Don't look at price so much. Look at horsepower and features. Some say go for variable speed. I know I got one that had collets for both 1/4" and 1/2" bits.
- Pastor Paul
It depends on what you are going to do with it. I like the idea of getting a PC 690 and being able to pull the motor out, and put it in another base and leave a base attached to the table. However if you want to use the larger bits, I don't think the 690 is a good choice. You would probably need to move up to at least a 3 HP router to use bits for a raised panel in a rail and stile type cabinet door. I have a POS Craftsman in mine, only because I haven't bought a real router yet, everything else has seemed more important for some reason. Before I do buy one, I will sit down and determine what my needs are and what projects I plan to attack in the near future. The way I figure it, if I buy too small of a router, in the long run, it will probably be good for out-of-table use, and I can upgrade then. But don't take the route I did and buy a piece of junk. It's mostly plastic, the height adjustment requires a wrench and free hand, not to mention it slips, which is not only inconvenient but dangerous. I have really become a fan of Porter-Cable, they seem to make good solid tools. I also looked into the Bosch EVS series, all the magazines gave them great ratings...sad though that I have been unable to actually get my hands on one here in SLC.
I recently bought my first router and did a lot of research. I wound up buying the Hitachi M12V plunge router. It's great. Has a true soft start, variable speed, and 1/4 and 1/2" collets. Includes an edge guide and micro adjustment knob. However, having worked with it a bit I decided to get a more manageable router for "smaller" work. I bought the Bosch 1617EVS. Its a great tool. Price was somewhere around $180 if I recall. Both routers are really nice. You cant go wrong.
I cannot stress enough the importance of good bits. Router bits especially can be very costly, but in the long run it is worth every penny. They retain their sharpness a lot longer, and can be sharpened without loss to their integrity.
Skip the 1/4" router and go for 1/2". Once you get hooked on using your router you can't stop. The 1/2" opens so many more opportunities for when you start getting a little more handy in the shop. I like the Bosch 1617EVS. It is a good fixed base router, light weight, powerful, has adjustable speed and is still priced reasonably.
My recommendation for your one and only router is to go for versatility. You don't want to make a purchase, only to find that it doesn't really meet your needs in a few months down the road. In plain language, that means a plunge router, and a minimum 2HP. It can be used both freehand and in a router table.
• A ½" collet is best, and you should be able to fit a ¼" collet adapter to it. · Most routers now have the 'soft start' which is a nice feature to have.
• If you plan on swinging bigger bits in future (rail and stile, raised panel, etc.) a minimum 2HP is required, and 3 ½ is better. However a router table is also required for these bigger bits.
• Variable speed is also a nice feature, and will allow you to use bigger bits. (The bigger the bit, the slower the speed).
As far as brand name, Bosch, Freud, PC, Dewalt all make good routers (just as long as it doesn't say 'Craftsman' on the side you'll be all right). Mine is a Bosch 1613EVS (electronic variable speed). I really like it, others will have their opinion as well. Finally, do not sell yourself short. Quality tools are an investment. Better to wait a little longer, save a few more pennies and get something that will satisfy your needs for both now and the future. That way, it really will be your 'one and only'.
- Ken P
I have always thought that plunge routers were over rated. If you use the router in a table, its just as easy to plunge the material instead of plunging the router. To me, the most important part about routing is safe operation. A plunge router is extremely top heavy and a lot harder to control than a fixed based router. My recommendation is the Bosch 1617EVS. Its got 12 amps, variable speed, and the locking mechanism and micro-adjuster are the best in the industry. It works equally well in a table or in hand use. At $180, it is very reasonably priced.
Re plunge routers...They have distinct advantages if you want to do certain things. Like routing round an inside of a template or where you want to stop short with a groove on BOTH edges. Woodchuck (see above comments) is right about a fixed base being easier to control and if you don't need the plunge action then there is a lot you can accomplish with a fixed base. Not altogether disagreeing with him about lowering wood onto a bit in the table...it is a recognised method, but it can be a bit intimidating the first time you do it and the reference marks to start and stop the cut have to be accurately observed as you can't see what's happening.
A plunger it is simply a pair of spring loaded pillars that keep the bit above the base. As you push down, the spinning bit enters the work piece and off you go. There is a lock on the handles that you push in when you have reached the set depth which allows you to continue routing at a constant setting. Any time you want to stop cutting you just release the lock and the bit retracts clear of the work piece. Lot's of other wrinkles but that's basically it.
Bypass the Craftsman and go to the Porter-Cable 690. Just about every woodworking professional I know has one. Another factor to be considered is the human element. When using tools of a lower quality there is always the frustration factor. Using high-quality tools can be inspiring. Also look at the work you will be doing and see if the plunge base is something you can use. There is something to be said for using the right tool for the job. If you find you really like this kind of work, the money spent on the Porter-Cable will not be wasted. If you don't, you have a tool that has a higher resale value.
The important issue is what kind of work you would like to do. If you want to round over edges, any router you choose will be fine. However, if you want to make frame and panel doors for example. The best router bits for this task are 1/2" shanks and they are "large", I mean "large, like 1 1/2" to 3" in diameter" and they are scary! These babies need horsepower and "low speeds" that only a variable speed router will provide. The Porter-Cable 690, which is the standard which all routers are measured against, has a 1/2" shank, but it does not have variable speeds. There are after-market accessories which can control the router speed, but you run the risk of burning out the motor. Ask yourself, "What do I want to accomplish?" Rounded edges will be accomplished with the least expensive router you can buy. Beyond that, come back to the web.
Plunge routers are generally preferred over fixed base routers for table use. This is because the fixed bases are NOT designed to be used in an inverted configuration. I can think of few shop accidents worse than having your router drop out of the base while spinning a large bit. Plunge router bases, by the nature of their design, will NOT allow the power head to drop out even if the lock is released.
Get a decent router and router table. If I had only one router, I would get a plunge router. I built my table and it's larger and heavier than any I've seen.
- Robert Walker
I would go with a small router at first to get started. A Sears Craftsman 1/4" would be a good one. I have one I purchased just starting out (14 years ago) and still use it today. I have a larger 3-1/2HP 1/2" router I use in a router table much like a shaper, but the thing is much too heavy to use free hand all the time.
- Dave Lehner