Most woodworking projects you're likely to take on make use of a router. From applying a simple decorative edge profile to making perfect dovetail joints and everything in-between, you’ll soon discover that a router is the most versatile tool in your workshop. Here, we've got expert reviews of all the best routers, router tables and router lifts on the market, plus advice and tips on how to make the most of it all.
Whether you want a fixed base, plunge router or router combo kit we've looked at all the best models from the top brands so that you can choose the router that's perfect for your needs, budget and experience. Never before has there been so much choice and such good value for money.
The Bosch MRC23EVSK is Bosch’s latest router combo kit but with a difference – unlike other combos that have the power switch on the motor, the Bosch MRC23EVSK has the on/off switches on the handles of each base thanks to electrical connectors on the motor unit and on the bases, so you can start and stop the router and keep hold of it with both hands at the same time, which is safer and gives better control.
The Bosch 1617EVSPK Router Combination Kit is Bosch’s bestseller in the router combo market. One motor and two bases (fixed and plunge) means you don’t have to buy two dedicated machines – two routers for not much more than the price of one. Features that make the Bosch stand out include its micro-adjust dial for setting cutter depth on the fixed base, comfortable wood handles and easy bit changing in fixed-mode.
The Dewalt DWP611PK is Dewalt’s fantastic router combo kit in the 1.25 hp trim router class. Most router manufacturers have a fixed-base trim router but Dewalt is the only one to produce a router combo kit in this class. In fact the Dewalt DWP611PK is the only plunge router available in this power bracket, meaning if you want a small, lightweight plunge router, the Dewalt DWP611PK is it.
The DeWalt DW618B3 Router kit is basically Dewalt’s bestselling DW618PK combo kit with an added D-handle base thrown in, so you’ve got all the bases well and truly covered (no pun intended). What you need to decide now is whether you want to spend an extra $25 for the additional D-handle base, and we think there’s one compelling reason why you should have 3 bases.
The Festool OF2200 is Festool’s top-of-the-range plunge router, which packs in so many innovative features that you really don’t know where to start – ergonomic offset grips, tool-free hinged base system, retractable spring-loaded dust shroud, double locking plunge columns and ratcheting spindle lock, plus the smoothest plunge on the market and easy, intuitive macro and micro depth adjustment.
The Milwaukee 5616-24 Router Combo is Milwaukee’s excellent entry into the highly competitive 2-1/4 HP router combo market. As you would expect from Milwaukee with their reputation for tough, get-the-job-done power tools, the 5616-24 is one of the most solidly built router combo kits we have tested, plus it’s got a wrap-around palm grip on the fixed base which makes it really easy to use and control.
The Milwaukee 5625 is Milwaukee’s top-of-the-range, heavy-duty, fixed-base production router with a massive 3-1/2-hp motor which will eat anything you can throw at it. It has a number of features such as an integrated router lift that make it an excellent choice for router table work, and the large, angled D-handles are more comfortable and give you more control than conventional handles when routing freehand.
The Hitachi KM12VC Router Combo Kit is Hitachi’s complete router kit which gives you the router motor plus a fixed and a plunge base, plus 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch colletts giving maximum versatility in one cost-effective package, and at only $159.99 it really is good value. It’s also quieter and smoother than most other routers in this class, making it less tiring to use for prolonged periods.
The Bosch PR20EVSK is Bosch’s excellent entry in the 1.0 hp trim router market. With its light weight, superb ergonomics and variable-speed motor, it sets the standard for small routers. The small size and light weight means it’s very agile and easy to control, and can even be used one handed, offering the perfect balance of power, precision and control. Once you start using it you’ll find yourself using it for more and more jobs.
The Porter Cable 7518 is a heavy-duty, five speed, 3-1/4 hp fixed base router designed to be primarily used in a router table, and has all of the important features that you need for heavy-duty router table work, such as a 1/2-inch collet, good range of depth adjustment and the motor unit is easy to remove from the base to enable quick and easy bit changes without skinning your knuckles.
The DeWalt DW618PK 2-1/4 HP Router kit is Dewalt’s complete router kit which gives you the router motor plus both a fixed and a plunge base all in one cost-effective package. Some of the excellent features include a clear LEXAN sub-base, precise, rotating depth adjustment ring and patented through-the-column dust-collection system, all of which add up to an innovative, versatile router kit. Highly recommended.
