Fixed Base vs Plunge Router: How To Choose?

Last Updated:

fixed base vs plunge router header

Fixed base or plunge router? If you’re new to routers, it can be hard to figure out which model is right for you, especially when shopping online.

Operation

The biggest difference between fixed base and plunge routers is how they start. With a plunge router, the bit is still inside the unit and you can lay it flat against the piece of wood you’re going to carve. Once you start the plunge router, you lower the bit into the wood, and then move it around to make your carving. Plunge router bits tend to be pointed so that they can make the initial lowering action into the wood.

Fixed base routers begin with the depth already set. Consequently, the bit is already lowered beneath the base of the router when you turn it on. Fixed router bits tend to be flat on the bottom, instead of pointed, since you’ll be approaching every project from the side.

This means that you use the two kinds of routers in different situations. If you’re only working on edge work, then a fixed base router will serve you well.

However, if you’re in a situation where you need to have a solid, full-height border around the edge, you can’t use a fixed base router. The plunge router solves this problem by lowering down from the top, meaning that you can start inside the border.

Plunge routers are also much better at making shallow indentations that in some cases will be impossible with fixed base routers. Examples include indentations for a Chinese Checkers board or very-shallow decorative cuts. Fixed base routers will be better at doing work of a consistent depth around the border.

Keep in mind that some plunge routers can be fitted with an additional kit to turn them temporarily into fixed base routers. Fixed base routers typically do not have this feature.

Plunge Routers We Recommend:

Our favorite: Triton TRA001

Triton TRA001 3-1/4 HP Dual Mode Precision Plunge...
167 Customer Reviews
Triton TRA001 3-1/4 HP Dual Mode Precision Plunge...
  • Single button switches from conventional plunge to fixed-base router with rack and pinion mode
  • Through base, single wrench bit change is achieved with automatic spindle lock
  • Micro winder enables continuous fine depth adjustment through the full plunge mode

This entry is a bit of a cheat, as the Triton TRA001 is a plunge router that can also operate as a fixed based router. However, when you come across a tool this good, you have to tell people about it. This is a powerful model with a 3-1/4 hp motor, which will be more than enough for most projects. And you don’t have to worry about that damaging your more sensitive projects with an excess of power since this model comes with electronic speed control and a soft start feature.

While no power tool is quiet by traditional meanings of the word, this plunge router is quieter than average, which is always a nice feature to have. The one downside to this model is that it tends to have problems with dust control. Despite this, the Triton TRA001 is still our favorite plunge router due to its other great features.

Pros
  • Powerful
  • Plunge and fixed base modes
  • Soft start
  • Electronic speed control
  • Quiet
Cons
  • Dust buildup

Best for the money: Makita RT0701CX7 Kit

Makita RT0701CX7 1-1/4 HP Compact Router Kit
514 Customer Reviews
Makita RT0701CX7 1-1/4 HP Compact Router Kit
  • Variable speed control dial (10,000 to 30,000 RPM) enables user to match the speed to the...
  • Smooth rack and pinion fine depth adjustment system for more precise settings
  • Slim and ergonomically designed body for increased comfort and control

The Makita RT071CX7 is one of the best deals on the market. Many people love how easy it is to move around. As plunge routers go, it’s fairly lightweight, and its shape also contributes positively to its ease of use. It comes with a variable speed control dial which allows you to use the right speed for the job at hand. It also comes with electronic speed control, which gives you the peace of mind that the router is working at the speed you set it to.

Due to its light weight and speed control, this is a good model for precision work in general. The major flaw with this model is that it doesn’t have a fine adjustment wheel, meaning that you’ll be limited to larger increments of change. Despite this, the Makita RT071CX7 is still one of the best plunge routers on the market, and it comes at a great price, too.

Pros
  • Variable speed control
  • Electronic speed control
  • Lightweight
Cons
  • Lacks fine adjustment wheel

Fixed Base Routers We Recommend:

Our favorite: Bosch 1617EVS

Bosch 1617EVS Wood Router Tool Kit - 12 Amp...
382 Customer Reviews
Bosch 1617EVS Wood Router Tool Kit - 12 Amp...
  • POWER: A very powerful palm router at 12 amps, 2.25 horsepower and 8000 25000 RPM
  • VERSATILE: The variable speed dial on our trim router allows you to set the optimal speed for the...
  • CONSISTENCY: This compact router's advanced speed control technology monitors and maintains desired...

Our favorite fixed base router is the Bosch 1617EVS. It comes with a powerful 2-1/4 hp motor, which will be strong enough to deal with almost any cutting scenario. It’s also a very accurate tool, allowing for depth changes as fine as 1/64th of an inch. One of its most underrated features is a clear chip shield on the front of the unit that keeps most of the sawdust from flying back towards you, instead funneling it out the back, while still allowing you to see into the unit.

The wooden handles also feel great to use, lending a solid, in control feeling to your work. This line of routers does have a long history of problems with the power switches. Not every unit has this problem, and it tends to be fixable at home. Overall, you would be hard pressed to find a better fixed base router for a similar price.

Pros
  • Powerful
  • Precise
  • Clear chip shield
  • Great Handles
Cons
  • Switch durability problem

Best for the money: DEWALT DW616

DEWALT Router, Fixed Base, 1-3/4-HP (DW616)
160 Customer Reviews
DEWALT Router, Fixed Base, 1-3/4-HP (DW616)
  • 1-3/4-hp, 11-amp motor provides the power to rout smoothly through the toughest hardwoods
  • Micro-fine depth adjustment ring provides precise depth adjustments in 1/64-inch increments
  • Adjustable, tool-free steel motor cam lock makes depth adjustment and base changes quick and...

The DEWALT DW616 is a 1-3/4 hp fixed base router that gives you the most bang for the buck. Like the previous model, it comes with a depth adjustment ring that is accurate to 1/64th of an inch, meaning you can always get the depth you’re shooting for. It also comes with a toggle switch, which most people prefer, but isn’t commonly found on fixed base routers.

This unit is not variable speed, and it doesn’t work with larger bits unless you purchase a larger plate, which is going to drive up the total cost. However, if you’re only planning to work with smaller bits, which is reasonable, given that the motor is good, not great, this could be the perfect router for you. It would be hard to find a better deal for the same price on a different model.

Pros
  • Precise
  • Toggle switch
Cons
  • No variable speed
  • Small bit compatibility

Conclusion

The Triton TRA001 was our favorite plunge router, given its great power, quiet operation, soft start capabilities, and electronic speed control. The Makita RT071CX7 is great value for the price, especially given how lightweight it is, which makes precision work easy. Our favorite fixed base router is the Bosch 1617EVS, which is a powerful, precise model that comes with a clear chip shield, and excellent handles. The DEWALT DW616 provided the best value, providing plenty of precision at a price that won’t break the bank.

Hopefully, we’ve helped you understand the differences between plunge and fixed base routers. Like we said before, which router you get largely depends on what kinds of projects you’re looking to do. Armed with this information, you should now be able to choose the model that will work best for you.

About the Author Adam Harris

Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!