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Climb Cutting, Routers, and Tool Safety

comments (18) July 15th, 2011 in blogs

Ed_Pirnik Ed Pirnik, Senior Web Producer
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Fine Woodworking issue #220 featured an article by Chris Gouchner on climb cutting with a router that briefly touched upon performing this technique on a router table. While climb-cutting with a handheld router is an acceptable procedure when done properly, performing this maneuver on a router table is another story.

In his article, Gouchner stipulates that a woodworker should never climb cut on a router table...unless they've got a specialty jig to hold the workpiece down. A climb-cutting jig should also have appropriate hand-holds, so that the craftsman, or woman, can have a firm grip on the piece being shaped. Of course, these precautions need to be taken to mitigate the fact that climb cutting causes the workpiece to want to sail away from you.

But in speaking with various woodworkers over the years, I've heard differing opinions on the idea of router table climb-cutting. Most, like Gouchner, advocate the technique's use as long as the appropriate jig is available. Others however, are of the belief that it should never be done. Period.

Do You Climb Cut on a Router Table?

I thought I'd put the question to our readers: is the technique safe? Do you practice it? What are your experiences? Let me know in the comments section below. Your experiences may very well save a finger!

posted in: blogs, router, router table, climb cutting, gouchner

Comments (18)

Khola Khola writes: I recently had to rabbet four 2"x 1 3/4' x48" Sipo legs for a jewelry cabinet. Since the rabbets were to be stopped I could do two of the legs with a conventional push cut on the router table, but had to do the other two with a climb cut on the router table, using a 1/2" up-cut carbide spiral bit.

I took as light a pass as I could, 1/16" at most and squeezed the leg against the fence as I slowly fed the piece. The bit was extended the full depth of the cut, 3/4". Several times the bit grabbed the work, shooting it along several inches. I made the cuts lighter, fed the work even slower, and squeezed harder. The second leg was jerked out of my hands and shot forward far enough to ruin it for its intended purpose.

I cut a new piece and routed the rabbet with a hand held router using push cuts.

I realized later that I could have rotated the work into the fence for two of the legs and done them all with push cuts.
Posted: 10:33 pm on October 3rd

KenBee KenBee writes: I have never tried climb cutting on a table but have been tempted at times. I read an article some time ago about climb cutting in general and it stressed climb cutting is acceptable if done in steps. That is to say making a cut of 1/16" deep or so and even then making sure you hold the piece and/or router firmly.
Posted: 10:22 am on September 12th

JASNYC JASNYC writes: Handheld, I'll sometimes climb cut when the bit is not large and I want to finesse a tricky grain issue.

On a table, only when absolutely needed, in tiny areas, usually when template routing a curve where tearout is an issue. I made up a batch of table saw throat inserts recently and when I got to the "one o'clock" side of the curve I'd back off, eat away a small portion of the curve on a climb, then continue. It's best to do this when you have some kind of pivot point to work off of.

I can't imagine EVER needing to climb on a long straight cut on a router table. GIves me the shivers to think about it. There's always another way to solve tearout in that case without the risks of a climb cut.
Posted: 1:16 pm on July 18th

gerdmain gerdmain writes: Many years ago, I had ruined my test pieces due to bad tear out on the router table. So I asked an experienced, professional teacher in woodworking for advice. He told me to use a climb cut, but this is what will happen... and to use a wide board when I tried it the first time. Despite his warnings, I was surprised with how much force the router pulled the wood forward. I can understand why some people are afraid of climb cuts.
But knowing what to expect, I used climb cuts (when required) successfully and without any incidents.
Posted: 5:33 am on July 17th

chugchug chugchug writes: I do a small amount of climb cutting, the big thing is to know and keeping mind at all the time how the wood can react, take every precaution, as I said I do just a small amount, mostly when end grain is involved.
Posted: 9:15 pm on July 16th

PatriotWorks PatriotWorks writes: I recently finished climbed-cutting about a trailer load of Trex decking.
.... After conventional routing.

I dunno what it is but a climb cut looks better.
But Trex ruins every tool assigned to it.

Posted: 4:11 pm on July 16th

308defense 308defense writes: Yes, it is unsafe to climb cut hand held or in a router table. That being said there are times that you have to do it to keep from tearing out big pieces of wood. When I have this problem, I also bump cut the wood which reduces some parts of climb cutting making it a little safer.
Be Careful and have a good grip and be in a good position When doing this type of cutting.
Posted: 3:21 pm on July 16th

MrPhil MrPhil writes: When you hold the router, your hands are located in a position away from the bit, so climb cutting is safer. when you use a router table the bit is sticking up and you are holding the piece to be cut in your hands which will have to pass near the plades. It is just poor safety to try this on a router table. Also, if you lose control of your work piece - even if you don't hamburger your fingers - you'll ruin your wood. Doesn't make sense...
Posted: 3:19 pm on July 16th

