Plunge routers may not be sexy, but the results can be. You’ll get admiring comments from all and sundry when you put your fluted cabinet doors or new picture frames on display for the first time.
When you’re shopping for a plunge router, keep the end results in mind. These tools are versatile by design, “plunging” the bit in the middle of a material’s surface with control and precision, so they can do a lot of things a fixed-base router can’t.
Versatility is a great thing – until it adds confusion to the mix, turning your decision-making into a Gordian Knot of competing models, features, pros, and cons.
Our reviews are designed to cut through the confusion and present useful information to simplify the decision-making process, freeing you to impress your family and friends with your handyman skills.
|Bosch MRP23EVS||18 lbs||4.7/5|
|Makita RT0701CX7 Kit|
(Best for the Money)
|DEWALT DWP611PK Kit||8 lbs||4.4/5|
|Ryobi RE180PL1G 2HP||10 lbs||4.2/5|
We can’t say enough about this router. This 13-pound workhorse is big and heavy with power to burn.
It can be used as either a fixed-base or plunge router. This is a huge advantage that can’t be overstated. Why buy two routers if you don’t have to? Sure, it adds some complexity to the design but it is well worth it. Since it is all built into one base instead of the normal two, the ease of switching from one mode to the other is a plus.
It is easy to set up and the adjustments are precise. Changing bits is quick and easy. The ease and accuracy of the height adjustments make getting it dialed in correctly very straightforward. The soft start and variable speed reduce kickback, adding a layer of necessary precision when beginning your cuts.
The only negative, and it’s a small one, is dust collecting and building up on the shields. Most routers will have some dust problems though, so this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means.
This is a great plunge router – rich in features, power, ease of use, and versatility. It easily earned its place as our top pick.
It was a close call between the Triton combination router above and this Bosch plunge router, but at 18 pounds out of the box, this tool is a bit too heavy for hand routing. It comes with threaded holes for router table mounting, so this might not be as much of a negative as you’d think.
The controls are well located, including a lockable power switch in the handle. Nice!
The plunge mechanism feels smooth, the ergonomic grips are comfortable, and the micro adjustments are easy to read and use. It was fun to use in spite of the weight.
It doesn’t have a plastic shield on the operator side, though. This is a strange omission, since dust is an issue with all routers, making a dust shield a must-have item.
This is a greater router in most respects, more than capable of delivering outstanding performance. If not for the weight, which isn’t much of an issue, and the lack of a dust shield, this one could have ranked higher in our review. As it is, we’ll give it a solid runner-up position. It was a close call.
The first thing we have to mention is how light this router is, just under 4 pounds. This makes it perfect for hand use on overhead projects, doorjambs, inside cabinets, etc. Its compact size is well designed for smaller, detailed projects. We also found it comfortable in the hand and quieter than we expected.
Because of its compact size, the whole thing heats up quickly. The grips, which are smaller than they should be, can lead to some burns if you’re not careful how you handle and turn it. The plunge base works for the first few times, then has a tendency to begin sticking and jamming. We’re not sure if the heat is warping the metal or if it is just a bad design.
For the price, this is a good offering from Makita. It’s great for light detail work, where it gets the job done in record time as long as you’re careful about the heat issue. However, the heat, as well as the problems with the plunger base, are what kept it out of our top two. For the home handyman, this one is hard to beat at the price.
DeWalt is normally a good name in power tools, but there are exceptions to every rule.
This compact router has some nice features, but dependability isn’t one of them. When it works, it works well, but after about 10 hours of use the motor revved up without warning and then shut down. Turning it on and off several times simply repeated the pattern. The motor sounded as if it was trying to do something before it died.
Another problem we encountered was heat – lots of it. It melted a rubber bushing and destroyed one of the brushes. If that wasn’t enough, the power switch is hard to move, and if you’re not careful you’ll burn your hand messing around with it. For safety, power tools need to be quick and easy to shut off – this one isn’t.
The power cord is unusually stiff, which created problems moving it around. It only comes with a ¼” collet and doesn’t ship with any bits or edge guides. Those last two aren’t fatal flaws, but they are disappointing.
This router is light and easy to use, but the motor and heat issues make it a tool to avoid.
This offering from Ryobi is lowest in this list. The power switch is nicely placed, but that’s about the only good thing we found.
This router sheds parts like a stray dog in August. After only a few hours, parts began vibrating off, principally the guides, plunge lock lever, and depth stop nuts. Once it begins they can’t be tightened enough to prevent repeats. They’re constantly coming loose.
The springs are too strong, resulting in a stiff plunge mechanism, with a jerky, uneven motion. It didn’t inspire much confidence. Furthermore, it can’t be pushed down with the handles. Instead, it has to be pushed down from the top using your body weight. When the lever for the plunge lock vibrates off, it becomes an instant source of muscle strain holding it in place on the small, wobbly base.
This router comes in dead last because of the constant shedding of parts, the overly stiff plunge springs, weak plunge lock, and small base.
Plunge routers add style and sophistication to your work with inlaid designs, slotted keyholes so hangings can lay flat against the wall, mortising and doweling to hide connections between adjoining pieces, and grooving and fluting to give your work a classic look. They can increase the value and versatility of your work if you’re a professional, or make you look like one even if you’re not.
Besides that, let’s be honest and admit it: we like playing with our toys. Plunge routers are fun. They let you rip and run to your heart’s content. We’re not saying plunge routers are for sport, but if you’re going to get one and use it, why not enjoy it while you’re at it?
From the Carpenter of Nazareth two thousand years ago to the newest apprentice on the shop floor today, professionals need the best tools available. Whether you’re just getting started in business or you’re rounding out year 30, put the budget aside and focus on the features you need to get the job done. You’ll be glad you did.
