After extensive research, we zoned in on the best wood router for woodworking enthusiasts: the Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router. Our woodworking specialists tried it, and found that it has the power and durability for the toughest of applications, thereby making it ideal for all woodworking projects.
The Best Wood Router
Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router comes with many convenient features such as 100 percent sealed ball bearings, half-inch collet and a 21,000 RPM with a soft start. All these features make it ideal for any use, and is much more versatile than some products that cost twice as much. What’s more, it comes with an auto-release collet system, which means it is easy to remove the “frozen” bits after completing your work.
Further, the Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router has a 15-amp motor for even the toughest of tasks, while plunge cuts are precise due to its depth-rod that comes with six-position adjustable turret. Along with these features, Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router scores high on durability too, thanks to its aluminum motor housing and base.
For some reason, if you are unable to find our best pick, then opt for second choice – Festool 574339 OF 1010 EQ Router . This is another plunge wood router that comes with an ergonomic handle to make it most comfortable for you to hold when your hands are tired. Its micro-adjustable depth control and smooth plunge action make it a great choice. However, it is a little more expensive than our best pick.
If both the Porter-Cable and Festool products are out of stock, and you want an emergency wood router that does not cost a lot, then go in for our budget pick, which is Black & Decker RP250 10-Amp 2-1/4 inch Variable Speed Plunge Router. This wood router also comes with many useful features such as a 1/4 inch collet and wrench, 10Amp motor speed, plunge router and adjustable parallel edge guide. For all this, however, it does not offer the same flexibility as that of Porter-Cable or for that matter even Festool. Nevertheless, it is a good choice if you want a wood router right away for a low cost.
Table of Contents
- What is a wood router?
- What is the history of a wood router?
- What can I do with a wood router?
- What should I know about a wood router before buying it?
- What are the important wood router accessories?
- How we tested the products?
- Our best pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Our Step-Up Pick
- Our Budget Pick
- More about our other picks
- Wrapping it up
What is a wood router?
Routing is a high speed process that cuts, trims and shapes a variety of materials such as wood, metal and plastic. A wood router, as the name implies, is a tool that performs this routing process with the help of a motor.
A wood router is one of the best tools in the bag of a professional woodworker, as it enables this individual to create intricate designs, right hollows, beautiful shapes and more. There are many types of wood routers available today, so it is up to the woodworker to decide what best suits his or her needs.
What is the history of a wood router?
It is widely believed that wood routers have been in existence for at least a century, though it existed in the form of hand tool instead of a power router. It was extensively used by patternmakers, woodsmiths and staircase makers to get the right precision.
As the Industrial Age came of age, power was used to run many tools and wood router also came into this process. The first power routers were invented in 1915 by a company called Jet Motor Hand Routers, and they were initially called Onsruters. This name came into being by combining the name of the inventor, which was Onsrud, with the word routers.
As it began to be extensively used, many companies started taking an interest in it, and soon they came up with many designs and prototypes. The most successful of it was by a Germany-based company called ELU, which is now called deWalt. The design was finalized during the 1940s, and since then, the router took the form as we know it today. More companies came into the picture, and more changes were made to arrive at a sophisticated router that could do a variety of tasks on a range of different materials. Many types of routers were also designed to suit different tasks.
What can I do with a wood router?
For professional woodworkers and woodworking enthusiasts, the wood router is a must-have tool as it helps you with a range of different functions such as cutting, trimming, shaping any material and laminating. No wonder, many woodworkers consider this to be the most versatile tool, and the fact that it is also portable, adds to its functionality.
Specifically, you can do the following with a wood router.
Make Perfect Edges
One of the trickiest tasks of woodwork is to trim and smoothen the edges of a narrow piece of wood, as it requires much precision. A wood router can make this task easy as it can do clean cuts on both straight and curved edges.
The router is often used for creating and shaping stylish decorative items from a piece of wood. Using different bits, you can create almost anything with a router, as the limit is only your imagination.
Though cutting is a fairly simple task, it requires high levels of precision. Moreover, cutting a dado, the invisible trench used to support shelves in a cabinet or bookshelf, is much easier with a wood router. Just attaching a straight bit to the wood router will do that trick for you.
