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I'm involved with a project where I need to use a router (or some other tool?) to carve a specific-sized square in the top of a desk. This square will not go all the way through the desk; rather, it will only go .5" deep into the desk's surface.

I am currently using a router, but I need to do this for several desks and the square should be identical on each desk. What are my options for such precision routing? Is there a more industrial, time-saving, more-precise tool I can rent / buy instead of a hand-held router?

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CNC_wood_router. Depending where you live, there might be facilities where you can rent time on one. –  Steven May 6 '13 at 20:03
    
Good info - found a local shop and will use this if I give up on going the hand route. Thanks! –  bitpshr May 6 '13 at 21:35
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2 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I'd make a template in the shape of a square donut out of 1/2" plywood by using a table saw to cut out the square hole in the 1/2" plywood. For example, if ...

i) the recess in the desktop needs to be 8"x12"

ii) the diameter of the base of the router is 6"

iii) the diameter of the router bit is 1/2"

... then I'd ...

1) start with a rectangular piece of plywood that measures 24"x28"

2) set the rip fence on the table saw to 5.25"

3) plunge cut on the table saw (advanced technique) along all four edges, but not all the way to the corners so as to leave the cutout solidly attached to the donut at all four corners.

4) make the final cuts in the corners with a jigsaw or handsaw or ...

At this point I ought to have a square donut template of the proper size. If the router is not high-end, then I'd mark a spot on the top of the router's base that I'd always keep rubbing against the template (this is important for precision work).

To route out the recess in the desktop, I'd secure the plywood template to the desktop. Then start excavating the recess at it's center, progressing in an outward spiral until the final passes are done with the router's base bearing against plywood template.

Hope this helps.

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Huge help, trying now. Thanks so much! –  bitpshr May 6 '13 at 21:34
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+1 for this answer. I make jigs like this for my router all the time. –  Michael Karas May 7 '13 at 0:55
    
Welcome to the world of jigs and fences. Router duplication 101 starts with a straight board and moves up to rather highly complex creations that allow industrial level replication of parts. Especially important to learn if you're doing a project involving kitchen cabinets. –  Fiasco Labs May 7 '13 at 15:01
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You can buy one of the many available adjustable router templates or make your own.

Retail Template Example

Adjustable Router Template

Shop-made Template Example

Homemade Template

Using Templates

There are lots of ways to use templates, like router bits with bearings, or you could use template bushings, or just push the baseplate against the template.

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