Bring Precision To The Woodshop With An Electronic Router Lift

One of the knocks that woodworkers get from the metalworking crowd is that their chosen material is a bit… compliant. Measurements only need to be within a 1/16th of an inch or so, or about a millimeter, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on. And if you’re off a bit? No worries, that’s what sandpaper is for.

This electronic router lift is intended to close the precision gap and make woodworking a bit less subjective. [GavinL]’s build instructions are clearly aimed at woodworkers who haven’t dabbled in the world of Arduinos and stepper motors, and he does an admirable job of addressing the hesitancy this group might feel when tackling such a build. Luckily, a lot of the mechanical side of this project can be addressed with a commercially available router lift, which attaches to a table-mounted plunge router and allows fine adjustment of the cutting tool’s height from above the table.

What’s left is to add a NEMA 23 stepper to drive the router lift, plus an Arduino to control it. [GavinL] came up with some nice features, like a rapid jog control, a fine adjustment encoder, and the ability to send the tool all the way up or all the way down quickly. Another really nice touch is the contact sensor, which is a pair of magnetic probes that attach temporarily to the tool and a height gauge to indicate touch-off. Check the video below to see it all in action.

One quibble we have with [GavinL]’s setup is the amount of dust that the stepper will be subjected to. He might need to switch out to a dustproof stepper sooner rather than later. Even so, we think he did a great job bridging the gap between mechatronics and woodworking — something that [Matthias Wandel] has been doing great work on, too.

13 thoughts on “Bring Precision To The Woodshop With An Electronic Router Lift

  1. Dust proof stepper? I thought those cheap NEMA stepper motors were completely sealed already, other than maybe rubber wipers on the shaft bearings.

    It’s not like the router has any better dustproofing than that, actually far worse.

  2. “Measurements only need to be within a 1/16th of an inch or so”
    Uh, no. Carpentry…you’re thinking of carpentry. And rough carpentry at that. For some woodworking joinery if you’re out 1/64th of an inch (0.015″), you’re screwed. If you’re off by half a degree, your frame will have gaps. Woodworkers pride themselves on the sharpness of their tools, and many of them can be used to manipulate wood a few thousandths of an inch at a time. By hand. Woodworking is absolutely about precision. Also, wood is organic; it always moves, sometimes in unpredictable ways, so that has to be accommodated *while* maintaining that precision. I wouldn’t be so eager to dismiss the craft.

    1. Came here to second what ward said. Alot of what I build using plywood or hardwoods is held to thousanths of an inch. My table saw has been set up very carefully and the blade and table slots are paralell to within .0005″. I know several carpenters and they always talk about holding an 1/8″. I laugh and tell them that hold 1/64″ or less. Their reply is it does not matter when building houses.

        1. 0.0005″ would not surprise me. Many woodworkers are fanatical about dialing in their machines and dial indicators and micrometers are not foreign tools in a fine wood shop. Tolerances stack, so if you’re off by 0.005″ (five thousandths) over a half dozen cuts, and those are critical to hitting an angle for, say, a hexagonal frame, you’ll be facing a 1/32″ gap somewhere. That’s visible. In my case, I ended up tearing apart my saw and machining the blade arbor on my metal lathe to reduce blade runout from 0.007″ or so to less than 0.001″. The former would result in a noticeable impact on cut finish.

          1. Fully agreed! And yes it’s.0005″. Built a jig that holds the dial indicator on a 3/8″ aluminium rectangle that slides it the guide groove. Tilting arbor table saw has four bolts that hold the arbor to the bottom of the table. Took me quite a while but got it to a half a thou. Vibration of blade while running takes the cut itself to about about .003 to .005″. Yes tolerance stacks up the more pieces you cut, but, proper jigs that slide in the grooves tight and cutting pieces rough then making a final cut you can hold under .002″. It’s very impressive to cut metal on a lathe then cut wood thats a friction fit. YEEEEAAAH BUDDY!!!!

    2. Yeah, there’s a real science to woodworking. Having to accommodate for wood swelling and shrinking due to seasonal temperature and humidity changes can be a real challenge.

  3. A few years ago I bought Nextwave’s Ready2Route/lift setup for my router table. It really is a trip to put in a height or fence distance from the bit edge or center, hit enter on the screen, and its stepper motors go to work. Very accurate. Not a great fence or insert set (compared to something like Incra), but usable. I wish they continued to develop apps for it beyond the basic dovetail, box and groove joints, but it hits the basics and is reliable… and really expensive. Digital precision for router tables is a great thing. This seems like a really worthy add-on.

  4. Sorry but woodworkers need a lot better than 1/16″. The incra LS positioner does 1/32″. The human eye can detect significantly smaller errors. For example a gap between 2 boards that goes from 1/64″ on end to 1/32″ on the other is incredibly obvious.

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