Because these tools are used frequently, and in a wide variety of circumstances,
flexibility and convenience are particularly important. The more tasks
the machine can handle, and the better it feels to you as you do them,
the better. And because these are basic tools, we looked for a high level
of construction quality. This is not a tool to economize on.
Some routers have a base that can be removed from the motor. This has
several advantages. It makes changing bits much easier, because you have
complete access to the chuck. It also means you can upgrade your machine
with additional bases, generally for less than $50. For example, you can
leave a base permanently attached to your router table, so when the time
comes to use it, you simply insert the motor. Or, you can use a D-handle
or plunge base with the same motor. Or, have one base permanently set
up on a special jig, for operations such as mortising and flush-trimming.
The best arrangement for a removable base is one where the motor can't
drop out when the router is hung upside down in a router table (see chart,
Advances in electronic motor control have allowed manufacturers to offer
routers with variable speed, without significant loss in power. These
routers can handle larger diameter bits, like king-size round-over bits
and panel cutters, that should be run at a slower speed for safety. The
circuitry also gives the router a "soft start," gradually bringing the
motor up to full speed. This eliminates the irritating tendency of the
machine to jerk in your hands as it starts up.
Variable speed is a very useful feature for the small-shop woodworker,
one that greatly increases the versatility of the router. It's been available
on big and more expensive routers for years, and now Bosch and Makita
have added it to their mid-size routers. It is the one significant feature
missing from several classic routers that we have used and loved for many
years. These new variable-speed routers are better.
in the Base
The hole in the plastic base of the router controls how wide a bit will
fit through. Some machines have such small openings that even a 3/8-in.
router bit, with its 1-1/4 in. diameter, will not fit through. And if,
in desperation, you cut through the plastic to enlarge it, you can lose
the ability of the base to accept template guide bushings. We prefer machines
that are designed to accept wide bits, although you can, without much
trouble, make auxiliary baseplates with larger openings. For router table
use, the plastic baseplate is removed, so this isn't an issue.
Routers are really pretty simple: a motor and a collet chuck for holding
the bit. So, that chuck better be good. We greatly prefer chucks with
removable collets that can handle both 1/4-in.- and 1/2-in. shank bits
(and even the rarely encountered 3/8-in. and 8mm shanks). You should always
use 1/2-in. shank bits when you have a choice; they are stiffer and less
likely to break.
All the routers have a nominal horsepower ratings (see chart, page
74), although you should take the numbers with a grain of salt. Each
manufacturer uses a slightly different testing method when testing horsepower.
You can use the amperage rating as an indication of power, but differences
in motor efficiency make it less than precise.
In our shop tests of all these routers, we found the horsepower and amperage
together to be a reliable index of how well the routers resisted bogging
down with aggressive cuts. The Makita RD series and the Bosch 1617EVS
and 1618EVS stood out in our qualitative testing for real-life power.
is the new and important feature of routers from Bosch and Makita. It
allows you to use large-diameter bits safely by cutting down the speed.
Power is not significantly affected.
A REMOVABLE MOTOR
is one feature we particularly value. It makes changing bits much easier,
especially when the router is used in a router table. You can also get
a second base and leave it in your router table permanently.
A LARGE BASE OPENING,
such as this one on the Bosch 1617, allows you to use the widest variety
of bits. Some routers, for example, will not accept this 3/8-in. rabbeting
bit without using an auxiliary base.
ADJUSTMENT should allow very small changes and be very easy to use,
especially in a router table, when you're working upside down. This one
is the Bosch 1617 EVS.
POWER in this
class ranges from 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 hp. The routers at the upper end of this
range can handle aggressive cuts like this one, in thick hardwood. For
frequent heavy cuts a 3-hp router is preferred.