Best Picks / Reviewed
Best-in-class: Porter-Cable 7539 3.25 HP Speedmatic 5-Speed Plunge Router Review
For the serious woodworker or for those who want unlimited routing potential, the powerful Porter-Cable 7539 Speedmatic has everything you need and a whole lot of what you want for a few extra dollars. The esteemed Porter-Cable brand has crafted another high-quality, reliable, and well-manufactured machine that can hold up to almost any woodworking project.
As the name suggests, the Porter-Cable comes packed with impressive power: at 3.25 HP, overheating and underperformance are history. It’s over 17 pounds of heavy machinery, but the soft-start feature holds up and keeps you safe from jolty movements that can injure you and your machine.
It’s equipped with a plunge base, putting the power to tackle projects of any complexity in the palm of your hands. The Porter’s heft is balanced out by easy-to-use handles for easy maneuvering.
The Porter-Cable’s five-speed capabilities make it ideal for working on a variety of materials, from the hardest woods to plastic and resins, without an ounce of hesitation.
Versatile, high-quality, and capable of just about any challenge you can throw at it, the Porter-Cable 7539 Speedmatic is an easy choice for professional woodworkers and those who want a powerful machine that’s truly built to last.
- Soft-start and speed control make this powerful machine a synch to handle.
- A five-speed motor allows you to work safely and smoothly on any wood type.
- It comes with a ½-inch collet, but ¼-inch and 3/8-inch collets are available for truly limitless bit selection.
- Its incredibly powerful motor is versatile enough to tackle any project you throw at it.
- Like many professional routers, it sacrifices little niceties for expertise: you won’t see things like LED lights on this model.
Best value: Dewalt DWP611PK 1.25 HP Compact Router Combo Review
DeWalt is a time-tested, trusted expert in the home improvement industry, and the DeWalt DWP611PK Router Combo lives up to the manufacturer’s name.
Its low-end price offers quite a bit of mid- to high-end bonus features, like the coveted variable-speed dial, making it a no-brainer pick as a best value buy.
This router offers a convenient tiny-sized package with an unusually versatile range that we love. Sure, the horsepower leaves a little to the imagination at 1.25; but, with small breaks to avoid overheating, this little powerhouse is capable of everything from beginner trims to crafting simple furniture.
The operation is surprisingly comfortable for an entry-level model, and the overall feel is sturdy and stable—even when working on harder materials or projects typically above the pay grade of a palm router. It’s easy to maneuver, feels solidly built, and its parts (like bits and bases) are simple to remove and replace.
The interchangeable bases, luxurious blend of higher-end features, and an irresistible low-end price point make the DeWalt convenient for beginners and intermediate users alike, earning it a secure spot as our best-value pick.
- Its soft-start motor keeps you and your machine safe from sudden jolts.
- The DeWalt comes with both a plunge and a fixed base, allowing for a wide variety of projects.
- Variable speed control allows users to switch out bits and experiment with new projects.
- It offers a handy adjustment rod on the plunge base for more consistent depth maintenance and adjustment.
- Its lower horsepower makes it prone to overheating, so periodic cool-offs are crucial.
- It only offers a ¼-inch collet, so bit choices and stability are a bit limited.
Also great: Bosch 1617EVSPK Plunge & Fixed Base Router Kit Review
Small but mighty: our runner-up router took a close second as a mid-sized, versatile, and feature-rich router that’s comfortable to use. For a few extra dollars, the Bosch comes with all of the DeWalt’s basics (like interchangeable bases, a variable speed dial, and a soft-start motor) plus a few niceties that make the Bosch a router to grow with.
The Bosch offers more horsepower (2.25 HP, to be exact) with a tradeoff in weight: it’s got nearly ten pounds on the DeWalt, so portability is limited. For those who want to tackle larger-scale or larger-quantity projects, however, this tradeoff is well worth it.
Its real contending feature is that it’s equipped with both ¼-inch and ½-inch collets; so, you have your choice of bits with this machine and don’t sacrifice stability for price.
Why didn’t it make it into the best-value spot? Its higher price-point seems to be due more to niceties than to necessities, and we’ve found that changing out the bases can take quite a bit of finagling.
However, with a name like Bosch, a huge amount of horsepower in a small package, and a range of bonus features ranging from chip shields to a soft-start motor, the Bosch is a solid buy in its class. It’s the perfect choice for those aspiring to bigger projects and who don’t mind paying a little extra to make them happen.
- The Bosch is equipped with interchangeable bases.
- Its combination ¼-inch and ½-inch collet capabilities allow users to choose from most bits on the market.
- A variable speed dial allows you to match the bit speed to your material.
