Chris wrote in, asking for router recommendations:
I was looking on your page to try to find some router recommendations. It looks like it has been a while since you have covered routers. I’m looking for a decent one and a table to use with it. It’s for hobby and around the house use so while something like the Festool would be nice, I can’t justify spending that much for what I would use it for. Any recommendations or suggestions?
One thing I have yet to see is a winning router and router table combination set. Most of the ones I’ve seen come with low-powered routers and cheap router tables with too-small surfaces and few features. Decent benchtop router tables typically start at $100.
If I were in the market for a new router, my pick would be the Bosch 1617EVSPK kit ($200-215 via Amazon). This kit comes with one motor spindle and both plunge and fixed bases. You can attach the fixed base to a router table and use the plunge router hand-held. It’s a nice 2-in-1 combo kit.
I own a slightly modified version of the Bosch 1617 kit that was sold under Craftsman branding, and don’t regret my purchase one bit. A minor grumble is that I can no longer find sub-bases that are sure to fit, but if anything that’s a good reason as to why one should stick with industry-standard brands in the future.
Bosch came out with new routers a few years back, but the 1617 remains a strong favorite among woodworkers. But it is a mature design that Bosch updated upon for a reason. I can’t tell the reason though, as the 1617 is as good as I’ve seen in its class (2-1/4 HP).
For lower budgets, I would probably recommend the Porter Cable 690 ($129 via Amazon), which has a fixed base that works well with router tables. Adapters and guide bushings should be very readily available. You should be aware that this Porter Cable is a single-speed router, and as such it’s not suitable for use with larger bits. Stepping up to a more powerful and variable speed model will cost about as much as with the Bosch kit.
I don’t have experience with Dewalt or Hitachi full-size routers, but haven’t heard many bad things about them either.
The Hitachi M12VC is a variable-speed 2-1/4 HP fixed-base router, and it’s often priced below $120 (it’s currently $105 via Amazon). There’s also a Hitachi kit with plunge and fixed bases ($170 via Amazon), and this would be my preferred budget pick.
I agree with the recommendation of the Porter Cable 690LR. Well built with enough power and decent ergonomics. You have to spend more money for the soft start feature (nice safety feature), adjustable speed, or a plunge base, but none of this is required. Harbor freight sells an adjustable speed control for ~$20 if you find that you need that feature, and you can always buy a plunge base later as well (though I have never found the need for a plunge base).
I also agree that it is hard to find a good router table. The ones you see at the big box stores are trash- not sturdy and too small. It seems like the size and accessories you need for a router table are pretty dependent on what you are planning to build, so its hard to find a kit available that works for everybody.
DeWalt and the older Porter Cable are the best, IMO. I have used a lot of different routers. I had issues with Craftsman and Skil, when I was starting out and didn’t know any better. I also had issues w/ the Bosch Colt, but a bunch of folks swear by it. I found that the base is prone to creeping and far too difficult to set to a precise height.
The Porter Cable 690LR and all recent DeWalt routers have perfect accuracy. You twist the engine or base until you get the right height and then you clamp down. Things stay in place and you get no surprises. With those routers, I don’t have to make test passes. With the Colt, I definitely do as the height on clamping is not the height you get after it starts running. Also the colt has a complicated mechanism with a lot of grease that just attracts sawdust. The PC/DeWalt routers are super simple.
The 690LR is my favorite. They’re cheap, especially around xmas. They’re simple and very precise and I have never found any benefit, personally, from more powerful routers.
A few trim routers are always handy. I love the DeWalt DWP611PK. I don’t care for the Bosch colt. It is not very accurate. By accuracy, I mean that you set a bit height when you start and it ends at the exact same height. The Colt I got always had about 1/16th inch of play. My Porter Cable and DeWalt routers never budge.
I also own 2 Porter Cable 892 Routers. They’re good enough and work OK in a router table (a bit of play) and can be adjusted over the table. However, rather than paying $200 for an expensive router that has mediocre over-table bit changing, I’d prefer a great aftermarket base that makes bit changing easy and cheap engine. Also, the 892 is noticeably heavier than the 690LR.
My recommendation would be:
For router table: a Porter Cable 690LR + aftermarket router lift, like the Rockler or Jessem one. I always find that accuracy is more important than power.
