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Routing Wood Without a Router: Is It Possible? (A Complete Guide)

carpenter using planer

carpenter using planer

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

Many of these methods are surprisingly simple and are solid choices for anyone looking to route wood without a router. Here is an explanation of the 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 applications, including drawers and connecting boards. If you work with wood, you’ll probably need to make this cut eventually.

Luckily, there are many ways you can cut a groove without using a router.

1. Table Saw

DEWALT (DWE7491RS) 10-Inch Table Saw

If you have a table saw available, you can use it 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 help cut grooves, though the stack of blades is preferred in this instance.

The main issue is that the fence will be inaccurate 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 the measurements are correct.

To make a wider groove than what the blade makes by default, you will need to make a series of overlapping cuts. 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. However, this is much more difficult than using a table saw and hardly ever comes out clean. You can clean the lines up with a utility knife, which will also prevent the edge from splintering.

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

3. Rabbeting Plane

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

Rabbets come in several designs, and 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 By: majgot, Pixabay

For those who want to go truly old school, you can make a groove with nothing else but a chisel. This method for cutting a groove is ancient 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 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 challenging without a router. Despite the perceived difficulties, there are many ways to perform such a cut without a router.

1. Plane

jack plane
Image Credit: Pixabay

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

This is a simple process, but it requires 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 would rather use 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 that would take a long time and 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. Your chosen method will depend mainly on what sort of slot you need to cut.

Cutting Keyhole Slots

Keyhole slots are often used to hang items 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 several 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.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay


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