Routers are very versatile carpentry tools. It can cut grooves, profile edges, cut wood flat, and so much more. However, here’s the question: can you use a router on plywood? Unlike solid wood, plywood has pressure-treated material inside sandwiched between veneers. At first thought, running a router on this material will cause splintering, but there’s a workaround you can try.
Take note that using routers on plywood takes a lot of practice. I suggest performing the tips I discussed below on a spare piece. You wouldn’t want the actual project to be ruined on your first attempts.
What is a router, and how does it work?
Routers are power tools that woodworkers use in cutting various wood materials. It comes in two types: a fixed router and a plunge router. The main denominator of these two types is that both use a set of router bits to cut wood. However, they do so in different ways.
As it’s called, fixed routers have a fixed height while cutting. You can adjust the height of the bit before cutting, but you can’t do so while the tool is at work.
On the other hand, plunge routers are equipped with levers that let you lower (plunge) the bit as you wish. This is useful if you want to profile edges or cut grooves in different depths.
Moreover, both of these routers can be fitted with router bits of varying sizes and shapes. It adds to the versatility of the tool in your woodworking shop.
Will a router work on plywood?
Yes, it’s possible to use a router on plywood. However, there are a couple of aspects to consider before you reach for the tool.
- The plywood must be banded. This means that a strip of real wood veneer has been used to cover the plywood’s edges. This way, the plywood looks solid since the grains aren’t exposed. This process can also be done by reinforcing the plywood using a tougher material like particle board or MDF.
- No voids are present. This one is quite tricky as cheap plywood sheets you can find on supply stores are mired with voids. These voids are holes/gaps across the plywood sheet where the pressed wood shavings didn’t manage to cover. Running a router on these voids would cause splintering and rough edges.
Overall, routers work well on plywood products like Baltic birch. But whatever it is that you’re using, there’s a way to make a router work.
However, you should know that the glue on plywood will dull your router bits faster if you use it often. But if it’s only for a few sheets, there shouldn’t be a major problem.
Tips on using a router on plywood without splintering
If you’re using a router on plywood, the following are the things to keep in mind:
- Mind the direction of the router. It’s crucial to move the router in the right direction, which is counterclockwise if you’re working on the outside edge. This will give you a better finish, but you have to push the tool where you want it to go.
- Use the right table. It will be much easier to route plywood if you’re using a flat and stable work table. Take note that even handheld routers can be pretty cumbersome, so you need a stable surface to work on.
- Choose your plywood wisely. When getting your supplies, make sure that you scan each plywood sheet for voids. Plywood sheets with voids can’t be routed, and it will also compromise the material’s structural integrity. This much true if you’re cutting the plywood on small strips or shapes.
- Finish your plywood edges. Finishing off the plywood edges will allow the router tool to pass smoothly. One of the simplest ways to do it is by painting the edges. You can also fill the plywood edges with putty if you don’t want to paint it. Putty or your choice of wood filler will help seal gaps and tiny voids on the edge.
How can I detect voids in plywood?
To ensure that your plywood is suitable for routing, you have to check for voids. These gaps or holes are a bummer since they won’t let routers pass through smoothly.
It’s not easy to spot voids on plywood since most of them are hidden underneath the veneer. Still, most of these spots will have a bubble-like appearance. When the void is located on the edges, you’ll definitely see gaps.
I suggest running your palms on the plywood material and pressing it gently. If it feels hollow, that means that the plywood has a void.
Another trick you can use for thin plywood sheets is placing a bright flashlight underneath. Voids will allow more light to pass through.
Can you use a plunge router on plywood?
Yes, you can use a plunge router on plywood, especially on thick sheets. However, it takes a lot of practice since speedy routers can make a mess of plywood material. You can use 5/8” or ¾” router bits for this purpose, depending on the thickness and quality of the plywood.
Why does my router keep jumping?
Jumping or kickback in routers happens if you force the tool to cut too deep into the material. This causes the bit to bite into the material and get stuck. And since the bit rotates at high speeds, it will start to jump off the material you’re working on.
This will also happen if the material isn’t secured on the table as the bit gets stuck. Worse, the router may fling the wood piece into the air, which can lead to serious injuries and damages.
How do I stop my router from jumping?
To stop your router from jumping, you shouldn’t force it to cut too deep into the wood material. Instead, you should do multiple passes to prevent the bit from getting stuck. This will also prevent tear-outs, which are quite notorious when routing plywood.
How do you finish rough edges on plywood?
The simple solution to rough plywood edges is good sanding. You can use 220-grit sandpaper to remove the roughness and to level the plywood material. Always sand lightly, so you won’t lift more raised grains.
What speed should I run my router on plywood?
Your router’s speed should always match the material you’re working on and the size of the bit. In general, larger bits will require slower speeds to prevent them from damaging the wood.
For example, a 1-inch router bit can be used at a speed of up to 24,000 RPM. Meanwhile, a 2.5-inch router bit should only be run at a maximum speed of 12,000 RPM. You can use a slower speed than this if you’re working on plywood, especially thin sheets.
In what direction should I move my router?
The rule is that the router bit should be rotating in a clockwise direction, which means you’re going to guide the router from left to right. However, this should only be done if the router is located between the workpiece and you.
Also, you have to go counterclockwise when routing outside of the plywood board then clockwise on the inside.
How do I keep my router bit cool?
Due to intense speeds and contact with the wood material, router bits can overheat. It can also burn the wood, which is a common problem.
The key here is controlling how fast the bit rotates. The higher the speed, the more heat it produces. With this, you should consider cranking the speed setting. Also, taking a break after working on a few plywood sheets will help prevent heat buildup on the bits.
Can you use a router on plywood? Yes, it’s possible. However, you have to prep the material first and use the right technique. This is to prevent splintering and tear-outs, which beginner woodworkers often face. Most of all, you should avoid plywood sheets with voids as this will make it impossible for the router to pass through smoothly.