Fixed Base vs Plunge Router: How to Choose?
The complete woodworking shop typically has different types of routers. However, when starting out, budget constraints can limit you to just one router. Woodworkers often have to choose between the fixed base and plunge router. Ultimately, your ideal tool should be determined by your work requirements and your needs.
In this article, we’ll discuss the unique capabilities of these routers and the advantages and drawbacks to help you choose which model you need to buy first.
Fixed Base Routers
As you can tell from its name, the fixed base router is secured to one point to ensure the cutting bit stays in one position. While this can limit your freedom of motion, it improves the machine’s ease of use and precision.
These routers typically feature a low profile, in addition to being lightweight, thus making them easier to control. Additionally, unlike plunge routers, where you can adjust the cutting depth as you work, fixed base routers require setting the depth before you start working.
Fixed-base routers are incredibly precise since their base is static and their cutting depth preset, thus reducing the risk of human error. This is why they are popular in joinery projects.
Due to the design, fixed-base routers are ideal for projects that require work from the side, such as edging.
Ease of Use
Once you have set the bit, you only need to guide it. Plunge routers, on the other hand, require a higher degree of physical control, which can be hard to maintain for prolonged periods. Moreover, the fixed base’s compact design and lightweight nature make it easier to operate than plunge routers.
When undertaking extensive routing projects, most professionals prefer the fixed-base router since it is not as tiring to use as the plunge router. As a result, fixed-base routers are ideal for beginners.
What’s It Good For?
The fixed-base router is an excellent choice if most of your work occurs on a table. The design of a plunge router, on the other hand, is not ideal for mounting.
Again, fixed base routers are recommended for projects requiring accurate cuts on a workpiece’s edge, such as joinery. Fixed-base routers sacrifice versatility for accuracy. Consequently, you are limited in the number of projects you can take on using this tool.
- See Also: 10 Best Fixed Base Routers
On average, fixed-base routers cost less than plunge routers; they do not have as many components or a complex design. The fixed base is the ideal router to purchase if you are on a budget.
Our Favorite Fixed Base Router
With its 1.25-HP motor, the Bosch GKF125CEN can achieve cutting speeds of up to 35,000 RPM. Moreover, it has a variable speed setting, thus allowing you to optimize the machine for different projects or materials. It is also effortless to use. It features a soft-start and quick-lock system to get you up and going in no time.
It also has a depth adjustment feature that allows for more accurate cuts and ergonomic finger pockets to enhance your comfort as you use the system. Thanks to rugged aluminum construction, it’s incredibly durable. Despite its sturdy build, it is surprisingly light, thus enhancing its ease of use. It also comes with a rubber grip to allow for one-handed operation.
The only drawback to the fixed-base router by Bosch is that its guides are a bit flimsy.
Plunge Base Router Overview
Experienced woodworkers have different approaches to their craft. Some put tremendous value in a machine’s efficiency, while others take a hands-on approach to their craft. If you are among the latter, the plunge router might be ideal since it requires more muscle to make the cuts.
One of the biggest advantages of a plunge base router over a fixed base is its ability to change cut depth while still in action. When using fixed base routers, you must first stop the machine to adjust its cut depth. As a result, plunge routers are more convenient in this regard.
Plunge routers have spring-loaded arms on both sides to allow you to dip the cutting bit into the material’s surface from different angles. As a result, they are beneficial in projects where you have to cut from above.
Compared to fixed-base routers, plunge routers are more versatile. They can cut material from the top and middle, which is something that a fixed base router cannot do.
Their movable bit makes them much more flexible than fixed-base routers. However, that also gives plunge base routers a steeper learning curve, as you must know how to gauge the depth while cutting. As a result, plunge routers might not be beginner-friendly.
What’s It Good For?
Thanks to the dexterity they allow you, plunge routers are far more efficient at making wood signs. To make a sign, simply draw the letters on the board and then use the plunge cutter to cut the letters out.
These routers are ideal for applications that require you to work from above the surface, such as making grooves, mortices, dados, rebates, and fluting. Contrary to popular opinion, plunge base routers can help your edging work. You can utilize their round-over cutting bit to profile your edges.
