Cutting wood can be a difficult task, but thankfully the advancements of power tools had made our jobs far easier. These tools take a large volume of the sweat otherwise needed to cut a straight edge on a plank of wood, or drill a larger hole into a piece of lumber. Routers are just one of these tools.

How To Cut A Slot In Wood With A Router?

How to cut a slot in wood with a router? A router uses a flat base and an extended blade or rotary to cut. Marking your slot and drilling the end holes will make using a router easier, and allow you to clear the waste between each end hole for an easy slot. 

Routing tools are best used in the designing of furniture, so it is most likely that your slots will be for cabinets and drawers. These slots are easy to make with a router, provided you have an adequately sized bit to fit the tool. Correct marking and measurements are also important, as they’ll help to keep your slot uniform in size and alignment rather than risking it by eye.

What is a Router?

Routers use a wooden or metal bodied plane to align wood, where an extended blade or rotary bit then cuts the wood. Ideal for keyhole slots that are tight and precise, arrow straight slots with a clean finish,  or another slot boundary. There are hand router tools, but the power tool router table is the most popular design currently.

Routers offer a high degree of control. They are utilised in work requiring precise edges in joinery methods such as tenons and/or dovetails, for exquisite cabinetry work because of this control. Allowing for more specific detailing in furniture construction and modelling. 

Depending on the type of slot you need, a variety of bits and blades are available. Not only can you create perfect slots, but you can create a molded edge, rounded edge, or even a beaded edge to the ends of your wood. Although it is the most common tool for cutting a wooden slot, they are not typically available in a typical tool kit.

We’ll look at router alternatives further on, but you can’t really beat the precise edges guaranteed by a routing table. The types of slots able to be made simply can’t be topped, whether you need a quick rough slot or a narrower slot, the result will always be a clean finished size slot that is what yo set out to achieve. Provided you follow our guidelines, of course. 

Cutting Using a Router

Humans went for centuries without power tools, but the modern sets of high speed tools are certainly handy to have. ELectric power tools cut down on time, effort, and money in the long term as they can be easier to maintain without regular use. So let’s find out how to cut a slot with a router:

  • Step One) Marking your slot. A pencil is a simple tool but an effective one for setting out the exact location and dimensions of your intended slot. These will be your guide lines when using the tool of choice for creating your holes. You may also consider drilling end holes as previously discussed, if you want to have a slightly easier time guiding your router. If you don’t have a sure hand or are concerned about the slot boundary coming loose from your power tool, then a clearance hole or a series of holes can make the process run smoothly.
  • Step Two) Fence positioning. The fence is a brace between the wood you will be working on, and the machine itself. This will keep the board flat while you work, keeping the cutting edge in line with your markings. You should be using the fence to correctly centre the rotary bit on the slot. The bit on routers can come in various sizes, so make sure you have the correct variety of router bits for proper depth and cutting as well. 
  • Step Three) Setting the stops. Match your slot’s left end line to the bit’s left edge, and then place and fasten the appropriate stop. You will then have to repeat this process, setting the left end line of the slot against the right edge of the bit, just as you did for the left edge. This will ensure you have the correct depth when cutting keyhole slots or any other variety of hole needed. It will also make sure you have a straight board, preventing it from coming loose and disrupting your wood work. 
  • Step Four) Extra security with an auxiliary guide. An auxiliary guide or additional support may be necessary depending on your router table. In our experience, it is better to be safe than sorry when working with these types of power tools. A sturdy plank of wood can help to completely envelope your soon to be slotted work. Using an auxiliary guide and keeping that guide parallel to your fence makes it much easier to cut slots in boards. A convenient board with an auxiliary guide is one of the most frequent methods used when looking for stability, in a handy tool that reach ridiculous levels of revolutions per minute (rpm).
  • Step Five) Removing the waste. We’re not looking for any fancy edges here, just using a drill smaller than the boundaries of your slot to create gaps for your tool to operate. The sharp edge and/or high speed of the router can expand these holes further, and can keep them straight thanks to the auxiliary guide parallel to the slot, and fences. Although the existence of routers will make the slot easy even with a thinner depth and smaller size, the use of other power tools in conjunction can also make the task easier.
  • Step Six) Making the cut. Lowering the right side of your slot onto the bit, start to cut the wood. This plunge cut as it is known is used in a variety of woodworking tasks. New school methods with power tools allow you to then finalise your slot, with step seven.
  • Step Seven) Route your slot. Guide the slot gently by holding the board with your finger, and be careful of the spinning bit. If you are using a router table with a blade instead of a bit, we suggest trying to avoid getting close for any unwanted accidents. One slip up and it can be a dangerous mistake to make, all for a narrow groove and wooden slot. 
How To Cut A Slot In Wood With A Router?

