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Appendix 29:  Router (Annex for Glossary R)

[under construction]

Defining Router

A woodworking machine similar to a stationary spindle moulder or Shaper-- or over-head router,  but -- at the spindle, using a much higher rotation speed, to produce more highly-finished work. Since the 1930s -- the Stanley-Carter router, discussed below --  a portable hand-held version of this.     

A versatile power tool, a router can do many woodworking operations. Because of its high speed -- operating at from 8,000 to 24,000 r.p.m.,  when it's used with a Router Bit, especially a Carbide-Tipped router bit, it produces a very smooth surface that requires little sanding.

Fitted out with readily available accessories, and/or home workshop-made jigs and fixtures, a router is adaptable for many specialized woodworking operations, including a Power Plane,  a Spindle Shaper, a hinge Mortiser or as a Dovetail Cutter.  

In a manual tightly packed with photographic images, colored drawings, and clear text, the British-based writing team, Albert Jackson and David Day declare:

Most power tools are no more than mechanized versions of their hand-field predecessors. They take much of the graft (sic) out of woodworking, but the business end of these tools remains much the same -- a saw cut is still a saw cut, a hole is just hole, and a screw will do its job
well whether it is inserted by hand or with a power screwdriver. The power router, on the other hand, is in a different category. This is a tool that has revolutionized the home workshop. It has all but replaced the specialized hand planes used for molding, rabbeting and  grooving, and works with a degree of accuracy that was once only the prerogative of the most skilled craftsperson. Combine all these functions and you can cut a range of woodworking joints, follow templates, trim plastic laminates, even carve wood sculpture. The remarkable power router is nothing less than a minature machine shop.
Source: Albert Jackson and David Day Good Wood Routers Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 1996, pages 6-7.

Etymology of Term "Power Router" Hard to Trace:

While common sense tells us that "router", as a term identifying this machine is straight-forward, dictionaries, especially the Oxford English Dictionary -- the source I consult first -- are  disappointing, because the first use of the term identifying the power router, ie, Kelley, are lacking from their accounts.

When the term Router -- i.e., as reference to the current popular tool -- came into usage to identify a "power router" is wrapped in mystery. Keith Rucker has found bits of evidence -- advertisements from from 1911 to 1929 --in the magazine Wood-working.  For tracing the etymology of this term, the OED is not very useful, as the examples below demonstrate:

Another form of vertical boring machine is known as a router or recessing machine or overhead spindle moulder. 

 William Barr McKay Joinery, London: Longmans Green, 1946, page 24.

The router has taken over a great deal of the lighter work up to 1 in. or 1 in. thick which was formerly done on the spindle-moulder.  

Portable electric router... This machine works on the same principle as theoverhead-router.

Source: W. E. Kelsey Carpentry, Joinery and Woodcutting Machinery 1954, pages 517, 546 

  Anatomy of Routers

Below is an exploded view of the famous Carter-Stanley router, in 1929.

router anatomy 1950s

Today's routers are straight- forward:  they are powered by universal motors, controlled by "on/off" switches, a base for stability and maneuverability, handgrips for control,  and a lever for  lowering  the rotating bit into the work, called  "plunging the router". Equipped now with variable speed controls, rotation can range from 8,000 to 24,000 rpms. (Shaper speeds vary from 6,500 to 10,000.)

my stanley-carter router-shaper

serial number for stenley-carter router shaper

These are images -- above and to the right -- of my Stanley-Carter router-shaper. Anthony Blankley, biographer of Ray L Carter,  thinks
that this router shaper is a 1950s vintage, and not from the 1930s. He bases his claim on the "M 510A" above. "M" is likely Model, the model no "510" But the punched in later, by hand, is a mystery. Please look at my 1935 Stanley Router Shaper Catalog, # 61.

my elu and makita routers

Many routers -- like my  Elu -- have a mechanism that allows "soft start", meaning that rather than jumping immediately to the high speed, the motor works up to the speed more gradually, a feature which gives the operator more control on cuts requiring extreme accuracy.

Plunge locks and  depth stops give operators control over obtaining precise depth of cuts. 

routers plunge 2

And accessories such as adjustable "fences" -- see diagram for my Elu, on left -- guide the router along the side of a workpiece as it cuts a "profile".  



Current Popularity of Routers

Today, early in the 21st century, a hand-held, portable router is often the first power tool purchased by the wannabe amateur woodworker. According to R J Cristoforo:

...There's little point to touting the virtues of the portable router because, "Is there a woodworker with a soul so dead he never to himself has said, 'I love my router'." The mechanics of the router haven't changed but improvements continue to make it an exciting tool, especially the plunge feature.

