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Make Your Own Router Lift - Many PICS

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Garrett in Victoria BC CA

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When I built a new router station a couple of months ago, I decided it was time for a router lift. However, most of the commercial units on the market have a couple of draw-backs, not least that they are more expensive than the big router they host! A greater problem for me is that with two exceptions, most work only with routers that have the same round-body as a Porter Cable. That leaves out a lot of very popular plunge brands including my Makita 3612C which has been dedicated to my table for many years. As noted above, two commercial lifts will take the Makita. Hitachi, Delta, Triton, Festool. etc., etc., but one is among the expensive, and the other, although more affordable, seems to engage a lot of parts for an intrinsically simple task.

As I pondered the challenge, the Eureka! moment was the realization that no matter the form of hardware and decoration, a router lift is nothing more than a screw clamp that squeezes the router base and body together in a controlled manner. That moment of clarity quickly defined the main challenges involved: 1) to position the parts so they don’t interfere with operation, and 2) to devise an efficient and convenient method to turn the screw, and 3) to position a fixed-in-place (non-turning) nut on the outer end of the screw. I also wanted a conversion that would make no permanent changes to the router so that it could be easily returned to its original condition.

With that in mind, I was ready to make my own. Everything came out of the parts and scraps bins, but the cost of purchased materials should be well under 10 Euros.

Plunge routers have stability and travel tolerance already built into the plunge mechanism. Moreover, almost every plunge router provides a relatively easy way to position the “clamp” out of the way either through one of the posts, or by using the external height/depth limiting-screw mounts. (Note that the latter route requires drilling a hole through the plunge base.) The Makita offers both possibilities, but “through-the-post” is the better approach.

Once the clamp’s location is decided, the first step is to separate the base from the router, usually as easy as removing a knob and/or nut from the threaded height limiter. (Ensure the router is sitting upright on its base, so that you can control the spring pressure as the posts separate from the body.)

Unless your router is also used outside the table, this is a good time to remove all the unnecessary extras such as handles, stop turret and adjustable stop guide, and dust shield, and store everything in a labeled container. Put the springs and internal guides in there, too, because they’re unnecessary in the table. With about 15 pounds of router hanging upside down, gravity alone provides enough down force.

While the rest of this description is specific to the Makita 3612 series, the principles apply equally to other brands. If you keep in mind that the objective is a very simple clamp, you should find the solutions for your machine self-evident.

My next step was to remove the post from the base, also a straightforward task. A punch drives out the retaining roll-pin, and the post slips out of its hole. Now the innards of the post have to be separated. Looking at the end of the post, you’ll see a bushing holding the bottom end of the height-limiting screw. Although neither seems movable, each is just a tight fit. The height-limiting screw has a small shoulder just above the bushing so that it cannot extend out the bottom. Sit the post on an open vise that so that vise jaws support the edges of the post, but do not cover any of the bushing. Place a block of wood on top of the height limiting screw and hit it sharply with a mallet until the bushing and screw drop out. Now support the bushing on the vise and use a punch to release the height-limiting screw. Here’s what comes out of the post. (Ignore the piece of brass rod in the depth stop housing. It was a preliminary examination of the feasibility of an external clamp that I forgot to remove for the photo.)



Before proceeding farther, it’s worth taking a few minutes to do some maintenance. I removed the switch cover and used a stiff bristle brush to get rid of a little dust inside the housing and on the switch. Considering the amount of use it’s had over the past 8 years, it wasn’t bad at all. When my fingers felt a few rough spots along the posts, some very fine wet/dry paper smoothed both posts. There was also a little bit of gunk build-up on the walls inside the posts’ holes in the router body, but a cloth wrapped around a dowel quickly cleaned it all out. I then applied a coat of paste wax to both posts and the inside of the holes, and buffed it dry. The difference this 10 minutes work made in smoothing the plunge action was truly remarkable.

The new screw clamp is based on a piece of 3/8’ x 16 TPI threaded rod the same length as the original height limiter. A standard hardware store item, 16 TPI rod also means that every full turn of the screw will raise or lower the bit by exactly 1/16”. (I’ve never been sure why that’s always cited as an important factor, since I, and most woodworkers I know, set the bit either by eye or by feel.) In order to turn the screw, I decided to tap a small Allen head machine bolt into one end. The odds & ends box produced one that happens to be 4 mm, but a 5/32” or 3/16” SAE would do just as well. Drill and tap one end of the rod to accept it. I chucked the rod in my wood lathe, put a 5/32” bit in a chuck in the tailstock, and at about 450 RPM drilled a hole in the centre of the end just a little longer than bolt’s thread. I swapped the drill bit for the 4 mm tap, and gently turned the chuck by hand, keeping gentle hand pressure on the tailstock to push it forward as the tap fed itself into the hole. Lots of lubrication and backing out often to clear chips ensure the tap won’t break. (The same job could be done on a drill press, but more care is required to centre the hole and keep it parallel to the sides of the screw.) I now had the driving end almost done.



