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Routing Wood Without a Router: Is It Possible?

carpenter using planer

Routers are made to route wood. That’s their purpose. However, we don’t always have a router available when we need one. Luckily, woodworkers have used countless methods to route would before the modern era, when routers we invented.

Many of these methods are surprisingly simple if you know how to do them, making them solid choices for anyone looking to route wood without a router today. Here is an explanation on alternative ways to perform many of the cuts routers are used for:

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Cutting Grooves

Cutting grooves into wood is probably one of the most common cuts a router is used for. Grooves in the wood are needed for all sorts of things, including drawers and connecting boards. If you work with wood, you’ll probably need to make this sort of cut eventually.

Luckily, there are many ways you can cut a groove without the use of a router.

1. Table Saw

DEWALT (DWE7491RS) 10-Inch Table Saw

If you have a table saw available, you can use one of them to cut a proper groove. You will need a dado blade. There are several options you can choose from, including some dado blades that wabble from side to side and some that are stacked together. Both types are useful for cutting grooves, though the stack of blades is preferred in this instance.

The main issue with this is that the fence will not be incredibly accurate with these blades installed. You will need to measure the distance between the edge of your blade and your fence. Otherwise, you may find yourself making inaccurate cuts. We recommend making a few practice cuts on a scrap piece of wood to ensure that our measurements are correct.

To make a wider groove than what the blade makes by default, you will need to make a series of cuts overlapping.

You should always double-check the depth of your blade while making these cuts. The measurement provided by your saw may not always be accurate.


2. Dremel

using Dremel 8220-1:28 12-Volt Max Cordless Rotary Tool

You can also use a Dremel tool to cut a groove properly. However, this is much more difficult than using a table saw and hardly ever comes out cleanly. You can clean the limes up with a utility knife of some sort, which will also prevent the edge from splintering.

Because Dremels are quite small, this works best for smaller cuts. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending hours to make a sizeable cut. While it is possible to use this tool to cut grooves, it is not the best option out there.


3. Rabbeting Plane

Before the invention and wide use of a router, woodworkers used a rabbeting plane to make grooves. These are made out of wood or metal, though most options today are made with the later material. They come in many different widths for making different size cuts. They can make grooves just about anywhere, including in the middle of the board or at the edge.

Rabbets come in many different designs. Woodworkers will likely have quite a few different options on hand. However, the average homeowner may not have many options laying around their home and will likely not want to purchase many just for cutting a few grooves in wood.

There are fences available that make rabbets a bit more usable for newcomers. You can also clamp a straight edge, which can help you keep the line straight.


4. Chisel

carving with chisel
Image Credit: Pixabay

For those who want to go truly old school, you can chisel out a groove with nothing else but a chisel. This is the method for cutting a groove is old and has been used for centuries, but it is not easy by any means. It also takes quite a bit of time, so it should not be used when you have a lot of work waiting.

You must be very careful when using this method, as it is easy to make many mistakes. For example, it is straightforward to make the groove’s ends the correct depth, while the middle is not.

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Making Rounded Edges

Routers are also used to make rounded edges in wood, which are quite challenging to do without a router. Despite the perceived difficulties, there are quite a few ways to perform such a cut without a router.

Obviously, some cuts are more difficult to get right than others. Some are best to do with one method, while others are better for other methods.

1. Plane

jack plane
Image Credit: Pixabay

Standard wood planes can be used for rounding edges quite quickly. You’ll need to run a plane down the corner of the board quite a few times until you get the curve you want. Some sanding will be required to make the curve seamless.

This is quite a simple process, but it does require quite a bit of skill to get it perfect. The easiest way to learn this method is to have someone show you. YouTube videos are available, as well. This is a method that is learned best by doing and watching.


2. Sander

person using BLACK+DECKER BDERO100 Random Orbit Sander

If you’re looking to work with electric tools rather than hand tools, a sander can get this job done as well. You will merely be sanding away the edge into a soft curve. For a softer curve, sand away more. You may not get a crisp, rounded edge. However, it will provide a nice, worn look if you want the piece to be more rustic.

You can also sand the wood out by hand, but this would take a long time and would be even less even.

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Cutting a Slot into Wood

If you need to cut an even slot directly into the wood, you have many options available to you. Different types of slots will require different methods. The method you choose will depend mainly on what sort of slot you’re looking to cut.

Cutting Keyhole Slots

Keyhole slots are often used to hang things on a wall. There is a small opening for the head of the screw to go through – with another slot that is too small for the screw to fit through. Keyhole slots can be cut in a number of ways. However, they are challenging to cut without a router.

Cutting a keyhole slot typically involves cutting two holes that intersect, hence creating a keyhole slot.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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