Source: R J DeCristoforo, The Jigs and Fixtures Bible: Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Better Woodworking Cincinnati: Popular Woodworking Books, 2001, page 17. First published in PW, April 2000, page 17

Distinctions Between Routers and Shapers

Experience using routers and shapers shows us quickly that that two capable tools differ in several ways, primarily in speed of rotation, scale of project, but also, that in many operations, they are interchangeable. 

That is, woodworkers who own both tools often need to debate which of these two tools are used for the performance of a woodworking task. For example. putting a Profile -- or, Molding, on the edge of a sideboard's 1-inch thick top can be done by either tool. However, putting the profile on a 1-inch thick oval- or circle-shaped table-top might be accomplished more easily with a large router, rather than a shaper. 

The two authorities  quoted in the boxes below, Nick Engler and Lonnie Bird, each give their take on the distinctions between routers and shapers:

Only use a shaper spindle router accessory in a router with a variable speed control
— either a control that has been built into the tool itself, or an external control that you can plug the router into. Set this control for no more than 10,000 rpm — the top speed of many shapers — when using the spindle accessory. Most shaper cutters are designed to operate within shaper speeds, while many routers spin more than twice that fast. At excessive speeds, the cutters may fly apart, peppering you and anyone who happens to be standing nearby with shrapnel.

Source: Nick Engler, Routing and Shaping: Techniques for Better Woodworking. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1992, page 4

... A good-quality shaper will be able to run at multiple speeds to accommodate cutterheads of various diameters. At minimum, the shaper should have at least two speeds, with a low speed no higher than 7,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). A large industrial machine usually has several speeds, with a low of around 3,000 rpm.
A small-diameter cutterhead has a slower rim speed than a large-diameter cutterhead when run at the same rpm, and so a higher rpm is needed to increase the rim speed to produce a smooth surface. (This is one reason why a router runs at such high rpm.)
On the other hand, because a large cutterhead removes so much stock in a single pass, it must be run at a lower rpm to reduce the rim speed. This way the surface doesn't get burned. Running a large cutterhead too fast is unsafe (these cutterheads have a specified maximum rpm) and may burn or burnish the stock.
(Burnishing causes the wood surface to become glazed. It can occur when the feed rate is too slow for the rpm of the cutterhead.)

Source: Lonnie Bird, The Shaper Book. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1996, page 13


Did Routers Start Out as Stationary Machines? 

"The modern router", claims Anthony Bailey, Routing For Beginners, 1999, page 4,  "descended for the fixed-head machines". With this claim, I think that Bailey is, in the idiom of today, "onto something", although in his book he doesn't elaborate on the point. Nonetheless, his statement stimulates our thinking on the matter, especially when you consider the Workace "shaper" introduced in 1929 by the J D Wallace Company.

For example, check out my post on the "royal-treatment" given the Boice-Crane floor shaper in Popular Homecraft in November, 1930. For me, side-by-side, the two images have remarkable similarities. Yes, one is floor-standing, the other bench-top,  comparison that is --perhaps -- a "stretch", but -- taken together -- the round cast-iron tables on both models, the fact that Popular Homecraft sees the B-C shaper as appropriate for home workshops, make the analogy seem reasonable. 

(Puzzling, though, is why, in the 1935 Boice-Crane catalog, the floor shaper is absent, suggesting that it had a short-life span.)

This "Smoking-gun" evidence about the truth of Bailey's claim about a linkage between the modern router and the shaper is available, but -- without more evidence -- I hold back about drawing any firm conclusions. 

Below, for example, is a digitized reprinting of the page from the 1932 J D Wallace Woodworking Tools catalog. But, strangely, this shaper is not in the 1933 J D Wallace catalog.

Thousands of Workace Electric Shapers are in service -- in large plants and small shops-schools and hobby shops, maintenance departments, pattern and cabinet shops and furniture repair departments, etc.

In the large plants the Workace Electric Shaper supplements the larger equipment -- handles all the lighter work and short runs at an enormous saving in set up time, power and in-vestment. It is portable, can be taken to a job -- saves steps.

wallace shaperOperates off light circuit, can be economically run at any time independently of the other plant equipment -- that is a decided advantage in equipment of the Wallace and Workace type.

The capacity of the Workace Electric Shaper, the speed and precision with which it operates, the small investment and low operating and maintenance cost, places the small shop, pattern shop or cabinet shop, furniture repair departments. schools and hobby shops in a position to do all kinds of shaping efficiently and economically, to handle long runs or short runs, specials and repairs; any type of moulding, grooving, beading, shaping and tenoning.