For edging, like roundovers, definitely a DeWalt DWP611PK. The 690LR is good as well, but too heavy to use one-handed with any accuracy.
I never actually used Festool’s router, but handling one in the store, I didn’t care for it’s ergonomics as much as the DeWalt/PC routers. There’s also a massive price gulf between them. Use common sense when buying. A good router is simple to adjust the height on and will stay put once set.
I have a Makita 1101 and really like it. It is my understanding that all Porter-Cable items will fit. Base plates, template bushings ect. I replaced a PC 690 and all the old stuff fits the Makita.
I use a router table extension on the table saw, home made but you can buy them. It uses the table saw fence and it never seems to get in the way. No room taken up either since the table saw already had the extension. I wired an outlet to a switch so I can start the router without fumbling for the trigger and lock. Very handy if you run into trouble.
Used a ton of PC690s over the years, along with a lot of Milwaukee routers (I don’t remember all the models) and while those are both decent routers my makitas have been the workhorses. Have had numerous compact and full size maki tad and never had a problem with them. I think they’re highly underrated amongst their competition.
I’ve got one of the Bosch sets in the picture above. I love that thing, I built my own router table for it and used it to make the table. I also use it with a flush trim bit and straight edge in place of a jointer to square up rough sawn lumber. I wouldn’t think twice about buying one.
I’ve had quite a few routers over the years. By far the best is the Festool 1400; yes it is expensive but one important thing I’ve learned is that good tools are cheap no matter how much they cost.
Depends, we don’t all need to drive Escalades. Value is maybe a better word for you to use, a $500 router isn’t cheap in my book. If you need it, it is a good value.
An Escalade is hardly an apt comparison. A Festool router (or Lie-Nielsen plane, or SnapOn wrench) is not merely a vanilla bit of junk tarted up by badge engineering marketers.
More appropriate would be comparing a Chevrolet – perfectly fine if you want a vehicle bearable for American roads – to something more like a BMW or Mercedes. Not everyone wants ‘cheap’ to be their only criterion and it is to the benefit of the wider market that some are willing to pay for quality since the good ideas often trickle down and become the new ‘normal’.
Do you only buy the absolutely cheapest bread, cheese, beer, meat, clothes? Never push the boat out a bit to get something nicer?
I definitely do not understand the festool crowd. Who makes so much money that an investment in festool is worthwhile? I earn good money at my day job, but therefore since woodworking is a weekend hobby, I don’t see a huge value difference between a mainstream DeWalt/Milwaukee/PC/Makita and a Festool. If you’re earning a living using the tools, I can’t imagine them providing enough benefit to offset the huge dent in your budget they make. A Festool 1400 costs as much as a set of routers. If you want accuracy, you’ll get better performance from dedicated routers…a trim router for 1-handed quick edging, a dedicated plunge router for plunge tasks, and either a fixed based router or a specialized router table. I am not a fan of using a plunge router for anything but plunge routing tasks. On their best days, the very best plunge routers made are ALMOST as accurate for most tasks as a decent fixed base router.
If you go fesstool and get their router table + router + dust collector + accessories, I bet you could get rockler’s best router table + dust bucket, a few routers, and a 1.5hp shop dust collector for cheaper.
This is obviously just my opinion, anyone reading knows their needs better than I do. For my needs, I’d rather have a full set of mainstream tools than choosing between a subset of Festools or going broke. I’d rather take the money saved and buy a nice camera to take pictures to show off my work! 🙂
I think Festool makes incredible tools, but I too wonder how people make money buying their tools… It is one thing for a guy who is a hobbyist to happily spend a ton of money on his hobby because he can… But for a pro who needs to make money with his tools, I am just not sure how they can do it.
