Offers a wide variety of different speeds that are easy to change with a control dial. The aluminum casing feels surprisingly durable even at higher speeds. We really liked that the LED lights were bright and long-lasting. Comes with five different bits that are easy to change in and out of the router.
The motor can be quite loud when operating at higher speeds.
Features a 1.25 horsepower motor that's able to fulfill most woodworking needs at home. In some situations, can reach a speed of up to 30,000 revolutions per minute. Great design for a handheld router that makes it comfortable to use. One of the easier routers to set up and begin using quickly.
Machine tends to run hot. Not really made for heavy-duty workloads.
Includes a 1.75 horsepower motor for excellent performance levels, even when you're working on hardwoods. Allows for bit depth adjustments up to 1/64th of an inch. Collet on the router will accept multiple shank bits. Good quality of work for a handheld router. Trusted brand name.
Creates more noise than some other handheld router options.
Includes variable speed settings that allow you to match the speed to the type of wood you're using. Has a large 2.25 horsepower motor. Excellent aluminum build quality throughout the machine. Multiple shank bit usage options. Can make bit depth adjustments up to 1/64th of an inch.
Pricier than other handheld routers. Questionable build quality.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Any woodworker who goes beyond DIY basics will soon want to add a router to his or her tool kit. It’s an incredibly versatile tool, capable of cutting joints, rabbets, and dados. A router can also form decorative moldings and trim countertops. Routers can be inverted and fixed to a router table, further increasing the wide range of tasks they can perform.
However, choosing the right router – particularly if you’ve never owned one before – can be daunting. Do you go big and powerful, or does that make control difficult? On the other hand, will a compact, maneuverable model struggle on larger jobs?
These are the kinds of questions that BestReviews helps answer. With our top recommendations and shopping guides, you can find products with the best combination of performance and value. If you’re ready to purchase a router, our five favorites are in the product list above. For what you need to know before you buy, keep reading.
All routers work the same way. An electric motor drives a spindle at high speed. Attached to the spindle is a collet (a simple chuck) that grips the router cutter (or bit). While motor power and speed varies from one model to another, there are two main areas where routers differ. They either have 1/4" or 1/2" collets and fixed or plunge bases.
Routers are often identified by their collet size, called 1/4" routers or 1/2" routers. This is slightly misleading, as most 1/2" routers can accept 1/4" collets (though it doesn’t work the other way around).
Collet sizes define the shank diameter of the cutter they can accept. Although profiles (the shapes of the router bits) are similar, the heads on 1/2" cutters can be considerably bigger. As a result, a 1/2" router can take far deeper cuts, removing more material, more quickly.
Compact routers are invariably 1/4" models. Though their speed ranges are similar to 1/2" routers, they’re physically smaller, and therefore easier to manage. They are less powerful, but this may not be a disadvantage. If you’re making models, small items of furniture, doing decorative routing, or trimming, a smaller model is often the better choice.
Of course, if you’re cutting large moldings for door trims or cabinets, you’ll want a 1/2" router. A good guide is to look at the cutters themselves, though there are provisos. It’s often better to take two small cuts than one large cut. Also, if the router doesn’t have sufficient power, then trying to run large cutters with 1/4" shanks can lead to the router stalling or giving a poor cut.
The first routers were fixed base models. The fixed element is the depth of cut. Once adjusted, it’s fixed at that depth until readjusted. Fixed base routers remain popular because they’re usually lighter and better balanced than plunge routers. Good ones can be adjusted with great precision, with no fear that movement will affect the settings. Many woodworkers also prefer a fixed base router when using a router table. A plunge function can be a disadvantage with router tables, though router lifts can overcome the problem.
The big advantage of a plunge router is that you don’t have to start the cut at the edge. The cutter can be lowered to a preset depth on any part of the work – like a very large drill, except the bit can also cut sideways. With a plunge router, you can rout decorative door moldings that just aren’t possible with a fixed base model. The head on a plunge router is spring-loaded, so as soon as you let go, the router stops cutting. For convenience, you can lock the router in the down position, though.
Several manufacturers now offer combination routers. These versatile routers have interchangeable fixed and plunge bases. Good bases are made with considerable precision, so an additional one isn’t cheap, but it does give you the best of both worlds.
A note on cordless routers
Routers have high power demands, which puts a big strain on even the best batteries. As a result, there are very few cordless routers currently available. There are several 1/4" models, and some tools that are called routers but are really only designed for trimming. Cordless tools are getting better all the time, so this gap in the market is likely to be temporary.