The Workace Electric Shaper comes complete as illustrated above including two steel shaper collars 2" dia., 3/8" thick bevel grooved for knives; four spacing collars 1/3" thick; locking pin. 10 ft. lamp cord and separable plug.

Motor to operate on 110 or 220 volts DC and AC, 25 to 60 cycle, single phase, or 220 volts, AC. 120 cycle, three phase (7200 RPM) 1 HP., or 220 volts, AC.. 180 cycle three phase, 1 HP. (10,800 RPM).

Set ups for any shape are quickly made on the Workace Electric Shaper. To facilitate short runs we have worked out a set of cutters in Nos. 2757, 2758 and 2759 which, in various combinations, make it possible to cut practically any shape. Knives and solid cutters, of course, are avail-able for long runs or shapes often made up.

The Workace Electric Shaper operates from the electric lighting circuit, also available for 120 or 180 cycle, three phase. It is direct motor driven-direct, positive, powerful and economical drive; no belts to dissipate power. High speed, 10,000 R.P.M. (no load speed). Works with or against the grain; portable, easily taken to the job, saves steps. Precision ball bearing, air cooled.

We will gladly submit the Workace Shaper to you so that you may try not what we claim to be the biggest value in woodworking equipment -- a high speed, powerful, accurate tool at a very modest price -- the Workace Electric Shaper.


Three or four wing cutters for cuts used frequently, saves set-up time, quotation on request. Knives are available in shapes shown on opposite page. For quick set up on short runs of various shapes we suggest cutters Nos. 2757, 2758 and 2759 illustrated on opposite page. Guard No. 2714 and Fence No. 2713. These items are optional and available at a small extra cost.

J D Wallace Woodworking Tools Catalog 1932

Below, the shaded box reprints the brief piece by the editor of Industrial Arts Magazine, suggesting that the Wallace high-speed shaper was introduced in 1929.


The J. D. Wallace Company, 134 So. California Ave., Chicago, Ill., has announced a new Workace electric shaper, something entirely new in the popular priced and portable line of shapers.

The Workace shaper is equipped with ball bearings. It is motor driven, and adequate means for lubrication are provided. In this machine, the belt has been eliminated, thus slipping, slowing down of operations, and loss of power is avoided. The shaper is mounted on a table with a screw arrangement, which permits it to be raised or lowered. It can be locked securely in any position by a handwheel. The spindle is a steel shaft 5/8 in. in diameter, which extends 3 5/8 in. above the table top, and provides a capacity of 2 1/2 in. between two steel shaper collars, or 3 1/4 in. when using solid cutters. The machine is provided with a General Electric Universal motor, which can be used on an ordinary lighting circuit, 110 or 220 volts, d.c., or 25 to 60 cycle a.c. It weighs only 42 pounds and stands firmly on its own base without fastening.

Source: Industrial Arts Magazine 18 September 1929,  page 31A

With the text and image of the J D Wallace Workace shaper (above), including its direct-drive universal motor and 47 pounds, we have the ideal setting for another breakthrough in the development of the hand-held high-speed router. 

However, until I find more conclusive evidence, I remain skeptical. I think that perhaps the speed of the spindle rotation -- 13,000 rpm -- was too fast for the cutters that existed in the late 1920s. 

(Normally, spindles on shapers operated by amateur woodworkers  rotate at two  speeds -- governed by the two-stage pulleys on the spindle's end, below the shaper's table surface, that are belted to the motor. Operating the machine at higher speeds -- especially with larger diameter cutters, raises the danger of the machine causing problems, including injury to the operator.) 

The Stanley Electric Bench Top Shaper 1930s

Adapted from the entry on this machine by Dave Potts on

stanley electric shaper 1930?The top of this machine measures 12 inches square and has a round throat/hole with a shoulder to permit the use of smaller throat plates. The router motor included is one of Stanley's smallest types-- the hand shaper model, and is held in place with a pivoting bracket that permits tilting the router bit. The two leg brackets that are bolted to the 3/8" plate-steel top are identical, and are marked with casting number C 1780. The unit weighs close to 50 pounds.

While no fence is shown with the machine, Dave Potts, who owns the machine, notes that there appears to be remnants of a guard that mounted from below the table.
Two patent numbers are stamped into a plate mounted on the machine, both assigned to Ray L. Carter c. 1925. Patent # 1532683 was for a portable shaper and mortising machine, and number 1566824 was for a portable wood shaper

As a disclaimer, Potts notes that neither of the patents in the links above describe the machine pictured.

For the sake of perspective, the picture above is "with this router table placed on top of a floor-standing Stanley Router/Shaper table S5A that I recently restored and use on a regular basis".

