end added an extra step in the flattening process, but I didn’t have to remove as much wood as I would have to make the faces parallel to each other.

The essential steps in flattening a slab with a router are simple:
• Level the top surface of the slab
• Place guide runners on two sides of the slab
• Move a router on a sled back and forth across the runners to flatten the slab

Following is a more detailed explanation!

Level the top surface of the slab

Generally, you want to remove the least amount of wood to create a level surface on the face of the slab. Your slab might be high in the middle, high on one end, or high on all sides and low in the middle. In my case the slab was low in the middle on one side and high in the middle on the other side. I placed small blocks of wood under one end and checked the top of the slab with a level. On the side that was high in the middle I adjusted the blocks until there was an equal amount

!

Place guide runners on two sides of the slab
The guide runners are simply two straight boards that the router sled rides on. I made mine out of 3/4” plywood. These were the easiest part of the whole project because my workbench is wider than the slab. If your slab is wider than the your bench then you will have to find a way to mount the runners along side the slab.
Since most router bits are less than 2” long, you will need your router to ride fairly close to the slab. Since my slab was about 5-1/2” thick I made the runners 6-1/2” tall.

The runners are just 6-1/2” wide pieces of 3/4” plywood that I clamped to the edges of my bench.

I didn’t want to take a chance on the runners falling off while I was routing to top of the slab! So, I glued small blocks on the ends to give myself another place to clamp them down. They were much more secure with these blocks and the extra clamps.

The router and router bit
You can use any router with a 1/2” collet, but it will be easier to adjust the depth with a plunge router. I like the DeWalt 621 router so much that I have 3 of them, but really any good plunge router will be just fine.
You will need a straight router bit that is at least 1-1/4” long, but preferably one that is 1-1/2”-2” long so that it is long enough to reach through the sled and still be able to trip the slab. There are specialized surface planing bits, but a regular straight mortising bit will be just fine.

Flattening with go faster and you will get a cleaner finish with a wide bit. The bit I used for this slab was 1-1/8” wide and it worked great. I wouldn’t go much bigger than that for safety reasons.

Speaking of safety, remember to slow your router speed down whenever you use a bit that is more than 1” wide.

Here are the recommended speed ranges for various sized router bits.
• Up to 3/4” 22,000 rpm
• 1” 18,000 rpm
• 1-1/2” 16,000 rpm
• 2” 15,000 rpm
• 3” 12,000 rpm
• 3” or more 10,000 rpm or less

The router sled
The router sled is just a U shaped box. I made the bottom out of some 1/2” melamine that I happened to have. I chose 1/2” material to maximize the available plunge depth. The sides of the sled are what make it stable and keep it flat. I glued a few pieces of 3/4” plywood that was 2” wide.
I drilled a hole in the center of the sled and bolted the router in place. The reason I did this is because it is easier to move the whole sled back and forth than it is to reach across and move the router. It is also easier to build a sled with a hole in the middle than it is to make one with a slot all the way across.
Since I was going to move the entire sled back and forth, the sled needed to be at least twice as long as the space between the runners. My workbench is 32” wide so I made the sled about 64” long.

Dust Collection
I attached a 4” dust hood directly on the sled directly behind the router. I then attached a flexible hose from the hood to one of the lines on my dust collection system. This wasn’t perfect, but it collected about 80% of the dust.

Climb cutting
I used a “climb cut” when I flattened the slab to reduce tear out and to direct the chips into the dust hood. Climb cutting simply means moving the router in the same direction as the cutter.
CLIMB CUTTING CAN BE DANGEROUS BECAUSE IT IS EASY TO LOSE CONTROL OF THE ROUTER OR THE PIECE BEING ROUTED!! However, due to its mass there was little chance of the slab uncontrollably jumping off the bench. And, with the weight of the sled and the fact that the walnut was fairly soft there was little chance that I would lose control of the router either.

That said, PLEASE DO NOT USE THE CLIMB CUTTING METHOD UNLESS YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH IT! There is not enough room in this blog post to go into much more detail about climb cutting, but there are excellent explanations about it on the internet.

Finishing up
I am very happy with the results of using a router on this slab! It just needs a little cleaning up (including repairing the crack!) and it will be ready for a finish.

-- Adjustable Height Workbench Plans http://www.Jack-Bench.com



8 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile

DocSavage45

7705 posts in 2308 days


#1 posted 03-22-2016 08:07 PM

Charlie,

One of the best educational blogs I’ve seen. You keep getting technically more proficient!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View CharlieK's profile

CharlieK

467 posts in 3258 days


#2 posted 03-22-2016 08:15 PM

Thanks for the encouragement, Tom. I really appreciate it.

-- Adjustable Height Workbench Plans http://www.Jack-Bench.com

View kiefer's profile

kiefer

4881 posts in 2132 days


#3 posted 03-22-2016 09:56 PM

Good blog Charlie .
I did the same when I flattened my workbench top using a couple aluminum rails and a bridge for the router and a bowl bit instead a straight bit which helps a lot with tear out and climb cutting can be avoided .

Klaus

-- Kiefer https://www.youtube.com/user/woodkiefer1/videos

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

14940 posts in 2155 days


#4 posted 03-22-2016 11:44 PM

A most excellent blog!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View RibsBrisket4me's profile

RibsBrisket4me

1526 posts in 1970 days


#5 posted 03-23-2016 12:33 AM

Thumbs up!

View Bobsboxes's profile

Bobsboxes

1107 posts in 2129 days


#6 posted 03-23-2016 12:34 AM

Very good blog, to the point, very informative, I will be starting some slabs shortly and your blog has given me a couple of ideas. Thanks

-- Bob in Montana. Kindness is the Language the blind can see and deaf can hear. - Mark Twain

View doubleDD's profile

doubleDD

5237 posts in 1508 days


#7 posted 03-23-2016 12:45 AM

Very informative Charlie. A + on the blog. Easy to follow and the pictures are great. How dry was the slab when you started on it?

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View CharlieK's profile

CharlieK

467 posts in 3258 days


#8 posted 03-24-2016 07:32 PM



Very informative Charlie. A + on the blog. Easy to follow and the pictures are great. How dry was the slab when you started on it?

- doubleDD

Hi Dave,

The slab is very dry. It had been sitting in someones basement for several years.

-- Adjustable Height Workbench Plans http://www.Jack-Bench.com

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