Although it might seem that there is a similarity between using a base router versus a plunge router, in reality, each serves a different purpose. The choice between using either will ultimately depend on the application for which it will be used. Aside from decisions regarding horsepower and bit shank capacity, the function for which the router will be used will have to be taken into consideration.
General Buying Guide
Routers are quickly becoming one of the most flexible and versatile hand tools in the woodworker’s repertoire of tool selections. They are lightweight, easy to use and extremely accurate for making precision cuts in all kinds of woods. Routers can quickly and easily make complex joinery, replacing more expensive mortise and joinery machinery. Similarly, routers can create dowel joinery, box and dovetail joinery. They can create letters, edging and hand carved edging.
A base router can be used as a standard for router tables and some hand applications. A plunge router is designed and used as a hand-held tool to move vertically along a piece of wood. It can also be “plunged” into a piece of wood to start a cut, especially for deep groove work, mortises and template work. Each has its advantages, and woodworkers should consider which task a router will be called upon to accomplish. Ideally, many woodworkers have purchased one of each of these woodworking “workhorses.”
Plunge Router Considerations
Consider a 3-1/4 horsepower, self-releasing collet, soft-start variable speed motor plunge router as a basic purchase. This plunge router is an excellent freehanded machine which can also double as a superb router when mounted to a router table. A plunge router has the great flexibility of starting cuts or grooves in the middle of a piece of wood. It’s collet opening can accept larger router bits and in combination with its constant speed, it can cut and groove accurately in even the hardest of woods. Plunge routers also have precise adjustments to refine delicate molding and edge cuttings on all types of wood.
Excellent heavy-duty fixed base routers with 3-1/2 horsepower that sell for under $275 will perform well when mounted to router tables. These routers come with variable speeds, which can be adjusted depending on the thickness and hardness of the wood on which it is being worked. Base routers also contain extremely accurate depth adjustment through a precise knob adjustment. This adjustment allows for quickly making “micro-fine” adjustments. Although highly recommended for router base usage, these routers are lightweight and can also be used by hand and are great “first” routers for many woodworkers.
Combo Kits of Routers
Purchasing a combination kit of 1 motor with 2 bases allows for the greatest flexibility. This combination of router with separate bases offers the woodworker an excellent and versatile tool that works well to trim pieces on a table as well as a plunge tool which allows for precise cutting of grooves in the center of woodworking pieces. Although combination routers come with less horsepower, their cost is less, but the increased flexibility of these tools should definitively be a consideration.