On The Production Router:

The text below -- it comes from Herman Hjorth's article on the router -- reads "funny" today, perhaps, when we are confronted with terms such as "router machine",  or that heavy-duty routers "mostly resemble drill presses".

(During the first half of the 20th century, Herman Hjorth was a leading figure in Industrial Arts and woodworking. Notably, he authored  Principles of Woodworking in 1930 and Modern Machine Woodworking, Bruce, 1937, but in the revised edition, 1960, William F Holtrop was senior author, suggesting that by that date, Hjorth was too elderly for  the task of managing the manuscript of a text on power woodworking machines. It happens to all of us, let me assure you.)

production routerhjorth production router 2


The production router that Hjorth speaks of has passed from the scene. Big routers like the ones pictured are used to cut patterns out workpieces, guided by templates. They are usually called pin routers -- see below -- because they normally are set up with a pin co-axial with the cutter; the pin rubs against the template that is fastened to the workpiece. They are also called over-arm routers. The biggest maker of pin routers was Onsrud Machine Works. OMW made machines that resemble Hjorth's illustration. (I am indebted to Jeff Joslin, one of the editors of Old Working Machines ( for this information.) 

 THE router machine in its heavy-duty production form [writes Hjorth] is a type of machine that mostly resembles a drill press.... Production routers -- large machines equipped with a table that can be raised or lowered ....  

The router arm extends to the center of the table. In most machines the revolving part is connected to the driving mechan­ism with a belt, which gives the router a speed from 10,000 to 20,000 R.P.M. The table can also be raised or lowered with a treadle and the length of the stroke can be set beforehand. Some routers also have a chuck for holding a shaper spindle. In this case the shaper cuts are necessarily made from the top while a regular shaper cutter projects through the table and cuts from below.

 Sources: Herman Hjorth, "The Router: How to Operate Your Power Tools", Home Craftsman 18, no 6 November-December 1949, pages 17-23+ (Curiuosly, this same article -- both text and images -- is in a 1950 book published by HC, How to Operate Your Power Tools, this time allegedly authored by Milton Gunerman, listed as an Associate Editor of HC. (Hjorth died in 1951.) See also William Holtrop and Herman Hjorth, Modern Machine Woodworking, Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1960, pages 198-205. (First copyrighted by  Herman Hjorth in 1937.) 

Early Portable Routers: Kelley Electric Machine Co. of Buffalo, 1900s 

Back to chapter 2:5

The electric hand router -- if you can operate a 60-pound tool by yourself -- has been around for over a century.

As early as 1905 the first commercially produced router -- three phase -- was marketed by the Kelley Electric Machine Co. of Buffalo, New York. That firm --  incorporated with an capitalization of $25,000.00 in October of 1908 -- had three directors: Guilford W. Franicis, W. Morse Wilson, and George L. Kelley.

(Source: New York Times, October 24, 1908, page 12.)

George L. Kelley, a resident of Buffalo applied for a patent for a router in 1906; the patent was granted in 1908. The patent -- the first page is pasted below -- was assigned to Stevenson Machine Co. (By "assigned" is derived through "mesne", a technical term in law, meaning "middle" or "intermediate".)

"Given the purported 1906 genesis of the Kelley Electric Machine Co., router", Keith Rucker speculates, "it is likely that Stevenson Machine Co. was a predecessor of Kelley Electric Machine Co."

Weighing sixty pounds, it is over  12" in diameter and 16" high.

(The image below comes from the Patrick Spielman book, The Art of the Router: Award Winning Designs, 1999 -- permission to post granted  by phone, 9-17-2007.)
kelley router 1905

Keith Rucker -- -- notes that advertisments in the Wood-Worker between 1911 and 1929 shows their "Kelley Router" - a handheld router that looks to be at least twice the size of any hand-held router available today.

The bit rotates at 6500 RPM, roughly the slower speed of my two-speed shaper. Rucker notes that an advertisement in a 1920 issue of  Wood-Worker claims that Kelley has sold their router for fourteen years, a date which confirms their appearance at about 1906.

(Below is reproduced one of the Kelley Router advertisements.)

Keith Rucker, --; Patrick Spielman, The Art of the Router: Award Winning Designs. New York: Sterling/Chapelle, 1998, page 8;  R J DeCristoforo, The Jigs and Fixtures Bible: Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Better Woodworking Cincinnati: Popular Woodworking Books, 2001, page 17. First published in Popular Woodworking, April 2000.)

kelley router stair stringereskelley stair stringers 2

Kelley's patent claims that it is a "portable routing machine for working wood". Portable -- i.e., sixty pounds! ("portable" -- in those days defined differently than today -- meant that it can be "moved about" and "used on work benches, or elswhere, where the work can be done to the best advantage". Also specified is that the machine can be operated "rapidly" and "accurately" by "unskilled labor".

