When combined with the right router jig, the router can easily become one of the most versatile tools in your shop. This small, relatively inexpensive tool can flatten wood, cut joinery, add patterns for inlay, and so much more!
Buying jigs, or even better yet, building your own are one of those woodworking hacks that will really elevate your skills to the next level. Jigs can help you turn what may seem like a one-dimensional tool into one of the mainstays of your shop.
The two tools I jigs on the most in my shop are the tablesaw and router. There is actually a lot of overlap with what you can accomplish with these two tools. Cutting dados, box joints, splines, tenons, etc. These are all accomplished with either the right blades and cutter heads or right jigs.
In my small shop, I personally love to use the router over the table saw 9 times out of 10. It is quick to set up and gives me a lot more maneuverability, especially when working on larger projects! And most of the jigs for a router are compact and easily hung on the wall or tucked away between cabinets.
How to Make a Router Jig
Router jigs can be as simple as a piece of plywood with a groove cut down the middle or complex enough to warrant their own permanent placement in your shop.
If you’re looking to make your own there are a ton of wonderful tutorials available on Youtube or on various woodworking blogs. I’ll be linking to some of my favorites below as well as any commercially available options as well. As my time is limited in the shop I usually like to spend it woodworking rather than building jigs.
Where to Find Router Jig Plans
Here are a few of my favorite places to look for woodworking plans:
- Etsy – There area ton of great woodworking plans available on Etsy and they are usually pretty cheap
- The Library – Membership with your local library will often get you access to back copies of woodworking magazines. These are great source for various shop jigs and furniture plans.
- Youtube – Many woodworkers will publish plans that accompany their build videos.
Router Jig Ideas
Let’s take a look at some of the jigs you can either make or buy to level up your router capabilities.
Dovetail Router Jig
Dovetail jigs are probably the first router jig that comes to mind for most people when looking to get into fine woodworking. When used with a dovetail router bit, these jigs allow you to quickly make beautiful dovetail joints for boxes, drawers, cabinets, etc.
Many of the dovetail jigs on the market allow for making several customized joints, including box joints, half-blind dovetails, sliding dovetails, and more. Some of the upper-end models, like the Leigh dovetail jig, include sliding pins so you can make a fully customizable dovetail design that matches the hand-cut look of handmade furniture.
If you’re a production shop or just want to add a truly custom look to your furniture without cutting dovetails by hand then a dovetail router jig is a solid investment.
Sign Making Jig
If you’re looking for custom woodworking items to sell then sign making is a wonderful place to start. Sign making router jigs are relatively inexpensive and can be customized with different letter sizes and font choices.
This jig is great for making custom signs for house numbers, guidepost style signs for outdoor weddings or to match rustic interior decors, or hanging name signs for doors.
We still have a sign from our honeymoon to Fiji that was custom made by the resort and hung on each guests door at the beginning of their stay. It makes for a memorable gift yet probably costs less than a dollar or two for the resort.
Dados are a mainstay for constructing pieces like bookcases, cabinets, or dressers. On large pieces of plywood, cutting accurate dados on the table saw can be a real challenge. Either the piece is too long for the fence, or trying to keep it stable through the entire cut can be challenging.
A dialed-in dado jig, either purchased or DIY’d, will make cutting dados a breeze. If you know, you’ll be working with the same sized plywood most of the time; you can build a jig, like this one, for router bits specifically sized for plywood. This means you can cut every dado in a single pass.
You can also build an adjustable dado jig capable of cutting dados anywhere from 1/2″ wide all the way up to 1 3/4″.
If building a jig isn’t your style, then there are always commercial options available as well. This dado jig from Woodhaven is a popular choice.
Circle Cutting Jig
Cutting a perfect circle in the middle of a piece of wood is always a stressful process. The cost of messing it up can mean ruining a near completed piece.
Often the first tools a woodworker will reach for to cut circles in wood will be a drill and jigsaw. While this is perfectly acceptable for rough cutouts you won’t end up with a very clean finish or perfect circle.
