BEST WOOD ROUTERS | NOVEMBER 2017
Wood routers are a staple tool for woodworkers of all experience levels. Like the name suggests, wood routers literally rout, or hollow out wood and other materials to shape, cut, or trim to the desired pattern. Used in everything from cabinetry to guitar-making, wood routers help you carry out a variety of DIY projects. There are a few types of wood routers with different strengths and weaknesses. The ReviewLab team conducted in-depth research into each of these routers — compact, fixed base, plunge, and combo — in order to help you ascertain which best fits your needs. Be sure to check out our wood router buying guide to get a better sense of what to consider, including power, size, bits, and extra features. Read more about our methodology.
The DEWALT DWP611PK Wood Router combines tight design with tons of useful extras. Excellent for a wide range of woodworking tasks, the DWP611PK has something for everyone, including variable speed control, a soft-starting motor, fixed and plunge bases included, and dual LED’s.Read full review.
The Makita RT0701C Compact Router is a great choice for the economical buyer, with its fully-featured compact design and surprising compatibility. It features plenty of power in its 1.25 HP motor and has a durable aluminum build to go with its smaller proportions.Read full review.
Wood Routers BUYING GUIDE
More powerful routers are faster and better suited to heavy duty tasks. However, not everyone requires the power to cut through the thickest materials. Furthermore, modern wood routers with less horsepower are still powerful, though they may require more passes over the wood to reach the desired result. There have also been important advances in technology that help routers maintain their speed throughout the cut. Nonetheless, how much power you need will depend on what materials you are routing and which projects you take on.
Size merits your attention when choosing a wood router. Some routers are much easier to handle based on height and weight. Compact routers are the lightest, while plunge routers can be large and unwieldy. Size can also help you determine whether you want to mount your router to a router table—fixed base routers are easier to mount than the larger plunge routers.
Bits are a key component in wood routing that must be purchased separately from the routers. Bits are the actual cutting material that shapes the wood, attached to the collet on the router. Bits commonly come in ¼-inch and ½-inch sizes. Some smaller routers will only take ¼-inch bits, while ½-inch bits are more stable and long-lasting. There are many bit types that cut different shapes, such as rabbeting bits for cutting shoulders on an edge or flush-trim bits that trim the edge of one material flush with the edge of another. You’ll want to consider which tasks you will be performing to determine which bits are most appropriate.
There are many quality-of-life features that can help you narrow down which router you’d prefer. For example, some wood routers include LED lights for better visibility while working. Variable speed control, dust mitigation, and soft-starting motors are a few other features to keep in mind — these characteristics can indicate a product that will be efficient and durable over time.
Wood router prices by and large sit in the $100-$500 range, though the most expensive routers can push a little past that mark. Compact routers are generally the least expensive option. Plunge routers tend to be more expensive than fixed routers, but there are exceptions—spend at the higher end for more powerful, workhorse routers. Expensive routers may also have better quality-of-life features. A casual woodworker can find everything he or she needs in a less expensive router, but a professional woodworker might require additional power or specific features for their jobs. Finally, separate items can be purchased for routers, such as bits, edge guides, and other bases. Buying a combo router kit can help reduce your ultimate costs with the included plunge and fixed base.
FULL product reviews
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Compact, flexible, and feature-rich, the DEWALT DWP611PK Wood Router has much to offer both casual and professional woodworkers alike: ease of use for a novice but a deep attention to detail only appreciated by a master. LED lights and a clear sub-base allow you unmatched views while working, and the over-molded rubber handle keeps your grip strong through the toughest work. You can make depth adjustments with ease and precision, and quickly swap the included fixed and plunge bases. Notably, these features come at a modest price.
Why We Recommend It
- Compact router with plunge and fixed base included. Most competing routers require the separate purchase of compatible bases, but the DEWALT DWP611PK includes both in one package so you can perform a huge variety of woodworking projects. The motor can be swapped in and out of each base in seconds with spring-loaded release tabs.
- Small yet powerful. Although this compact router is lightweight and can even be used with one hand, the DWP611PK still carries plenty of power. The 1.25 horsepower motor can handle tough cuts, and the soft-starting feature maintains motor speed during the cut. Variable speed control from 16,000-27,000 rotations-per-minute helps you control for different bits.
- Dual LEDs and clear sub-base. The LEDs are positioned perfectly to light the way during cuts, and the clear sub-base allows you to see your progress while you work for improved accuracy.