This machine, the patent's text continues, "is capable of a great variety of uses", including "cutting regular and irregular grooves or channels of different dimensions and shapes in the surfaces of boards". This machines is, espec- ially, "suited to cutting grooves for stair stringers to receive the risers and treads".

(The two images side-by-side above show, more-or-less, before and after views of stair stringers.)

The innovation that Kelley's router achieved was to revolutionize the method of cutting the grooves. Mobile, the machine can be "moved about in any direction" and can be fitted with a "plurality of driven cutters"

The pattern plate is adjustable to enable the cuts to be made in the desired location and relation on the work, and the pattern plate is also preferably provided with mens for clampling or securinig it on the work.

Source: Patent no.  877,894

Pretty heady stuff for 1908!

With patent # 931,552, William H Ahlers, a Kelley associate, "invented a new and useful improvement in guide devices for routing machines". This invention relates to guide devices for routing and analogous machines -- more particularily, directly on the router, patent no 877,894. These machines, again, are  "portable" and their operation can be guided by a mechanism that supports their cutters directly over the wood being cut.

The patent also notes that the primary function of the router remains dadoing grooves on stair stringers -- see images of stair stringer, risers and treads above --  to receive stair risers and treads. This patent creates improvements in routers which allows the creation of grooves for stair risers and treads of different thicknesses.

In 1912, Kelley obtained patent # 1,042,120, which he claimed  created more improvements. (The obtuse wording of patent discourse makes it difficult to determine how the original router is improved, but the patent is granted.)

Table for Kelley Patents from



Date Name City Description
877,894  USPTO
Jan. 28,  1908  George L. Kelley  Buffalo, NY  Routing-machine 
931,552  USPTO
Aug. 17,  1909  William H. Ahlers  Buffalo, NY  Guide device for routing-machine 
1,042,120  USPTO
Oct. 22,  1912  George L. Kelley  Buffalo, NY  Guide device for woodworking or routing machines 

kelley router patent 1908

Although the Kelley router was very crude and heavy,it became the revolutionary development for the wood-working trades—especially the furniture and architectural millwork industries. The router eliminated tedious hand carving and made correct geometrical cuts.
kelley router 1918

As cited from Patrick Spielman, a letter in an early Kelley Electric Machine Catalog  from a user of the Kelley Router states, "... for fluting columns and pilasters (Kelley's) machine cannot be beat." Kelley's advertising motto boldly read, "Clean finished cuts in straight or cross grain."

Ray L Carter and the Invention of the High Speed Hand-Held Router

Back to chapter 4:5

(Tony Bradley has a book coming out later this year that investigates the contribution of Ray L Carter to the development of routers. Until I have an opportunity of looking at the book, I am going simply to leave this brief account as is.)

Around 1914, Carter routers, manufactured in Phoenix, New York, appeared and quickly earned the designation of "Wonder Tool." They were considerably smaller than the Kelly routers, but their 1 1/2 H.P. model still weighed 35 pounds. Carter routers featured a threaded motor housing depth adjustment system and many other features that are essentially still the same as found on some present day routers. Edge guides, base mounted template guides, D-handles, bits from 1/16" to 1" were likewise similar to those available today. Carter patented a dovetail template system in 1927, but records show an earlier patent was granted in Germany for a dovetail system in 1906.

Stanley Electric Tools purchased the Carter line in 1929 and produced routers until the company was sold to the Bosch Tool Corp. in the early 1980s.

A search of the books in Google Print shows only one hit, and that very obscure. The "hit" is the magazine, Industrial Education, on page 32, but the date is not given, although from the evidence of the "snippet", view, it is the 1920s. In the smippet from Industrial Education, the label for the "router" is Carter Hand Shaper. CHS is the name given in "tools for sale" sections of 1930s newspapers, suggesting that the popular name for this first router is "Carter Hand Shaper". 

(Thanks to Keith Rucker, at, I found data on the Carter Hand Shaper in The image immedately below is the image posted by Carter in his patent application, while the box below that is the text of the first few paragraphs -- sort of a "preamble" -- of Carter's patent application. As well as the images, the application includes 2 pages of very dense text whic describes in tortuous detail how the device works:

carter hand shaper

Patented Oct 24, 1922.                                                                                           1,433,497


Ray L. Carter, of Syracuse, New York

Shaping Device

Application filed April 17, 1922.  Serial no 558, 639

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that I, Ray L Carter, a citizen of the United States, residing at Syracuse, in the county of Onondaga and State of New York, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in shaping Devices, of which the following is a specification.