Cutting Using a Circular Saw

No we’ll transition from power tools of the mounted variety, to a handheld tool option. Using a tool handle can be quite different from a mounted or table power tool, as they typically require a steady hand to use. Instead of a straight edged metal fence to guide you, you’ll mostly likely be using clamps and vices for the following methods:

  • Step One) Safety. While using a router is by no means perfect, it is considerably safer than using a circular saw. The blade in this scneario is a guarntee, not a separate option. Safety goggles to protect your eyes against debris, and protective woodworking ear muffs are necessary to prevent aural decline from regular work. Watch for the sharp edge of your tool as you work, and do everything you can to best avoid getting close to it.
  • Step Two) Secure your wood. A G-clamp or other vice will be your replacement for a fence or an auxiliary guide. A circular saw is by no means a narrow blade, so any slips can be potentially fatal. Make sure your wood is securely fastened before you begin.
  • Step Three) Mark your measurements. The size of this tool makes it unsuitable for keyhole slots, but if you’re looking for a larger hole for something like a drawer then the circular saw can be useful. A drawer slide guide keeps your measurements in check, to make sure you’re getting the desired slot from your work. 
  • Step Four) Make the plunge. A steady hand is a must, as any mishandling of an active blade encountering sudden resistance can be highly dangerous. Luckily, most high end circular saws are powerful enough to not buckle or jump when facing resistance, especially if well maintained. 

While a circular saw is a less than ideal replacement, it can be useful for some slot making and wood trimming. You are unlikely to be molding edges and trimming the edge of laminate plastic, but a slightly larger sized slot can be achieved with this method, a steady hand, and necessary safety precautions. 

Cutting Using a Dremel Rotary

A Dremel multitool can be used to perform a multitude of tasks. Engraving, carving common groove sizes, polishing, sanding, grinding, and even cutting a rounded edge. The rotary can be fitted with different ends and comes equipped with all manner of actual tools, although not a beaded edge in the same way a router can.

Using a Dremel is simpler and requires less safety concerns than a circular saw. While a you may find products from a sawmill with edges that are unsatisfactory, a dremel can be used to create a molded edge that is smoother and easier to use.

A rounded edge blade can easily cut through a plank of timber, provided you sufficiently mark out the slot boundary. Again, you will need a steady enough hand to pull this off, but some practice should get the job done with less hassle and bulk than a full router table.

Cutting Using a Table Saw

A table saw can be just as stable as a routing table if mounted and fastened correctly, and is perfect for more complicated woodworking tasks. These can include work on rabbeting planes. A rabbet plane is the modern way of cutting grooves and slots with electric powered equipment. 

Your blade will be adjusted to the width of your desired groove or slot, so make sure to emasure carefully before fixing your table saw’s blades. You wouldn’t want to ruin your special plane with an incorrectly adjusted saw, as you can easily over do it and leave a far wider gap than is necessary. 

While there are many types of wood planes, your standard wood plane will need careful planning to cut correctly. We still suggest proper safety equipment is used, as this tool is better for cutting planks and groove joints for fitting lumber together rather than slot cutting. Other available planes include a block plane, bench plane, mother plane, and molding planes.

Also monitor the slide guide height, so you can get the correct cutting depth. Improper depth can cause safety issues, as you will be better off with a blade that is always visible and eay to see. This prevents unwanted contact, which naturally will cause unwanted accidents. 

Cutting by Hand

The way to cut a slot or groove for centuries was by hand. Master or apprentice, hand tools got the human race far when it came to building furniture or shelters. Hand saws or crank drills can form a slot in wood, although this is easier with softer woods such as balsa. Harder woods can be more effort than their worth.

Anything with a sharp edge can help you reach your slot goal. A chisel can make a slot, and a hammer for extra force can easily form the groove. Measuring and marking is still recommended, because trying to chisel a hole by eye rather than by measure can be next to impossible. 

Keyhole saws, named so for their narrow and sleek design, are also precise enough to make slots. This can be less time consuming than the chisel method, although it may take some more physical exertion. If you’re not looking to break a sweat, then power tools will really save you a lot of effort for a one time investment. 

How To Cut A Slot In Wood With A Router?

Keyhole saws can cut holes very precisely, so small that even a screw head could not fit threw this. This makes them ideal to prepare a hole for a screw head to be drilled in, or using a screwdriver if you haven’t a power tool to hand. 

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Scott Buckley

I'm Scott, a Woodworker by day and book geek by night. I love making things out of wood. While I have and still, on occassion do, work with metal and plastics, I find them to be cold and somewhat boring. Wood is warm and I feel close to nature with it. I started TeachMeDIY.co.uk as a means to help like minded creative folk to answer burning questions. I hope you enjoy reading and learning, and always feel free to reach out to me should you have any questions!

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