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Thread: Router Tables - Cast Iron vs Phenolic vs MDF

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Router Tables - Cast Iron vs Phenolic vs MDF

    For the past 20+ years I've been working on a laminated MDF TS extension wing that holds a router lift. There have been times wood has caught on the edge of the router plate. Wood swelling? I don't know. But it's annoying, and if it snags part way into the feed, it can mess up the job.

    I recently bought a new cabinet saw that has cast iron wings plus a phenolic extension that looks insufficient to hold a router lift w/router motor over time. The phenolic top is 3/8" thick. The frame is 5/8" x 1-5/8" phenolic. In order to install the router lift, the center rib has to be cut, leaving a span of almost 20" unsupported. Of course I could beef it up but it would probably be easier to just build a new extension wing. I could use that extension on the TS outfeed.

    The TS manufacturer sells a pricey cast iron wing that fits the TS and router lift perfectly. About the only drawback I can think of (besides price) is rust.

    Phenolic sheet goods, from what little searches I've done, look to be considerably more expensive than laminated MDF. I know nothing about phenolic but I wonder about it sagging over time. I bought some 3/4" thick UHMW a couple decades ago, thinking it was completely stable, but over time it proved not to be.

    As to MDF, from my experience, laminated MDF seems to have its drawbacks, too, as noted above.

    Hopefully, the cabinet saw upgrade will make work much more enjoyable. I'd like to have a similar experience with the router table, too. Any thoughts?
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." - Mark Twain

    Diapers and Politicians need to be changed often... Usually for the same reason.

  2. #2
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    I will admit that I really like cast iron for the "feel" and vibration dampening. The disadvantage is that you can't "roll your own" and you have to use accessories, such as lifts, fences, etc., that are compatible with the particular cast iron unit you choose. And yes, in some areas, cast iron comes with a maintenance requirement. (fortunately not in my shop) Phenolic coated plywood, laminate covered MDF or even raw MDF or plywood will make perfectly good router table surfaces that will perform for a long time. You can design them exactly the way you want them, too.

    One solution for moisture issues with MDF is to use exterior versions such as Medex and Extiera. My auxiliary bench and guitar bench surfaces are made from Extiera that I had left over from a client job.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    I use cast iron for mine, Julie, and even in our neck of the woods simple maintenance prevents rust issues. My issue with the one I have (in a router table now, not in a table saw extension wing) is that it just isn't deep enough (front - bit). That does get in the way with safely doing some operations.

    I would be very wary of using MDF in South Florida where the humidity is 500%. Jim's suggestion of using exterior versions may be a great one, but I have no clue if they swell with humidity or they solve that problem.

    One annoyance I had with the cast iron router table in the extension wing is that you really have to seriously beef up the wing. I tried multiple angle iron pieces, and that really worked far worse than expected. I would at least double up on the 3/4" sheet goods. I did that on the router table, and that worked great.
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  4. #4
    I have used 3/4 plywood for router tables. I used 1x3 around the hole and 2x4 ladder frame underneath to stiffen the sheet. It stayed flat. It was made to go on sawhorses rather than for a table saw extension so you would have to engineer the substructure to attach it to your saw. I found some adjustable supports that allowed the plate to be leveled as needed. I don’t know if those or something similar are still available. I will take a picture for you if you are interested. I will be away from the shop until next Tuesday.

    This particular table was made for a molding job and had mounts for two routers. It was intended for one job but was useful and has not gotten pitched yet.

  5. #5
    I'm a cast iron fan and went with this purchased setup vs building my own in the interest of time.

    rt07.jpg

    rt08.jpg

  6. #6
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    Cast iron is nice for this, mine has not yet dampened vibration but it certainly does damp vibration.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  7. #7
    Also, lifting that 24x32 cast iron table about gave me a hernia.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Lightstone View Post
    I use cast iron for mine, Julie, and even in our neck of the woods simple maintenance prevents rust issues. My issue with the one I have (in a router table now, not in a table saw extension wing) is that it just isn't deep enough (front - bit). That does get in the way with safely doing some operations.

