• Sunday, May 25th, 2014


Just a few woodworking machines have the adaptability and almost the friendliness of hand tools. Chief among them is the bandsaw, but the compact router, especially the DeWalt DWP611, also earns a place in that category.

In the stage of building where the big machines have been unplugged, the radio is on, and the hand tool work is proceeding, it still is handy to call on a controllable, precisely adjusted tool that has more power than a horse.

For example, in mortising for hardware, I will clear the bulk of the waste and produce an accurate final depth with freehand routing. Rather than set up a jig or fence for the router, I simply chisel to the side layout lines, though this has been made much easier by the router.

On the other hand, for the socket part of a short sliding dovetail, I make a dedicated jig and use a bushing. The only chisel work is to square the end.

My general approach is to use the power of the compact router and, when convenient, its precision, especially in depth. I take advantage of its maneuverability for freehand work and use jigs and fences when necessary or when there is a clear advantage in overall time spent.

The best feature of the DWP611 is the precision cutting depth adjustment. The indicator on the large black adjustment ring moves more than 1/4″ along the adjacent yellow scale ring for each 1/64″ of depth change. When adjusted in the upright position, backlash is minimal but even that amount can be easily cancelled by resetting the zero mark on the scale ring, which is movable. After the depth is dialed in, the cam clamp holds it reliably. In this way, cutting depth adjustments rival the precision of a paring chisel or router plane.

DWP611 adjustment

This is a larger and heavier tool than the Bosch Colt and the Ridgid model but I found neither could be adjusted in cutting depth with the precision of the DeWalt, which is still easy to maneuver with one hand. I’ve used the DWP611 for about three years now and it is my clear favorite.

The 1/4″ collet is a two-piece self-releasing type, a must for any router. Unfortunately, bit changing involves one wrench and a shaft lock, a sadistic system, though I suppose DeWalt can be forgiven considering the tight quarters of a tool this size. The clear plastic sub-base has an extension on one side that improves stability for edge routing. The base can be repositioned for an optimal configuration of hand grip and sight line. I also bought the accessory base for standard bushing inserts.

The two LED lights that straddle the collet are invaluable for freehand work. The soft-start, 7 amp motor gives surprising power for a small tool.

This tool feels so friendly in hand that it might cause you to let your power-tool guard down. When routing, I remind myself that this little guy really does have more kick than a horse. Also, there is a tendency with this type of tool to get in close to the spinning bit and flying chips, so safety goggles are a minimum must.

A set of 1/4″-shank carbide straight bits down to 1/8″ cutting diameter is helpful for freehand work. Use good judgment and very conservative depths of cut for narrow bits. I also have a 1/16″ bit but I avoid using it.

So, hand tools and power tools can play together. I like to use the advantages of each to find simple and reliable ways to get the work done.

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