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Fixed Base vs Plunge Router: How to Choose?

router

The complete woodworking shop typically has different types of routers. However, when starting out, budget constraints can limit you to just one router. Woodworkers often find themselves having to choose between the fixed base and plunge router. Ultimately, your idea tool should be determined by the needs you are looking to fulfill.

In this article, we will discuss the unique capabilities of these two router types, as well as the advantages and drawbacks to help you choose what you need to buy first.

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Fixed Base Routers

As you can tell from its name, the fixed base router is secured to one point to ensure that the cutting bit stays in one position. While this can limit your freedom of motion, it improves the machine’s ease of use and precision.

Cut Depth

These routers typically feature a low profile, in addition to being lightweight, thus making them easier to control. Additionally, unlike plunge routers, where you can adjust the cutting depth as you work, fixed base routers require that you set the depth before you start working.

person using Bosch GKF125CEN Colt Variable-Speed Palm Router Tool

Accuracy

Fixed base routers offer you extreme precision since their base is static and their cutting depth preset, thus reducing the risk of human error. This is why they are popular in joinery projects.

Due to this design, fixed base routers are ideal for projects that require to work from the side, such as edging.

Ease of Use

Once you have set the bit, all you need to do is guide it. Plunge routers, on the other hand, require a higher degree of physical control, which can be hard to maintain for prolonged periods. Moreover, its compact design and lightweight nature make it easier to operate than plunge routers.

When undertaking extensive routing projects, most professionals prefer the fixed base router since it is not as tiring to use as the plunge router. As a result, fixed base routers are ideal for beginners.

What’s It Good For?

If most of your work occurs on a table, the fixed base router is an excellent choice, as it allows you to mount it on the table. The design of a plunge router, on the other hand, is not ideal for mounting.

Again, fixed base routers are recommended for projects that require super accurate cuts on the edge of a workpiece, such as joinery. Fixed base routers sacrifice versatility for accuracy. Consequently, you are limited in the diversity of projects that you can take on using this tool.

Price

On average, fixed base routers cost less than plunge routers. This is because they do not have as many components or a complex design. This makes them the ideal router to purchase if you are on a budget.

Our Favorite Fixed Base Router

Bosch GKF125CEN

Bosch GKF125CEN Colt 1.25 HP (Max) Variable-Speed Palm Router Tool

With its 1.25-HP motor, the Bosch GKF125CEN is capable of achieving cutting speeds of up to 35,000 RPM. What’s more, it has a variable speed setting, thus allowing you to optimize the machine for different projects or materials.

It is also remarkably simple to use. It features a soft-start and quick-lock system to get you up and going in no time. It also has a depth adjustment feature that allows for more accurate cuts, as well as ergonomic finger pockets to enhance your comfort as you use the system

Thanks to a rugged aluminum construction, this unit is incredibly durable. Despite its sturdy build, it is surprisingly light, thus enhancing its ease of use. It also comes with a rubber grip to allow for one-handed operation.

The only drawback to this fixed base router by Bosch is that its guides are a bit flimsy.

Pros
  • Easy to use
  • Decent power
  • Lightweight
  • Variable speed
  • Easy setup
Cons
  • Flimsy guides

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Plunge Base Router Overview

Different woodworkers have different approaches to their craft. Some put tremendous value in the efficiency that machines allow them, while others take a hands-on approach to their craft. If you are among the latter, then the plunge router might be ideal, as you have to work the tool physically to make cuts.

Bosch GKF125CEN Colt 1.25 HP (Max) Variable-Speed Palm Router Tool

Cut Depth

One of the biggest advantages that a plunge base router has over the fixed base is its ability to change cut depth while still in action. When using fixed base routers, you first have to stop the machine in order to adjust its cut depth. As a result, plunge routers are more convenient in this regard.

Plunge routers have spring-loaded arms on both sides to allow you to dip the cutting bit into the surface of the material from different angles. As a result, they are particularly useful in projects where you have to cut from above.

Versatility

Compared to fixed base routers, plunge routers are more versatile. This is because they can cut material from both the top and middle, which is something that a fixed base router cannot do.

Thanks to their movable bit, these routers are much more flexible than fixed base routers. However, that also gives plunge base routers a steeper learning curve, as you will need to know how to gauge depth while cutting. As a result, plunge base routers might not be beginner-friendly.

What’s It Good For?

Thanks to the dexterity they allow you, plunge routers are far more efficient at making wood signs. To make a sign, simply draw the letters on the board, and then use the plunge cutter to rout the letters out.

These routers are ideal for applications that require you to work from above the surface, such as making grooves, mortices, dados, rebates, and fluting.

Moreover, contrary to popular opinion, plunge base routers can help you in your edging work. This is because you can utilize their round-over cutting bit to profile your edges.

The biggest drawback of the plunge router, however, is that it is not as accurate or precise as the fixed base router, especially when it comes to edge working.

