The Best Plunge Routers for Woodworkers

Take the plunge and bring your woodworking to the next level with the right routing tool for your projects.

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The Best Plunge Router Option

Photo: amazon.com

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 the job done. This versatile, high-speed power tool makes creating accurate patterns and tight-fitting joinery a faster process than hand tools can manage. To find the best plunge router for your skill level and budget, keep reading for our guide to the fundamentals and features of these tools—and don’t miss our top picks, below:

  1. BEST OVERALL: Bosch 120-Volt 2.3 HP Electronic Plunge Base Router
  2. BEST FOR BEGINNERS: DEWALT Fixed/Plunge Base Router Kit
  3. BEST UPGRADE: Makita 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router
  4. BEST FOR PROS: Festool OF 1400 EQ Plunge Router
The Best Plunge Router Option

Photo: amazon.com

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—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.

Size

Router size doesn’t refer to how big the machine itself is, but the diameter of the collet, 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 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch. Most routers let you use both sizes by swapping out the collet with an included replacement—a real value since you’ll be able to use any size bit with the same tool. However, some palm-style routers or laminate trimmers don’t have an interchangeable collet and use 1/4-inch collets only; for the most part, these are lighter-duty models with less powerful motors that require a smaller bit to function properly.

Speed

Routers of all sorts come with different speeds and speed settings. Low speeds (used for extremely hardwoods or large bits) tend to be in the 8,000-10,000 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 of your 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.

Style

Plunge router styles include standard, palm, and laminate trimmer. Standard routers are typically larger, powerful yet heavy models that can receive both 1/4-inch and 1/2-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 your 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 (1/2-inch thick or less) wood as well.

Soft Start

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 bit 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 minimizes 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 holding the router in your 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.

As an alternative to a dedicated plunge router, you could purchase a kit with swappable bases. These models use both a base that plunges and a fixed base, offering the flexibility of two routers.

Spindle Lock

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.

Pro Tip: Spindle locks are not safety features. Any time you change a router bit, you must unplug it from its power source before you can consider it safe to handle.

Electronic Feedback Circuitry

For the best in 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 dedicated plunge routers. Kits with swappable bases are excellent for DIYers or woodworkers that 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

The Best Plunge Router Option: Bosch 2.3 HP Plunge Base Router

Photo: amazon.com

BEST OVERALL: Bosch 120-Volt 2.3 HP Electronic Plunge Base Router

This Bosch plunge router 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. There are also usability features like a handle-mounted trigger, electronic feedback control, soft-start technology, and the ability to make micro-adjustments with consistent results. Another pro: the Bosch tool gives you the flexibility of using both 1/4- and 1/2-inch collets. The only drawback is this model may be too large for beginners, particularly those attempting intricate or delicate work like carving patterns or routing thin pieces of wood.

The Best Plunge Router Option: DEWALT Fixed/Plunge Base Router Kit

Photo: amazon.com

BEST FOR BEGINNERS: DEWALT Fixed/Plunge Base Router Kit

This DEWALT kit is comprehensive and can be a boon to fledgling woodworkers. The kit comes with both plunge and fixed bases (a nice feature that makes this model suitable for a router table)–and the price tag is reasonable. Speed can be adjusted between 8,000 and 24,000 RPMs, with the tool’s 12-amp motor getting the job done on virtually any type of wood.

The Best Plunge Router Option: Makita 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router

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BEST UPGRADE: Makita 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router

If you’re prioritizing power in your search for a plunge router, opt for this 15-amp Makita. This model is a dedicated plunge-router, which allows for the smoothest plunging action and exceptionally accurate micro-adjustments. The result is a dialed-in router that’s a pleasure to use. A grip-mounted trigger provides for more secure starts, while the electric brake quickly brings the spindle to a rest when the trigger is released.

The Best Plunge Router Option: Festool OF 1400 EQ Plunge Router

Photo: amazon.com

BEST FOR PROS: Festool Router OF 1400 EQ Imperial

This is an ultra-robust, ultra-reliable router popular with professionals in the field. It’s ergonomically designed, bores down a full 2-3/4 inches, and features micro-adjustment down to 1/256-inch. Electronic feedback monitoring delivers stellar results under variable loads. This is a dedicated plunge router; swappable bases and extra jigs are not included.

FAQs About Your New Plunge Router

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.

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 2 3/4-inches. Some lighter-duty models will have less travel.