Budget Friendly, Widely Compatible Router
The best router for mounting in a table is, first and foremost, one that will fit your router lift. Once you’ve made a much, features like ease of bit change, electronic speed control, and horsepower are the primary decision factors.
Key features to look for include:
- Overall horsepower for large panel bits
- Ease of bit change
- Fit a router lift
- Electronic speed control
- Speed adjustment
- Removable for use in a fixed, plunge, or d-handle base
- And, of course, brand reputation
Lastly, and surprising to some, with various manufacturers supporting router tables, almost any router can be put in a table – including a plunge router lift using a JessEm lift.
Editor’s Note: After decades with a Rockler table, I recently upgraded to a JessEm Ultimate Excel router table package (an $1800 investment) but kept the Bosch 1617 as it’s performed well and with an angled and straight wrench is a breeze to make bit changes on top of the table.
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From bench tops to thousand-dollar floor-model router tables, there are many routers.
And while the budget is always the deciding factor, choosing between a premium, low-vibration Festool or a get-it-done value-priced Bosch can be challenging.
Low Price + Top Performance
While a router table is indispensable in most woodworking shops, the downside is you lose a router to a single purpose, which makes this budget-friendly and lift-compatible Bosch a popular pick.
Pairs with Bosch Router Table and JessEm lifts.
Bosch owns a unique niche in hand-held routers. With all of the features of routers, many times its cost this 3-1/2 inch router will detach from its base and smoothly slide into a router lift.
- Constant speed control
- Variable speed from 8,000 to 25,000 rpm
- 1/4 and 1/2 inch collets
Editor: I chose the Bosch 1617EVSPK router for my Jessem Ultimate router table and router sled, and it spins a 2-1/2 spoil board bit with ease: high-quality components and no complaints on small and large projects.
While a 3HP+ machine is arguably best overall, a smaller router is fine if your projects don’t involve spinning a huge raised panel bit. And while a half dozen routers are in the running, the top brand and performance make Makita a professional choice.
- Variable speed: 8,000 to 24,000 RPM
- Electronic speed control
- Soft start
- Quiet at 81 dB
- 1/4″ and 1/2″ collets
Lastly, the bits are installed and removed with two identical-sized wrenches.
Pairing Routers, Tables and Lifts
When shopping for routers, there are three classes of routers to consider:
- Benchtop router tables are budget-friendly, 2HP+ units that will perform well and fit your table’s style of router lift.
- Full-size floor router tables for occasional use. A standard 2HP+ router will work.
- Lastly, you’ll want to invest in a 3HP+ router motor for raised panels or heavy-duty cutting.
Benchtop Routers, Tables and Lifts
For both benchtop routers and full size units the combination of two (or all three with the table) popular Bosch routers and lifts are a great budget way to improve your router tables efficiency.
For benchtop router tables there are few competitors to Bosch. Because their 1617-series routers are highly regarded they dominate the entry level router table router field.
But with a hex key router lift for (usually) under $75 both existing and new tables can be upgraded to precision control of router depth.
Jessem Lifts: Fit For Almost Any Router (Even Plunge)
Even for experienced woodworkers, deciding which router will fit which lift can be confusing.
But the best way to simplify the process is to start with (arguably) the best lineup of router lifts: JessEm Tools.
And their three lines of lifts offer up compatibility with the following:
- Standard 3″ to 3-1/2″ base (02310 to 02314) that fits Porter Cable, Dewalt, Bosch, Makita 1101, Hitachi, Milwaukee, and Rigid routers. Check the JessEm site for exact models.
- Heavy duty 3-1/2″ to 4.3″ routers (02120 to 02123) for Porter Cable, Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Hitachi, Milwaukee, Craftsman, Rigid and Portamate.
- Plunge routers with pre-drilled holes for Festool 1100 & 1400, Dewalt 625, Makita, and Bosch
The bottom line? Most routers can fit a router table with a JessEm router lift.
Best Router for Benchtop Tables
For smaller workshops or mobile woodworking, a benchtop table can store easily and perform well.
And, while a bench top option lacks the larger surface area of a professional floor model, it doesn’t mean the router should be smaller or any less quality.
With table and lift compatibility in mind, the standouts for compact bench-top tables are as follows:
- Most popular: Bosch 1617
- Just the motor: Dewalt 616
- Upgrade pick: Makita RF1100
Bosch 1617EVS Wood Router Combo Kit
Shown: BOSCH 2-1/4 HP 1617EVSPK
Bosch is a top brand in professional tools, and their router lineup is one of their essential products.
Their router table is a top seller, partly because they have targeted a router to match it.
That means if you’re unsure about a fixed base or plunge router, won’t be using raised panel bits (honestly, they are out of style in most new cabinets!), and want a name brand, Bosch is a great choice.
But to the point, here’s what makes this worth a look:
- Combination kit
- Constant speed circuitry to maintain speed in tough cuts
- 1/4 and 1/2-inch collets
- Chip shields
- 2.25HP motor for up to medium-sized bits
- RPM range of 8,000 to 25,000
- Top brand = top router table compatibility (including Bosch’s router table)
- Dust-sealed router switch for longevity
- Carrying case included for portability and storage
- Tool-free conversion between bases
- And lastly, this router features the #1 feature on my list: the above table height adjustment
Dewalt D616 (Motor Only)
For a dedicated model that won’t leave you wondering what to do with the base, the D616 is a budget-friendly choice.