    I would be very wary of using MDF in South Florida where the humidity is 500%. Jim's suggestion of using exterior versions may be a great one, but I have no clue if they swell with humidity or they solve that problem.

    One annoyance I had with the cast iron router table in the extension wing is that you really have to seriously beef up the wing. I tried multiple angle iron pieces, and that really worked far worse than expected. I would at least double up on the 3/4" sheet goods. I did that on the router table, and that worked great.
    It didn't take me long to realize SW Florida is very different animal than Chicago, Alan. Humidity, salt air and heat seem to be out to destroy everything man-made. But I've got the rust issue under control. It just requires more maintenance than needed up north.

    But another thing that can't be ignored is when things work as intended (or expected), you tend to use them more often and certainly enjoy them more. More then once I talked myself out of doing something because I knew I'd get annoyed or frustrated with the flaws in my DIY setup.

    The DIY router fence was cool when I made it but it hasn't stood the test of time, especially here in Florida. So I ordered a fence from Woodpeckers, along with their lift and Portamate router. I expected the extension wing on the Harvey HW110S to be beefy enough to support a router w/lift. But after I opened the box, that extension wing looked pretty anemic.

    As to beefing up the support under the cast iron router wing, my setup has legs under the extension. A Portamate mobile base extension will allow for the legs to roll with the saw base. I just have to figure out what I'm going to do with the sliding table.

    Thanks, all, for the replies. That cast iron router wing is looking better.
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." - Mark Twain

    Diapers and Politicians need to be changed often... Usually for the same reason.

  9. #9
    The TS is a SS, correct?

  10. #10
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    The table saw is a Harvey HW110S
    Last edited by Julie Moriarty; 04-18-2021 at 11:39 AM.
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." - Mark Twain

    Diapers and Politicians need to be changed often... Usually for the same reason.

  11. #11
    With the "sagging" issue in mind. I researched and built my router table using a torsion box sub-frame. Has never sagged. I created a box opening in the center to mount the router table insert. So essentially the table surface is supported by a grid composed of vertical components sandwiched between with another birch ply panel below. 15 years and going on strong!

    Norman

    RouterTable-800.jpg
    Last edited by Norman Pirollo; 04-18-2021 at 1:02 PM.

  12. #12
    Join Date
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    Alaska
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    I built "Norm's" router table about 20 years ago. I've had a few iterations of the table top though. The most recent is two layers of 3/4" MDF, wrapped in laminate. Seems to be holding up well. I wanted to make it larger than normal, and also have the capability to work from the front or side, so I built an extension that I can move the fence to the rear, or to the side. I use the Incra fence, so it's just a matter of repositioning the adjuster. Here a couple old pics.....(I've moved to the Incra lift since I took these).




  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2018
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    I have some unknown material in my TS extension. The previous owner installed it (a countertop shop). It's 3/4" thick and some sort of man made material but not like phenolic with fibers inside it. It's extremely strong. I also have a stand alone cast iron router table. I like both. The "unknown" one can get glue dripped on it and it comes off very easy without leaving any marks. Wood glue is not as nice to cast iron. If it didn't come with a table I probably would have gone cast iron simply because I like to set things up and not worry about checking the set up each time I go to use it. Phenolic type materials shouldn't swell much with humidity so it would be a better choice than MDF. But cast iron does sound like the best choice for your location as long as you've got the rust under control. You will absolutely need to have the wing of the tablesaw supported. If it's on a mobile base you'll want the extension for it.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
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    Northwest Indiana
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    I'm wondering if MDO might be an alternative to MDF? Seems like it might handle the humidity a little better--coupled with a torsion box style support?
    earl

  15. #15
    From FL: if you laminate both sided of the MDF and edge band it with hardwood, there is no issue with humidity.

    The exposed edges of the rabbet for the plate can be sealed with urethane, if you've a habit of setting a drink on table or have a leaky shop :-D

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