Carving is another task you can do with wood routers, particularly cleanly cut rabbets. These are grooves cut into the wood to give additional support for cabinets and bookshelves or to create a strong joint in doors and windows.
When you want to create a specific pattern on any material, a wood router is a great choice of tool. Just draw the pattern on wood, and use the router to trace an outline to recreate as many pieces of the pattern as you want. Routers also help to cut out the pattern completely.
You can use wood routers to make cuts for recessed door hinges or even lock faceplates to enhance the appearance and smoothness of the final piece of your work.
What should I know about a wood router before buying it?
Wood routers come in many varieties, so it is important to understand what are these different types. Based on this understanding, you can decide which one will be best-suited for the task you want to complete.
Out of these many choices, some popular ones are lunge routers, laminate trimmers, CNC wood routers, variable speed routers and fixed base routers. Out of these, the main difference lies between plunge routers and fixed base routers. In the case of plunge routers, the base of the router is faced on the face of the woodworking project, and the cutting bit is raised slightly above the material. On the other hand, fixed-base wood routers cannot be placed on the face of material. Rather, the sole plate has to be kept at an angle and the bit should be touched into the motor once it is turned on. In other words, the fixed base router gives you much less flexibility in terms of mobility because the cutting bit can never come into contact with the router. At the same time, the fixed-base router makes it more convenient to work on thick materials. So, the choice of these two types have to be made before you buy a wood router, as it determines model you want.
There are some models that also offer interchangeable bases, where the woodworker can alternate between a plunge router and fixed base router, depending on the task on hand. This is done easily by just removing the motor and putting it back into a different base. With this model, you have the best of both worlds and the highest possible flexibility to work on different tasks. It can also save you money because you do not have to spend buying both plunge and fixed base routers. However, these interchangeable base routers can come at a steep price because of the convenience they offer.
Another type of wood router is the CNC router, a slightly different type of wood router that is more like a computer machine that controls the spindle mounts of the router. In general, the table of these routers are fixed and the spindle moves over it in the case of a flexible design. In the case of a fixed design though, the table present under the spindle moves, but the spindle itself is fixed. A unique advantage of these routers is that it can move through all three axes (X,Y and Z), and some even have a three or four-motor system for greater speed and accuracy. However, these routers need specialized training to use, and can be more expensive than the regular ones. So, you have to decide if you need this specialized router for the tasks you want to do, and accordingly, you can decide which router to buy.
Routers also come in different sizes to meet the different needs of users. The smallest of routers are called laminate routers, and they are best-suited for edge profiling tasks. In most cases, they will be small enough to hold comfortably in one hand and operates only at single speed. The total power of these routers will be less than 600 watts and they are of the fixed type, for the most part. Due to this small power output, they cannot be used as general purpose routers, rather they are for a specific task that complements the main router.
The small router is bigger than the laminate routers and operates with 800W or less. It also supports only 1/4″ collets, is light-weighted and easy to use. These routers are also well-suited only for decorative work, trimming, joint making and edge profiling. In general, small routers are of plunge type.
The medium router has a power output of anywhere from 600W to 1600W with a collet size of 1/4″. Due to this wide range, this medium-sized router is the most versatile as it can be used for a wide range of activities. Its medium size also makes it convenient to handle, especially when there is a need to mount it on a router table.
Large routers are those that have a power output of 1500W or more. These tools are the heaviest in wood router category, and hence are not ideal for woodworks that need to be done handheld such as decorating and edging. They are used only when big cuts are needed and for large jointing works such as staircase string manufacturing.
Besides the type and size of each router, the motor speed also varies between different models, and you have to choose higher amp motors if you have a tougher job on hand. If you work typically with small pieces of wood and if you think your use of a router would be limited, then you can opt for smaller speed ones as these are more likely to cost less for you.
Another aspect you should consider is the speed controls. Most routers today come with variable speed controls to give you better control over your wood routers, but it is best to decide how much variation you need in speeds. Also, some wood routers have a soft-start feature, which means they start slow and build-up speed gradually. This feature is particularly useful for large cutters, because for example, turning on a 5 horse-power motor without a soft start feature can damage the motor and its torque.
