If you take woodworking seriously, a router can be one of the most valuable tools you can own. Routers offer the ability to cut complex molding profiles and joinery. Paired with one of the best router lifts, you will get even more out of this tool.
A router lift is a mount that drops into a work surface, turning any bench with adequate space underneath into a router table. They hold the router motor upside down, with the router bit protruding above the surface. With fine-tuning and micro-height adjustments, you can dial in the perfect height, providing smooth, consistent results every time.
Keep reading to learn about features to consider when looking for a router lift, and check out some of the best options on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: KREG PRS5000 Precision Router Lift
- RUNNER-UP: JessEm Mast-R-Lift II 02120 Router Lift
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: JessEm Rout-R-Lift II 02310 Router Lift
- BEST ACCESSORIES: Incra Mast-R-Lift-II-R Designed for Rockler Tables
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Router Lift
Before you start shopping for a router lift, there are a few important features to consider. The material, weight, compatibility, ball-bearing adjustment, and locking system vary among these handy tools. Understanding each feature will help determine which router lift will work best for you.
When it comes to long-term durability, material is a significant factor. Due to a router lift’s design, the lift’s work surface supports all of the weight. With lesser work-surface materials like plastic or laminated MDF, this can cause the lift to sag and create a depression in the work surface.
To make sure a router lift doesn’t sag or become misshapen, many have an aluminum or steel plate. These materials are strong enough to support a heavy router motor and resist the tendency to sink. Aluminum is much lighter than steel, so it might be the better choice for a router lift.
Manufacturers design router lifts to drop into a perfectly milled hole from the top. When considering the weight of a heavy-duty router, the weight of the lift is an important factor. The heavier the lift, the more awkward it’ll be to lift and drop into place. But too light, and it will only be able to be used for light-duty routers. There truly is a sweet spot.
In general, a router lift that weighs between 10 and 15 pounds is best because it will offer stability and easy handling. The lighter it is, the easier it will be to drop in place. But the heavier the lift, the more stable it will be during start-up and while routing.
Not all router lifts are compatible with every router type. Some of them are brand- and model-specific, while others offer a more universal approach. Unless there is a router table designed specifically for a router, it’s best to go the universal path.
Universal routers achieve a flexible fitment by offering adapters and collars designed to fit a range of motors. The collars typically come in sizes to fit the router motor such as 3¼, 3½, and 4¼ inches. They attach to the router lift, and then the router motor slides into place with the collars clamping down on the motor for a secure attachment. If there’s uncertainty about a router’s size, measuring across the motor with a measuring tape or ruler will help.
Also, while router lifts can be installed in any flat work surface with the right measurements and tools, they’re specially designed to fit router tables. The plates need to fit the openings in the top of these tables. Common sizes include 9¼ inches by 11¾ inches, and 8¼ inches by 11¾ inches.
Plunge vs. Fixed
Not all routers will work with router lifts. In general, fixed-base router motors will separate from their base, allowing them to chock into a router lift. That’s not always the case for plunge-base routers.
Plunge-base routers have spring-loaded supports that allow the user to lower a spinning bit into the field of a workpiece. In some cases, the user can remove the motor from the plunge base. But in most cases, the motor is permanently attached.
For a router to work with a router lift, it must be able to separate from the base. To check to see if a router can separate, unplug the router and then loosen all the adjustments on the base. Twist the router counterclockwise until it stops (this is usually a very small twist), and pull the motor from the base. If it comes out, you’re in business.
When it comes to achieving silky-smooth height adjustments, finding a router lift with a ball-bearing adjustment mechanism is the route to go rather than a basic screw-type spindle. These devices keep pressure and friction on the adjustment screw to a minimum, allowing the user to slowly raise or lower it to the ideal height.
If you choose a ball-bearing mechanism lift, it’s important to keep it lubricated. Some models have sealed ball bearings with a bit of grease built-in, but if not, it’s a good idea to give the adjustment spindle and ball-bearing mechanism a quick spray of a lubricant before using the lift.
The great benefit of a router lift is its ability to adjust the height to the router motor and the router bit to the ideal height for the project. This is helpful for routing dados—or grooves—in cabinet doors for center panels, molding profiles on expensive wood species, and other detail-oriented milling processes.
In most cases, users can adjust the height of their router from the top of the table. Most lifts come with adjustment handles that pop into screws in the surface of the lift, with clockwise turns lifting the router and counterclockwise turns lowering it. Some high-end models will also include micro-adjustments made by turning the adjustment knob in small increments for dialing in very specific settings.
