How to Make an Adjustable Router Template Guide

Make an adjustable router template guide for squares and rectangles with this step-by-step tutorial and video.

An adjustable router template guide is used to accurately and precisely cut specific shapes in the stock. A router template can be used to cut squares and rectangles of different sizes, to cut mortises and slots, or dados and rabbets depending on the shape and the setup of the template.

Some time ago I made an adjustable router guide for dados and grooves. It can be easily and quickly set up and serves well to accurately cut slots in the stock. It is a great router jig for the workshop I have been using very often. Although this guide is limited to cutting dados and grooves to a width of 6cm only.

The adjustable router template we will be building today not only allows us to cut dados and grooves (rabbets) but also allows us to make all the above-mentioned cuts. It is most suitable for routing squares and rectangles of different sizes but also serves well for cutting exact width dados and slots.

The template can be used with or without router bushings. Both options are possible, but in my case, I am using the jig without router bushings and using the router base as a guide. If not used, the template can be easily disassembled and stored away.

Adjustable router template jig

You can find several router templates on the market, some universal, some router specific. The majority of them are made of aluminum. They work well, although are quite expensive and their price can be as high as several hundred dollars per model. So, I decided to save some money and build my own.

In this blog post, I will guide you step by step on how to make this multi-purpose router template/adjustable router template guide and show you how to use it (how I am using it).

RELATED: Check this router guide for exact width dados, slots, and rabbets, or browse through these Router Jigs you can build for your trim router.

DIY Adjustable Router Template Jig Video

If you want to see how it is done, watch the video below for a step-by-step guide on how to make an adjustable router template jig.

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Table of Contents

  1. The Material you will need
  2. General Questions
    1. What is the best material for a router template?
    2. How thick should a router template be?
    3. What router bit to use with a router template?
    4. Can you plunge with a straight router bit?
  3. How to Make an Adjustable Router Template Jig
    1. Step 1: Cut the template base plates
    2. Step 2: Make the template guide T-slots
    3. Step 3: Attach the guides to the template base plates
    4. Step 4: Make a router base plate
    5. Step 5: Connect all base plates together
  4. How to Use an Adjustable Router Template Guide for Squares and Rectangles

*Safety is your responsibility. Make sure you know what you’re doing and take all necessary safety precautions while working with power tools. Safety comes first!

Always be cautious and careful when using any power tool.

What you'll need to make an Adjustable Router Jig

Adjustable Router Template Jig:
Template base – MDF 4mm; 1/8 Inch (9,5cm x 46cm x 4mm)
Template Guides – Birch Plywood 1,2cm; 1/2 Inch (2,5cm x 50cm x 1,2cm)
Template Connectors – HDF 5mm; 3/16 Inch (2,5cm x 11cm x 5mm)
Router Base – HDF 6mm, outer ø10,5cm, inner ø3,9cm

Other:
Wood Screws – 1,2cm
M4 Bolts – 2cm
Wood Glue
Washers
Wingnuts for M4 bolts

Tools:
Trim Router – Dewalt D26203

What is the best material for a router template?

There are many types of material that can be used for a router template. The most recommended type of material is HDF, MDF, Acrylic, or Baltic Birch Plywood. Each has its advantages and can be used for different purposes, but all can be used as a suitable material for a router template.

MDF – MDF has a perfectly flat surface and is easy to shape. It is relatively cheap and easily available in a store. It is not the best choice for a high-precision template though. It responds to changes in temperature and humidity and will wear out over time.

HDF – Like MDF, HDF has a flat surface and is easy to shape. It is of better quality than MDF and can be used as a master template to make MDF working templates. It will also wear out over time. MDF and HDF are usually the first choices for a router template.

Acrylic, Baltic Birch – Acrylic and Baltic Birch is higher quality materials that will last longer. Both materials are good for a high-precision template. Additionally, acrylic reveals more cut material, which makes working with it more comfortable. The material is more costly though.

MDF HDF Plywood - best material for a router template
HDF MDF Baltic Birch

How thick should a router template be?

The thickness of a material for a router template should be between 6mm (1/4”) and 9,5mm (3/8”), potentially 12mm (1/2”). The material should be thick enough to provide enough bearing surface, but not so thick to unnecessarily shorten the length of the router bit.

The best material for a router template is MDF, HDF, Acrylic, and Baltic Birch.

What router bit to use with a router template?

The two main types of router bits that can be used with a router template are a flush trim router bit (pattern bit) with a bearing on the top/bottom of the bit or a guide bushing that can accommodate router bits of different sizes.

The position of the bearing on the router bit determines whether the template is placed on top of the workpiece or below the workpiece.

Guide bushings are available in different sizes to accommodate a variety of router bits. The bushing is installed in the baseplate of the router and perfectly copies the shape of a template. When using a guide bushing it is necessary to take into account the gap that arises between the template and the cut piece.

Can you plunge with a straight router bit?

A straight router bit can be used for plunge cuts. However, several factors need to be taken into account when using a straight router bit for router plunge cuts. Most importantly the router bit needs to be long enough to extend sufficiently across the base of the router. Secondly, the blades of the router bit don’t overlap which may result in burning the wood if cut too deep. To prevent wood burning, the material should be cut in shallow passes.

Although a more specialized router cutting bit like an upcut/down-cut spiral bit should be used when plunging with a router. The cuts will be cleaner since the contact between the router bit and the material is more constant as opposed to the straight bit which is hitting the piece but not cutting off the material.

