Template Material for Router Work

Pros suggest aluminum, MDF, phenolic board, or particleboard. Also here, a discussion of techniques for making templates and some tips about using them. November 22, 2005

If you don't have a router table or shaper, what's the best way to build an accurate hinge mortise template for a router to ride against? Also, what's the best material to build these templates out of?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
Comment from contributor B:
Whenever I build a template or jig, I first decide if this is a one time use or if it is going to be used constantly. If so, I will make them from aluminum - it's not that much harder to work with and it will last longer.

Comment from contributor M:
If you want an easy to make, quick template, I'd use MDF. Rip a strip on your table saw, then turn that strip on its edge and cut a rectangular opening to the necessary dimensions using either a cross cut sled or mitre gauge and a regular 1/8 blade or dado blade. You might have to clean up the long edge of the rectangular cutout with a chisel. Glue on a guide fence with the required offset. Of course, there's little or no adjustability, but it's often the best way to go.

Comment from contributor F:
I have a shaper and router table, but for hinge mortising I use a portable router. MDF is okay for a mortise or two, but the bearing or rub collar quickly wears a groove in it and all accuracy is lost. If you can get your hands on some Plexiglas scrap, it holds up well to repetitive use. You do have to keep your router bit bearings lubricated, because if they seize up they will melt into the guide surface. Plex is also handy for jigs that you might want to see through. You can make marks on Plex by scratching it with a pointed tool like an awl. After you scratch in your marks, you can rub a bright colored wax pencil on the mark and then wipe the area with a clean cloth. The colored wax will remain in the scratched lines and highlight them.

Comment from contributor T:
I use 1/4" masonite - tempered both sides. The problem with 1/4" is you sometimes have to jack it up to get the bearing to run on it. Depends on if you have a short pattern bit. I like the aluminum idea, though. It is easy to work with. You can cut it on a wood bandsaw and rout it. Careful, though. I think aluminum dust is toxic to breathe.

Comment from contributor R:
As pricey as it is, I like using phenolic board for templates that will get a lot of use. It machines with carbide tooling and is nearly hard as steel. It won't wear on the edge like MDF or Masonite does, and it has a low coefficient of friction compared to aluminum. It actually can get slicker with use.

Comment from contributor F:
On how to make the templates after you decide on the template material, it depends on what tooling you will use in the router. The simple thing to use is a flush style bit that has a bearing the same diameter as the cutter. With these bits, you can make the guide portion of your template the same size as the cut you intend to make.

I prefer the top bearing style flush trim bits because I find it easier to place and clamp my templates to the up side of work on a bench top as opposed to having it underneath when you use a bottom bearing style bit.

You will need to determine what thickness of template material will work best with the length of cutter you use and the depth of cut, which will both influence the position where the bit bearing will need to ride on the template.

Also, you must plan the size of template in advance, to allow enough room to clamp or screw it down and have no interference between the router base and the clamps. If you decide to use a rub collar type tooling setup, then you have to do the math when sizing the rub surfaces of your template, i.e. if the measurement between the outside of the rub collar and the edge of the router bit is 1/16" and you need to route a 2"x 2" recess, you need to make the rub surface of the template 2-1/8"x 2-1/8".