Whether you’ve inherited a router or are trying to buy the best tool for your needs, the choice can be daunting. Depending on your woodworking knowledge, skill level and goals, your tool choice will impact the joy you gain as you build your craft.
To determine the best option between investing in a fixed base vs plunge router, you’ll need to consider the following:
- Are you rounding edges or cutting dadoes and rabbits?
- Will your next project include any mortise and tenon work?
- Do you want to try some scroll work?
The first consideration when using any power tool has to be safety. Whatever router you buy, be sure to read all of the instructions. Never install, remove or adjust bits without unplugging the tool, be sure to use hearing protection, and, finally, protect your eyes!
What’s the Difference?
A fixed base router has a flat bottom and the bit protrudes from the center. You can easily work the edges of your projects with this tool and it’s great for roundovers. If you’re creating your own baseboards, a fixed base router will be a great investment.
A plunge router lets you determine the depth of your cut and lower or plunge the spinning blade into the material you’re working on. Plunge routers are great options for dadoes needed to build shelving.
Making Your Selection
For maximum flexibility, a plunge router is a terrific option. Plunge routers offer more flexibility and you can easily do the work of a fixed base router with a plunge.
However, when deciding between a fixed base vs plunge router, it’s important to consider how much prep work you’re generally willing to do. The process of plunging and holding the router to the stop will keep both of your hands busy and require all of your focus.
Routing lumber takes prep work. You may have to build a jig to hold the material you’re cutting, or at least clamp it to your work surface. If you’re not good at doing the prep work necessary, you may wind up chasing lumber around your shop. At that point, a fixed base router would be easier to handle.
What If I Already Have A Plunge Router?
If you already have a plunge router and have built up your tool using confidence, there are tips on how to plunge cut with a fixed base router.
This process requires you to slowly tilt your router down into the material you’re cutting. The tilting process may result in some bucking or chatter. Make sure you follow the instructions regarding
- Building a jig
- Bracing the material
- Making shallow Cuts
This is not a project that should be rushed. You could injure yourself or damage your tool. Keep in mind that the types of router bits to use for a plunge router should include a cutting edge that clears material out of the cut or kerf, so trying to do one deep cut with your fixed base tool may clog things up.
The Best of Both Worlds
If your woodshop is humming along and you’re ready to start routing your own material, don’t worry about deciding between a fixed base vs plunge router. Get both!
Functionally, a router is a motor that spins a blade. Manufacturers have created flexible kits that allow you to take a fixed base router and turn it into a plunge by creating a stand that serves as a cutting deck for the motor.
Both Bosch and DeWalt offer this flexible router combination:
If you’ve done enough woodworking to be in need of a router, you’ve probably already had experience with both of these manufacturers to have a favorite.
Here are two key points to consider when making this choice:
Lighting: The DeWalt tool offers an LED guide for extra help when lining up a project while the Bosch tool does not.
Weight: Per the packaging, the Bosch tool is heavier. This will likely reduce chatter, but by the 35th cut you may regret your decision. Visit a home supply store and handle whatever router you plan to buy for fit and comfort.
And remember, no matter the weight of your router, use jigs and clamps! Chasing lumber is not a good use of your skill and time. Routers are powerful tools and can send material flying if you’re not prepared.
What are your woodworking goals? With a dependable router, you can easily build a great set of shelves or replace your kitchen cabinet doors. Once you’ve got the jig built, replicating your construction process will be simple.
Please let us know your routing experiences and recommendations. Safe and happy woodworking to all!