The Porter Cable 892 Fixed-Base Router is Porter Cable’s entry in the mid-sized 2-hp to 2-1/4-hp router bracket. For all-round use, a mid-sized router can be the perfect compromize between the 3-hp behemoths and the new breed of smaller trim routers. They have enough power to cope with the majority of work, but without the bulk and weight of the larger routers than can be a handful to use freehand.
The Porter Cable 690LR is a mid-size fixed-base router for medium-duty work with a single-speed (27,500 rpm), 11 amp 1-3/4-hp motor designed along the same lines as its bigger stablemate, the 7518, although significantly lighter at 8 lbs. The Porter cable 690LR has become pretty much the production shop standard due to its excellent value for money and no frills, get the job done design.
When you’ve decided on the best Dovetail Jig for your needs, you’ll want to get some decent Router Cutters to go with it. Good quality cutters make all the difference to the finished result and last longer too. Buying cutter sets makes sense as you get all the most common cutters you’re likely to need and it’s a lot cheaper than buying them individually. Generally you get a storage box too which helps keep them in good condition.
Now that you’ve got your amazing new router and maybe a router table and dovetail jig to go with it, you’ll be wanting some ideas about what to make. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert woodworker looking for a healthy dose of inspiration or a novice just starting out and looking for more of a “how-to”, there’s a ton of really excellent routing books on the market. Whatever you’re into, get stuck in!
Now you've chosen the perfect router there's a couple accessories that you really need to expand your skills and take on any woodworking project. First, you'll want to get a Router Table. Mounting your router in a router table is the single biggest thing that you can do to increase your skills and routing capabilities. Here's some of the best:
The Bosch RA1181 is an open style, benchtop table made from quality components, with a good sized tabletop plus an excellent fence, giving you two of the main advantages of larger router tables in a compact, portable form and at an excellent price too. If space is at a premium and you are looking for a router table to get out and clamp to your bench each time you use it, the Bosch RA1181 should be on your list.
The Incra Router Table and Fence Combo#3 is the best selling Incra combo combining the accuracy of the LS17 Super System with the extra table top space of their 43″ by 27″ Router Table Top. The LS17 Super System is Incra’s top of the range fence system including the Wonder Fence and LS17 positioner which produce the most versatile fence system on the market taking accurate micro adjustment to new levels.
The Kreg PRS1040 is a top quality freestanding router table with a number of innovative features that make it stand out from the competition. The best feature is the innovative table saw style T-square fence which keeps the fence permanently parallel to the miter slot. As with all Kreg products, the thought and workmanship that has gone into this router table make it a joy to use. Best floor standing router table under $500
Has your Router got what it takes for Router Table work?
Some routers were just made for table work. If you haven't already bought a router, or you're thinking of buying another one for dedicated table work, find out what features you should be looking for in this article: The best routers for router table work
Learn how to get the most out of your Router Table
The router revolutionized woodworking, and a router table is easily the most useful accessory that you can add, as it turns a portable router into a precision woodworking machine. To get the most benefit out of it, you need to know how to use it properly and Bill Hylton's Ultimate Guide to the Router Table shows you how to do just that. Starting with Basic Know-How, it moves on to Cutting Profiles, Frame and Panel Basics, Cutting Joints and Using Templates. Highly recommended.
Make routing easier and more accurate with a Router Lift
After you've got yourself a router table, the next thing you really need to make bit changing and height adjustment really easy, and to let you make micro fine adjustments is a router lift. Take a look at some of the best ones here
Everybody knows mounting your router in a router table is an absolute priority if you want to take on advanced projects, but it does have some slight downsides - height adjustment and bit changing become more difficult when the router is upside down under the table and space is tight. That's why they invented the Router Lift...
The JessEm Mast-R-Lift II is the the latest version of JessEm’s Mast-R-Lift router lift which has kept all the great features which made the original Mast-R-Lift so popular and added some new features as well. JessEm invented the router lift back in 1999 and continues to concentrate on producing top quality, innovative router lifts which make router table work easier and more accurate than ever.