One more feature you should look into is your ease of comfort with a particular brand. Most people prefer to hold a wood router with two hands and this is also the safest way to use it. There are routers that come with multiple handles to give you more flexibility for holding when you want from different positions. For certain tasks such as shaping the edges of a table top, you need a D handle as it will give you greater control over your task, and more handle choices are needed for finer tasks.
You can also choose from the jigs and bits that go well with the wood route, as this is what helps you to do some specialized woodworking tasks such as raising panel doors, cutting circles, dovetails and more.
The presence or absence of some accessories also have a role in your decisions. Some common accessories that can make your work better are depth lock, switch lock, dust extraction and variable speed in the case of small routers. Also, if you plan to buy a small router, test for smoothness of the bit rotation and the quality of the plunge, as these will determine the quality of finish you will get.
In short, you have to decide the type of wood router based on the tasks you have on hand and those you plan to take on in the future.
What are the important wood router accessories?
There are some important wood router accessories you need to do your tasks. Though some accessories come with the wood router itself, you have to buy a few others separately to enhance the ease of your work and to make the finished product look better.
Some common accessories you need are:
These bits help to create the design you want, so they go hand-in-hand with a wood router. These bits are made of steel with a carbide tip to give them a long life, provided they are cleaned often and used with proper care.
Out of the many router bits, ten types are commonly used. Beading is a type of router bit that is used to create a rounded convex edge that is slightly below the level of the wood while Chamfer helps to cut straight edges along an angle on any side. Cove will cut a concave circle inside a piece of wood, rabbeting creates a 90-degree cut on the edges, Roman Ogee creates a unique S-shaped design, Round Nose will form a half circle groove, V-Groove creates a V-shaped groove and Dado forms a box-like groove respectively. All these router bits are useful to create the patterns you want, though you can choose which router bits you need for a given task. Each of these router bits come in different shank sizes for more flexibility in creating the patterns you want.
A router table, as the name suggests, helps the wood router to be attached to a table with the help of bits. These tables can either be setup on your workbench or as a stand-alone table.
Router fences act as a protection or fence for the wood, and holds the material in place when you want to create a straight cut.
Clamps are probably one of the most versatile and important accessory for any carpenter as it helps to hold in place the material to prevent it from slipping. Sometimes, it is also used to hold the router firmly to the workbench for greater stability.
Electronic feedback circuitry
If you are concerned about your wood router’s motor and want to know whenever there is a current overload, attach an electronic feedback circuitry to the motor. Essentially, this accessory monitors the stress on the motor and will match the torque to it. As a result, the chances for motor overloading is greatly reduced.
You can either choose wood routers that come with ergonomic handles or buy these handles separately and attach them to your wood router, to give your hands the much-needed comfort while working for long hours. Such handles reduce fatigue and make you productive for a longer time.
These accessories are sure to increase the performance and accuracy of your wood routers, and can help you to make the most out of your woodworking projects.
How we Tested
We tested all the units on certain parameters to identify the one that would be best and the most versatile for you. We took a piece of wood with a dimension of three feet by three feet, and used different wood routers on it to test for speed, precision and performance. A group of expert woodworkers were called to test these products, and each of them gave their opinions on what they think is the best and why. These professionals have been in the industry for at least 20 years, and have seen many models of routers during their work experience. Along with these five woodworking experts, our in-house team of experts were also involved in testing, and together they picked the best product for you.
We divided our criteria into different groups to make testing and evaluation easy. Our first group consisted of performance features such as amps, horsepower, RPM, weight, base dimension, height, depth, router type, collet capacity and collet diameter. In the second group, we looked at the functionality that included parameters such as the presence of a wrench, adjustable ring, cords and handles that will enhance the ease of use. In the third group, we evaluated the accessories that come with each product, and also the relevance and usefulness of each of these accessories to the product.