This invention relates to shapers, designed for use by. pattern-makers, cabinet-makers, carpenters and the like, and has for its object. to provide a novel and simple device of the class for rounding and bending the corners of patterns and various other wooden articles. A further object is to provide a light, easily portable shaper, consisting of a hollow casing which encloses a high-speed electric motor, on the armature shaft of which may be mounted rotary cutters of various types, by which the corners and edges of wooden articles may be given different shapes, in a ready and quick manner. A further object is to provide a relatively small and light shaper of the class, which may be held and operated by one hand, said device being equipped with a conical head by which the device is guided and being provided with novel adjusting means for taking up looseness, as well as for facilitating the employment of cutting tools of different size.

I attain these objects by the means set forth in thedetailed description which follows and as illustrated by the accompanying drawings:


Stanley Enters the Router Manufacturing Business

Back to Chapter 5:5

stanley router herman hjorth 1930In 1929, the Carter line Stanley Electric Tools purchased   and produced routers until the company was sold to the Bosch Tool Corp. in the early 1980s.

The image on the left is a pen-rendering.

Source: Principles of Woodworking Herman Hjorth,  Milwaukee: The Bruce  Publishing Company, 1930, page 47.

sanley router hjorth 1937

On the right is the same Stanley router, this time in Herman Hjorth's 1937 manual, Machine Woodworking Milwaukee: The Bruce  Publishing Company, 1937, page 190.

title page for 1935 stanley carter router shaper cat


On the left, the title page of the attractive 29 page, 1935 Stanley-Carter  Router-Shaper Catalog. 

Notice the claim, "for the home workshop".

And, directly below. a Sample Page from this Catalog, trumps with flourish the tools capabilities:


( For full version of this catalog, click here -- not yet uploaded.) 

Scan of  page 5 from  the catalog (below) gives you an idea of how "revolutionary" 

-- 18,000 Revolutions Per Minute! -- 

the hand-held router would be for any woodworker -- professional or amateur alike!

from stanley router shaper catalog

Porter-Cable Introduces Its Fixed-Base Router, Circa Late-1940s. 

Porter-Cable entered the router business in 1948 with the purchase of the Unit Electric Company. 

Rather than manufacturing their own untis, from 1948 until 1950, Porter-Cable simple put their nameplate on the Unit tools. Unit Electric manufactured two models of routers. In 1950  Porter- Cable introduced their own design, the model 100, a model that Porter-CAble produced until 2006. Using the label,  Guild, Porter-Cable introduced  a line of accessories, including components for converting the router into a portable plane or a bench top shaper. 

porter cable newspaper adv 1950

On the left is a fragment from an advertisement in the San Antonio Light 11-14-1950. The occasion evidently included a factory representative demonstrating the tool. Notice that Porter-Cable called the router the "Guild Power Router".  From evidence located in the, Porter-Cable advertised heavily --  this advertisement is typical --  throughout America immediatley following WW II. 

Outside of the database, the results of searches for evidence of routers in the 1940s is disappointing. For example, for the 1940s decade, the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature yields no relevant hits on routers. 

(While the RG is only one of a handful of indexes that cover topics of technology in this era, the lack of hits in it indicates that, as a topic, routers are not important tools in this decade. How do we know? The RG  that indexes "selected" articles -- but not every item -- published in issues of titles such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Industrial Arts Magazine and Industrial Arts and Vocational Education. What this policy means is that brief news notes -- which might include news of a new router on the market -- are ignored by the indexers of RG

Past experience with PS and PM tells us, though, that these two "popular" science and technology magazines generate their mass circulation by having news important for a broad spectrum of their reading public, especially for science and technology topics. Routers, as tools of the woodworking trade, and potential tools in homeworkshops, certainly fall into that domain.

However, in his coffee table book, Power Tools, Sandor Nagyszalanczy observes that 

... The Guild model 1100 was one of whole line of power tools Porter-Cable produced under the Guild brand. Although its dome-topped motor housing doesn't lend itself well to bit changes—it won't stand on the bench upside down—its visual attractiveness still pleases woodworkers today in the modernized form of the Porter-Cable model 100. In 1950, Porter-Cable introduced the Speedmatic line.

Source: Sandor Nagyszalanczy Power Tools: An Electrifying Celebration and Grounded Guide Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2001, page 63

Additional evidence that routers are not yet considered tools in the homeworkshop comes from the scant treatment they receive in several woodworker's manuals of the late 1940s.