The Kreg PRS3000 is Kreg’s innovative router lift that includes a number of unique features that make it incredibly accurate and easy to use. Instead of a crank handle it uses a spring-assist lift wrench and a micro-adjust thumb wheel to give to fast, easy and accurate (to 1/1000-inch) height adjustment and bit changes. The Kreg PRS3000 router lift is exactly the sort of product we’ve come to expect from Kreg.
How to choose a router is one of the most common questions facing woodworkers. Of all the woodworking tools available, a router has to be one of the most versatile. Most wood workers realize the value of having a router, and a lot of them have more than one, permanently setup for different applications. However, with all the different types available it’s not always easy to decide which one is best for you, so we’re going to look at a number of the features that you should be considering including router power ratings and variable speed, router bit size, the means of accurate depth setting with fine adjustment control and whether you should buy a Fixed Base Router or a Plunge Router.
When looking at routers, one of the most important feature to look for is the horsepower rating of the motor. Motors range from heavy-duty, 3-1/2 hp 12 Amp units down to 1.0 hp 5 Amp machines and the more powerful the motor, the tougher the jobs you can take on – routing smoothly through the toughest hardwoods or pushing some bigger 1/2-inch shank bits through the stock. The downside of course is the size and weight of the more powerful routers, which can make them unwieldy for more delicate jobs.
Electronic variable speed
You should also choose a router with electronic variable speed, typically ranging from 8,000 to 24,000 RPM. This is particularly important if you plan to use larger bits as, the larger the bit, the more wood that is removed and so the slower the cutting speed needs to be. Whatever type of work you are planning, an electronic variable-speed motor allows the user to precisely match the tool rpm to the job in hand, and gives you more versatility to use a wide range of bits.
A soft start motor is another important feature you should look for – in addition to easier handling on start-up, it results in reduced strain and wear and tear on the motor itself, leading to longer motor life.
Router bit size
The bit shank size of the router is another important factor in deciding on a router. The two most common bit shank sizes are 1/4″ and 1/2″ and you should consider the projects you want to complete and the availability of bit sizes you need for these projects. The most common shank size is 1/2″ and you will find a much larger selection of bits available in the 1/2″ size and you will also find that some of the more specialist bits (mainly used by professionals) only come in 1/2″. Luckily, many routers these days come with both 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch collets so you’ve got all the bases covered.
Accurate Fixed and Plunge Cut Depth Adjustment
All routers, whether fixed base or plunge, need to have a means of accurately adjusting bit depth. You should be looking at routers that give you fast, precise coarse adjustments to within about 1/8in. and then micro-fine adjustments to within 1/64in. A useful feature that is seen on more and more routers these days is that the adjustment ring – not the motor itself – turns to adjust bit depth, meaning that a constant switch/cordset position is maintained when you’re using the router in a table.
Fixed Base Router vs. Plunge Router
What’s the difference? Basically, a fixed base router is one on which you set a specific depth, and that depth stays consistent while using the tool. A plunge router, on the other hand, allows you to plunge the router bit downward and into the stock, make the desired cut, and then lift the bit back out of the stock. In general, a fixed base router tends to be used in a Router Table and a plunge router is used for hand held routing, but obviously you can use either for both types of work.
The biggest advantage of a plunge base is that the bit can be lowered into the stock allowing cuts to be made in the center of the stock. Cuts like mortises and dadoes are much more easily performed with a plunge router since the bit can be lifted out of the cut once a stopping point is reached.
A lot of router manufacturers now provide routers with both a fixed and a plunge base, once again increasing your versatility.
Router Combo Kits for Maximum Value and Versatility
As with all tool choices you need to start out by considering what you will use the tool for, because different projects require different capabilities from the router. Whilst professional woodworkers will have a number of routers set up for specific applications, most of us only buy one at a time.
Luckily, these days, an increasing number of top manufacturers produce router combos that have both a fixed and a plunge base, as well as letting you use both 1/4-in and 1/2-in router bits, giving you maximum versatlility from one machine – so in fact the choice has actually got a lot easier in many ways. A couple of great examples of this kind of all-round router package are the bestselling Bosch 1617EVSPK or the smaller Dewalt DWP611PK