Whether it’s rounding off the edge of a shelf board or creating a mortise in the center of a piece of hardwood, woodworkers often reach for a plunge router to get many kinds of carpentry jobs done. This versatile, high-speed power tool makes boring accurate patterns and creating tight-fitting joinery a faster process than hand tools can manage.
A plunge router is ideal for building bookshelves, cabinetmaking, and mortise-and-tenon joinery, but for those in the market for one, it’s important to purchase a plunge router that balances skill level, budget, and the types of planned projects. This guide explains the fundamentals and features of plunge routers and offers some top-notch options to add to a kit of essential tools.
- BEST OVERALL: BOSCH 120-Volt 2.3 HP Electronic Plunge Base Router
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Skil 14 Amp Plunge and Fixed Router Combo
- UPGRADE PICK: Makita RP2301FC 3-1/4 HP* Plunge Router
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: DEWALT Router, Fixed/Plunge Base Kit
- BEST FOR SMALL PROJECTS: Bosch GKF125CEPK Colt Palm Router
- BEST CORDLESS: Makita XTR01T7 18V LXT Brushless Cordless Router Kit
Features to Look for in the Best Plunge Router
Routers are rotary tools that spin specialty bits at very high speeds. The user tightens a bit into the collet and either flips a switch or presses a trigger to turn the machine on and start carving.
While a fixed router’s bit is always exposed (but can be adjusted for height), plunge routers have suspended bases that allow the user to lower the bit into the workpiece while still being under control—essential for routing in the middle of a board.
Woodworkers rely on a plunge router to not only cut dados, grooves, and mortises in the center of a board but also to mill profiles on the side of a board and flush-trim a piece of laminate to size. Here are a few things to consider when looking for the best plunge router.
Plunge router styles include standard, palm, and laminate trimmer. Standard routers are typically larger, powerful yet heavy models that can receive both ¼-inch and ½-inch style bits. They’re commonly used for routing designs, grooves, or dados in the field of a piece of wood, but they’re also capable of routing the edge of a board.
Laminate- and palm-style routers (designed to be held in the palm of a hand as opposed to using handles) are smaller, lighter, and less powerful. They’re suitable for use with smaller router bits that don’t require the maximum speed a larger model can provide. They’re handy for flush-trimming laminate and thinner (½ inch thick or less) wood as well.
Router size refers not to the size of the machine but the diameter of the collet, which is the mechanism that holds the router bits in place. Because of the high speeds involved and the type of work routers do, collets must be machined to hold the bit securely and perfectly centered.
The two standard woodworking collet sizes are ¼ inch and ½ inch. Most routers are compatible with both sizes, allowing the users to swap out the collet with an included replacement—a real value.
However, some palm-style routers or laminate trimmers don’t have an interchangeable collet and use ¼-inch collets only; for the most part, these are lighter-duty models with less powerful motors that require a smaller bit to function properly. But there are high-quality models that are simply compact and designed for these smaller bits.
Routers of all sorts come with different speeds and speed settings. Low speeds (used for extremely hard woods or with large bits) tend to be in the 8,000- to 10,000-rpm range. On the other end of the spectrum, the average top speed for the best router is closer to 22,000 rpms—sufficient for all wood-routing needs. Anything higher than that is considered extremely fast and would be primarily used for projects like trimming laminate on a countertop.
Speed adjustment is usually determined by a dial, knob, or digital gauge. Users can choose their desired speed by twisting the knob or dial to the correct setting, or by pushing the buttons to adjust the digital readout’s setting.
Soft-start technology allows a power tool to get up to speed gradually—a potentially important safety feature on a router. Routers lacking this feature tend to twist or jump when first turned on. If the tool isn’t held securely, this sudden jolt can cause the router to spin out of the user’s hand, potentially causing serious injury.
This jolt upon start-up can be particularly pronounced with a larger router bit chocked in the collet. Soft-start technology ramps up the speed slowly, allowing it to minimize the initial torque, decreasing the likelihood of a jump or twist when the switch or trigger is activated. This can be a much safer option for a beginner unaccustomed to routers and their running speeds.
Router Table Compatibility
For very detailed and consistent work, some users install a router in a router table, which provides a flat service for manipulating the wood across the bit, as opposed to the users holding the router in their hands.
Plunge routers without swappable bases don’t typically lend themselves well to universal router tables. The main issue is height adjustment, as a plunge router will naturally hang at the top of its travel, away from the tabletop—which makes it difficult to adjust the height of the bit and maintain consistent results.
To safely work with a plunge router, the collet must be finely machined and tightly grip the router bit. As a result, it can be challenging to loosen. To make it easier to swap out bits, look for a router with a spindle lock.
