If you are getting into the hobby, one of my favorite power tools for woodworking is the router. I always recommend new woodworkers invest in one. I begin by asking them what kind of work they think they will be doing because there are two types of routers, and purchasing the correct type will save you money and get you woodworking faster. Your two options are a plunge and fixed base router, but whats the differences between them?
A fixed style router stays still. They are more accurate and easier to maneuver and is better suited for working on the edges of the wood. Plunge routers have much more versatility, can make cuts in the middle of wood, easily change cutting depth, and are ideal for more complex designs.
Choosing the wrong type of router can lead to many inconveniences, so it is best to educate yourself on the two types of routers. Below, I will go over some of the pros and cons of each style of routers. Before we go over all of the differences and if you are torn on which style to purchase, consider buying a combo router kit. These kits give you a plunge router with a fixed router base, so you get the best of both worlds.
For example, check out this ROUTER KIT on Amazon when you’re done reading. It is a great idea, especially if you are doing small woodworking projects once in a while. This way, you are covered for any do it yourself project you plan on doing.
Plunge Router Benefits
Ability to Easily Adjust Depth While Cutting
A plunge base router is designed to allow you to preset the cut depth and then drop (“plunge”) the bit into the cut while the router’s base is flat on the surface of the material/wood.
Plunge routers also have the ability to be able to adjust the depth while you are cutting. Of course, this is something that will take a bit of practice, so go slow at first when trying this.
Ability to Make Cuts in the Middle of Wood
Depending on the project, you might need to cut straight through a piece of wood somewhere inside of the edge. With a plunge router, this task is super easy. Or maybe you just need to router out some wording or a picture. Just set your router onto the project and lower the bit once you start the tool. It’s super easy once you try it a few times. I suggest using test pieces at first until you get used to the router and how it works with the wood.
There are so many ways to cut wood with a plunge router. You will wonder how you ever lived without one once you get going on it. Plunge routers have much more versatility than routers with a fixed base. They can be used to make grooves, dadoes, mortices, and so much more.
Plunge Routers are Ideal for Wooden Signs
The plunge router will be your go-to for making wooden signs or any other type of wood project where you are engraving wording and all sorts of designs.
This SKIL plunge router has worked great for me over the years. Check it out over on Amazon if you need your own.
Plunge Router Disadvantages
Plunge Routers are Usually More Expensive
Because of increased functionality over fixed routers and having the ability to plunge into wood safely, this type of router will typically cost you a bit more. Trust me; plunge routers are definitely worth it!
Installing a Fixed Table Base Feels Awkward
If you are planning on running a router table, then a plunge router might not be for you. It’s not impossible to hook-up a plunge router to a router table, and you just have to make sure you match the right table a router together. You are better off with a fixed router, though, in my opinion. That way, you can just leave that setup as is and maybe purchase a plunge router as well for projects that don’t need a router table setup.
Fixed Router Benefits
When using a fixed base router, the position of the router bit will not change. If you set a fixed base router at a cut depth of 1/8”, then the router bit will protrude past the base 1/8” until you adjust the depth.
Fixed routers are commonly used for joinery since they produce some super precise cuts (width and depth). The bits do not move, unlike a plunge router. This means once you set it in place, it is locked in that position, and you can always count on getting an accurate cut.
Easier to Maneuver
The lightweight and small size of fixed routers allow the majority of carpenters and woodworkers to easily manage and control a fixed router compared to plunge routers.
Easier to Mount on a Router Table
If you are cutting the edges of wood primarily, then consider pairing a fixed router with a router table. It makes these types of projects so much easier. They are more convenient and allow for increased precision compared to plunge routers.
Fixed Routers Are an Ideal Option for Joinery
If you plan on working on any type of joinery, a fixed router is what you want. The ease of controlling and maneuvering the fixed base routers makes them the best choice for most types of joinery. They allow for incredibly precise cut depths as well. Yes, I did mention joinery in the section with cut accuracy, I need you to know just how great these routers are for this type of task.
Above is a fixed base router that I have used before, and I really enjoy using it. You can pick it up on Amazon for around $150.
Fixed Router Disadvantages
Cutting From Above Is Not Ideal
You will have a hard time when using the fixed router when you need to cut wood from the top or initiate the cut in the middle of the stock since the design is not ideal for this task. However, you can do this easily when using the plunge router, fixed router not so much.
Lack of Application Versatility
There are many ways to apply the fixed router, even though it is not as versatile as the plunge router. The lack of versatility makes them less sought-after for specific woodworking tasks. For instance, if you want to plunge into the middle of a board to router out a name on a sign, if you use a fixed router, you are risking getting injured and ruining the project.
Which One Is Best for You?
Your budget and experience should determine what type of router or routers you should buy. With that being said, if your plan is to make wood signs or similar types of projects, then purchasing a plunge router is a must. If you feel a fixed router is for you, then purchasing a router table is also a good idea.
If you have to select only one router between the two options, the fixed router is the ideal option for new woodworkers that do not have a decent amount of experience or have never operated a large power tool such as a router. The fixed router is best for beginners because they are easier to operate once you get accustomed to the tool.
The plunge router is the best option for more experienced woodworkers that have been operating large power tools for a decent amount of time and know what they want in a router. This is because plunge routers are more versatile and can be used for a wide variety of applications.
And there you have it! Some pros, cons, and recommendations on which style of the router to purchase. We hope this helps!