For the woodworker, the wood router is an essential piece of advanced woodworking kit that can be used to make a whole host of more complicated cuts, both decorative and non-decorative, in wood or plastic. Wood routers come in a few different shapes and sizes but the most common one is the hand-held plunge router. In these wood router reviews, we first look at the characteristics that are important when buying a plunge router, followed by more detailed analysis of the best plunge routers that are available on the UK market today.
Things to look for in a Wood Router
Router (collet) Size: This is usually given in inches and refers to the shank size of bits that the router will accept. The most common sizes of router bit shanks are 1/2-inch (1/2″) and 1/4-inch (1/4″), although bits also come in metric form, usually 6mm, 8mm, 10mm or 12mm. Some routers, referred to as “1/2-inch routers”, accommodate collets for both 1/4″ and 1/2″ shanks (as well as some metric sizes), while other routers, referred to as “1/4-inch routers”, only accept 1/4″ shanks (and also usually 6mm and 8mm shanks). It is easier and cheaper to get router bits that fit the 1/2-inch routers than it is for 1/4-inch routers. In addition, many longer and larger router bits are only available in the 1/2″ shank form, which require a bigger more powerful router to operate them successfully. However, for many jobs, router bits are available in both large and small shank sizes. So why go for a larger shank size, if a smaller one can do the same job? In general, larger bits cause less vibration when cutting and often produce a smoother cut.
Power: The power of a router (given in Watts) goes hand-in-hand with the maximum size of router bit that it is able to accept and the maximum depth of cut the router is able to make. Typically, routers with wattages of less than 1500W will not accept the bigger router bits that have a 1/2-inch shank. These lower powered routers are for lighter work and more precision cutting. Routers that accept 1/2-inch-shanked router bits will have enough power to handle just about anything you can throw at them.
Router-Table Compatibility: A common desire amongst more experienced plunge router users is to be able to install the router inverted into a table, a la router table, which imparts upon the humble plunge router a host of new woodworking capabilities. Most plunge routers are not designed to be installed into a router table, but that does not mean that they cannot be used as such with a bit of jerry-rigging. One of the characteristics with many hand-held routers is the presence of a “dead-man’s” power switch that needs to be kept depressed in order to work the router. This is a useful safety feature that ensures the router is only running when the operator is in full control of it but hinders its use in a router table. One of the tricks to getting round this is to use a cable tie to ‘tie’ down the power switch when used as part of a router table.
Plunge Travel: This is the maximum movement down (usually given in mm) that the router bit can travel. Obviously, the greater the degree of plunge travel, the greater the depth to which the router bit can sink into the workpiece, and the more versatile the router. However, don’t assume that plunge travel equals plunge depth into the workpiece, as this will depend on the overall length of the router bit used and the degree to which it is level with the base plate of the router in the rest position.
Router Weight: The ideal wood router weight is a balance between the need for some weight to make the router more stable while at the same time keeping the weight to a level that still makes it comfortable to handle.
Soft-start: Some routers have a soft-start feature which means that when the machine is first turned on, it does not immediately ramp up to its set speed, but instead more gradually accelerates to the desired speed. This is not absolutely necessary as the router bit is not normally in contact with the workpiece when it is first turned on, however, the incorporation of soft-start makes the router much more comfortable to handle and is generally safer as it is less likely to jerk out of the operator’s hands on power up.
Variable Speed: Some routers provide the ability to vary the speed at which the spindle turns. This gives the operator more control over his or her cutting action, allowing it to be used more accurately in different types of wood and plastic.
