OK. I caved in and bought an Incra Insert for the router table after they posted it back in stock. It’s the 3/8” phenolic plate that is their ‘old’ design. the opening for the router is 3 3/8” as opposed to the new Aluminum plate which are 3 5/8”. also it’s not as mechanical capable as the aluminum plates, but for $35 it’s within my budget. and still a very good plate. what I really like about the Incras is their MagnaLock plate inserts which snaps into place with magnets and is toolless – no need for a screwdriver, or a handle to lock/unlock the inserts in place.
I definitely didn’t want to mess up the phenolic top (of the table) so I decided to make a test run on a board of MDF and if I get good results – to use that MDF as a template and follow that opening over the phenolic top. Actually, it’s not that I didn’t want to mess up the phenolic (cause I slightly did) – what I didn’t want is to mess up the phenolic top beyond salvation… thats what I meant.
And so, I began by placing the phenolic plate over a board of 3/4” MDF. I then ripped 4” stips of 3/4” plywood from the same board so that I’ll have even thickness for my “pre” template. I pre drilled the strips and coutersunk those holes to make sure the screws are below surface and won’t interfere with my router:
I cross cut those stips at 5 degrees to make sure I get a nice tight fit around the router plate (not trying to make a perfect 90 degree between the strips – just making sure they are all snug against the plate):
For the next step I was a bit stumbled for a while, and researched many places. in order to make the corners nice and round and match the router plate, some places recommend using a 1-1/2” drill bit (shopnotes) while others recommend using a 3/4” router template bit (benchdog). I never installed a router plate before, so I had no idea what would work the best so I bought a 3/4” router bit (a good bit to have in the arsenal regardless of this project) and had my 1-1/2” holesaw at hand. trying to compare between the 2 and the radius of the router plate, It looked like the router bit radius was too small, while the holesaw was just perfect. so, I drilled the 4 corners with the holesaw. then, using the 3/4” template bit, I followed the plywood makeshift template to cut through the MDF board.
my work was a bit sloppy, and I lost alignment of the router a couple of times which messed up the MDF AND the plywood strips in a few places. so I left things as is. and started it all over again with new material. If I’m going to screw anything up – I don’t want it to be the template itself :)
round to was much better. this time around I also screwed a block in the middle so that the router will have support on both sides of it’s base. this was great. but on one corner I pulled to hard trying to run through it, and the router jumped and notched the template – not too bad. not bad enough that I wanted to start over again (and I didn’t have any more materials either).
after completing the cutout, I fit the template in – it was SNUG. It required some rasping of the corners, and straight lines in order to fit the insert. and it’s TIGHT. maybe too tight… but I can always sand/shape it open wider if I feel it’s a problem. Going the other way around would be impossible (at least as far as I’ve been told).
I then took the template, and placed it over the original board of MDF that I screwed up, and used the template to cut open an opening for the router plate. I figured I might as well test how the template delivers. in the picture you can see the top hole which was the first attempt for the template, and the lower hole which was made by the 2nd attempt template as it’s holding the plate:
once I had that dialed in. I setup the template over the phenolic top:
To get the depth of cut, I placed the Incra plate on top of my template, placed the router on top of that, and plunged (router unplugged) until the bit hit the table top. then set a depth stop for that setting. sorry I didn’t take a picture, but I think shopnotes has an illustration of this in their “6 steps to install a router plate”. what this does is sets the depth of cut for the template AND the router place, which means it’ll cut exactly the thickness of the router plate below the template. I did find that this made the cut about 1/64” too shallow, and had to micro adjust the depth of cut to allow the plate to sit just slightly below the table top (so that I can shim it precisely level with the table top).
I then followed it with the 3/4” template bit on the router. this created a 3/4” lip all around for the plate to sit on. I wanted to have a wider lip than what I’ve seen on commercial tops (1/2”?) and the 3/4” seemed like a balanced size, large enough, but not overly large that it’ll be in the way of the router.
to cut off the center I was a bit stumped again. I don’t have a jigsaw. and didn’t really want to route all that phenolic away (it’s messy , very messy, and its hard hard hard on the bits) so I used a circular saw and plunged my way down through the phenolic, and following a straight edge as much as I could from both sides. the line doesn’t have to be perfect as this is unseen, I just needed to take that center out. once I had the 4 edges cut through, I used a drill bit to release the corners and was left with this:
all in all, I was glad how the cutoff part came. I did slip with the circ saw beyond my end point, and notched the top part of the top. not a deal breaker, but would have been nicer if I didn’t have that cut notch there.
I installed the router in the plate, and put it in. I need to tilt the router as I put it into the opening, but I think that’s a usual thing with larger routers (this one is rather large). it sits very nicely, and extends through the table to change bits:
the first thing that I checked for which I was curious for all along was how convenient the controls on the router would be (on/off button, and height adjustment). I must say – with the router installed diagonally over the plate, reaching for both the power button, and for the height control is very very convenient – I was very positively surprised with this as I expected this part to be somewhat disappointing.
so far, so good. I’m glad how this came out, and I’m even more glad to be DONE with this phenolic hell (at least for now).
-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.