- Attention to detail. Experienced users will appreciate the easy and precise adjustment ring for cutting within fractions of an inch, the spindle lock button for easy bit changing, and the clamping mechanism to safely hold the motor. You can even turn the motor 180 degrees in the base to align it to your preferred position.
- Can be difficult to mount on a router table. You can fix this router to a router table, but you’ll need to find one that accepts the smaller size. This router is better used by hand.
- Can run hot. If you are taking on a long, difficult task, the router may get hot after extended use.
Quality wood routing should not break the bank, and the Makita RT0701C proves that point. With variable speed control, a soft-start motor, and quick release cam-lock system, the RT0701C checks off all of the important boxes. The motor packs enough punch for small and medium-sized projects, and you can increase the flexibility with optional add-ons. The small-scale size makes it easy to work with as you complete DIY home projects or more professional contract work.
Why We Recommend It
- Advanced features at a great price. The variable speed and soft-start motor are two key features for increasing stability and longevity. The quick release cam-lock system allows for speedy adjustments.
- Durability. The heavy duty aluminum motor housing keeps the router protected against wear and tear. The casing is not bulky, and the sturdy feel helps keep things stable while you work.
- Surprising amount of optional bases. While not included in the purchase, you have the option to choose from up to four additional bases that are compatible with the router. This is more than most competing models, as in addition to plunge and fixed bases there are also tilt and offset bases for specialized work. The offset base allows you to work in the tight corners of materials.
- Basic model only. A case or carrying bag is not included. You must purchase the optional bases separately, which would add to the cost. There are other add-ons you can purchase as well, such as a dust collection shroud for dust management.
- Base is not clear. This router lacks a see-through clear Lexan base, which might obscure your view while working.
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Best Compact Wood Router
The compact wood router is a newer development, but it has a number of distinct advantages. Lightweight and extremely portable, compact wood routers allow users to work for long periods of time with little effort. While some raw power is sacrificed, today’s compact routers can still perform most everyday woodworking tasks. The best compact wood routers strike the balance between mobility and power and offer a number of practical features such as LED lighting and variable speeds.
While every wood router can be used with both hands, not many work well with one—until the PORTER-CABLE 450 Compact Router came along. Even smaller than other compact routers, the PORTER-CABLE 450 is great for laminate edge trimming and other small projects, touch-ups, and working in hard-to-reach areas. This router is excellent for beginners, and even professionals like to keep multiples of these around a shop for easy access.
Why We Recommend It
- Designed to be used with one hand. The ergonomic design is comfortable to hold, whether you are using one hand or two, which also leads to greater levels of accuracy when cutting.
- Smaller than most other compact routers. You can work in tight spots and be more precise in those hard-to-reach areas with the PORTER-CABLE 450’s undersized dimensions.
- Full-circumference base housing. Most compact routers use a half-circumference base housing, which can lead to flexing and varying depth when attempting cuts. The full-circumference base adds stability.
- No variable speed. The motor is single-speed, so you cannot adjust the speed to accommodate different bits.
- Only uses ¼-inch bits. The router collet does not accept ½-inch bits, limiting which bits you can use.
Best Fixed Base Wood Router
Fixed base routers are literally ‘fixed’ in a depth position at the base, which increases accuracy. You can adjust and lock the cutting depth on a fixed base router for more exact cuts, and the router can be used manually or attached to a routing table. Fixed base routers are generally smaller than plunge routers, and some users find the lower center of gravity easier to control. Fixed routers make a great choice for precision such as in edge work, but they can be used for a variety of tasks. You’ll want to pay attention to horsepower, depth adjustment, and handling when selecting a fixed based wood router.
A no-nonsense router that’s all about functionality, the PORTER-CABLE 690LR Fixed-Base Router meets the demands of the most precise woodworking tasks. Durable despite being small and ergonomic in design, the 11-amp motor operates at up to 1.75 HP to manage difficult cuts. While you won’t find the fanciest advanced options, you will get an accurate, easy-to-use, and long-lasting workhorse of a fixed base router.
Why We Recommend It
- Power and durability in an ergonomic design. The 11-amp motor proves steady and powerful, and it easily cuts through tough materials. The precision-machined aluminum motor housing and base ensure this router can last through the years. Moreover, it all comes in a small package for easy and precise operation.