Price

Due to their versatility and handiness, plunge base routers are more expensive than fixed base routers, on average.

Other Factors to Consider

  • The unique design of the plunge router makes installing it on a bench or table more difficult compared to fixed base routers.
  • These routers have a steeper learning curve than fixed base routers. As such, they are ideal for people with experience.

Our Favorite Plunge Router

Makita RP1800 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router

Makita Plunge Router 22, 000 RPM

The Makita RP1800 is a beast of a plunge router that is capable of delivering more than 22,000 RPM using its powerful 3-HP motor to ensure the effortless penetration of your workpieces.

This unit also comes with a decent depth capacity of up to 2¾ inches to allow you to make deep cuts into your pieces. Thanks to linear ball bearings, this plunger cutter is able to move smoothly to deliver high performance. Moreover, it comes with three preset depth stops for enhanced accuracy.

The Makita RP1800 also features a sturdy construction that makes it one of the most durable plunge routers on the market today.

This unit is also easy and comfortable to operate, thanks to the ergonomic handles. It also comes with a built-in fan to clear the dust as you work.

The only drawback to this unit is that it does not come with a variable speed setting.

Pros
  • Powerful
  • Accurate
  • Enhanced depth control
  • Ergonomic features for comfort
Cons
  • Does not have variable speed settings

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Plunge Router vs. Fixed Base Router: Which is Better?

The answer to this question will vary between individuals, as each of these two routers has its unique benefits. To help you identify the ideal router for your current project, consider the following factors.

Best Uses

Due to design differences, these two routers excel at different aspects of woodworking. Plunge routers are best suited for projects that require you to start cutting in the middle of your workpiece, such as when making decorative designs.

Fixed base routers, on the other hand, are ideal for smaller trims. They also handle edge work with more precision. As a result, they are the perfect router for joinery projects.

Repeatability

Consistency is crucial in woodworking, especially when dealing with projects that require you to make the same precise cuts on different pieces.

If you are looking to repeat a particular cut across multiple pieces, you will be better off using a fixed base router. This is because you only need to set the desired cutting depth, and the machine will maintain it until you decide to change it. This will involve stopping the motor to make the adjustment.

While a plunge router allows you the benefit of adjusting the cutting with the motor still running, it is a shortcoming when it comes to making repeat cuts. This is because it is difficult to maintain the cutting depth setting of a plunge router.

Size and Weight

Considering that routers are handheld tools, their size and weight do matter, as these factors affect the machine’s ease of use.

Fixed routers feature a compact and lightweight design. As a result, they are easier to handle and move around than plunge routers. Since plunge routers are significantly larger and heavier than fixed base routers, handling them requires greater effort.

Price

Plunge routers are typically more expensive than fixed base routers, costing up to twice as much in certain instances. They are more expensive due to the versatility they allow the user.

How to Choose the Best Router

Regardless of your choice of router, there are features that you should look out for in any router before you purchase it as these will affect its performance and ease of use and, thus, your quality of work. Some of the features include:

Horsepower Rating

Horsepower is a measure of the power that your router can generate. Ideally, 2 HP is the least amount of horsepower that a good router should have. Anything less than that and you will not be able to penetrate thicker pieces of wood. However, fixed base routers can get away with a lack of horsepower as their design makes up for that deficiency. This is why horsepower should not be your sole focus when evaluating a router.

Variable Speed Control

Different materials or projects require different cutting speeds. Therefore, your router should have variable speed control to allow you to adjust the cutting speeds to suit the needs of your project.

Electronic Feedback System

The electronic feedback system senses the requirements of your load and adjusts the machine accordingly. This increases the efficiency of the router, as well as its accuracy and ease of usage. Therefore, it is a great feature to look for in a potential router.

Ergonomic Handles

The best router is one that delivers great results while being easy to use. Handles play a big role in the comfort of a router. Look for one whose handles have been designed to enhance your comfort.

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Fixed Base Routers We Recommend

Image Product Details
Our favorite
Winner
Bosch 1617EVS Bosch 1617EVS
  • Powerful
  • Great handles
  • Clear chip shield
  • Best for the money
    Second place
    DEWALT DW616 DEWALT DW616
  • Precise
  • Toggle switch
  • Micro-fine depth adjustment
  • Plunge Routers We Recommend

    Image Product Details
    Our favorite
    Winner
    Triton TRA001 Triton TRA001
  • Quiet
  • Powerful
  • Soft start
  • Best for the money
    Second place
    Makita RT0701CX7 Kit Makita RT0701CX7 Kit
  • Lightweight
  • Variable speed control
  • Electronic speed control
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    Conclusion

    Plunge and fixed base routers are both tools that deserve a spot in your workshop, as each has its own advantages. But if you had to choose one, you must think about the nature of your projects and the level of your skill because these are probably the most important factors to consider.


    Featured Image: Needpix

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