However, the biggest drawback of the plunge router is that it is not as accurate or precise as the fixed-base router, especially regarding edge working.
Due to their versatility and handiness, plunge routers are more expensive than fixed-base routers, on average.
Our Favorite Plunge Router
Makita RP1800 3-1/4 HP Plunge Router
The Makita RP1800 is a beast of a plunge router capable of delivering more than 22,000 RPM using its powerful 3-HP motor to ensure the effortless cutting of your workpieces.
This unit also comes with a decent depth capacity of up to 2¾ inches to allow you to make deep cuts into your pieces. This plunger cutter can move smoothly to deliver high-performance thanks to the linear ball bearings. Moreover, it comes with three preset depth stops for enhanced accuracy.
The Makita RP1800 also features a sturdy construction that makes it one of the most durable plunge routers today. Thanks to the ergonomic handles, it is easy and comfortable to operate. It also has a built-in fan to clear the dust as you work. The only drawback to this unit is that it does not come with a variable speed setting.
Plunge Router vs. Fixed Base Router: Which is Better?
The answer to this question will vary between individuals, as each of these two routers has its unique benefits. To help you identify the ideal router for your current project, consider the following factors.
Due to design differences, the two routers excel at different aspects of woodworking. Plunge routers are best suited for projects that require you to start cutting in the middle of your workpiece, such as when making decorative designs.
Fixed base routers, on the other hand, are ideal for smaller trims. They also handle edge work with more precision. As a result, they are the perfect router for joinery projects.
Consistency is crucial in woodworking, especially when dealing with projects that require you to make the same precise cuts on different pieces. If you want to repeat a particular cut across multiple pieces, you will be better off using a fixed base router. You only need to set the desired cutting depth; the machine will maintain it until you decide to change it.
This will involve stopping the motor to make the adjustment. While a plunge router allows you to adjust the cutting with the motor still running, it is a shortcoming when making repeat cuts because it is difficult to maintain the cutting depth setting of a plunge router.
Size and Weight
Since routers are handheld tools, their size and weight matter since these factors affect the machine’s ease of use. Fixed routers feature a compact and lightweight design. As a result, they are easier to handle and move around than plunge routers. Since plunge routers are significantly larger and heavier than fixed-base routers, handling them requires greater effort.
Plunge routers are typically more expensive than fixed-base routers, costing up to twice as much in certain instances. They are more expensive due to the versatility they allow the user.
How to Choose the Best Router
Regardless of your choice of router, there are features you should look out for in any router before you purchase it since they will affect its performance and ease of use and, thus, your quality of work. Some of the features include:
Horsepower is a measure of the power that your router can generate. Ideally, 2 HP is the least amount of horsepower that a good router should have. Anything less than that, and you will not be able to penetrate thicker pieces of wood. However, fixed-base routers can get away with a lack of horsepower as their design makes up for the deficiency. Horsepower should not be your sole focus when evaluating a router.
Variable Speed Control
Different materials or projects require different cutting speeds. Therefore, your router should have variable speed control to allow you to adjust the cutting speeds to suit your project.
Electronic Feedback System
The electronic feedback system senses the requirements of your load and adjusts the machine accordingly. This increases the efficiency of the router, as well as its accuracy and ease of usage. Therefore, it is a great feature to look for in a potential router.
The best router delivers excellent results while being easy to use. Handles play a significant role in the comfort of a router. Look for one with handles that have been designed to enhance your comfort.
Fixed Base Routers We Recommend
|Our favorite||Bosch 1617EVS||
|Best for the money||DEWALT DW616||
Plunge Routers We Recommend
|Our favorite||Triton TRA001||
|Best for the money||Makita RT0701CX7 Kit||
Fixed Base vs Plunge Router – The Verdict
Plunge and fixed-base routers are tools that deserve a spot in your workshop, and each has advantages. Fixed-base routers are perfect for beginners focusing on edging work and smaller projects. Plunge routers are the ideal tools for experienced woodworkers who want to cut designs into multiple areas of the workpiece. If you have to choose one, you must consider the nature of your projects and the level of your skills.
- See Also: 8 Things You Can Do with a Wood Router
Featured Image Credit: Needpix