Once the user finds the ideal adjustment for the router bit, locking the motor in place is essential for consistent results. Many of the best router lifts feature multipoint locking systems to keep the motor right where it needs to be.
Some models feature cam locking systems that lock the adjustment spindle and mechanisms in place to prevent vibration from inadvertently adjusting the height. Other models feature friction locks that put pressure on the adjustment spindle to prevent it from loosening and lowering the router. Whichever router lift you choose, ensure that it has a locking function to avoid frustration from a bit lowering from vibrations, causing inconsistent results from one end of a workpiece to the other.
Many of the best router lifts come with adapters for fitting a variety of routers. This allows universal kits to fit motors from just over 4 inches in diameter to some as small as 3¼ inches. These lifts can be the way to go if you tend to use different routers, aren’t sure which size you own, or plan to upgrade and would like a bit of flexibility.
Also, most kits come with interchangeable rings or collars for router bits. These rings drop into the surface of the router lift and close off some of the gap between the bit and the table surface. This allows the user to use different-size router bits while the interchangeable rings support the workpiece, promoting stability and preventing unnecessary tear-out. And, when the lift is installed in an enclosed table, they help concentrate dust-collection efforts.
Our Top Picks
With a bit of familiarization with router lifts and how to choose the best one, shopping for the best router lift becomes a bit more straightforward. Below is a collection of some of the best router lifts on the market. Be sure to compare each one carefully before deciding on one.
Woodworkers hunting for a router lift for their router tables, workbenches, or table saws may want to check out Kreg’s Precision Router Lift. This unit features a 9¼-inch by 11¾-inch aluminum surface—a direct fit for most router tables and other attachments. And, weighing just 10 pounds, it’s easy to lift in and out of a workbench when necessary.
The Precision Lift has some desirable features, like ball-bearing adjustments made in 1/16-inch increments from above the table. There’s an above-table lock as well as multiple table insert collars for a variety of bit sizes. It also fits a variety of router motors between 3¼ inches and 4¼ inches in diameter.
For a truly dialed-in router lift, JessEm’s Mast-R-Lift II 02120 Router Lift is tough to beat. This lift has a 9 ¼-inch by 11¾-inch aluminum plate for universal table fitment. It also features JessEm’s patented mechanism for applying tension to the adjustment spindle to prevent backlash, vibration, and unwanted height adjustments.
The 02120 has a universal attachment system that works with most fixed-base router systems regardless of brand or size. It also has a system of double-sealed bearings that allow for smooth height adjustments while also being durable enough for heavy routers. Users will enjoy above-table adjustments, as well as a locking mechanism, for maintaining a consistent ideal height while routing custom millwork or joinery.
Anyone looking to get more from their 3½-inch router without breaking the bank may want to check out JessEm’s Rout-R-Lift II. This kit features a lightweight design totaling just 8 pounds and a router table-friendly 9¼-inch by 11¾-inch size.
While the Rout-R-Lift II might not cost a ton, it doesn’t sacrifice where it counts. It features a double-sealed ball-bearing design that allows for smooth and accurate adjustments while protecting the bearings against sawdust and unnecessary maintenance. It also features above-table height adjustments and an adjustment lock for convenience and accuracy. It does come with just one insert collar, but users can purchase additional collars from JessEm.
Woodworkers in production shops or scenarios can benefit from Incra’s Mast-R-Lift-II-R router lift. This drop-in kit features an 8¼-inch by 11¾-inch aluminum work surface that will fit in many smaller router tables, and it also is suitable for custom setups on smaller workbenches. It features above-table adjustments and a heavy-duty spindle lock for finding and keeping the ideal height for the project.
It is Incra’s collar system that makes it truly interesting. This router features Incra’s MagnaLock collars, which have magnets to snap the collars into place. This allows users to make quick bit changes, adapt the collars to smaller bits, and hold the collars in place securely. While it is a smaller unit, it is a bit on the heavier side at 15 pounds.
FAQs About Router Lifts
Now that you know a bit more about the features that make the best router lifts and how to choose one, there may be more questions on your mind. Following is a collection of some of the most frequently asked questions about router table lifts, so be sure to check for an answer to your question below.
Q. What is a router lift?
A router lift holds a router upside down so that the router can stay in place while the user manipulates the workpiece across the bit. It improves the stability, control, and adjustability of a standard router.
Q. How do router lifts work?
The router clamps into the router lift from underneath. At that point, a screw-type adjustment rod lifts the router up and down, bringing the bit above and below the work surface.
Q. How do I lift my router?
To lift the router in the router lift, insert the included adjustment handle into the height-adjustment screw built into the table’s surface. Twisting clockwise will lift the router, while twisting counterclockwise will lower it.