Our findings are formulated in the below table:
|Criteria||Porter-Cable||DeWalt DW618||Bosch MRC23EVSK||Festool 574339|
|Router type||Plunge||Fixed and plunge||Fixed and plunge||Plunge|
|Operating input voltage||120V||120V||120V||120V|
|Collet Capacity||1/4″||1/2″, 1/4″||1/2″, 1/4″||1/4″|
|Over molded handles||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Warranty||3 years||1 year||3 years||3 years|
From the above table, it is clear that Porter-Cable model is the best for most types of woodworking projects, and it also scores high on performance, precision and ease of use.
Jen’s Top Pick
Out of all the products we tested, the Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router is our top pick because of the versatility and features it offers.
It comes with a 15-amp motor, something that is unusual since most other plunge wood routers are at much lower amps, and this helps woodworkers to cut through even the toughest of materials. Imagine the flexibility you will get, as you can use it on wood, metals and just about anything else you want to work on. In this sense, this Porter-Cable is a money saver too because you do not have to buy separate tools to work on different materials.
Unlike many other models, the Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router is likely to last much longer for you because of its soft-start feature. It starts slow and builds up speed to reach 21,000 RPM, and as a result, it reduces torque at the time of start-up. At the same time, it does not compromise on the speed or functionality, and this means you get the best of both worlds.
One of the problems faced by many woodworkers in wood routers is the inability to remove the small bits of collets. However, with the Porter-Cable model, you can take that worry off your mind as its auto-release collet system makes it easy to remove all the bits after use.
In terms of performance too, the Porter-Cable 7538 Speedmatic 3-1/4 Plunge Router is the best as its depth rod comes with a six-position adjustable turret that gives you the choice to do both stepped and repeated plunge cuts with ease. Its precision is also unparalleled, thanks to its three-inch plunge range precision motor.
On top of all these features, it is also durable as its base is made of high quality aluminum and has integrated cast handles for additional strength and durability. Additionally, it comes with a plastic screen on the side that faces you, so dust will not fall on your shirt or pants while you use it. Also, there is a fan located below the motor to blow the dust away from you. All in all, an innovative design that enhances the pleasure of working on your favorite projects, without having to worry about cleaning yourself all the time.
Further, it has two buttons for extra safety. The main switch doubles up as a breaker if there is a current overload, and there is another trigger button that comes with a lock-on feature to give you a better control on the handles. Both these features make it a breeze to use this product anywhere.
For all these features, it is priced reasonably, and this is why many customers from around the world are drawn to it. Even Amazon users like it, for it has an unusual perfect rating of 5.0 (from 10 reviews) with reviewers being extremely satisfied with this product. A popular reviewer from Dixon, California reported that the Porter-Cable plunge router has the right power for all your needs, and setting the depth of cut is easy due to the rotating turret with 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch presets. Also, the depth adjustable rod feels solid and are unlikely to slip while working. The handles on the router are comfortable to hold and provides support when the arms are fatigued. Further, he opines that the plunging and returning actions are smooth, and additionally there is an option to set the height of the return position. Due to these features, he believes that the Porter-Cable is the most perfect router available in the market today.
Flaws, but not dealbreakers
Though the Porter-Cable model is a great one for getting almost any woodwork done, it does not have a dust collection bag. However, this is not really a dealbreaker because it still keeps dust away from you with its plastic screen and the fan that runs below the motor, though it would have been nice to have a dust collection bag for easier cleanup.
While this model is perfect for experienced woodworkers, its manual can is insufficient for novices who are using it for the first time. The instruction manual that comes with the product looks more like a map, so the user has to spend much time to understand the directions, and the pictures are also small. A more detailed manual is sure to enhance its usability even better.
Though a lot of us believe that its weight is comfortable and ideal for its versatility, there are some users who think it is on the heavier side. However, for the functionality that it offers, this is the ideal weight and anything lower than this, can impact its performance.
Additional useful features such as LED Back light and spindle locks could have been useful, but its absence does not alter the functionality of these routers in any way, and they continue to have the best performance amongst all the products we tested.
Our Step-Up Pick
The Festool 574339 OF 1010 EQ Router is a close second as its features are similar to the Porter-Cable model.