Straight router bit for making DIY T Tracks
Double flute straight router bit

Let's Start

The standard 46 long sides of the adjustable router template guide allow about 36 cm of router cutting. The base is made of MDF, the guides (tracks) of birch plywood, and the template connectors of HDF.

The router template guide can be used both with or without guide bushings.

  1. If used without guide bushings then one router bit size is needed for each cutting (the same router bit used for the template creation). The set template then exactly matches the cut shape.
  2. If used with guide bushings then the offset of the bushing and the diameter of the router bit needs to be taken into account

To make the adjustable template you will need a circular saw and a trim router. I am using several jigs you can find below.

How to Make an Adjustable Router Template Jig

Step 1: Cut the template base plates

Cut 4 MDF stripes. The final dimensions of the stripes are 9,5cm x 46cm x 4mm, but first cut them a little wider – 10,5cm x 46cm. The excess will be cut off in a later step.

A table saw would be the best tool to make the cuts. If you don’t have one then a circular saw will do just fine. To have an accurate straight cut you can use a circular saw track. You can also use a circular saw guide for crosscuts which will result in a more accurate 90-degree angle.

Either way, make sure the cuts are as close to 90 degrees as possible. This is important when connecting the boards to each other. When fully connected together they should create a perfect square.

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

Step 2: Make the template guide T-slots

Cut 4 plywood strips (2,5cm x 50cm x 1,2cm). Each strip is slightly longer than the base plate. They serve both as guides for the trim router as well as T-tracks to connect the base plates together.

The plywood strip is 2,5cm wide, which includes a 1,5cm wide and 0,7cm deep groove. There is a 6mm wide slot in the middle of the groove.

The groove starts 2cm from the end of one side and ends 6cm from the end of the other side. To cut the plywood strips to the width I am using a circular saw with a rip fence guide and to cut the slots a trim router with a ø6mm straight bit in combination with a router guide jig.

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

NOTE: Instead of cutting a slot in a plywood strip to make a T-track you can also make a T- track by gluing wood strips on top of each other. This article provides more information on different ways how to make T-tracks.

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Step 3: Attach the guides to the base plates

Apply glue on the bottom of the T-track, insert a T-track bolt and glue the track with the base plate. Align the shorter end of the track with the edge of the plate, leaving a 3,7cm (what is left) overhang on the other side. Make sure no glue gets in the track. It is better to apply less glue and additionally secure the track with screws.

Leave a 2cm space from the back of the track for clamping purposes. Try to glue the track in line with the long side and perpendicular to the sides maintaining all the 90-degree angles.

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

NOTE: For the T-track bolt I am gluing the bolt with a washer. To make it slide nicely on the track and avoid turning when tightening the bolt, you can grind the sides of the washer to make it fit exactly the dado.

You can also cut a keyhole at the end of the track to insert the bolt after gluing the track with the base plate. That also allows you to remove the bolt anytime you need.  

Step 4: Make a router base plate

This step is optional. I am making a new round router base plate with a minimal overlap which allows using the router in any position. Nevertheless, any base plate works fine.

Keep in mind any base chosen is the one to be used with the router template jig.              

For the base plate, I am using a 6mm thick HDF with an outer diameter of 10,5cm, and an inner diameter of 3,9cm. To cut the circles I am using a router circle cutting jig.

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

Mark the position for the bolts, drill the holes, and attach the base plate to the router. To center the base plate around the router, use a router centering cone.

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

Step 5: Connect all base plates together

Cut off the wood excess from the base plate with the router and the chosen router bit (I am using a 6mm router bit with this jig).

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

To connect the base plates together attach an 11cm long HDF strip on top of the T-track, leaving an overlap of 6cm. To attach the strip, use wood glue and screws.

I routed a 4,5cm long slot in the strip to allow for an easy setup and additional adjustments.

Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

And this is what the finished router template guide looks like.

Adjustable router template guide
Adjustable router template jig

NOTE: Try to make all the cuts as perpendicular as possible. If by any chance after assembling all the pieces together you will not end up with square corners, the routed slots in the connecting strips will allow for additional adjustments, making it possible to copy the desired shape.

How to Use an Adjustable Router Template Guide for Squares and Rectangles

An adjustable router template guide is used to accurately and precisely cut specific shapes in the stock. It can be used to cut squares and rectangles of different sizes, to cut mortises and cavities, or dados and rabbets depending on the shape and the setup of the template.

The adjustable router template jig can be assembled in minutes. Once assembled there is no need to disassemble it again. The four sides of the jig can be easily adjusted to the required dimensions using wing nuts.

  1. Assemble all the four pieces of the adjustable router template
  2. Adjust the template using wing nuts and set it to the desired dimension
  3. Clamp the router jig to the cut piece and the workbench
  4. Place the router on the template and start cutting

If the template is used with guide bushings take into account the offset of the bushing and the diameter of the router bit.

Adjustable router template guide
Adjustable router template jig
Tenon joinery is one of the tightest and most versatile methods of joining wood parts. Once the mortise jig is set up you can make mortises easily and repeatedly. Learn step by step how to make a loose tenon mortise jig

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An adjustable router template guide is used to accurately and precisely cut specific shapes in the stock.

I hope the information shared in this blog post inspired and now you are adding this router jig to your next builds. 😉

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