Power can vary considerably with routers. The power a router needs to generate is substantial. A motor with 1 1/4 hp is common on a compact router, 1 3/4 hp on a 1/2" router. There’s no real negative in having more power – except perhaps a minimal weight gain – so in our opinion, the more power, the better.
The majority of modern routers have variable speed, but numerous fixed speed models still exist. On variable speed routers, the speed ranges look impressive. Maximums in the region of 30,000 rpm are not unusual. However, different materials cut best at different speeds. A high top speed is not the most important factor, flexibility is. In general, you run small cutters faster than large cutters, so 1/2" routers often have a lower top speed than compact routers. You also want the ability to adjust your router quickly and easily. It’s usually done with a simple dial.
Fast, accurate depth setting is a bonus. Dials vary from knobs to collars that wrap around the machine. What’s important is that adjustment is easy and graduations are clear. Micrometer adjusters allow for increased precision.
Plunge routers have handles on either side. Handles should be comfortable and not get in the way. Wood handles look good, but may not last as long as soft plastic alternatives.
Some routers have motors with clever electronics that can compensate for load so the cutting progress is always smooth.
On a combination router, how easy is it to change bases? Single, fast-action levers make doing so quick and simple.
The last thing you want is for your router to rock backward and forward. A wide base gives you stability when cutting. Compact models are naturally less stable, so some have additional sub-bases for added width.
Some models incorporate LED lights to brighten your work area.
If you’re buying a 1/2" router, most manufacturers also provide a 1/4" collet as well, but check to be sure.
We’re wary of cheap power tools of any kind. They seem like a good deal at first, but the main problems are accuracy and durability. They often don’t handle the workload expected of them. That said, if you’re looking for a budget router, you can get a comprehensive 1/2" router kit for around $80. You should get a parallel guide and a bag or case to keep it in, too. Some would argue that if you’re not working to fine tolerances and are only going to use your router occasionally, these inexpensive options work fine.
However, if that’s the kind of woodworking you do, we would spend a little more – between $100 and $130 – and get a good-quality 1/4" compact router. At the upper end of that range, you’ll get interchangeable bases so you can use it as a fixed or plunge router. This is where you’ll also find the few 1/4" cordless routers (and router trimmers) currently available.
If you’re looking for a pro tool – a 1/2" router with the capacity to tackle large moldings, day in, day out – you’ll pay between $160 and $200. Depending on the brand, that will get you a powerful fixed base model or possibly an interchangeable one.
There are some high-quality router kits available from top manufacturers that come with several bases, numerous guides, and cases or tough work bags. They cost in the region of $270 to $350, depending on the contents of the kit.
Never start the router with the cutter in contact with the material. It’s dangerous because the tool can grab the material and twist in your hand. It can also ruin your work, cutting much deeper than anticipated.
Routers can produce a lot of dust, particularly when taking fine cuts or trimming laminates. Clear shields/guards help control this but can cause visibility problems. If you do a lot of routing, it’s worth investing in an additional dust extraction base if one is not included.
There are dozens of different router templates available, particularly for complex joints. They can be expensive, but they speed up your work enormously. They’re additions that are well worth exploring, especially if you enjoy making furniture.
Q. Should I choose a router with a brush motor or a brushless motor?
A. Cheaper routers and older models tend to have brush motors. That doesn’t mean they’re bad machines, but brushless motors are quieter and should last longer. The drawback is that they’re more expensive. Most times, it’s a matter of personal choice and budget.
Unless you’re buying a cordless router. Brushless motors make much more efficient use of the battery power available, so they have become the de facto standard for cordless tools.
Q. Fixed base versus plunge router, is one better than the other?
A. It depends on the kind of routing you’re doing. You can’t beat a big 1/4" fixed base router if you’re doing repetitive, heavy moldings. But if you want to cut joints or decorative grooves, a plunge router has much greater versatility. For general purpose work, a compact router with interchangeable bases offers the best of both types. However, it may not deliver sufficient power for some tasks.
Many woodworkers buy both a fixed base and a plunge router. If you need major capacity, you might also consider starting with a fixed base that is interchangeable, then adding the plunge option later if you need it.
Q. What is no-load speed?
A. Router manufacturers quote impressive speed ranges – anything from 10,000 to 30,000 rpm. Often they don’t tell you that this is the no-load speed. It’s assessed with the machine running on its own, not actually cutting. Working speeds are considerably lower, though it’s setting the right speed for the material that’s important, not the speed itself.