Spindle locks (typically buttons on the side of the router) snap into a groove in the router’s spindle to keep it from turning. The user can press the spindle lock and place a wrench around the collet to loosen or tighten it. When done with the task at hand, simply release the button and the spindle will spin freely again. All modern routers offer some type of spindle lock.
Pro Tip: Spindle locks are not safety features. Whenever a router bit change is necessary, unplug it from its power source before considering it safe to handle.
Electronic Feedback Circuitry
For the best plunge router technology, look for a model with electronic feedback circuitry. This technology continually monitors the workload the router is experiencing, making necessary adjustments to maintain the proper speed.
This is important because bits operate differently at different speeds. As a rule, the higher the rate, the smoother the cut. If the load increases—say, through a denser section of wood—a router with electronic feedback circuitry will compensate and attempt to maintain the proper speed. Electronic feedback circuitry provides a more consistent result and a more pleasant user experience.
Swappable Kits vs. Dedicated Plunge Routers
There are two types of plunge routers available: Kits with swappable bases and those with dedicated plunge routers. Kits with swappable bases are excellent for DIYers or woodworkers who want the best of both worlds, as these kits come with both fixed bases and plunge bases. The user simply unlocks the router body from the base and fits the new base in its place.
Dedicated plunge routers don’t have removable bases. These models are forever-fitted with plunging bases. The benefit of a dedicated model is that the plunging action tends to be smoother than a kit model.
Our Top Picks
From beginner models to professional gear, the plunge routers on this list are among the best in class. Check out their features, capabilities, and pros and cons so you can choose the best model for your woodworking shop.
This Bosch plunge router is a true workhorse, capable of tackling any job. It boasts up to 25,000 rpms of run speed, thanks to its 2.3-horsepower, 15-amp electric motor. It’s not all brawn, though, thanks to features like a handle-mounted trigger, soft-start tech, electronic feedback control, and the ability to make micro adjustments with consistent results. It also offers the flexibility of using both ¼-inch and ½-inch collets, as well as a built-in LED light for visibility.
The only drawback is this large model may be too much router for newbies, particularly those attempting intricate or delicate work like carving patterns or routing thin pieces of wood.
- Max speed: 25,000 rpms
- Style: Dedicated
- Size: ¼ or ½ inch
- High maximum speed
- Soft-start technology for safer starts
- Adjustable collet sizes for a variety of bits
- Heavy-duty 15-amp motor
- Could be a bit much for new woodworkers
Get the Bosch 120-Volt 2.3 HP Electronic Plunge Base Router on Amazon.
This Skil 14 Amp Plunge and Fixed Router Kit comes ready to go with both fixed and plunge bases for optimal flexibility. Though a value pick, it doesn’t fall short on capability, including such attractive features as a digital LCD screen for speed control that also adjusts speed settings according to the collet size installed (¼-inch or ½-inch collet).
The Skil router has a top speed of 25,000 rpms, allowing it to tackle all sorts of wood species. It also has soft-start tech for safety and electronic feedback technology, as well as an edge guide for controlled routing. While the edge guide isn’t terribly robust, for the price point, that’s acceptable.
- Max speed: 25,000 rpms
- Style: Swappable
- Size: ¼ inch and ½ inch
- Digital display for precise speed control
- Electronic feedback to modulate output in different wood densities
- Plunge and fixed bases included
- Edge guide is a bit cheap
Get the Skil 14 Amp Plunge and Fixed Router Combo on Amazon or at Lowe’s.
For DIYers and pros shopping for a router with some serious power, the Makita RP2301FC 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router ought to fill the bill for many, thanks to its 15-amp electric motor that produces up to 22,000 rpms. Plus, several user-friendly features really help get the job done, like swappable ¼-inch and ½-inch collets, an ergonomic two-finger switch, a lock-on trigger, and twin LED lights for illuminating the project.
The Makita is a dedicated plunge-router, which allows for the smoothest possible plunging action. It offers accurate micro-adjustments (along with macro adjustments for quickly getting to size). It features a grip-mounted trigger and soft-start technology, the combination of which provides secure starts, while the electric brake quickly brings the spindle to a rest after releasing the trigger.
These types of features do drive up the cost, of course, and this router doesn’t have the flexibility of a router kit with swappable bases.
- Max speed: 22,000 rpms
- Style: Dedicated
- Size: ¼ and ½ inch
- Micro and macro adjustments for quickly dialing into the correct depth
- Grip-mounted lock-on trigger for continuous use
- Soft-start tech for safely starting the large bits this machine can handle
- Electric brake and LEDs for safety
- Might be too expensive for some DIYers
Get the Makita RP2301FC 3-1/4 HP* Plunge Router on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
This DeWalt kit covers nearly all bases—a boon to newer woodworkers who might not have the budget to purchase several routers. It comes with both plunge and fixed bases (a nice feature that makes this model suitable for a router table), plus a reasonable price considering its professional pedigree.