Herman Hjorth's 1949 Home Craftsman Router Article

Herman Hjorth, "The Router" Home Craftsman 18, no 6 November-December 1949 pages 18+; reprinted as chapter 12, under pen of Milton Gunerman, How to Operate Your Power Tools New York: Home Craftsman Publishing Corp., 1950, pages 124-136

Herman Hjorth's article, "The Router", could be a sort of break-through document in the history of the use of routers by amateur woodworkers. It's appearance in the last issue of the Home Craftsman published in the November-December, 1949 issue, puts it just inside that historic decade when America fought in World War II, and just two years before Hjorth's death in 1951.

(It is a mystery why, in 1950, as a book, How to Operate Your Power Tools, these same articles appeared under the pen of Milton Gunerman, at the time listed as a Senior Editor for Home Craftsman)

In the years 1949-1950, under the umbrella title, How to Operate Your Power Tools, Hjorth published a series of articles for Home Craftsman on a wide variety of power woodworking tools of potential use by woodworkers in their homeshops. Among power tools he covers are the radial arm saw -- domesticated versions of the industrial level units manufactured by Delta and Dewalt -- the drill press, the circular table saw, the bandsaw, the jig saw, the lathe, and the power planer.

(Not covered is the combination tool that made a big splash with amateur woodworkers at this time -- the Shopsmith Model 10ER Hans Goldschmidt and his Shopsmith-- a fact that is mentioned by Gunerman in the Preface to the 1950 book.) Rightly, Hjorth characterizes the router as descending from a long line of commercial routers, which themselves sprung out of heavy production routers. (See Glossary_R_ Router_annex. )

Here's Hjorth's opening sentence
"The router machine in its heavy-duty production form is a type of machine that mostly resembles a drill press."
To demonstrate, Hjorth includes an image of the production router, reprinted above.

But I don't think the router's lineage is what excited the wannabe woodworkers of that day; instead, what they found exciting is the idea of the router's versatility in perfoming at least 13 distinctive operations: cutting rabbets, cutting dadoes, cutting grooves, cutting "gains" for door hinges, for cutting shallow mortises; with the aid of a dovetail jig, a dovetail router bit and a template guide, for cutting dovetails; for cutting grooves and recesses for inlaying; and for flat carving, -- "for flat carving the hand router cannot be surpassed" --; as a shaper, the hand router can be used to cut moldings along the edge or end of tables, bureaus, and other types of furniture; with the use of a special stand to hold the motor, the router be used for fluting or beading, a spindle shaper; fluting, chamfering and V-rabbeting; and many molding cuts can be made easily with the hand router and pilot tip bits. In other words, the hand router, consisting of the motor, router base and guide, can be used for making almost any cuts required in joinery.

For the entire text and several of the numerous images of Hjorth's landmark article, click here:

Document 45: Herman Hjorth "The Router" 1949

Back to Chapter 6:5

The "hand router", though, is the main focus of Hjorth's article. That it was written in the late 1940s is, I think, telling, as hand-held routers, themselves, came into the market late in the 1920s, and were not purchased by amateur woodworkers until the 1940s.

My evidence on the last statement comes from an investigation of entries in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, the New York Times, and the In 1946, the router as a tool for the homeworkshop receives "scant" treatment in Popular Science's woodworker's manual, How to Get the Most Out of Your Home Workshop.:

The hand router, more familiar to the home craftsman or the shop owner doing light production work, is primarily a motor held in a base provided with two knobs. ... [A] versatile machine [it] can not only bore holes, ... make mortises, cut grooves for inlay lines and insets, cut rabbets, cut gains for hinges, make dadoes, groove curved work, bead and round small moldings, and do veining and routing after templates.

With ... a jig and fixtures ... the hand router can be used to cut dovetail joints, bead and flute turned legs. With a ...  [Stanley-made fixture you convert]   a hand router into a shaper. With the aid of a router stand, the hand router becomes a bench router similar to the heavy-duty production router.

The hand router motor can be raised or lowered in the base, thereby controlling the depth of the cut. The base also has a reversible guide fastened to two steel bars. One side is flat and used along straight surfaces; the other has a depression in it and is used for cutting along curved surfaces. 

Sources: Herman Hjorth, "How to  Operate Power Tools", Home Craftsman 18 1949, pages 18-21, 55-58; reprinted as chapter 12 in Milton Gunerman, How to Operate Yor Power Tools New York: Home Craftsman Publishing Corp., 1950.