- The Bosch has a “microfine” bit depth adjustment on both bases designed to make precise measurements easier.
- It is significantly heavier than other models in its class (18.2 pounds), making it less-than-ideal for handheld projects.
Budget choice: Makita RT0701C 1.25 HP Compact Router Review
Sometimes affordability wins above all else—but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice on quality. Instead, a high-quality build that errs on the side of simplicity will be your best bet.
The Makita RT0701C delivers in that department and then some. At just four pounds, this little palm router is the definition of portability. It’s also got soft-start on its side, which is crucial for a router of this weight.
The Makita is more versatile than most budget buys, too: it’s available in a combo pack that offers both a fixed- and plunge-base (for a little extra money).
The small but powerful RT0701C is ideal for almost any small project, like edging, trim, mortises, dovetails, and hinges. Newbies and experienced woodworkers alike will be pleasantly surprised by its ability to handle heavier-duty projects than other small routers.
Comfortable grips, basic horsepower capabilities (1.25 HP), and a virtual must-have variable speed dial that out-cuts much of the competition with a max 30,000 RPM speed make the Makita a truly quality tool at an affordable price point.
It’s got everything you need, the safety features you’ve come to expect, and plenty of enticing extras—all in a tiny package and a competitive price. For that, it’s earned an uncontended spot as our best budget router.
- Electronic speed control keeps you cutting steadily.
- Variable speed control makes it easier to use a variety of bits safely.
- The soft-start feature eliminates jumpy and potentially dangerous starts.
- It offers a fine-tuned depth adjustment system for more precise measurements.
- 1.25 HP is all you need for basic jobs, but the potential for overheating (and damaging your tools in the process) is a deal-breaker for some.
- The basic, affordable package only comes with a fixed base, which may be limiting for more adventurous woodworkers. However, a plunge base is available as an add-on item.
2. How do wood routers work?
A wood router is a must-have for anyone interested in woodworking. They come with a variety of options and in a variety of sizes, but the basic principle behind each one is simple: a motor of a certain horsepower powers a bit to shape the wood on your table.
They’re remarkably simple machines with a myriad of complex uses. Wood routers “route,” which means to hollow out. So, they can do everything from carving designs to cutting holes and trimming soft, non-wood materials.
Wood routers explained for dummies
The outside is simply a plastic case that houses the motor. Usually, that case includes 1-2 sturdy handles upon which you’ll find the trigger that engages the motor.
That motor powers the bit at either a variable or fixed speed (we usually recommend the former), and it typically turns the bit in a clockwise direction. The operator—that’s you—moves the bit side to side using the handles to create the desired impression in the wood.
Some routers also allow you to move the bit up and down (in a plunging motion) for more versatility.
A collet holds the bit firmly in place, and a base helps you balance the router and protect it from overextending into the wood.
What can routers do?
Routers are simple but versatile. They can handle almost any task you can perform on wood. More specifically, they come in handy for:
- Cutting grooves
- Shaping wood, particularly edges
- Making wooden cutouts
- Cutting joints
- Trimming laminates
- Creating decorative patterns
Like most tools, some routers are better at each of these tasks than others. Your intended projects will determine the best router for you.
3. Fixed vs. plunge base routers
The options available for routers can seem a bit overwhelming. But these terms don’t have to make your head spin.
The differences, in fact, are quite simple: Fixed-base routers are best for simple tasks and have a fixed router base which means you can only start working from an edge. Plunge-base routers on the other hand are for the more adventurous or experimental woodworker who wants to complete a wide range of tasks with the same tool.
Fixed-base routers, as their name suggests, have an immovable base. They are:
- Easy to maneuver
- A simple, easy-to-use beginner’s tool
They’re ideal for softening or shaping edges, and are also the best choice for cutting in precise, straight lines.
Cut only from edge to edge
They can only cut from edge to edge, though, so you can’t use them for a cut that starts mid-board.
These routers may feel limiting if you want to complete more complex projects (like making cutouts, engraving, or creating complex patterns).
Keep in mind that you’ll need to set the bit depth (how far into the wood it cuts) before starting the cut, and the router won’t allow you to adjust it again while the router is running. Therefore, fixed-base models are best for simple projects.
Plunge-base routers offer more versatility in a heftier model. Plunge bases are the way to go if you anticipate making cuts in the middle of wood pieces (for designs, grooves, and engravings, for example) but don’t want to cut from an outside edge to get there.
Plunge-base routers move up and down thanks to a spring-loaded base. They come with the added advantages of:
- The ability to move the router up and down for complex, varying, or deeper cuts.