- Dust-sealed components. The dust-sealed switch and sealed ball-bearing construction keep things as dust-free as possible, making work easier and keeping the router undamaged.
- Easy bit changing. The auto-release collet system helps you easily switch out bits for different tasks.
- Precision. The depth of cut can be adjusted to within fractions of an inch with the micro-depth adjustor.
- No variable speed. The PORTER-CABLE 690LR only has a single speed motor. Fortunately, this is not detrimental in smaller routers.
- Adjustments can be a little difficult. While adjustments are exceedingly accurate, it can take a little longer to make them as compared to other models, and it requires a little extra force.
Best Plunge Wood Router
As opposed to the locked-in-place fixed base, a plunge wood router moves vertically along the base. Plunging the bit into the wood, users have a greater ability to adjust their cuts while the router is working. Plunge routers are larger and heavier than fixed base routers and are harder to mount on a table. Plunge routers are a great general purpose choice for woodworking because of their flexibility—they can even be locked into place to imitate a fixed base. A good plunge router should move up and down easily and not catch on the springs.
Power, speed, and flexibility are what the PORTER-CABLE 7539 Speedmatic Plunge Router is all about. It will dominate any woodworking task you throw at it, such as jig work and mortising, with its robust 15-amp, 3.25 HP motor. In our opinion, all this power is best suited for experienced woodworkers. This beast of a router also features five different RPM speeds, an auto-release collet system, and soft-start, so you don’t lose control over its power. Like any quality plunge router, the PORTER-CABLE 7539 gives you the flexibility to adjust your depths while you cut over the wood, though we doubt it will take many passes to shape things with this monster router.
Why We Recommend It
- More than enough power for any job. If you manage a high-output woodworking business or are an active home woodworker, you’ll benefit greatly from the 3.25 HP motor in the PORTER-CABLE 7539 Speedmatic Plunge Router. You’ll also do so safely with the soft-start motor that eases torque on startup.
- High-quality plunger. The plunger is easy to operate and glides smoothly over the springs, and it cuts to a maximum depth of three inches at a time. The turret has a depth rod that is adjustable to six different positions.
- Five speeds. You can set the RPM at 10,000, 13,000, 16,000, 19,000, or 21,000. These five speeds work well with different bits and materials so that you don’t cause any overheating or burns.
- Very heavy for routing by hand. At over 17 pounds, this router is a little heavy for manual use. You can make it work, but you may be better served by mounting it to a router table.
- Adjusting while on a table. Some users found it difficult to make certain height and other adjustments while the router was mounted. You may have to temporarily remove it or work under the table with wrenches to make some adjustments.
Best Combo Wood Router
Combo wood routers give users the best of both worlds—the precision of the fixed base and the flexibility of the plunge base. The motor on a combo wood router can be displaced from its base in order to swap in or out the plunge or fixed bases. This setup allows you to take on nearly any woodworking task with a single router, which provides incredible value. The best combo wood routers will have sufficient power to handle many tasks and will be able to switch quickly and securely from fixed to plunge bases.
Why not enjoy the distinct benefits of a fixed and plunge base with just one purchase? The Bosch MRC24EVSK Combination Router gives you that and much more. Competing combo wood routers can’t match the Bosch’s power with its 15-amp, 2.3 HP motor. A variable-speed dial, soft-start motor, microfine depth adjustment, and constant LED’s are key, but the Bosch MRC24EVSK also features some pleasant surprises in user safety.
Why We Recommend It
- Ultimate flexibility. With the plunge base, fixed base, and powerful 15-amp motor, you should have all you need right out of the box. The clear base and constant LED’s only add to the usability of the router.
- Unique safety mechanism. While you can locate the power switch on the motor of most routers, the Bosch MRC24EVSK Combination Router places the startup trigger on the handle. This provides an extra layer of safety while operating the router because both of your hands can be on the handles while it powers on or off.
- Large carrying case included. With the purchase of this router, you also get a hard carrying case for safe storage and portability. There is space within the case for your router, bases, wrenches, and any add-ons you might purchase separately.
- Plunge base has minor issues. We found the plunge base was not perfectly smooth to use, and it can stick a little bit if pushed straight down.
- Very loud. Noise levels might not be your biggest concern, but after long hours of work it can certainly damage your ears. Of course, earplugs are recommended while using the router.