Key features include:
- 12 Amp
- 8,000-24,000 RPM
- Electronic variable speed
Makita RF1101 (Upgrade Pick)
Shown: Makita RF1101 2.25 HP
Makita is one of the “big three” tool makers for woodworkers with a brand preference. And the RF1101 is a router with a soft start, performance off the table, and excellent vibration-free quality.
Check your router lift for compatibility with a 3.25″ motor casing.
Best Router For Large Bits and Continuous Duty
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’ve been using a Dewalt plunge router in my Rockler router table for over a decade.
But first, if you are looking for a full-size table because you have the room and need to use the router off the table more than on it, I’d recommend returning to the Bosch in the benchtop review.
However, if you want a fixed router that stays on the table and needs to work for more significant bits in sustained duty, let’s look at these size routers.
So, targeting high horsepower routers of 3HP or more, these are the key manufacturers:
My choice in a plunge router? The Makita 3-1/4 HP plunge router is a top brand with the best features for the most power in a router table.
Makita RP2301 Plunge Router
While this Makita is designed for high horsepower plunge routing off a router table, its features make it attractive if you’re looking to use a router table for larger projects with larger-sized router bits.
The biggest drawback of any plunge router in a router table? They won’t work with a router table lift. But I’ve worked around that for a long time.
Here’s what to like about the Makita:
- 3-1/4 HP motor (15 AMP)
- Variable speed of 9,000 to 25,000
- Electronic speed control
- Soft start
- Electronic brake
- Adjustment range of 0 to 2-3/4″
- 1/4″ and 1/2″ collets
- And oversized ball bearings for longevity
So why would I pick this over the Dewalt I own now? The Makita RP2301 offers the same features and ADDS the electronic brake and oversized bearings.
Purchasing for Double Duty (Table & Hand Held)
Routers are a significant investment for most small woodworking shops.
And, with a budget in mind, most woodworkers will face the choice of (1) leaving the router in the table for speed of setup or (2) taking the router in and out of the router table for using hand-held tasks.
So how do you buy a router that can work well in both situations, but WITHOUT a headache of a painful conversion? Look for a router, like the Bosch 1617EVSPK, with a motor that mounts in a router lift and slips out for use in your plunge or d-handle base.
The Best Features
Beyond the ability to convert to your hand-held operations, you’ll also want to consider the key features of router table-mounted routers:
- Fit with router table lifts
- Adjustable speed control to match bit size and wood species
- Dust collection
- Soft start to not “jerk” on when started
- Horsepower for larger-sized raised panel bits
Read more: Best Router Tables for Small Shops
Fixed Base vs. Plunge Routers
While choosing the best routers for router tables, it’s good first to understand the difference between a plunge router and a fixed base router.
Fixed-based routers have a fixed depth, as the name implies, and making a deeper cut will require stopping the router and adjusting.
Fixed Base Routers Are Best
Taking a step back and thinking about a router table, what is the biggest challenge?
If you guessed adjusting the depth of the router bit, you’re right.
A fixed base router, while adjustable, is, by design, harder to adjust. And most models have lower horsepower than the plunge routers.
But, a fixed-based router is MUCH easier to hold and control for off-table uses like routing edges of workpieces that won’t fit on your table. Some plunge routers weigh over 12 pounds and are a beast to manage off the table.
Editor: Look for a 3-1/2″ motor diameter size most compatible with router lifts. These routers usually come with a fixed base and plunge base.
Plunge Routers are Best for Continuous Duty, Large Bits
For maximum clearance and access to your router bits, plus the most horsepower, a plunge router is a contender for a full-size floor model router table.
But beware, these don’t fit router lifts, making them a choice for (in my opinion) a shop with two router tables.
While you won’t be using the plunge feature, these routers feature:
- 1/4″ and 1/2″ collets
- Wide range of speed adjustments to slow down for large bits and speed up for smaller bits
- Horsepower up to and over 3HP for continuous duty routing
- Slow-start technology to not “snap” on.
Combination Router Packages: Fixed & Plunge Router Kits
For general duty, a combination router package will allow for the re-use of the core motor in multiple situations:
- Fixed router base for off-router-table projects
- Plunge base for either router table or other uses
- And, lastly, most will feature a D-handle that’s perfect for maximum control in larger projects
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the best router for a router lift?
While a router lift is the most desired feature in a router table, they don’t fit all routers. The best router for a lift will have a detachable base that allows it to be installed directly in the lift. The most popular brands for lift installation are Porter Cable, Bosch, and Makita.
Can you mount any router to a table?
Almost any fixed base or plunge router can be mounted to a router table by drilling holes in the insert. While this excludes compact routers like a trim router, this flexibility allows older routers to be mounted on a table.
How do you adjust router table height without a lift?
If you install a router in a router table without a lift, you’ll still have the option of adjusting the height. The best way to do this is to turn the power off, disconnect from the power supply (safety first), and then adjust the bit up or down (from underneath the table).
While there are dozens of options in a router for a router table, the best option is the router that fits your table, projects, and of course, budget—looking for a router table too? Check out our guide to router tables to help decide on your package.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.