The Plunge Router Emerges in Europe in the 1940s [under construction -- these images are from the users' manual of my Elu router; The idea of a variable speed motor is to be able to match the turning speed to the material and the size of bit you're using.]
plunge router 1
Germany's Elu firm developed t he plunge router in 1949. (The ShopNotes article cited below claims that the date is 1951, when "a Swiss manufacturer built the first one".) Soon, Elu routers became known throughout the world as the best plunge routers, basically setting a standard for all other plunge routers. Interest in plunge routers in the U.S., however, emerged much later, the early 1980s. Elu was purchased by Black and Decker who also owns DeWalt Industrial Tool Co.

By the early 1990s, the Elu included "soft start" motors, variable speed adjustment -- from 8,000 to 24,00 rpms, and a precision "plunge mechanism". (For more info, see t he anonymous article, "Elu  Plunge",  Shop Notes,  1, no. 1, page 10-11.)

plunge routers 2

The plunger router eliminates the "threaded housing"/base plate operation of setting the depth of cut by the rotating bit. (See threaded housing on anatomy of router above.) This feature introduces both greater accuracy and safety.

Today, the Elu/DeWalt plunge routers are still made in Europe and are direct clones of the famous Elu plunge routers. Elu fixed base routers are made in the United States.

Otherwise, distribution of Elu brand routers in the U.S. has been discontinued. This is a pdf version of my Elu Instruction Manual

Pin Router
[under construction]
With its cutting mechanism above the table -- similar in many respects to the radial arm saw and -- as described and pictured above -- the production router.

Pin routers can shape, mold and rabbet the outside edges of workpiece, plunge-cut and/or groove and bore precisely for inlay, cut mortises, and create identical parts. Dennis R Wilson's article explains six ways to operate pin routers, which cutters are best, and safe use. Other information covers homemade overhead and pin routers.

The pin router can operate in six modes: Mode one, freehand, similar to using a portable router freehand, except that you move the stock rather than router, with the advantage that you can see view the operation. Mode two uses a straight fence for straight-line shaping. In mode three, you shape with the workpiece pressed against a pilot on the cutting tool. In modes four and five, either the workpiece is pressed against the guide pin, or the workpiece is set on top of a pattern or jig. For mode six -- for internal shaping, scroll cutting and flat-relief carving -- the workpiece is fastened to a template whose underside has been routed out to follow the guide pin. Mode six is good for routing multiple recesses for Inlays.

Source: Dennis R. Wilson, "The Pin Router: Basic Setups for This Versatile Machine", Fine Woodworking No 29 July-August 1981,  pages 63-65
Some Typical Routing Operations:
All common routing tasks can be performed with ease with the Plunge Cut Router: Grooving, rabbeting, recessing, veining, and profiling on all types of wood and plastic:
router veining with template 1946

Veining and Grooving.
A method of decoration, to "vein", "groove", "rabbet" and/or "dado" is -- using a template as a guide -- to  cut fine, decorative lines on a workpiece's surface.

Source: [Anonymous] How to Get the Most Out of Your Homeworkshop New York:  Popular Science Publishing, 1946, page 79

Inlaying. In general, it may be said that inlaid work is of two kinds Lines are straight borders glued up in many different designs in widths from 1/16 inch up. Insets are center or corner decorations glued up of many small pieces of wood of different color and shape.

Molding Edges. Small moldings and edges of table tops, picture frames, etc., are shaped on the router.

Gains, Mortises, and Dovetails. Gains for hinges and shallow mortises are made with ordinary straight routing bits. For mortising of greater depth, differnt templates and jigs have been created. Dovetailing is done with a special bit and special metal guides.

Sources:  Herman Hjorth, Principles of Woodworking    Milwaukee: The Bruce  Publishing Company, 1930;  Herman Hjorth Machine Woodworking Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1937 ; Herman Hjorth, “The Router”, Home Craftsman 18 1949, pages 56-57; Milton Gunerman, How to Operate Your Power Tools New York: Home Craftsman Publishing Corp., 1950; Dennis R. Wilson, "The Pin Router: Basic Setups for This Versatile Machine", Fine Woodworking No 29 July-August 1981; [Anonymous], "Elu Plunge", ShopNotes 1, no 1 January 1992, pages 10-11; Nick Engler, Routing and Shaping: Techniques for Better Woodworking. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1992 ; Albert Jackson and David Day Good Wood Routers Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 1996; Anthony Bailey, Routing for Beginners Lewes, East Sussex, England: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, 1999; R J DeCristoforo, The Jigs and Fixtures Bible: Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Better Woodworking Cincinnati: Popular Woodworking Books, 2001 ( First published in PW, April 2000 ;  Dennis R. Wilson , "The Pin Router" Fine Woodworking #29.