This model’s speed adjusts between 8,000 and 24,000 rpms, with its 12-amp motor getting the job done on many types of woods. It also features micro-adjustability, which makes dialing in the perfect depth fast and accurate. Collet sizes include both ¼-inch and ½-inch models, and the kit comes with a dust bag and soft carrying case (a point of contention for DIYers used to DeWalt’s legendary hard cases).
- Max speed: 24,000 rpms
- Style: Swappable
- Size: ¼ and ½ inch
- Swappable bases for improved versatility
- Micro adjustments make nailing the proper depth easy
- ¼-inch and ½-inch collets offer options for new woodworkers
- Soft carrying bag doesn’t offer the protection of DeWalt’s legendary hard case
Get the DEWALT Router Fixed/Plunge Base Kit on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Another high-quality option from Bosch, this smaller palm-style router is an excellent choice for light-duty work and doubles as a laminate trimmer. This kit comes with a plunge base, as well as a fixed base, edge guide, and ¼-inch collet.
Despite its small size, this router is very fast—boasting a maximum top speed of 35,000 rpms. The plunge base features easy-to-use depth adjustments and operates very smoothly. Thanks to its size, it’s easy to control. Speed is variable, but without a soft-start feature built in, a large bit in its collet can cause the Bosch Colt to jump a bit when starting.
- Max speed: 35,000 rpms
- Style: Palm with swappable bases
- Size: ¼ inch
- Very high maximum speed
- Compact size makes it easy to control
- Swappable bases add versatility
- Would benefit from soft-start technology
Get the Bosch GKF125CEPK Colt Palm Router router on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Swapping to a cordless plunge router might be the move of the future, as many DIYers will enjoy not having to worry about tripping over a cord. For those on board, the Makita XTR01T7 18V LXT Brushless Cordless Router Kit might be of interest. This kit features a cordless router with both fixed and plunge bases, as well as a 5.0-Ah battery, charger, edge guide, and hard carrying case.
This cordless router features a top speed of 30,000 rpms, giving it more speed than most corded models. It features an electronically controlled brushless motor that will modulate output based on material density for smooth, consistent results. The bases have micro and macro adjustments for dialing in the correct depth, and the on-off button locks to prevent accidental starts. Dual LED lights make seeing the workpiece convenient, as well. As far as inconvenience goes, the only thing worth mentioning is this model only accepts ¼-inch router bits.
- Max speed: 30,000 rpms
- Style: Swappable
- Size: ¼ inch
- Long-lasting 5.0-Ah battery
- Very high top speed
- Electronic motor control for smooth, consistent results
- Cordless design allows for maximum portability
Get the Makita XTR01T7 18V LXT Brushless Cordless Router Kit on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
For those looking for an all-around capable plunge router with the benefit of a swappable base, the BOSCH 120-Volt 2.3 HP Electronic Plunge Base Router is worth a look due to its high speed, soft-start tech, and versatility. But, for those who don’t mind spending a bit extra, the Makita RP2301FC 3-1/4 HP* Plunge Router’s ergonomic design, micro and macro adjustments, and safety features are hard to ignore.
How We Chose the Best Plunge Router
When it comes to woodworking and renovations, routers (whether fixed or plunge) can be a vital part of the project. Knowing that, it was important that we put together a list consisting of only the best plunge routers on the market. Here’s how we did it:
First, we stood on years of woodworking and construction experience to not only choose trusted brands but also pick out the features we felt are most important in a plunge router. Next, we performed extensive product research to compare the top models from each brand, eliminating ones we felt didn’t offer enough capability. Finally, we compared the models’ prices to ensure that they offered the type of value a DIYer or pro would expect from a tool. The plunge routers that remained were given awards, and our list was ready.
There’s a lot of information available on plunge routers, and it can seem overwhelming to try to take it all in at once. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions that come up about these tools. If you have a question not resolved below, call your model’s manufacturer for answers.
Q. What can I do with a plunge router?
Plunge routers can cut dados, mortises, or even patterns in the middle of a board, as well as route edges and cut tenons in the ends of boards.
Q. How do you use a plunge router with a table?
A plunge router may require a custom table or retrofit if it doesn’t come off of its base. Fixed-base routers are better suited for router tables.
Q. Can a plunge router be used as a fixed router?
A plunge router can certainly do everything a fixed router can, just potentially less accurately. Fixed routers have few moving parts, making it easier to precisely dial them in.
Q. How deep can a plunge router cut?
This depends on the model, but the deepest plunging router on our list plunges 2¾ inches. Some lighter-duty models will have less travel.