Luckily, making your own router circle cutting jig is an easy process. Most router circle cutting jigs consist of a simple piece of wood or other solid material like acrylic. There will be mounting holes at one end for the router and holes or a slot at the other end. The jig is then attached at the center of the hole and adjusted for the appropriate hole size. The entire jig then spins around the center, with the router cutting out a perfect circle over a series of passes.
There are a ton of great tutorials on Youtube for making your own jig. They range from extremely basic to rivaling the commercially available circle-cutting jigs, so find the best that meets your needs.
If you are frequently cutting out circles, buying a dedicated adjustable jig can help improve your workflow and results.
Router Flattening Jig
Working with slabs or other wide, rough-cut lumber can make flattening your surfaces a difficult process. But with a router, surfacing bit, and simple flattening jig, you can quickly get perfectly flat surfaces on your wood.
A flattening jig consists of two rails that a perfectly flat to each other. A sled that holds the router then slides on top of the rails while the router is run back and forth over the slab. These jigs are frequently made of wood for one off projects. They are also made of aluminum for a stronger and more permanent solution if you find yourself frequently flattening slabs.
Pattern Making Router Jig
Pattern-making jigs for the router are a great way to cut complex curves or repeat the same pieces over and over. These jigs also make the process of pattern-making a lot safer by adding in toggle clamps and a fence to keep your hands well clear of the spinning bit.
This video walks through the process of making the router jig.
From there, it is just a matter of making pattern templates out of 1/4″ plywood or MDF. The pattern is clamped to the top of the wood then run through the router to make a replica of the shape.
Note that this router jig setup can be replicated without a router table, but you’ll need to ensure that there is extra room on the workpieces so the router base will clear the clamps.
Box Joint Jig
Box joints are an attractive and strong joinery method for constructing boxes or drawers. They don’t have the same mechanical strength of a dovetail due to the shape of the joint but there is so much surface area that a properly glued joint should almost never fail.
Box joint router jigs can be built for either a router table or as a stand-alone unit that attaches directly to the router. I like the stand-alone unit design since I don’t have the room for a router table, but there is always a little extra space to store the jig.
This tutorial from Make Something for making your own box joint jig is a great place to get started. You’ll need a tablesaw to build the jig and it should come together fairly quickly.
If you already have a router table then you can purchase a premade jig that sits in your router table track.
Butterfly Key Jig
Butterfly keys add both a style and utility to slab furniture. These keys are cut from similar or contrasting wood and inlaid into a wood slab across checks or gaps to keep it from widening further.
I have added these keys to use the full length of boards with checks at the end and on our slab dining room table.
I found the best way to attach the jig to the slab for cutting the inlays was to use double sided carpet tape.
As an aside – I use carpet tape all the time to hold down workpieces. I have even turned smaller pieces on the lathe that were held in place with nothing more than carpet tape over an MDF faceplate.
Floating Shelf Jig
Making floating shelves is a great way to make extra money as a woodworker with minimal effort. These shelves are typically made from a solid piece of wood and mounted using steel brackets attached to the wall.
I love the products made by Ultrashelf. You can buy the mounting hardware, which comes with the correct sized auger bit and router bit to recess the mounting hardware into the back of the shelf.
They also sell router jigs to make the perfect cuts each and every time on the back of the shelf.
These router jigs can be made to fit a variety of other mounting hardware options as well. The key will be setting them up with supports on either side, so the jig doesn’t rock side to side when routing the recess on narrow shelf boards.
Mortise Router Jig
I have used my router many times to cut mortises for mortise and tenon joinery. I will typically cut mortises with the router using an edge guide, but a dedicated tenon jig will make the process even more accurate and quicker.
You can then either cut tenons on the table saw, by hand, or with a tenon jig for the router. Or you can cut mortises on both pieces and attach them with a floating tenon. It may not be quite as quick as using a Domino, but the resulting joint will be just as strong!