One of the most salient aspects of this wood router is its ergonomic handle that can provide the best support for your hands, especially when you are working for a long time and your hands are fatigued. Moreover, it has power switch and speed controls near your fingers to prevent unnecessary movements that can further increase your fatigue.
In terms of performance, this model is a good choice as it comes with an adjustable speed control that produces smoother and cleaner finishes to your product. Also, its height adjuster can be tweaked to almost 1/3″ without compromising on the precision, as it can be set to give 1/256″ accuracy. This level of accuracy is unusual in wood routers, thanks to its micro-adjustable depth control. In fact, this combination of depth and precision is a defining feature of this model, and accounts for its popularity.
Further, it comes with a dust extractor port that collects all the dust to leave a clean work environment even after a long day of work. Other commendable feature of this product is its size. It is compact and smaller than many other models, and yet does not compromise on the performance. In fact, its small size gives it an efficient center of gravity, thereby making it easy to carry and maneuver.
Besides its lightweight and high performance, it comes with many comfortable accessories that add to the pleasure of using it. If needed, you can buy extra accessories that you think will make work easier for you.
For these reasons, the Festool 574339 OF 1010 EQ Router gives good value, and we will not hesitate to recommend it if your top pick gets sold out.
Our Budget Pick
If you are unable to get our best or runner-up pick, then try our budget pick:
This is one of the lowest-priced products and yet it is a great value for your money. A unique advantage with this product is the versatility you get, as you can work on any project with it. When you want to create a decorative edge, it acts as a fixed router, but its unique construction makes it easy to work in the middle part of the wood, if you need to. As a result, you can create cuts, inlays and anything else you want to create.
An added advantage is that its motor is fairly powerful, at about 10amps while its variable speed motor that has a range of 8000 to 27,000 pm gives it the maximum performance. Its gradual speed function at the time of start-up gives you greater control over the tool for better precision.
Besides our best, step-up and budget picks, the below products also help you complete the task on hand.
This moderately-priced product comes with many convenient features that can enhance your comfort and work. While the peak 1.25 Horsepower gives you good amounts of power, the variable speed controls gives you greater control over the operations.
In terms of convenience too, this product scores high. Its low contoured grip gets you close to the work surface, and at the same time, gives you excellent control over the tool while the sub-base gives you the maximum visibility while you work. When you are working on edge profiles, the flat base gives you good levels of stability. The depth rod is precise, and comes with a scale marker and a release to lock lever that helps to hold the rod firmly at a particular depth.
For tough applications, it comes with two tabs that provide quick and simple release when needed. Also, the adjustable clamp design helps to keep the motor in place on any material.
If you are looking for a combination of both fixed-base and plunge wood routers, then the Bosch 1617EVSPK is a good choice. It comes with a horsepower of 2-1/4 and a rpm of 8,000 to 25,000 to give you good performance while its plunge and fixed base give you more flexibility for many tasks. Another advantage of this product is its variable speed dial that helps to match speed with the work and task on hand, and the soft start feature ensures that the tool builds speed gradually to avoid any impact on the motor’s torque.
The fixed base of this wood router has threaded holes to mount it on router tables in any 3-hole pattern, and the quick clamp system makes it easy to move the motor to plunge base when needed. It is also well-insulated as the power switch comes with a dust seal and the entire tool is double insulated. To top it, there is a rugged carrying case with compartments to carry all the items that come with it.
Another good pick if you want a fixed and plunge wood router is SKIL 1830. Its 2-1/4 horsepower motor makes it easy to do a range of different DIY woodworking tasks like counter-top installation, cabinet building and wood cutting. Its fine adjustment feature helps you to make precise cuts while the adjustable turret works well for repeated plunging applications.
As with all other models, moving the motor from fixed to plunge base is also easy, and this gives you more flexibility to finish all your tasks with the same router. Its soft start feature increases speed gradually, so the motor is likely to last much longer. Though the motor is less powerful than our best pick, it nevertheless helps you to perform many basic woodworking tasks.
The other accessories that come with this wood router are a chip deflector, a 1/4 inch collet adaptor, a collet wrench and a carrying bag.