If you’re comparing the cost of Festool vs another brand, Festool will almost certainly lose on price alone. But where it wins is it’s ecosystem of tools that are built to work together, the quality of the tool/service and finally portability. These all hold value for the hobbiest and the guy earning his living with the tools. Take a miter saw with dust collection so good you can use it inside a house and save 1/2 hr of clean up every day you’re on the job (or a lot of in and out of the house to make your cuts). What is that worth at the end of the year? How about a domino joiner that makes quick and precise work of your joinery? So instead of being frustrated by the results and resorting to fixing mistakes, you can actually enjoy your hobby time and produce something that makes you smile. How about an extractor that can be turned down so you can effectively do your finish sanding nearly dust free? And that extractor will maintain >90% of it’s suction capacity even as the bag fills. And when that expensive bag fills, (if you choose) empty it into the bin, put it back in the vacuum and it’ll go 10 more rounds. The expensive abrasives you bought for the sander…they will continue working right up to the 5th sheet of that bargain paper and they will do the job faster without gumming up with paint. And at the end of the day, everything packs, stacks and folds into the smallest of workshops. Whether you’re a contractor or a hobbiest, there is value in that. It’s just that we choose to ignore all those little things for the convenience of making a quantitative purchasing decision. X < Y is easy to evaluate. The rest of these things complicate the comparison, and the results of the evaluation will vary from person to person.
I'm a recent convert to Festool. Having developed a sensitivity to dust, working with wood is particularly problematic. And while I wouldn't say Festool allows me to breath easy, on the whole, their ecosystem is at least 100% better than everything else out there. Their orbital sanders are so well balanced I don't find myself gripping the tool quite so much which is a godsend for my hands. That almost priceless to me. With each purchase I still struggle with the price. The price of the tool is one thing, but the accessories and consumables will effectively double that purchase price, which is a tough pill to swallow. Still, some months after I've forgotten the pain of the purchase, I'm left pretty satisfied with the tool. I won't say Festool isn't without its flaws. I can criticize every one of their tools, and I tend to be critical because my expectations are so high (the price paid tends to do that). Not every tool in their arsenal is a grand slam, and some that really make their ecosystem unique aren't even made available in North America. But on the whole I do find they pay attention to the details that are forgotten by other tool manufacturers.
For those that aren't sure or don't want to limit their comparison to paper specs, they give you a 30 day no questions asked return policy. Try the tool, and if it doesn't meet your expectations, just send it back.
Good pushback RKA. I really like your thoughts. If money was no object, festool would be the way to go… so it is nice to hear a guy who is struggling over making the purchase still come out and say it is worthwhile.
I am increasingly aware of Festool’s NAINA stuff… but what in particular did you hint at in your post?
Sorry, the website won’t let me reply to your post below, so my response is up here. The CMS table inserts were in my head as I typed that up. With those you’ve got the capabilities of a miniature bandsaw, sander, tablesaw and router with dust collection all in one tidy package. Unfortunately we are limited to an insert that only allows the mid-sized routers here in NA. The insert for the big 2200 router isn’t available either. So the CMS is essentially a very expensive portable router table when it was designed to be one of the centerpoints of their ecosystem.
I have used 690s for a very long time. 3 years ago I bought a 1617ebooks. I used it once and bought another one. 690 is still a good router. But I sure love my Bosh routers.
I have the Bosch 1617 2-1/4hp kit and had it for a long time before I got the Bosch Colt… now that is hands down my go-to router 90% of the time. While the 1617 kit is far more versatile, the Colt is handier. So, if you plan on mostly using a router for light edging operations using 1/4″ shank bits then go for the Colt. If you want to perform heavy routing operations like grooving and dadoing then consider the 1617 which accepts 1/2″ shanks and has a plunge base.
Table? Try making the absolute simplest table possible before buying anything. My first table was literally a scrap of 1×8 with a 3/4 square fence screwed to it. It worked great and I often wonder why anyone would spend $100’s on more. Better to stay cheap and spend money on other things like a couple of good quality folding sawhorses and a couple of rolling feed supports.
Over the years I’ve used dozens of routers including dedicated high frequency AC powered tools (needed a dedicated commercial frequency changer) – specialized modified Porter Cable routers from Betterley – Bosch laminate trimmers including the 1608 series and the Colt – compact Dewalt (DWP611) plunge routers and big hogging routers like the PC 7539 and Bosch 1619. What I have in my home router table (built myself – using some parts from others) is a Bosch 1617EVS. I have Bosch’s under-table base mounted in my table:
When I need something more powerful – I have access to 2 shapers in a commercial shop.
What is your recommendation finally?