Popular 1/4-Inch Plunge Routers-- Information Not Available
** 6.35mm = 1/4"
Popular 1/2-Inch Plunge Routers-- Information Not Available
Hitachi M12VE/J6 Plunge Router
The Hitachi M12VE is a well-built 1/2” wood router that houses a powerful 2000W motor with variable speed control that runs spindle rotation anywhere from 8000 RPM up to 22,000 RPM. The router comes with collets for both 1/4” and 1/2” bit shanks permitting a wide selection of router bits to be used with this Hitachi router. The plunging mechanism on the Hitachi M12VE slides easily and smoothly unlike many budget level wood routers which are often stiffer and plunge less readily. The router is relatively lightweight and is less noisy compared to other competitor routers in its category class. Other neat features include adjustable handles for maximum user comfort and thoughtful design that makes it relatively easy to integrate it into a router table. However it is not all perfect with the Hitachi M12VE wood router as it lacks a couple of sought-after features that are present on other competitor machines, including a user-friendly plunge depth micro-adjustment mechanism (a couple of screws that can be adjusted with a screwdriver are used instead). The Hitachi M12VE router also lacks a dust collection system preventing it from connecting to an external vacuum to ensure that the cutting point does not become obscured by debris. One other notable issue some users of the Hitachi M12VE router have flagged is that router bits can sometimes be difficult to remove from the collet after routing, on occasion necessitating the use of more extreme methods of extracting the bits (such as pliers), and sometimes damaging the bits in the process. Some users have clarified the need to fully unscrew the nut that holds the bit within the collet, but this appears to be only a partial solution, working for some users and not others. Overall, the Hitachi M12VE router is a high-quality router produced by a well-known power tool company and which is liked by many-an-owner. It does however exhibit one or two minor drawbacks that need to be taken into account before purchasing.
Bosch POF 1200AE Plunge Router
The Bosch POF 1200AE is an excellent router for the DIY-routing newbie. It has been well designed, making it easy to change the router bits and bushings, and is perfectly balanced for ease of use. It has plenty of power with a variable speed setting and can chew through any type of wood in no time. It is well-built and accurate up to approximately ±0.5mm in depth, which is usually sufficient for any woodworking job. However, for the more experienced DIY-er or trade professional, the Bosch POF 1200AE does lack a few essential features. These include a lack of a fine adjustment to position the depth of the cut with more accuracy, and the inability to accept 1/2″ router bits for more serious routing jobs (it comes with collets for router bits with shanks of 1/4″, 6mm, and 8mm). For those hoping to fit the Bosch POF 1200AE into a router table, it should also be noted that it has a “dead-man’s switch” for a power button so it cannot be easily used in a router table without a bit of jerry-rigging. The Bosch POF 1200AE also suffers from a couple of other design oversights, for instance, the lever for locking the router at a certain depth is quite stiff and not for the delicately-fingered, however, the plus side of this is that the router depth is very securely locked into position. Users will also find that the plunge action can be much stiffer than expected especially when first starting out and a little elbow grease is required to sink the router bit. Alternatively, a little bit of WD40 applied to the sliding mechanism can go a long way to making the plunge action more comfortable. Although the 1200AE is a ‘Bosch’, it is not actually made in Germany as one might expect but made in…guess where..yup…good old C.H.I.N.A., which is a bit disappointing considering we’ve come to expect Bosch to be made by the Germans. However, the machine is still a well-built machine, and as expected, up to the Bosch standard, so there is no need to fret about quality. Overall, a good starter machine for the DIY-ing novice.
Bosch POF 1400ACE Plunge Router
The Bosch POF 1400ACE is the next step up from the smaller 1200AE described above, and is just as robust and just as well-designed. It has all the features of the 1200AE plus a couple of other bonuses. The standout differences with the 1200AE is its more powerful 1400W motor and a fine depth adjustment mechanism for more accurate depth setting, plus a storage case for when the router is not in use or being transported. It also has a soft-start motor and an integral LED light that illuminates the working area, although the light only comes on when the motor is running and the dust extractor insert, if used, gets in the way of the added clarity provided by the light. Unfortunately, the 1400ACE also shows some of the same inadequacies of the 1200AE, namely it still does not take 1/2″-shanked router bits, coming only with collets for 1/4″, 6mm and 8mm shanks, making it a lighter work precision-type tool, rather than for heavier work like routing kitchen counters where larger cutting bits are usually desired. Once again, like the 1200AE, the plunge lever lock and the plunge action itself also requires some serious hand and arm strength.