A router that sheds parts because of excessive vibration, or that breaks down in the middle of a job for any reason, can give you a reputation for being unable to finish your work in a timely manner. Some of the manufacturers in our list have a history of being slow to respond to customer service requests for replacements or repairs, leaving you with a job half-done and an angry customer. Not good.
The first thing you need to look for is dependability. Your tools have to work every time, all the time. That kind of dependability demands precision engineering and design, which in turn costs money. As you can see from our list of reviews, slapping a well-known brand name on a tool doesn’t guarantee it’ll be worth the price.
Ford is a well-known brand name among cars, but in the 1980s and 90s the name became an acronym for “Found On Road Dead.” It’s not true anymore, but the lesson is clear – don’t let a brand name on the box mislead you about the contents. Demand good workmanship.
The next thing to keep in mind is the features you’ll be using. For ordinary work such as making lawyer paneling or laying a few grooves in cabinet doors, you probably won’t need all the extras. They’re nice, but if you’re not using them, why bother paying for them? Focus on dependability and you’ll be good to go.
If detail work is your bread and butter, then by all means, go for broke and get as many features as you can. There’s nothing worse than having to drag out a different tool at every step of the job. One tool that does it all can save hours of set-up time, making it worth its weight in gold.
Home enthusiasts face a different, but no less real, set of challenges when selecting a plunge router.
Unless you’re running a carpentry business out of your house, most of your high-end power tools will only be used a few times each year. It doesn’t make sense to splurge on expensive tools if they aren’t being used on a regular basis.
With that in mind, we always include a “Best For the Money” category, looking around for best bang for the buck. A router with fewer features, and a correspondingly lower price, will often be the best choice for doing a few odd jobs around the house, or even taking on that special project you’ve been planning.
The home user normally won’t have the same kind of shop set-up as a professional. Turning your garage into a shop isn’t an option for most people, so you may be using sawhorses with a few planks on them as workbenches, or something equally temporary and unsteady. In that case, you’ll often be taking the router to the job instead of the other way around.
Routers typically weigh as much as a bowling ball, sometimes more. Try working on a doorjamb or cabinet while holding a bowling ball over your head, and you’ll see why professional grade equipment isn’t the best choice in this setting. You need something lightweight; otherwise, ten minutes on the job will feel like thirty minutes with barbells.
You also need a router compact enough to get into all those tight spaces. You can’t tear the cabinets out of the kitchen or rip the windowsills out of place just for 10 minutes of router work. You’ll have to work on them where they are, and some of them will have you on your knees practicing to be a contortionist. Small routers that can get into those tight spots and don’t require you to stand over them pressing down with all your weight will be a God-send, and a must-have.
When power tools malfunction or need to be replaced or repaired, you’ll have to deal with the manufacturer at some point. Sad to say, even the best of them have spotty records in this regard. Now and then you’ll run into a customer service representative who knows what they’re doing, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.
Your first step is to examine the box before you open it. Router manufacturers have a history of selling refurbished or repaired routers as “new.” We’ve seen this too many times with too many companies to discount the possibility. Go over the box like a hawk before you open it. If you have any suspicions it might have been opened and resealed, document it by taking pictures from every angle.
Open the box carefully – in case you have to reseal it and return it – then examine the contents with the same eagle eye you used previously. Once you’re satisfied, unwrap it and check for any obvious manufacturing defects – metal pitting, loose parts or screws, cracks in the handle or plastic shielding, alignment problems, or unsafe electrical cords.
Once it’s working, keep the receipt – forever. Keep it someplace where you can find it. It’s the simplest thing in the world, and the one too many people overlook. Without a receipt, you’ll be left with a boat anchor if anything goes wrong.
One thing you’ll always want with power tools is a warranty. Get an extended warranty if they have it. Pay extra for it if you have to. This might sound strange after we just finished warning you about customer service with most manufacturers, but this actually makes sense.
Let’s be clear – a warranty won’t lessen the difficulties you might encounter with a customer service department, but it does give you some legal legs to stand on. The very fact that you have a receipt works to encourage the representatives you’re dealing with to watch themselves. Companies can easily be sued by customers with valid warranties, putting them in a legally untenable position. Woe to the employee responsible for putting them there!
Customer service supervisors know this and are anxious to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Having an extended warranty is worth the extra cost.
It also ensures you don’t have to pay so much for repairs or shipping. It becomes more affordable to buy another router and say “phooey” on the old one.
Keep an eye open for options such as extra collets in different sizes. Are there any drill bit sets made specifically for your router? What about adjustment wrenches, guides, or other attachments? If there are, it’s a good investment. Manufacturers “should” include most of these with the router, but the fact is most of them don’t, or only include the bare bones. Complaining won’t accomplish anything, but buying them along with the router will, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble later on
Our reviews of these plunge routers demonstrated the clear superiority of the Triton TRA001. It’s our top pick, and for good reason – it’s a workhorse with plenty of power for heavy-duty jobs. It’s easy to set up, use, and adjust. Changing bits is a breeze, and aside from some dust collecting in the shield, this is a top-notch plunge router.
The lightweight Makita RT0701CX7 Kit is our pick for best for the money. When price is an issue but you don’t want to sacrifice quality either, this is the router to choose. For those detail-oriented projects around the house, this model outshines everything in its price range.
There are dozens of manufacturers offering competing models of every size and shape with features galore to choose from. It’s not quite a jungle out there but it is not for lack of effort, so we’ve chopped out a path for you.
Now instead of hunting around for the best deal, you can concentrate on finishing that special woodworking project, or two or three or four, you’ve been dreaming about all these years. Enjoy!
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