Wood is a lot like clay, in that both can be molded into whatever a person desires. No, that’s not quite right, they can both be turned into great works of art in the right hands. But wood, unlike clay, can’t be molded with just a person’s hands alone. Nope, woodworkers need a little bit of additional help in the form of a router. If you’re new to the woodworking game and you know squat about tools, a router is a tool that allows you to carve out (or router) spaces within materials like woods and plastics.

Awesome, if you didn’t know what a router was, now you do - great. But the thing is, you’re still going to need to know what kind of router best suits your needs. You’ve got two choices, a table-mounted router or a handheld. If you know which you need for your work, great, if you don’t, worry not, because we’re going to give you all the info you need so you can get on with your day.

Portable VS Table Mounted - Which Is for What?

Table Mounted Routers: Pros and Cons

We’re just going to come right out and say it - if you’re going to be working on a complex piece, you’re going to want to opt for a table-mounted router - meaning yes, you’ll need to either buy or make a table to mount it on.

Table routers make it easier to do profiling and edgework because you don’t have to worry about positioning both the router and your wood. You can simply position your wood as needed to carve into it. This makes it substantially easier to do round-overs (rounding edges to create a softer look while also adding strength and durability to them) and chamfers (sloping symmetrical edges created by cutting right-angled corners or edges).

Another advantage table routers have is that they’re good for the average hobbyist that may not have incredible magical woodworking skills. Manipulating the wood to the proper angles might be easier for novices to do than positioning the router itself. Table routers are better for joinery too as they make more precise cuts and they’re also generally cheaper than handheld routers.

The thing that sucks about Table routers though, is that they don’t offer a lot of wiggle room for you to cut. You don’t have the options to cut from the top or middle without some difficulty due to the whole being “stuck to the table” thing. Table routers have the distinct disadvantage of only being able to cut to preset depths so they’re not that great if there’s something incredibly specific that you need to cut.

Portable Routers: Pros and Cons

Portable (or plunge) routers do have the advantage of being, you know - portable, so you can just pick it up and go if you have a woodworking job that’s needed somewhere that’s not your shop or home. These machines allow you to change how deeply you’re able to cut while you’re working.

You have total freedom of (vertical) movement with every cut, meaning that they’ll be accurate in depth. They offer generous amounts of versatility too, unlike their tabletop brethren, so it’s a much easier task to make mortises (holes cut into wood into which another piece can lock), dadoes (the decorative bottom half of a wall that’s located above the skirting underneath the dado rail), and inlay grooves.

One huge drawback of plunge routers, though, is that they make a lot of dust that’s going to fly everywhere. Router tables - good ones, anyway - have features that allow them to collect the dust from your work as the router itself is built into a box that the debris can pile inside. With a portable router, you’ll have to stay on top of cleaning your workspace more often.

Portable routers can be expensive too, much more than the tabletop versions, at any rate, and it can be hard to learn how to cut with one if you started on a table-mounted model. We should also note that while you can install a plunge router on a router table base, their design makes it rather difficult to do so. It may just be easier just to have both types of routers if you intend to do various kinds of wood cutting.

We hope that our list of basic pros and cons for table and portable routers help you on your journey to find whichever best suits your needs. If there are any woodworkers in the audience and you’ve got some advice about routers to share, then the comments are open to you.