Routing letters and making a wood sign using the plunge router.

How to route letters in wood freehand without templates

To carve letters and make beautiful wooden signs there are several methods: from hand carving, through using templates for routing machines, and even using more or less complicated machines (from a pantograph to a cnc router machine). In this case I just wanted to carve some simple letters on a diy wall coat rack, made of wood, that I was making for my house, and the only method I had at hand was to route the letters freehand.<

Routing letters in wood with a plunge router

Using a V grooving router bit to route letters

Before routing the final letters, I made a routing test on a piece of wood to get an idea of the result I could get. And, although I am far from making perfect letters in wood, I found the result to be quite decent. It wasn’t the time to try to make some complicated letters, so I drew some simple letters on the wall coat rack wooden board, measuring to make them the same width and height, and with the same spacing between all the letters. Carving uneven, off-center letters with different spacing between them would spoil the result more than the shaky line resulting from routing them freehand with the router machine.

Routing H letter freehand

To carve the letters, I used a V grooving router bit. I adjusted the height so that it protruded only a few millimeters below the base of the plunge router. I clamped the workpiece with the clamps and routed the letters in parts, routing a straight line, lifting the plunge router and continuing with another straight line. Tracing the curves is more complicated, and even more in wood such as this pine wood, with a continuous alternation between hard and soft grain. So the “O” was even “weirder” than the other letters I was routing.

How to route letters in wood with a plunge router.

If we look at the vertical lines of the letters, for example in the E, we can see that when routing the letters freehand, in the hard grain (the dark ones) the router tends to move to the right. If we take into account the direction in which I move the plunge router (downwards) and the direction of rotation of the router bit (clockwise), we can see how when passing the soft grain and entering the hard grain, it seems that the router bit grabs that grain harder and tries to run along the hard grain and pushes the plunge router to the right. And as soon as I leave the hard grain and enter the soft one, the plunge router moves to the left during that little moment in witch I still keep doing the extra effort with which I compensate for the tendency of the plunge router to move to the right.

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