- Starting a cut right in the middle of a board. Just lift the base, position it over the area to be drilled, and push the bit into the board, then cut.
Plunge-base routers come in handy if you plan to make similar cuts repeatedly: They have a feature called a stop-system which allows you to return to the same cutting depth without re-measuring (even if you plunge past that depth mid-cut).
In short, plunge-base routers offer far greater versatility, but they’re usually more expensive and are more difficult to use.
4. How much horsepower do you need?
p>The power of your router’s motor is measured in horsepower, just like your car’s. You can find routers equipped with up to about 3.5 HP. Router power falls into two primary categories:
- Low horsepower (1-3HP): Smooth cuts for short bursts. You’ll need to let these machines rest frequently, as they’re not designed for continuous use.
- High horsepower (3+ HP): Perfect for deeper cuts and harder woods. These models are ideal for heavy-duty users (who complete big projects or high-scale production), but they come with a weight that makes them harder to maneuver.
For most users, a router with between 1.5 and 2.5 HP will meet or exceed your carpentry needs. For small, simple jobs—like smoothing edges—a lower horsepower choice will be the most cost-effective and practical option.
5. Wood router speed
Much like other power tools, router speed is measured in RPMs (Revolutions Per Minute). When you ask your bit to move “faster,” you’re really telling it to cut your wood more often in a given minute. Speed, in this case, is most important in relation to your bit size. Small bits produce the cleanest results at higher speeds, but large bits only work (safely) at lower speeds.
Does speed determine quality of your product?
Speed is often referenced as the most important factor in determining how clean and satisfactory your cuts are, but it actually works in tandem with everything else on your (router) table to create a good cut. Your speed-to-bit-size ratio, the consistency of the wood, the sharpness of your bit, and how fast you’re moving the router across the wood also come into play.
However, finding the appropriate speed range is the perfect place to start. Use the following chart as a guide to determine the appropriate router speed for your needs.
Bit size (in diameter)
One to two inches
Two to three inches
Once you find the ideal speed range, it’s time to think about whether one speed or several options will be a better fit for your needs.
Fixed vs. variable speed routers
Having a variable speed dial (as opposed to a single, fixed speed) proves crucial for those who want to use one router for all bit sizes.
If you plan to purchase two or more routers or need a router for one specific task, a variable speed dial is a great feature to skimp on to save a few dollars.
Consider noise level
Of course, higher speed also means more noise. And, because faster speeds often lead to sloppier cuts (meaning you’ll need to sand to smooth them out), you generally want to work at as low a speed as you can without sacrificing quality.
6. Size and portability
Routers come in three primary sizes; and, like speed, the right one for you depends on how you plan to use your new machine.
Palm or trim routers are your smallest option. They’re easily maneuverable and ideal for trimming, edge work, hinges, and decorative or pattern work. They’re great for small hobby projects but won’t be appropriate for large-scale endeavors.
Mid-size routers are, as their name suggests, your middle-of-the-road option. They’re more versatile than trim routers and can handle the capabilities of their smaller counterparts in addition to dovetailing, panel cutting, and the creation of complex patterns.
Large routers are your machine of choice for large projects and production environments. Typically, their weight requires that they be used as table-mount devices. These are for the serious woodworker and are not suitable for small hobby projects.
For small, casual, or creative projects, the beginner’s best bet will be a palm router. If you hope for growth in your skills, a mid-sized router will be your best bet for ultimate versatility; and, if a woodworking business is in the works, a production-oriented full-size machine is the only one that will fit the bill for you.
Keep in mind that with size comes expense; so, if you’re not sure yet where your woodworking endeavors will take you, start small and upgrade as your skills and interests expand.
7. Collet and bit size matter, too
As mentioned earlier, the collet is the metal piece that holds your bit firmly in place and keeps it connected to the router body.
Most routers come with both ¼-inch and ½-inch collets. Your bits will come in one of those two sizes, too, and the collet size and bit size must align.
Some routers, however, have only ¼-inch or ½-inch options.
The case for half-inch collets and bits
For most users, sticking with ½-inch collets and bits (and choosing a router made for ½-inch options if one with both isn’t on the table) is the best bet. They’re more stable and tend to last longer. Additionally, their stability means that they vibrate less, which leads to a cleaner cut.
Larger bits are also less prone to slipping on the wood and are less likely to burn your material.
Quarter-inch collets and bits have their bonuses
Of course, the smaller collets and bits wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have advantages. Firstly, they’re less expensive (and are often offered on less expensive routers, so they’re great for the beginning or budget-conscious handyman).
And, sometimes, you just need a thinner cut. In that case, a quarter-inch collet will provide you with more precision and a thinner line.
