For the last few months I’ve been dabbling into the world of live edge lumber. You know, those slabs of wood that make beautiful benches, table tops or even anniversary laptop trays for your wife… I’ve lucked out and have an awesome source for local live edge pieces. Up until this point I’ve been using manageable piece of lumber that I’ve been able to either sand smooth or run through my 13” thickness planer to level out… not anymore. I had a big project and it was time to build a Router Sled. Skip below the router review for the plans!
Why This Router?
When I started my search for routers for this project I had two basic requirements: More power and a ½” collet to match that power. That significantly reduced the number of potential candidates like an early round of the TV show “Singled Out”. I’ll let you guess what Jenny McCarthy would have titled those categories on the big board. With the field reduced it was a matter of figuring out which router was going to be the best fit and also best quality for me. I was going to be working with some serious hardwoods and I needed a router that would hold up to the abuse. With that in mind, I ended up picking the Bosch 15 amp, 2.3hp Fixed Based Router (model #MRF23EVS) (*update, it’s now a few years old and is cheaper!)
The Bosch has the bulk to match the power, it weighs just under 13 lbs. which wasn’t going to be an issue because I was going to be sliding this along on a router sled, a little weight is actually a bonus. Aside from the variable speed and the great LED work surface light, what really sold me were the handle grips. The two pommel grips feel like I should be piloting a spaceship, even more so because the start and stop trigger is also on the grip so I’m either firing my photon cannons or firing up 25,000 rpms of router. The trigger squeeze provides a ton of control and the trigger lock allows you to engage the motor and keep it running. Just like cruise control on your car, just tap the trigger and you’re back into manual control. I have multiple routers that have the on/off button on the top of the unit and if something should occur that requires an immediate stop during use, taking your finger off the trigger is much easier (and safer) than taking your hand off and locating a switch.
An added bonus to this Bosch Model is that it will also fit into my Bosch Benchtop Router Table that already has my other 11 amp Bosch Router hooked up to it. With this being my 3rd Bosch router product, it’s easy to see why they are an industry leader in this line (not just because I have them, but because the masses agree).
Wait, What’s A Router Sled?
If you’re picturing Chevy Chase applying sled wax in Christmas Vacation… you’re a little off. Router sleds allow you to make multiple controlled passes over the surface of your material whether you’re working on live edge or even glue ups for cutting boards to level out the surface. My thickness planer wasn’t going to cut it, so it was time to upgrade. As a proud member of the Tiny Shop Nation, I do have a space problem (but not Xenomorph space problem like Ripley). Most people have nice flat surfaces to build their router sleds onto and plenty of room in their shop to accommodate it. I needed something compact and collapsible, which gave me the idea to use these TOUGHBUILT 42.40” Folding sawhorses that sell for $34.97 each at The Home Depot. Aside from being able to fold down, each end of the sawhorse accepts a 2x thickness piece of lumber that contractors usually span between two sawhorses and attach a sheet of plywood to act as a flat work surface. That’s nice, but I don’t have room for random sheets of plywood either, so instead, I opted to use those slots to hold 2×6’s and build my sled to run across the 2×6’s for the sled track. There are a ton of router sled designs out there and I probably looked at hundreds before I designed mine, but this one specifically addresses what to do when you’re tight on space and need something that can handle large material but also pack away easily. See, I care about you before and after your woodworking, not just during your project. Take a look at the quick video to see the sled in use:
*update 2019 – See how I use this router sled on smaller stock and cutting boards!
- Quarter Sheet or scrap of ¾” sanded plywood (need at least 7”x39”)
- 80” of 1×4 board
- 15” of 1×6 board
- (2) 2×6 boards (slightly longer than the material you’re leveling)
- Wood Glue (optional assembly)
- 1-1/4 Pocket Screws (optional assembly)
- Nail On Furniture Glides
(Aside From The Router Going In The Sled)
- Table Saw
- Miter Saw
- Pocket Hole Jig (optional assembly)
- Brad Gun (optional assembly)
- Router w/ Round Over Bit
On To The Build!
Step 1 – Router Base Guide
This is definitely one of the easiest builds I’ve completed, but with one of the biggest payoffs. Please note, I’m basing all measurements off of using the TOUGHBUILT 41.50” Folding Sawhorses for the base, so if you alter the design, make sure to adjust your widths according to the distance between your tracks and the depth between the surface your material is laying on and the top of the tracks. I mentioned earlier I used 2×6’s for my mine because they easily fit in the slots and provided the perfect lift above my material. The distance from the outer edge from 2×6 to 2×6 was just under 38.50” so my on the nose cuts worked perfectly. You want to have 1/16” to 1/8” of wiggle room so your sled doesn’t bind on the track.
Using a table saw, rip the ¾” sanded plywood down to 7” x 38.50”. I used ¾” plywood because in addition to the 1×4 stretchers, the thickness will reduce the chance of flex in the sled. I use sanded plywood because the surface is smoother for the router base to run over compared to traditional plywood or OSB. The Bosch has a router base of 6” in diameter so the base guide is cut to 7” wide which will force you to make smaller passes with your router bit. The more material you try to take off at once, the quicker you will run into problems like bit failure or power issues no matter what model you use. You’re welcome in advance. I happened to have several pieces of scrap 1×6 sitting around and it turned out to be perfect for the depth I was setting. I hate for you to buy a new board for this because you only need a little more than 14”. If you do, now you have scrap 1×6 for the next project! Cut two pieces to 7”, these will be the end caps for the sled.
