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As you can see from this mangled piece of trim, I recently had a router mishap. Thankfully I wasn’t injured — the only casualty was the oak trim — but it was exciting for a few minutes there, and the incident brought to mind a few things I thought I’d share.

When I was ‘round about fourteen, our assistant shop teacher –- a very grizzly, annoyed sort of man –- brought us all around the nearest shop station, told us to pay attention, and gave us the most effective demonstration ever.

“This is a router. I don’t want any of you idiots playing around with these like you do with everything else. These aren’t toys, and I definitely don’t want to see anybody doing this.” He turned the router on and put his hand in the path and looked up at us. “This is stupid, you can really…”

He stopped there because he’d just managed to chew half his thumb off with the router. It happened in a blink. Upon looking around, all of us were flecked in blood and stunned into inaction. This is where I learned routers are serious tools. It was an effective demo of what not to do, and it’s stayed with me.

Fast-forward to eighteen years later:  When the router kicked towards me, I was prepared — I had both hands on it, and I pushed it hard away from me. It bounced hard off the wall. Once it spun to a stop, I counted all my digits and thought back to the old demonstration. Yep, I had not repeated the scene — all was good. Never play chicken with the router. No project is worth tearing a chunk out of yourself.

The difference between a router and something like a belt sander is a belt sander will sand off skin and hurt a bunch, but it’s at least a funny story to tell. A router accident is often a life-changing event. And I don’t care what you’ve heard; Stumpy, Lefty, Thumbs, and the Whittler are not cool nicknames.

Be careful with routers. Don’t put parts of your body in the path, and never get your fingers near the bit when it’s plugged in.

No routers were harmed in the telling of this story.

Colt Palm Router [Bosch]
Street Pricing [Google Products]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]


22 Responses to Dancing With The Router

  1. Whittler says:

    Awhhh… my nickname isn’t cool.


  2. joeedh says:

    That’s like that video of a police officer teaching gun safety and shooting himself in the foot, heh.

  3. Scott says:

    This is a great post about how not to use a router. Are there any good posts or resources on how a router should be used?

    My father has a 20 year old router that I don’t think he has ever used because of his general power-tool phobia…

  4. Not Whittler says:

    I second Scott’s post about additional resources. I have never used a router, but would like to. Maybe the above description is obvious to the woodworking veterans, but I’m clueless (in many other things as well, admittedly)

  5. heh. My shop teacher demonstrated table saw kickback by dropping a small board on top of the blade while standing to the side. It managed to hit twice or something and jumped up instead of out – an impressive explosion of glass followed when it hit big fluorescent shoplight over our heads.

  6. PutnamEco says:

    Scott Says:
    Are there any good posts or resources on how a router should be used?
    🙂 Here, let me Google that for you.


  7. BC says:

    Since nobody else has said it, I will. Glad you’ve still got all 10, Sean.

  8. aaron says:

    sean – what and how were you doing when this happened?

  9. Bart says:

    aaron Says:
    January 5th, 2009 at 12:44 pm
    sean – what and how were you doing when this happened?

    Apparently dancing 🙂

  10. PutnamEco says:

    Looks like routing in the wrong direction, Bit rides up rather than cutting in. Bit should spin with the cutting edge into work rather then the same way it would spin if it were to roll along the works surface.

  11. Rick says:

    Your shop teacher reminds me of my middle school shop teacher. He demonstrated why you should keep all appendages away from the wire on a hot wire foam cutter by giving him self second degree burns on his finger tips.
    The most shocking part of this was the fact that pain had no affect on him, he had lost the ability to feel temp. differences in his hands.

  12. Eli says:

    My shop teacher (Mr. Green, had all his fingers) showed us the effects of table saw kickback by removing a safety poster from the cinder block wall ten feet behind the saw. The poster was covering a one foot diameter hole made by a piece of hard maple. I immediately developed a habit of standing to the side of the blade when cutting.

    Below is a good place as any to start for routers. Pay particular att’n to rule#9, as that’s how you’ll screw up most of your work. The best bit/most useful bit for someone new to routing is probably a simple roundover bit. Also make sure there’s nothing in the path of the router after it leaves the work. It helps to have someone who’s used one intelligently help you set it up and take first passes.

  13. James says:

    Ah yes, the subject of router safety crossed my mind this weekend while I was freehanding an awkward groove in the end of a 2×2 with my 3hp Hitachi. Luckily it went well.

  14. aaron says:

    yeah, it looked like a climb cut, and the whole way across too.

  15. Brau says:

    I use a router occasionally and I find it the scariest tool I own. I really wish they would make one that revs to speed slowly rather than torquing as hard at start-up as mine does. The only time it kicked back was because I figured if I was real careful I could pull off a short climb-cut for the butt end of a piece. It bit in and destroyed the piece but thankfully not my fingers or anything else.

  16. fred says:

    Re Brau Says:

    Look for a router that features soft start capability – now pretty standard on larger machines.

    Also climb cutting is always a predicament – needs to be done sometimes – but you need to pay careful attention to controlling the beast in your hands.

  17. Shopmonger says:

    Safety wise….routing in a table can be more stable……
    to start off with and to get the feel..
    aslo make small cuts,, don’t try and make the whole profile or entire depth in one pass. 2-3 smaller passes will be safer and most times produce less tear out and cleaner cuts

  18. Gary says:

    I’ve seen woodworking magazines recently feature articles about climb cuts or back routing. They have disclaimer in them, but still – I don’t like the idea. I use my router table and freehand route, but never climb cuts. It just gives me the willies.

  19. Gomez Addams says:

    As the young’uns say these days: “word!”

    Wood working tools don’t _quite_ scare the h__l out of me, but I do have a very healthy respect for them.

    When I took shop in high school, we had a doofus for a wood shop teacher, and the stereotypical grumpy, safety-paranoid, hard-bitten metal shop teacher with decades of experience. The former had a variety of injuries to his hands and about five years of experience around shops. The latter was a semi-retired machinist with something like 20 years of machine shop experience… and no injuries. He had a scary story for every tool or machine in the shop, and showed us several truly horrific safety films. He made believers out of, well, about 75% of us. There were a few dolts in every class year that just didn’t get it, and some of them wound up with bandages. Of course, in those days, nobody ever thought to sue the school…

    Generally speaking, wood working tools have much higher surface speeds and sharper edges, with deeper reliefs or throats, than metal-working tools.
    When you screw up with a machine tool, you can watch it happen, and sometimes even save yourself from a developing bad situation by quick action. But when you screw up with a wood-working tool, everything is over in the blink of an eye and you’re left standing their in shock, blood spurting from the stump where your hand used to be, not even in pain yet, wondering what the heck just happened with your jointer-planer.

  20. Bor says:

    While you have to admire the teacher’s dedication, at a rate of half a thumb per demonstration, he’d only have 3 more in him before needing to come up with a new shtick. 😉

  21. paganwonder says:

    Routers are like loaded pistols, NEVER safe. Handle firmly without distraction. Also,climb cuts are the only cuts that work with some pieces, just learn carefully how to do them.

  22. salbuilder says:

    I’ve been a woodworker/builder/high end trim carp and cabinet maker for 35 years and have never had to do a climb cut. I have tried it, but quickly decided that being lazy wasn’t worth the risk and just figured out how to do it properly. I do use tables and freehand routers of different sizes. Sometimes I’ll clamp a piece, rout where I need to and THEN cut to length or shape .

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