Woodworkers, contractors, carpenters and DIYers have all used a router at one time or another. Everyone has their preference, but regardless of how the router of your choice works, it should at least include specific features that make it easy to handle.

Those features can range from ergonomic handles or horsepower to electronic feedback capabilities or speed controls. Every feature should provide a useful function and offer versatility. But if you must choose between these two, consider the pros and cons of each.

Plunge/Portable Routers

If you’re the type of craftsman that prefers using the hand’s-on approach, a portable router might be your best bet.

  • Plunge routers offer you the ability to modify your cut depth as you work.
  • They offer unmatched vertical movement control on each cut and you can make accurate cuts in the middle of any piece of stock.
  • Portable routers are more versatile, enabling you to make deep inlay grooves, mortises, dadoes and smoother fluting cuts.
  • Portable routers are typically more expensive than tabletop models.
  • If you learned routing on a tabletop model, there will be a learning curve to successfully controlling this type of top-heavy machine.
  • Plunge routers are awkward to install on a fixed table base.

Fixed Base/Table-Mounted Routers

While a tabletop router is considered the workhorse of routers, it’s one of the easiest to use and it guarantees you’ll get high-quality results with every cut.

  • This type of router is an ideal choice for a novice woodworker or for home use.
  • They produce very accurate cuts at precise depths, which is perfect for joinery.
  • Tabletop routers are usually smaller and lighter than portable routers, making them easier to maneuver.
  • These routers are usually less expensive than plunge models.
  • Fixed routers can be easily mounted onto a table base for better control and precision.
  • They are much easier to control than larger, heavier portable routers.
  • Fixed routers are less versatile than plunge base routers; making cuts from the top or in the middle of the stock is very difficult.
  • Because they can only cut to pre-determined depths, these tools aren’t as useful when it comes to completing some specific tasks.

Focus on the Features

When looking at both types of routers, the most important feature to look for is the horsepower rating of the motor. No matter what you plan to use it for, a 2HP router is at least powerful enough to push some of the bigger bits through your stock. While checking out the horsepower, don’t forget to look for a router with variable speed control. This feature makes routing much easier, especially when it comes to easily using larger bits.
  • Collets can be tricky because while 1/2-inch diameter shaft bits are more expensive (and harder to find), they do add stability to the router when it’s in action, causing far less chatter than 1/4-inch bits. However, while 1/4-inch bits can be adapted to fit into a 1/2-inch collet, the opposite isn’t true.
  • Table-top routers are available with a pistol-grip style handle that’s held in one hand while the other guides the router or dual handles on opposite sides of the base, try them both out for ease of use, comfort and an easily reachable power switch.
  • On plunge routers, the handles are always on opposite sides of the base, so ensure that the depth gauge is within easy reach of your thumb.
  • High-end models of both types feature an electronic feedback system that automatically adjusts the speed according to the load for a better rate of consistency.

Like Both? Go for a Combo. Luckily, most major manufacturers now offer plunge/fixed combo routers that are so well made that some models rival or exceed the quality and performance of dedicated models.

A good combo set allows you to quickly and easily mount both the motor and base you want to use. They are more expensive than either type, but you’ll get the best of both worlds.