By George Vondriska and Ken Collier
The new generation of general-purpose routers really shines!
A mid-size, fixed-base router is the workhorse of most shops. It's easy
to handle and powerful enough for just about any task. Seasoned
woodworkers find themselves picking one up every day, and for first-time
router users it's almost always the best choice. We tested 17 models, and
found, to our surprise, that some of our old favorites have been dethroned
by a new generation of high-tech machines.
Mid-Size Fixed-Base Routers
By "mid-size," we mean tools in the 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hp range.
"Fixed-base" means that they don't have plunge capability, although the
Porter Cable 690, our Best Buy choice, can be bought in a package that has
both a fixed and a plunge base - a real deal.
Almost all of these routers can handle both 1/4-in. and 1/2-in. shank
bits. They typically have the classic twin handles, although several have
optional D-handles. Many models are extremely convenient for use in router
The best arrangement for a removable base is one where the motor can't
drop out when the router is hung upside down in a router table (see chart,
Variable speed is a very useful feature for the small-shop woodworker, one that greatly increases the versatility of the router. It's been available on big and more expensive routers for years, and now Bosch and Makita have added it to their mid-size routers. It is the one significant feature missing from several classic routers that we have used and loved for many years. These new variable-speed routers are better.
Big Hole in
There are many different depth control arrangements on these machines, so we approached this feature by having a group of independent testers, a mix of seasoned and brand-new woodworkers, handle the machines and rate them. The results are in the chart on page 74.
One we like is a lever lock on the motor housing. Most machines have a wing nut that you turn to lock the motor height. The lever lock is positive, easy and fast.
Switching position is another small matter, but one that affects
convenience. Some machines have the switch in a constant position in
relation to the handles. You always know where it is, which is convenient
for some operations when you want to keep your eyes on the bit while you
turn the router off. And most, but not all, routers have self-releasing
collets. These help keep bits from getting stuck in the chuck, an
Appealing as their price is, we do not recommend the two smaller
Craftsman routers, because they do not accept 1/2-in. shank bits. The
Ryobi routers are good machines for hand held use, with large holes in
their bases, but the motor does not separate from the base, which makes
them much less convenient for router table use.
given many of us years of excellent service. However, the DeWalt has a fairly coarse depth-of-cut adjustment and the Milwaukee, though it has a reputation for endurance in production settings, is fairly expensive, and lacks features that matter in the small shop. Neither the DeWalt nor the Milwaukee have variable speed, for example, which we consider an important feature.
Our three recommended routers are:
|Editors' Choice: Bosch
1617 EVS |
This router epitomizes the new breed of mid-size routers. It has electronic variable speed, lots of power, soft start, a large hole in the baseplate, comfortable handles (wood, bless them!) and a lever lock for the motor. The magnesium housing makes this router one of the lightest and easiest to handle in the bunch. The well-engineered micro-adjust device for depth-of-cut makes this router extremely good for router table use. All in all, a great router. The price is around $209.
Porter Cable 690
|Editors' Choice: Makita
RF 1101 |
This is the other mid-size router with electronic variable speed, and it also has lots of power and the convenience of a lever lock. On the downside, it has that darn small hole in the base. However, it's the low noise level that we love about this machine. You have to hear it to appreciate it.
The price for this quiet routing is $210.