In our tests, this is one of the few models that had low noise levels even while doing complex tasks. Another aspect we noticed about this wood router is that it maintains a constant RPM even when the load keeps changing, so it gives precise cuts across all materials. The handles on either side are ergonomically designed, so you can hold it for long periods of time too without your hands getting too fatigued. Also, Hitachi backs this product with a five-year warranty as well, and this is fairly unusual too, as the average is only three years.
This router is a fixed-base one, but comes with a powerful motor and electronic speed control for making a range of different cuts needed for different applications. Also, it has a collet capacity of both 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch, though only the latter is included along with this router. If you want a 1/2-inch collet, then you have to buy it separately, but the router is designed to handle both.
This Bosch model is ideal if you are looking for a small wood router with a low motor capacity, as it comes only with 5.6 Amp and 1 Horsepower. It comes with a soft-start feature and a variable speed that ranges from 16,000 to 35,000 RPM. Each dial needs a different speed, and this information is available in the user manual that comes with the product.
Otherwise, it is handy and highly portable, thereby making it convenient to do small tasks. Also, it is made of aluminum for a longer life while the soft grip provides much support for the hands. Its quick clamp system makes it easy to move the router from one base to another while the angled cord helps to keep the cords away from your work. Along with the product, you get additional accessories such as a palm router, forged collet and shaft wrenches, straight-edge guide and a convenient case to carry it all.
There are many questions that come from first-time users as well as experienced professionals, so we thought we will answer a few common frequently asked questions for you.
I have a router that takes only 1/4″ bits. Can I also put 1/2″ bits in this same router?
If the router does not come with a 1/2″ inch collet, then it’s not a good idea to use 1/2″ bits because the router is not likely to be powerful enough to handle a 1/2″ inch bit. Another good way to find out the capability of the router to handle 1/2″ inch bits, is to check the horsepower. In general, routers that have a horsepower of two or higher, or 13amps and higher, have the power to drive 1/2″ inch bits.
What is the maximum depth that can be routed?
The answer to this question depends a lot on the capacity of the router. In general, if you are routing through hard wood like oak and if your depth requirements exceed 1/4″, then you are better off making multiple passes through the same route. In the case of softer wood like pine, a depth of 3/8″ should be enough.
How to route the perfect edges with my wood router?
To get the perfect edges, clamp the board down with the right clamps and move the router in a counter-clockwise direction. Move it around the board to get the perfect edge profiles. However, make sure your bits are real sharp, and always test your cuts on a scrap of wood before deciding the depth that needs to be cut. Sometimes though, the counter clockwise direction may cause the wood to chip out at the corners. To prevent this, it is always a good idea to climb-cut a couple of inches on the northeast or southwest corners before making your way around the board.
How to prevent burning while making deep cuts?
When you make deep cuts in a single pass, the chances for chipping the board and damaging the finished profile is high. This is why you should do deep cuts in multiple passes, where you cut deeper each time. The number of passes depends to a large extent on the type of wood, and the profile you are trying to create.
How can I choose the right wood router?
To choose the right wood router, you have to decide the tasks that you plan to use it for. Accordingly, you can decide if you want a fixed-base or a plunge router along with other specifications. Alternately, you can browse through our picks to see if they are a right fit for you.
What is the use of a cnc wood router?
Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) routers are used for the same purposes as that of handheld routers, though they are easier to operate and come with very high levels of precision. Typically, these routers are used for high-precision tasks such as door carvings, creating interior and exterior decorations, sign boards, musical instruments and wood panels. It also helps to automate the trimming process with pre-programmed repetitions. The difference between this router and others is that much of the operations is controlled by computers, and the coordinates are sent to the machine through a CAD program. This is why the CNC router works on the Cartesian coordinates of X,Y and Z for 3D motion control when needed.
Wrapping It Up
Woodwork is one of the most beautiful forms of art today, that is best achieved with perfect precision and ideas. To achieve this precision and to convert your ideas into products, you need the right tools, and one of the most versatile tools that make your work much easier, is a wood router. Though there are many brands and models available in the market, Porter-Cable is a top pick. If you have a lower budget, try the Black & Decker or if you want a more ergonomically-better router, pick the Festool wood routers.