The threads on the 3/8” rod proved just a little too big in diameter to slide through the bushing, so with the rod back in the lathe, a coarse file quickly reduced the outside diameter of the first couple of inches to an easy slip fit through the original bushing. This little bit of filing could have been done in a vise, since there is no need for excessive accuracy. Try the bushing often as you file to make sure you don’t take off more than necessary. Also make sure to reduce a couple of inches of the threads to ensure that the rod can protrude about ¾” past the end of the bushing (explanation follows). A small washer under the machine bolt prevents the screw from sliding back through the bushing. However, the Allen-head bolt still needs to be fixed in place so that it can’t back itself out when turning counter-clockwise. Firmly seat the bolt and washer in the screw, and drill a 1/16” hole through both so that a piece of 1” finishing nail can lock the two together. The nail is a loose fit held in place by the walls of the bushing, and will fall out if the rod is slid out of the bushing. (Which is why the rod needs to be able to protrude.)

Here are the new parts:



Stand the bushing on a piece of wood on a solid surface, stand the post on it with the holes lined up, and use another piece of wood and a mallet to drive the post over the bushing. The holes are unlikely to be perfectly lined up, but a small punch will quickly lever them into position. Now put the post back in the plunge base. At this point I realized I would need to buy a couple of short roll pins, but in the meantime, I’ve just stuck the original partway through the inside hole. Do use pins that will protrude about a half inch so you can pull them out later, and do not drive them up against the threaded rod. (If I can’t find the proper pins, I’ll break my “no permanent change” rule and tap the holes in the post to accept a couple of small machine screws in lieu of pins.) With everything installed, the Allen head machine bolt head protrudes about ¼” above the surface of the plunge base.



Figuring out how to fix a non-rotating nut on the router for the other end of the screw took a little time, until I realized that Makita had already provided half the the solution. The original height-limiting screw also requires a washer and nut where it exits the router body, and a flat is molded into the case to carry them. I found a heavy washer that was too large in diameter to fit the space, marked the excess on one side, and cut it off using a Dremel tool. (A hacksaw would do.) As the photo below shows, that flat rests against the side of the router body so that the washer can’t turn. Nor, of course, can the nut that I spot-weld to it. If you don’t have access to a welder, epoxy will do the job. The lift is now complete!



It was now time to mark and drill the hole in the table plate. Since I had purchased a new plate for the new table, I (very wisely) decided to drill out the old one first as a test. Sit the plate on the router with the holes lined up, measure twice and drill once. I got both holes dead on, but I also learned that drilling a 3/8” diameter hole through phenolic requires a bit of technique. Here‘s the result of the first attempt:



A big chunk of break-out even using a sharp brad point drill with a backer board in place. So, for the new plate, I drilled a 1/16” hole through the centre, and then used it to drill the 3/8” hole halfway in from each side with this result:



Here’s the insert in place with the router mounted



To keep debris out of the hole, I made a ‘cover’ or plug from a small piece of 3/8” rod that can be removed either by sticking a pin in the centre hole, or more elegantly, with a small magnet. (I first tried using a second 3/8” button magnet as the cover thinking that the screw head couldn’t overcome the pull of a magnet to magnet. Wrong! I had to take the plate off the router to get it off.)



Using the lift is a real treat as anyone who already has one knows. A hex key provides absolute control and fine-tuning precision with no fumbling under the table. For even greater convenience, I drilled a hole in the end of a short piece of dowel and pressed the shank of another key into it, added a 1/2” loosely-screwed knob to the other end of the dowel to form a speed crank.



However, after using the lift for a while - it works flawlessly - I much prefer the T-handle crank I made subsequently. Just a piece of 1/4" rod drilled in the end to accept a piece of hex key driven into a slightly under-sized hole, and a cross-bar welded to it.



I later added an arrangement to permit remarkably convenient above table bit changes, and I'll post that shortly.

Cheers, Garrett
 

Newbie_Neil

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Hi Garrett

Fantastic, such a simple idea very well executed.

Are you sure that you're not Ian Dalziel in disguise?

Well done.
Neil
 

radicalwood

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Hi Garrett

Looks good and is a very elegant solution to the router lift problem, will have to have a look to see if I can mod mine in a simular way.

Neil
 
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