On the bottom side of the 7”x38” piece of plywood, I pre-drilled in three pocket holes set to ¾” depth on both ends. I then attached the 7” pieces of 1×6” with wood glue and 1-1/4” pocket screws. I spaced the joint 1.75” from the bottom to allow optimal plunge depth for my router and enough clearance to pass over any obstructions (like clamps) on the sawhorses with the addition of the furniture glides added in Step 3.
Step 2 – No Flex
When making your passes over the material, the last thing you want to have is flex in the middle to throw off the entire leveling process. In addition to the shell already in place, I added 1×4’s to each side to add to the rigidity.
I cut both 1×4’s to exactly 40” and attached to each side using wood glue and brad nails. The bottom of the 1×4 will be flush with the bottom of the plywood base. Knowing that I would be resting my hands on the edge of the these pieces, I used a trim router with a round over bit to break the edge and provide a smooth surface for my hands to run along. You’ll be sorry if you skip that step. Or you’re just ridiculously tough (or stubborn).
Step 3 – Slides Like Butter
I’m not going to claim this is an original idea, but I honestly haven’t seen it on any other router sled. On the bottom of the sled close to the 1×6 end caps, I added two nail in furniture glides. The idea here is to provide a smooth surface that will easily run across the tracks so you won’t have to fight with your sled after each pass.
The thickness of the furniture glides also went in to the 1.75” depth used in Step 1, taking into account the shallowest plunge depth the router could handle. After installing these, instead of using better judgment or using something a little more original, I immediately posted a video on Instagram saying, “they slide like butter”. Once it’s been placed on the internet it can never be undone. I have to live with that. #slideslikebutter
Step 4 – Routing The Router Sled
I should mention that with these large slab projects, I plan on using the Freud 1-3/4” x ¾”double flute straight cut bit (Model 12-194) to take off the most meat with each pass. This bit was also part of the reason I wanted to use the bigger Bosch router model.
Secure your sled to your track (I just quick clamped it) and sure you have plenty of clearance underneath. Now you have a choice to make: You can go the lazy method or the correct method. The correct method is you take a 2” forstner bit and start a pilot hole for your router bit. Let’s be honest… I took the lazy route and just forced that big ol’ router bit until it punched through the bottom of the sled. After that, it’s time to make passes (without being too blatant, play a little hard to get). You want to run the router around the inside of your sled with the base plate making contact with all edges. This will give you a hole big enough to run your router through (and make minor adjustments) when making passes on your material and not have to worry about it chewing up your sled (well, after you chew it up here).
After you have the slot cut into your material you’re finished and ready to use the sled. I might add a poly coat or two to the inside just to add a smoother surface for the passes, otherwise, you have a jig that can now tackle any project a thickness planer can’t begin to touch. You’re going to make a ton of sawdust so I recommend wearing dust masks and eye protection (ear protection too, but I’m not your mom… or more so not your dad).
Quick Tips For Using the Sled With the Sawhorse Bases
I placed my live edge slabs directly on the sawhorses because I knew I would have a nice even surface and the thickness of the material would prevent sagging over that span. Traditionalists with lots of space set their material on a leveled piece of plywood held on with stops or double sided tape to secure it.
The tiniest sag or movement can really throw off the whole process. With the TOUGHBUILT Sawhorses, even with the sandpaper like grip on the surface edge, the router creates enough torque and push that the lumber could still slide and throw off my cuts.
To solve this I put a spacer block (scrap 1×4) between the material and the edge of the sawhorse and then added clamps that ran from the material to one side of the track. This method with the spacer blocks provided the most secure and easiest method for securing the piece with minimal clamps. I literally tried 4-6 clamps pulling from different sides and it was useless. One clamp would fall off when I tightened the next.
If you don’t have dust collection hooked up to your router, you’re going to want to do this outside. After leveling both sides of a 65” x 24” slab, I had 4″ piles of thick sawdust on the floor and a nice coat of very fine orangey sawdust on all other surfaces… including myself. I physically had to vacuum off my clothes, arms and hair before I went into the house.
Yes, you are still going to have to sand the material after you finish using the router sled. The point is to take off material in bulk but in controlled depths, not give you a smooth to the touch finish. You will have tiny visible lines from each pass you made. Those can easily be cleaned up with a belt sander or palm sander. That’s it! If you have any questions about the Bosch Router, the router sled or any other aspect of this process, please feel free to contact me.
~ Lazy Guy
**UPDATE 2018** I just wanted to touch base with this build almost a year later. The router sled has held up awesomely! The rails however, did not. Under the pressure from the clamps for extended periods of time, the 2×6’s used started to warp. If you want repeatable draws back and forth over the live edge slab you need to keep an eye on them to avoid heartache in the long run. Either find a more permanent rail system or swap out after extended use.
This monster router was provided by The Home Depot and Bosch Tools specifically for this router sled build. My opinions on the router are my own and believe me when I say my opinions of this router are very high (spoiler alert). Product links within this post are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase (and Home Depot has free shipping on most products with an order over $45 right now), a small portion of your sale goes to this website at no additional charge to you. It’s like I’m Bernie Madoff without doing anything illegal. Ha!