Silverline 264895 Plunge Router
The Silverline 264895 plunge router is a Chinese-built generic that is almost identical to some other plunge routers from different retail companies. It has a solid body and a powerful 1500W motor with seven speed settings that can handle even tough jobs like kitchen countertops, and comes with collets that accept up to 1/2″ shank bits (it comes with 1/2″, 1/4″, 6mm, 8mm, and 12mm collets). In addition, it also comes with a parallel guide, a roller guide, a circle guide, a template guide, the chuck spanner, spare carbons for the motor, a dust extraction port and a measurement bar. Similar to more expensive plunge routers, the Silverline operates with a soft-start, which prevents the machine from suddenly jerking into action when starting up. The machine even comes with a fine depth adjustment, once again something that is usually the preserve of more expensive machines. Like many a plunge router, the springs that facilitate resistance to the plunge motion are quite stiff, making it difficult for less-abled bodied persons to control the depth of the cut very easily, however, with a bit of power tool hacking, these can be replaced with softer springs sourced from most hardware stores if need be.
On the negative side, the Silverline 264895 is a little roughly-built, lacking the exquisite aesthetics of more expensive bigger brand-name routers. Indeed, as fans of Silverline tools have come to expect, quality control can sometimes be lacking, and the 264895 plunge router is no different, sometimes coming with parts that fail to meet the expected tolerance requirements for a router. For instance, it has been noted that the squareness of the base relative to the bit-holding spindle can sometimes be outside of normal tolerances, producing cuts that are not sufficiently square. In addition, some of the parts used in the machine are made of low-quality plastic (like the fine adjustment knob) making them easily cracked or damaged (a common theme when users have tightened up screws on the machine), so extra care needs to be taken when handling the router to preserve its intended lifespan. Finally, some of the accessories that come with the router have not been designed to an optimal standard, for instance, the 30mm guide bush only has a couple of millimetres of depth to it making it difficult to use without taking extreme care that it does not ride over the guide hole. Overall, the Silverline 264895 is packed with lots of features but quality-wise, it is not a professional router but one that is cheap and cheerful for the light DIY user who is meticulous in the care of his or her power tools.
Silverline 124799 Plunge Router
The Triton Plunge Routers
Triton has a line of hand-held wood routers with some very well-thought out features built into their design. All the routers have variable speed with soft-start, fine depth adjustment, an automatic spindle lock, a spring-loaded depth calibration and depth stop, and ‘quick fit pins’ for attachment of a multi-function fence. Unusually for a hand-held router, the Triton routers are also all designed to be easily incorporated into a router table, with the most notable features being the above-the-table bit change and an above-the-table height winder for fine control of the depth setting. The height adjustment is a particularly loved feature since it allows for exquisitely fine control over depth setting when installed below a router table. Using a Triton router within a Triton router table, such as the Triton RSA300 Router Stand, makes using a router table even more pleasurable as the router installation into the router table is a breeze.
Safety has also taken a front seat on Triton routers with an automatic spindle lock that engages only when the power switch cover is closed and the router is fully depressed a.k.a. ‘bit-changing mode’. In addition, the power switch shutter also locks shut when the router is in bit-changing mode so that there is no chance of the router being accidentally switched on. The cutting area is surrounded by plastic shielding to protect the user from flying debris and dust, however, this does mean that the operator almost has no choice but to use a dust extraction system with the router otherwise the dust will rapidly accumulate on the protective shields and obscure the cutting action.
Triton Router JOF001
The Triton JOF001 is the smallest and least powerful of the Triton line-up with its 1010W of power, however, it takes a 1/2″ shank, unusual for a router of this size. Unlike its bigger siblings, it does not have a rack & pinion for depth setting but rather the standard spring-loaded plunge action not unlike other brands of hand-held router, although it still have the fine depth adjustment mechanism.
Triton Routers MOF001 and the TRA001
The Triton MOF001 is the sibling in the middle of the Triton line-up. It has 1400W of power and although it is a 1/2″ router it only comes with a 1/4″ collet and a 8mm collet when you buy it in the UK, making it necessary to purchase a 1/2″ collet separately if you want to use larger bits. The Triton TRA001, on the other hand, has a hefty 2400W of power, more than enough for any woodworking job, and does come with 1/2″ bit collet (and a 12mm one). Both the MOF001 and the TRA001 can be used as either a standard plunge router or as a rack and pinion depth-adjusted router through the push of a button. Once in rack and pinion mode, the depth of the router is controlled by depressing a clutch and winding the handle up or down to the general depth required, with the fine depth adjustment and depth lock still working as before.
Overall, any one of the Triton routers is an excellent all-round purchase and at an exceptionally good price point. Compared to their power-equivalent competitors, they are great value for money and thus are currently our favourite plunge router on the UK market today.