KZRider KZRider writes: While I am sure it is POSSIBLE climb cut successfully, I am hard pressed to imagine a circumstance when it is PREFERABLE enough to warrant even a hint of increased hazard. The practice exacts to high a potential price if a clamp fails or we are even momentarily distracted. If tearout is the main consideration, even doing stiles, other strategies are safer. So while we COULD climb cut why WOULD we? Count me out on this.
Posted: 12:43 pm on July 16th

olgoat olgoat writes: In the article, aren't the first two illustrations of push and climb reversed? Looks to me like they are.
Posted: 11:04 am on July 16th

Blakewd Blakewd writes: I read the article in the most recent issue of FWW and immediately put it to use on some keepsake boxes I am building. I am using a 1/4 roundover bit with a bearing and a fence on my table saw mounted router. The pieces are large enough to hold firmly and I take care to remove only a small amount of wood with each pass. As the boxes end up with a very thin edge on the lid, even a little tearout would be impossible to hide. I did not experience the "wavy" results mentioned. Maybe because I made my climb cut and then ran the piece back in the normal direction. Anyway, the method worked so well that I emailed FWW right away to thank them for the article. Remember, BE CAREFUL!
Posted: 9:01 am on July 16th

Cadabra Cadabra writes: By limiting and controlling the various factors that cause safety problems, the climb cut can be safe and very effective. Like the others who describe the precautions they take, I too climb cut for light finishing cuts, but only when I stack the deck in my favor.
The key element here is the human factor. One must be keenly aware of the various effects of the tool's action and the wood's reaction; be extremely deliberate, never in a hurry; and have no distractions that vie for your attention and your focus.
Realize that you are doing a potentially VERY UNSAFE practice, and therefore bring all of your wits to bear! All of the seemingly little details that can affect the operation such as sharpness of the cutter, size and speed of the cutter, size/mass of the workpiece, feed rate, hardness/brittleness of the wood (to name a few) can collectively create a hazard that is not worth risking an accident with.
Based on my own years of experience, I think it's very easy to overlook the myriad details that we integrated in our routines. Only after doing a CSI-style analysis of a mishap
will it be obvious that the combined actions of a couple of these factors was enough to tip the scales against safety.
Posted: 5:30 am on July 16th

davcefai davcefai writes: Charles Neil has shown a technique he calls "Bump Cutting" which I have found to be perfectly safe on a table.

It works best with template routing but can also be used against a fence.

What you do is push the wood straight on to the fence, withdraw it, move it along approx 1 bit diameter and repeat.

Then do your climb cut, possibly in less deep stages. The router doesn't get a chance to grab the wood.

Surprise, surprise! The video is actually on FWW:

Posted: 4:00 am on July 16th

Eaton474 Eaton474 writes: I do a lot of routing, both hand-held and on a table, though I probably do 2/3's of my routing on a table, and I will openly admit I climb cut on a very regular basis. I have a special "clamp" of sorts that I use to hold smaller pieces so my hands are never in harms way, though I free-hand a good bit as well.

Honestly, I don't see what the big deal is. I have never had so much as a scare or a piece torn from my grip, although I never, ever, take full depth cuts when climb cutting and using a bit larger than a 1/4" round-over, ogee or similar bit.

I have a horizontal router table (router is perpendicular to the table) that I use to raise panels, and I climb cut exclusively on it, never having push-cut a piece on it.

It's more about taking the right precautions and knowing how the router and stock will react. If you understand that and respect the router, you shouldn't have any issues.

It's not right for everyone, and not everybody should do it, but those who do shouldn't be criticized simply because others don't do the same.
Posted: 3:19 am on July 16th

kenerv1 kenerv1 writes: Rarely. Depends on thickness, hardness, grain direction, and size of the workpiece AND the diameter along with type and height of the bit. Larger the workpiece and smaller, simpler, and sharper the bit the more comfortable I am with climb cutting. If I do it, it will only be when fingers cannot be pulled or pushed near the bit-- should the bit take the Trojan horse's piece in it's teeth.

The temptation gets great to climb when suffering tearout with a monster panel raiser...don't do it.
Posted: 5:37 pm on July 15th

woodenhorse woodenhorse writes: Never on a router table, I like my fingers too much.
Posted: 2:47 pm on July 15th

gordread gordread writes: I do climb cutting when tearout is a problem, for instance when coming off of the end grain on the stile of a raised panel door. In this case I would rounte about 1/2 inch backward before going back to the other end and doing the rest of the door.
Posted: 2:31 pm on July 15th

EngrMike EngrMike writes: I do most of my routing on a router table.

I will do climb cuts when I am taking a small cut, such as with a 1/8" roundover or the last 1/32" with a larger cutter. But never with a cutter over 1" diameter. It also depends upon the wood. I'm more likely to use climb cutting for woods like padauk that easily tear out. I'm careful to always have a firm grip.
Posted: 1:27 pm on July 15th

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