Plunge Router vs. Fixed Router: Which is Better for You?
When starting out as a woodworker or when you are setting up a new workshop the router is always one of the first tools that you get. And this is because it is a versatile power tool that you will use almost on a daily basis.
Both plunge and fixed base routers are handy to have in the workshop as you can use them to cut a wide range of shapes and the possibilities of how else you can use them are endless.
However, if you have to pick one of the two, it is essential to make sure that you get something that serves you best.
Below we talk about the capabilities of each of the routers, what each is good for an also their advantages and disadvantages to help you choose what to buy first.
Table of Contents
Plunge Base Router
Each woodworker seems to have a preferred way of doing things. While some want the machines to do everything many others prefer a more hands-on approach.
If you are one of those carpenters or woodworkers that prefer the hands-on approach when routing, a plunge router is your best choice. With this router, you get to physically dip it into the workpiece, make the cut and then pull it up to remove the stock.
The plunge routers will move up and down the base, unlike the fixed base ones that are stationary. And they have some spring load arms on either side which are what allows the woodworker to plunge the cutting bit down into the material manually.
These routers are handy when working on the top section of the board as they make the cuts easier.
And so they are the plunge router is always the best for applications such as making dados, mortices, grooves, fluting, and rebates.
Contrary to what many woodworkers tend to assume, it is also possible to use the plunge router for edge work. And you can profile all the edges using the round-over cutting bit.
However, the reason why the plunge router is not preferred for edge working is that it does not produce the same precision and quality of work as the fixed base router.
- Freedom to adjust depth during cutting. One of the most significant advantages of the plunge cutter is that it offers the users the freedom to modify the cut depth during the cutting. Unlike when you are using the fixed base router you will not have to stop the tool when you need to change the cut's depth. All you need to do is to press or release the arms on the base sides of the router hence making it more convenient and speeding up the task.
- Cuts in the middle of the material. With the plunge router, woodworkers can make cuts in the middle of the stock as they only need to set the depth before plunging into the piece. When using the fixed base router, this will be hard to achieve. Also, the plunge router will give the woodworker more movement control when moving vertically.
- More versatile applications. Overall, the plunge routers are more versatile than those with a fixed base. You can use them to make everything from smooth fluting and grooves to dadoes, mortices and much more. And so if you are looking for a router you can use to do more things the plunge router is always a better choice than the fixed base ones.
- Best for wood signs. If you are in the wood sign business or tend to do a lot of projects that require you to make some signs the plunge router will be one of your handiest tools. All woodworker needs to do is draw the letters on the stock and then plunge the router in to rout them out.
- Relatively more expensive. Plunge routers might not be the most costly power tool, but they are moderately pricey if you compare them to the fixed base routers. But their versatility is what makes them more expensive.
- Awkward to mount fixed table base. The design of the plunge router and its mechanism of work mean that it is a bit awkward to install it on the table base as you would with the fixed base routers. And so in most instances, you can only use them by moving the router to the material you want to cut physically.
Fixed Base Router
Although many woodworkers will have many routers in the workshop, there are those that most will use in many instances due to their accuracy and ease of use.
The fixed base router is one of the simplest routers to use, and it also guarantees that you get higher quality results with every cut that you make.
As the name suggests, the fixed base routers are the kind where the router is locked in place physically. And so the cutting bit cannot move anywhere and this is why it offers more cutting precision than the plunge router.
Fixed base routers will have a low profile, and they also tend to be lightweight, and this makes edge routing more straightforward than when you are using a plunge router.
Also, the handles on the fixed base router will be close to the base to give woodworkers greater control to keep the router snug against the edge of a board to produce straight cuts.
The fixed base router will always be the first choice for professional woodworkers when undertaking large routing projects.
And although there are still many things that you can use them for they are best suited for most types of joinery where super precise cuts are vital.
- More accurate cuts. Fixed base routers are popular tools for joinery because they produce some super precise cuts depth. Unlike the plunge routers, the bit does not move once you set it in place and so you can always be sure of getting accurate cuts.
- Easier to maneuver. The small size and the lightweight of the fixed base routers mean that most woodworkers and carpenters will find them easier to manage and control than the big and tippy plunge routers.
- Mountable on a table base. If you have a table base, it is possible to mount the fixed base router on it for more convenient use and increased precision. When using the plunge router the same would be hard to achieve.
- Best for joinery. The super-precise cut depths and the ease of maneuvering and controlling the fixed base routers makes them the best choice for most types of joinery.
- Not ideal for cutting material from the top. When you need to cut the workpiece from the top or start the cut in the middle of the stock, you will have a tough time when using the fixed base router as the design is not ideal for this task. But, you can do this in a breeze when using the plunge router.
- Not very versatile in their application. Although there are many things that you can use the fixed base router to do it is still not as versatile as the plunge router, and this will make them less desirable for specific woodworking tasks.
The Bottom Line
If you can afford both the plunge and fixed base router, then it is always great to have both. The even better idea is to buy a combo router kit which is whereby you get the motor and both a fixed base and plunge routers.
When you have to pick just one between the two, the fixed base router is the best option for new woodworkers that do not have a lot of experience or have never worked with large power tools like routers.
What makes the fixed base router best for beginners is that they are easier to use and handle as you get used to this type of power tools.
For the experienced woodworkers that have been working with large power tools for long enough and know what they want in a router, the plunge router is the best options. And this is because it is a more versatile power tool that they can use for a wide range of applications.
Best Plunge Router
Makita RP1800 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router
Makita RP1800 is a robust plunge router that runs on a 15 amp motor that will deliver up to 22,000 RPM to ensure that you always get smooth routing.
And it provides a plunger depth capacity of between 0 and 2 3/4 inches to ensure that you get effortless penetration into the workpiece.
This plunge router uses linear ball bearings to provide a smooth plunge action and to ensure that you always get superior performance. And it also has 3 preset depth stops to provide added precision.
With the Makita RP1800, you will also get a durable plunge router thanks to the oversized ball bearings and sturdy overall construction.
Other features that make this a fantastic router include the ergonomic rubberized handles with a two-finger switch for added control, built-in fan that keeps dust out and an easy to read depth scale.
Best Fixed Router
Bosch PR20EVSK 1HP Fixed-Base Router
With its 5.6 amp motor that is capable of generating a variable speed of up to 35,000 RPM, the Bosch PR20EVSK is a highly reliable fixed base router that will be handy to have in the workshop.
It comes with soft-start and quick-lock systems that make it a very convenient power tool to use. And it also has a depth adjustment system and some finger support pockets to add to the convenience and to make it even more comfortable to use.
This fixed base router is also quite durable thanks to the rugged aluminum base. And despite the impressive and high-quality construction, this is still a relatively lightweight router.
In addition to the variable speed, the dial is at the top of the tool to make it easy to access. Other great additions to the router include the rubber over-molded grip that provides stable one-handed operation.
Best Plunge & Fixed Router
DeWalt DWP611PK 1.25 HP Variable Speed Compact Router Combo Kit
If you are serious about woodworking and do a lot of projects, you need both the plunge and fixed base routers. And so the DeWalt DWP611PK combo kit will be an excellent purchase.
This DeWalt combo kit uses a 1.25 hp motor that will deliver enough power to meet the toughest plunge and fixed base router applications. And there is also a variable speed control feature that allows you to vary the speed between 16,000 and 27,000 RPM depending on the application.
The soft-starting motor has minimal starting torque, and it also features full-time electronic feedback to maintain the motor speed that you select throughout the cut.
There is also dual LED on this router and a clear sub-base that will ensure that you always get maximum visibility when making cuts.