8. Best router bits to buy
Once you have the basics of your router sorted, it’s time to think about which bits will best suit your projects. You can think about bits like the blade on a pair of scissors: the pattern, sharpness, shape, and size will determine what you can do with it.
A plethora of bits are available for purchase. Luckily, if you treat them with respect, most will last forever. Here are a few of the most popular.
- Dado bits create box grooves.
- Chamfer bits work best for creating bevels or beveled edges.
- Edge bits are available in a wide array of designs, but are used to create decorative edges on woodworking projects.
- Dovetail bits create a shape that matches their name: one end of the cut is wide and flared, and the other is thin.
- Rabbeting bits create “shoulders”, or steps, to allow multiple wood pieces to be joined together.
9. Consider a router table
Of course, regardless of the size of the router and the bit you choose, handheld routing can get cumbersome. Routing tables allow for a labor-lite approach to woodworking: they hold the router bit-up (toward the ceiling) so that you can slide the wood across the bit instead of sliding the router manually across the wood.
These are especially handy for larger-scale projects where you’ll be using the same bit extensively, but they make maneuvering easier on any project.
Router tables come in two primary types:
- Tabletop models—These can be set on workbenches or tabletops and are generally portable.
- Fixed models—These are, essentially, a freestanding workstation. They are more expensive than their tabletop counterparts, but are also sturdier and tend to come with a wider range of features.
Learn more about router tables
We also published a complete router table buying guide that is worth checking out if you are interested to invest in a table for your routing projects.
10. Additional router features
There are several extra features and technologies to consider that can make the difference between a smooth and frustrating routing experience. The ones you’ll use most depend, again, upon the type of projects you tend to tackle.
- Soft- vs. hard-start motors: Remember those cartoons where the character revs up a lawnmower and it darts forward so quickly that they’re thrown right off? Routers can do that, too. Hard-start motors can jerk the router right out of your hand; soft-start motors gear up gradually to avoid damaging your router, wood, or—of course—you.
- Electronic variable speed control (EVS): This keeps your cutting speed constant for a steady, high-quality cut.
- Variable speeds: This lets you adjust the router’s speed to the bit size and material on your table.
- Vacuum port: A handy feature that makes it easier to collect wood dust as you work.
- Clear sub base: Allows you to see your work clearly.
- Depth control knob: This is a boon for controlling and returning to the precise bit depth on your project (as opposed to adjusting manually).
- Interchangeable bases: If you can’t choose between a fixed-base and a plunge-base router, many companies offer models equipped with both options for ultimate versatility. Bonus: these are usually cheaper than buying two separate routers.
- Foot switch: These allow for hands-free on/off control and are especially handy for emergency situations.
- Built-in lights: Visibility is key when it comes to wood-working. Some routers come with LED lights to illuminate your table.
11. Buying tips
As with most things in life, “need” and “want” rarely leave you with the same results. We’ve broken down the options into the must-have features for a functional router, the good-to-have features that blend affordability and function, and the great-to-have features that make a router outshine its competition.
Must have features:
- Pick a fixed-base router for basic edging work, small projects, and precision cuts that don’t require variation in depth. They’re a great beginner’s tool on which to learn the ropes.
- Aim for a horsepower over 1 HP (2, if you can swing it). You’ll get the smooth cuts you need at an affordable price point, but be sure to let the router rest periodically.
- Get the right speed for your needs: the larger the bit you need, the slower the speed should be.
- Palm routers will help you dip your toes into routing with edging, hinge routing, and simple pattern work at an appealing price point.
Good to have features:
- Invest in a plunge-base router for stellar versatility and a wider range of projects.
- Check a variable speed dial off your list so you can use any bit size and wood type safely.
- Get a router with a soft-start motor for gradual speed increase and smoother, safer operation.
- Upgrade from a palm router to a mid-sized router if you want to keep the option for trim work open while taking on more complex tasks like joint work and panel cutting.
Great to have features:
- Choose a router with interchangeable bases. This gives you the best of both worlds—small edging work and large-scale, complex cuts.
- For limitless routing potential, a router with both ½-inch and 1/4-inch collets (not just an adaptor—those tend to sacrifice sturdiness) is a must-have.
- Electronic variable speed control (EVS) keeps your speed constant for you, increasing steadiness and precision.
- If you hope to turn your hobby into a business or want to graduate to large, complex projects, a large-sized router is the way to go.
Your budget, woodworking aspirations, and level of versatility required all play into the right router decision for you. Use these tips to help you find a router that can turn your ideas into a reality, whether you’re shaping simple cabinet edges or creating custom engravings.