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Find the Best Wood Router: Router Reviews

Best midsize wood routers

FH13NOV_MIDROT_01-2 wood router wood routers best plunge routerFamily Handyman
If you're in the market for a new router, you're in luck. Selection, prices, features—and the routers themselves—are better than ever. But having a wider selection and variety of features also makes choosing a router more complicated than it used to be. And that's the reason for this article.

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We review nine popular midsize wood routers and pick our favorites

Well focus on midsize routers in the 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 hp range. Wood routers of this size are the do-anything utility players in most shops, powerful enough to spin the biggest bits but small enough for comfortable handling. Its nice to have a bigger wood router mounted in a router table and a smaller trim router for light-duty work, but every woodworker needs the versatility of a midsize model. And if you plan to own only one router, midsize is the best choice by far. We selected models in a variety of price ranges and put them to the test. Heres what we learned in search of the best wood router.

Skil 1817 fixed-base router

Hp/Amps: 1-3/4 hp/9.5 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: No

This router has what it takes to do 90 percent of your routing tasks at a very good price. You get some nice-to-have features such as a micro-adjustment and constant speed. At 9.5 amps, this is the lowest-amp router in our collection, which sometimes means making an extra pass or two when using the bigger bits.

Two collets are better than one

So you can use big and little bits

Having both 1/4- and 1/2-in. collets adds range to your router.

Router bit shanks come in 1/4- and 1/2-in. diameters. (There are also 3/8-in. shanks, but theyre very rare.) Usually, you can get the same bit with a shaft of either size. But some small bits are available only with 1/4-in. shafts, while some large bits require 1/2-in. shafts. Most routers on the market todayincluding all the models we testedcome with collets to handle both sizes.

Drill Master 68341 fixed-base router

Hp/Amps: 2 hp/11 amps

Collet Size: 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2

Variable Speed: No

A simple combination of low cost and high power makes this router a genuine bargain. It even has some extras like a spindle lock for easier bit changes and a micro-adjustment feature. Our only gripe is the lack of variable speed.

Fixed-base or plunge?

best wood router

Fixed-base router

Once you set your fixed-base router, your cuts will be consistent from first to last.

best wood router

Plunge-base router

Theoretically, plunging your router into the workpiece lets you do more. Whether or not youll actually find yourself in situations where you can take advantage of the feature is another story.

A fixed base is simple: You just set the depth of cut and rout. You can do the same thing with a plunge base by locking in the depth. Or of course, you can plunge. The legs on a plunge router are kind of like shock absorbers: Push down and the legs compress. That means you can lower the bit while it spins. And that allows you to start your cut in the middle of a surface, rather than only along an edge.

This power to plunge lets you do things you couldnt (or shouldnt) do with a fixed base: cut stopped flutes or dadoes, mortises or engravings. Despite that extra versatility, most router aces told us their best plunge router mostly sit on the shelf. One pro woodworker summed it up this way: My fixed-base routers are simpler, easier to set up and adjust. So I only use a plunge when I have toand thats about once a year.

Porter-Cable 690 fixed-base router

Hp/Amps: 1-3/4 hp/11 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: No

This simple, dependable workhorse has been a pro favorite for decades. But it lacks many of the refinements found on some other pro-grade wood routers, such as above-the-table height adjustment for router tables.

Consider a combo kit

Best of both worlds

Its like getting two wood routers for the price of one. One high-priced router, that is. Check around for pricesyou might be better off actually buying two routers.

Cant decide between fixed-base and plunge? You dont have to. Most manufacturers now offer combo kits that give you one motor along with both a fixed and a plunge base. You truly get the best of both worlds. But do the math before you buy. In some cases, the extra cost of a combo kit is more than the cost of a second good-quality wood router.

Ridgid R2200 fixed-base router

Hp/Amps: 2 hp/11 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: Yes

This wood router can handle any routing task and has lots of extras, big and small: above-the-table height adjustment, constant speed with rpm spelled out on the dial, soft start, micro-adjustment, even built-in LED worklights.

Beware of horsepower ratings

Take the horsepower rating on any power tool with a grain of salt. Its not that the manufacturer is lyingits just that there are no consistent industry standards for determining horsepower. So its better to squint at the specifications and find the amp rating. The amp rating isnt a perfect indicator either, but its more reliable than horsepower. The wood routers we tested ranged from 9 to 13 amps. Other routers range from about 3 amps in the tiniest trim routers to 15 amps in the biggest wood-hogging beasts.

