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History of Routing

History of Routing
  See how the router has developed into the machine we know today.
     

History of Routing - Part 1

History of Routing - Part 1
  Almost every conceivable profile can be cut with a modern hand router. But how did the router develop to what it is today? By Jim Phillips

1930s-40s
The spindle moulder was well established as a heavy duty machine for the joinery shop, but already people were realising that for light work, it was like using a hammer to crack a nut. Hence ‘wood engineers’ across the developed world started to think in terms of a hand held moulder with an adjustable base that would allow you to set both the depth and width of cut. But it took a group of engineering firms in South West Germany, whose forebears were Swiss immigrants, skilled in clock making, to develop the ‘plunge’ router, featuring retractable spring-loaded columns and a range of guides and jigs to give versatility to routing operations.

1950’s
It was at this time, Trend came on the scene to bring routing technology to new heights of achievement. When news reached us about the plunge routers produced in Germany and in particular those of Eugen Lutz KG (Elu), we secured the agency for their tools in the UK.
Although Elu routers were years ahead of their rivals, Trend came up with further developments following feed-back from UK end users. Trend carried out in-depth research within the UK woodworking trades with a view to upgrading design features to meet recommendations. In consequence, the performance of Elu routers against other competitors reflected in buoyant UK sales and domination of the market.

As router designs improved it became clear that the range of router cutters needed extending to perform most of the jobs formerly done on a spindle moulder. Trend set about designing and introducing a more extensive range. The first shank-mounted bearing, self guiding cutters were to my knowledge, a product of my micro-workshop.

From a range of approximately 50 router cutters in 1958, Trend now offer tooling with 2000 variations in sizes and profiles.

History of Routing - Part 1
  1960s-70s
We had now forged close links with the Elu factory and in 1972 became a subsidiary of Eugen Lutz as ‘Trend Elu’. Routers were now being made with more powerful motors inside compact and resilient plastic bodies. Innovative depth gauges and turret stops were introduced. Accessories included special jigs and devices to give further scope to routing applications.

Having been recognised for our authoritative knowledge of routing techniques, we were now invited to design a small dovetail jig to be marketed world-wide. This was a highly successful product, and to this day many thousands are produced by Black and Decker Ltd in the UK for worldwide distribution.

Trend were also the pioneers of dust extraction systems for routers, and designed extraction ports for the complete Elu range. At this time Trend also introduced variable speed control units for use with routers anticipating the need for machines to run at slower speeds of 12000/16000 RPM when using cutters above 50mm in diameter.

1980s and 90s
The popularity of the router across the whole spectrum of the woodworking trades, was now well established, but in the UK there was no hand-book on the subject. The Trend team unearthed all the experience they had accumulated over the years and brought into
being ‘Techniques of Routing’. First published in 1981, fifty thousand copies were sold during the following five years. Updated copies still enjoy good sales, in spite of the many other books on the subject now on offer.

     

History of Routing - Part 2

History of Routing - Part 2
  In part 1, the origin of today’s routers was explained, but what of the cutters and how did the current range originate. By Jim Phillips

In the beginning!
The router cutter of today has a strange origin as it evolved from a primitive tool called an “tooth”. It derived its name from the limitation of dentistry at the time when a single projecting tooth was a common sight. The tooth took the form of a ground tapered steel chisel, wedged into a wooden stock and was used for cutting square and radiused grooves.

Skilled hands produced clean cut grooves by a series of gouging movements. A metal version was made by Stanley some years later, with built-in adjustments and some craftsman use versions of this up to quite recently. A picture of an early metal version is shown.
1870’s

In the 1870’s however, someone thought that by making the blade rotate simultaneously with the forward motion, something useful would happen. What an understatement! Even before the electric motor entered the equation, cutters were being rotated by the means of a foot pedal. The Barnes Former for instance, ran at 2500 rpm, with the operator having to exert himself to achieve a reasonable degree of cutting ability. This type of routing machine, first produced in the USA in 1872, was reported still to have been in use in the 1930’s. This was the fore runner of the spindle moulder and later the router of the post war period. But cutting geometry was in it’s infancy and cutting edges blunted quickly, especially when used on abrasive timbers.

1920’s and onwards
In the UK, it was William Day of North London Saw Works who produced the first high quality tooling in 1926. But in 1938 a carbide tip brazed onto a HSS cutter was released with astounding results, the TCT cutter had arrived.

History of Routing - Part 2
  Twin bladed Cutter Block
A product used in the 1930’s mainly in conjunction with belt driven stationery routers at speeds from 6000 to 8000 RPM. Blades were first cast, then produced in HSS and finally in solid tungsten and known as Widia and Wimet steel. The original steel blades were ground by hand to the required profile but the range of styles were very limited.

History of Routing - Part 2
  Single Blade Cutter Block
Single bladed blocks were used from the late 1920’s right up to the 1950’s, especially by pattern makers. These were produced in numerous styles and the advent of cutters with bottom cut geometry was traced to this early design. These tools could be run at greater speeds, smallest diameters at 18,000 RPM and largest at 12,000 RPM.

History of Routing - Part 2
  1990’s and beyond
Innovative tooling continues to be developed. Examples of this include solid carbide spiral cutters, ROTATIP replaceable tip cutters and PCD tipped tooling. For improved safety, integral chip limiters are now designed into cutters with diameters over 16mm, and restrict the level of injury should a cutter be contacted.

     
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