Here's a project I have had on my mind for a long time. Upgrading my wood router table to some sort of a new flat table. My existing table is one of those that is made from MDF, which when new is flat, but over time many of them develop a bow or dip in the middle. This appears to be partially due to the constant weight of the router on the MDF ...
Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/_GfivHG_9C0
but is also likely caused by the fact that the MDF does absorb moisture (like all wood products) and in the process it makes the wood or in this case MDF, expand. Since the MDF cannot expand on the top because of the glues on arborite or plastic laminate, the MDF can only bow upwards on the sides, which is what can cause the center to drop. In my case over a sixteenth of an inch.
There are cast iron tops you can purchase which weigh in at around 90 to 100 pounds and cost somewhere in the $450 to $500 range ... oh and don't forget the cost of shipping too.
I decided to get a local metal fabricating company to make a custom make new steel router top for me from 1/4 plate steel. At the beginning of the conversation with them, they suggested that a 3/8" might be better as 1/4" might still bend a bit. I explained that I had a lift I wanted to keep and that it would help support the 1/4" and we all decided to go with that. They also mentioned that steel is "rolled" as it is manufactured so the could be a slight bowing in the steel, but that they would select the flattest part they could find.
I drew up rough plans that the operator could convert to digital files that the CNC Waterjet machine could understand and cut out. My biggest concern was that they could cut the router plate hole in the center to within 1/32" to accommodate my router plate and minimize the gap between the plate and the top. They did an excellent job of that.
Here are pictures of the waterjet machine at work on my plate.
After getting the plate home, it was a fairly easy job taking off the old top and installing the new one. Of course, my big concern was if the gas shocks on my existing lift would be strong enough to hold up the new steel top ... or would I have to prop it up.
Before installing the new top I painted the underside of the steel with black anti-rust paint, here you can see the underside and the tabs for the router plate to rest on.
One of the reasons I wanted to with steel and not simply manufacture my own new MDF top which would have been much easier and cheaper to do, was because I wanted to have the option of using Magswitches for both the fence and any other jigs or accessories I might want to add later, like feather boards both horizontal and vertical, jigs for circle cutting, jigs for placement cutting and even new special-purpose fences and probably more as time goes on.
If you have been following my channel for a while, you will know that I came up with a way to enhance the gripping power of the mag switches by adding a small bit of anti-skin material to the base, it works like a charm and makes using these super strong.
I cut holes in my old fence to accommodate the mag switches and planed down some Garry Oak to make the combined depth 3/4" which is exactly what the mag switches need to be most effective. I ended up using contact cement to join the wood to the aluminum and have no fear it will last for decades.
Here is a picture of the back of the router table and fence
This close up shows what the anti-skid material looks like, it is VERY effective
This picture of the new top with the split fence shows how accurate the CNC Waterjet machine was
And here was a test of all tests... would the gas shocks hold up the new steel deck, AND the fence AND the router ... YES IT DID, and somewhat comfortably too. I am sure over time as the shocks lose a bit of their power I may need to change them but for now, they are great.
If you are somewhat new to my channel, here is a link to the company that supplies the router table lifts - www.dowelmax.com
And here at last ... is my new, steel top, last-forever router table. I do like the weight, between the extra weight of the top and the mag switches it is rock solid. The only thing I am going to want to add is a roller base now to move it around more easily. The tiny bit of extra weight does make a difference to moving it.
If anyone is interested in making a lifetime router top, all you need to do is find a local machine shop with a waterjet machine and draw up some plans with all the dimensions you need, and have them cut it out for you. I think you could expect to pay somewhere around $250 for this and unless you have some sort of base under the table, or can build one, or have a lift, you might want to go with the 3/8 thickness if your table is void under the top. In terms of a fence, it's easy to make a wooden fence, even with a dust chute, or maybe you can modify your existing fence. Lots of options to choose from ... and have fun doing it.
Copyright Colin Knecht