Milwaukee 5615-20 fixed-base router

Hp/Amps: 1-3/4 hp/11 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: No

This is an excellent pro-grade wood router with above-the-table height adjustment and micro-adjustment. And we love the unique adjustable strap that allows for comfortable one-hand operation.

Variable speed is essential for big bits

Bigger bits need slower speeds

If you plan to use big bits, you shouldnt run your wood router at full speed. In other words, if you plan to use big bits, you should plan on buying a variable speed router.

Variable speed is a feature thats pointless most of the time, but mandatory at other times. In most cases, you want the bit spinning as fast as the router can go, and adjusting the speed wouldnt make sense. With large-diameter bits, however, full speed isnt safe (check the rpm restrictions on the label). So if your plans include big bits, choose a variable-speed router.

Some routers also offer constant speed, which keeps the rpm stable under load. When youre running at full speed, this feature isnt much of an advantage. But when you dial down the rpm to use a large bit, the router senses the load and feeds more power to maintain the speed set on the dial. Its not essential, but its a nice feature that prevents running at slower speeds than you intended.

Skil 1830 combo-base router

Hp/Amps: 2-1/4 hp/10 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: Yes

This is a great combo kit at a great price and includes easy-to-use micro-adjustment on both bases, soft start and LED light. It lacks above-the-table height adjustment, though.

Above-the-table height adjustment

If your router will spend a lot of time in a router table, this is a feature youll love. Just insert a shaft through the top of the table and crank the router up or down. No more struggling to adjust the depth of cut from below.

Craftsman 27683 combo-base router

Hp/Amps: 2 hp/12 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: Yes

This package offers the highest amp rating in our roundup and a ton of features like above-the-table height adjustment, constant speed, soft start, micro-adjustment on the fixed base and LED lights. And all of that at a fantastic price.

Micro-adjustment

Adjust the bit height in increments of 1/64 in. or less simply by turning a ring or a knob. This precision means youll make far fewer test cuts and readjustments before you get the height right.

DeWalt DW616PK combo-base router

Hp/Amps: 1-3/4 hp/11 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: No

This is a rugged, pro-grade kit, heavy-duty and well-engineered top to bottom, but it lacks some nice-to-have features like above-the-table height adjustment.

Easy-access power

Turning a router on or off without letting go of the handle is quick and convenient, and safer for you and your project. To accomplish this, many plunge routers have a trigger mounted right on the handle, and some fixed-base models have a switch within fingers reach of the handle.

Ryobi 180-PL plunge-base router

Hp/Amps: 2 hp/10 amps

Collet Size: 1/4 and 1/2

Variable Speed: Yes

If a pure plunge router is what youre looking for, this model gets the job done at a good price. As with many other plunge routers, the base is not removable, so bit changes are a bit more cumbersome.

Dust collection

Capturing router dust is difficult, and of the models we tried, none do it very successfully. For this reason, woodworkers we talked to rarely bother to connect a vacuum to their routers. Still, some do appreciate dust collection when routing that dreaded dust demon, MDF.

Why Family Handyman editors love their wood routers

A long-term investment

My first router seemed painfully expensive when I bought it. But after 35 years of trouble-free service, it seems like a bargain. Im glad I spent a little extra for a good one and suggest you do the same.

Ken Collier, Family Handyman Editor-in-Chief

Triggers beat switches

I love my old D-handle router because it has a trigger on the handlethats way more convenient than a switch mounted up on the motor.

Travis Larson, Family Handyman Senior Editor

Smaller is sometimes better

Eighty percent of the routing I do is light-duty stuff like 1/4-in. coves or roundovers. And my little trim router is perfect for that; its small, light and easy to control with one hand. If you already have a mid-size router, a trimmer should be your second.

Dave Munkittrick, Family Handyman Field Editor

Not just for wood

My favorite wood router shapes stone rather than wood. Its basically an angle grinder with plumbing; water flows out of the bit for cooling and dust control. Mine cost about $200 online. Bits typically cost $100 or more.

Gary Wentz, Family Handyman Senior Editor