Router Table safety interlock

Safety consciousness in the shop is of paramount importance – a moment’s inattention can cause lifelong damage, especially to your hands. In extreme cases, people die from shop accidents. I don’t think I know anyone who pays more attention to safety than my friend and fellow woodworker Derek Roff. Hands-free switching of the router in a router table means you never have to let go of the workpiece. A footswitch solves this problem, but introduces a new hazard; you could accidentally step on the switch and spin up the router. Several years ago Derek built an interlock using high voltage AC relays that solves this problem. In order to start the router you need to step on the footswitch and press a momentary pushbutton. The router stays on as long as the footswitch is depressed. Inspired by this device, I’ve designed a next generation interlock that takes advantage of cheap microcontrollers and low-cost relays to add features to the interlock while lowering the cost.

New safety features

Like Derek’s original interlock, you must step on the footswitch and press the start button to start the router. Unlike Derek’s, the new device enforces a strict ordering on the switch presses. You must first step on the footswitch, then press the start button to start the router.

The more important addition is a delayed start mode. If you first step on the footswitch, then double-click the start button, the router will start five seconds after the double-click. This gives you time to get both hands on the workpiece before the router spins up.

Convenience features

It is quite common to have some sort of dust collection, often a shop vac, attached to your router table. The interlock provides a second receptacle for powering your shop vac. In order to reduce the likelihood of popping a breaker, the interlock provides a 3 second delay before starting the vac. The vac stays on 3 seconds after the router stops (when you release the footswitch) to catch a few more chips.

The device provides separate jumper-selectable soft-start for the router and the shop vac, mainly to reduce the starting surge load on your breakers. When the soft-start is enabled, the router and/or shop vac are spun up to speed over a 2 second span. Because of how soft-start is implemented it will not work correctly with routers that have built-in soft-start. It also might not work correctly with variable speed routers, like the Porter Cable 7518 that I have in my router table. Soft-start is important on hand-held routers, but less so on table-mounted routers, so the loss of the ability is not a big deal.

The Build

The heart of the device is a custom printed circuit board (PCB) that I designed using KiCAD, a free, open-source electronic CAD program. The boards were fabricated by JLBPCB in China. The smarts are provided by an Arduino Nano, which was selected for its low price (<$2) and ease of use. The finished product, mounted on my router table, is at the top of the post. Here are the guts:

And here it is mounted in a box:

The front panel is 1/4″ acrylic, cut on my CNC router. The lettering is cut on the back while the cover paper is still on the acrylic. The routed lettering is sprayed with white paint. After the paint dries the paper is peeled off the back and the entire back (inside) is sprayed black.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to teach you how to build this. If you already know Arduino programming (or at least how to “burn” an Arduino) and can solder a fairly simple PCB, the files below contain the KiCAD schematic and board layout, the bill of materials, and the Arduino code.

Tip of the hat to David Strafford for tirelessly answering all my questions about the electronics I don’t understand.

Stairway to Heaven?

Two years ago our friend Ramey Douglas asked if he could set up a bee hive at our place. He’s raising bees primarily to help fight the die-off, but harvesting honey is a benefit not to be ignored. The first year we put the hive south of the bedroom. This required strong fencing to keep bears away. A variety of measures were attempted to keep ants out of the hive. The ants won. Last year we decided to put the hive on the roof of the main house. This worked well in terms of keeping the hive save, but required an extension ladder to access the roof in order to check on the bees and to provide sugar water when there weren’t enough flowers to feed on.

This year we installed a permanent stair to the roof. Our initial thought was a spiral staircase, but that would be awkward if carrying anything (like the hive box which has to be taken down for winter). We ended up purchasing a steel “alternating tread staircase” which is similar to a ship’s ladder. Installation is more involved than just leaning it against the house, of course. A bracket had to be made to attach to the perimeter I-beam on the roof to provide a flush surface to bolt the ladder. A concrete block had to be cast with anchor bolts for the base of the ladder. Relative locations were quite critical – the holes for the bolts provided only about 1/8″ of leeway. Adding to the challenge is that there were no level surfaces against which to measure. A plumb transferred the locations of the bolts to blocks that were the correct vertical distance from the bolts. A spirit level established the height of the concrete block, and a steel tape measured the distance from the plane of the bolts. Measurement of diagonals established right angles.

The ladder, of course, did not come in the color we wanted. It was safety yellow; we wanted black. We finally had a couple of mornings that were warm enough and calm enough to spray the ladder using an LVLP sprayer.

The catalog listed the weight of the ladder as 334 pounds, which was cause for concern about moving it and setting it up. Turns out it doesn’t weigh that much, especially before the railings are installed. With the help of Ramey and John Rohr, we were able to carry the ladder to the location, set the base at the bolts, and walk the ladder upright. Much to my amazement and pleasure, the bolts slipped right through the holes at the top of the ladder.