A router is an indispensable power tool in the arsenal of a woodworker. It’s one of the most versatile tools used for a wide range of applications in the workshop. However, many users find it difficult to choose between a fixed vs. plunge router. Both routers are exceptional even in the hands of an amateur. But financial constraints may not allow you to buy the two at once. This makes it crucial to know which of these routers works best for your projects.
In this article, we look at the functions, differences, and similarities between the fixed and plunge router. We also cover the advantages and disadvantages of each tool and the type to buy for specific applications.
At the end of this piece, you will have the right information to choose the ideal router for your projects.
Differences between the Fixed Base Router and the Plunge Router
There are several differences between these tools. They include:
The main difference between the plunger router and the fixed base router is their operation. A fixed base router has a preset depth of cut. When you switch on the tool, the cutting bit is already lowered.
A plunge router’s bit sits inside the unit until you place it against the workpiece. That is why it is possible to adjust its depth of cut during operation.
Fixed base routers are usually lightweight, small and have a flat base. Plunge routers are bigger, heavier and have a pointed base. The differences in their design make both tools ideal for distinct applications.
A fixed base router is the best for edge work but cannot be used for routing from the middle or top of a stock. The plunge router is ideal for working from above and the middle of the workpiece. Yet, you can modify the plunge router to work as a fixed base type.
The plunge router is the more versatile of both tools. It can dip, lift, and provide more vertical movement during use. For example, it is difficult to make shallow indentations with a fixed base router but the plunge router excels at the task.
Also, there are kits that can convert a plunge router to a fixed base variant but not the other way round.
Fixed Base Router
As the name suggest, the fixed base router is one that allows you to lock the base in position. This means the position of the cutting bit is constant.
Unlike plunge routers, fixed base routers require the operator to set the depth before operation. The bit is already lowered to the depth you want to cut even before the tool touches the work surface.
Because of their design, fixed base routers work from the side, making them ideal when working on the edge of a material.
Fixed base routers are lightweight, easy to use and deliver precise results because you lock them in place during use. This makes them easier to use for new woodworkers because you don’t have to adjust the depth of cut manually.
Uses of a Fixed Base Router
Fixed base routers are the perfect choice for joinery works. This is because they can make highly precise cuts on the edge of a workpiece. With a fixed base router, even a novice can create rounded edges for table tops, benches and other joinery projects.
For large edge routing projects, the fixed base router is the ideal tool. It is lightweight and delivers precise results with minimal inputs from the operator.
You can use this tool to make bevels for picture and window frames. Its static depth of cut allows you to make accurate bevels and different joints.
Fixed base routers are the preferred tool when a project requires a high level of precision and accuracy. Because the tool’s base is static and its depth of cut is preset, this router doesn’t require the operator to control the operation manually.
Fixed base routers are small, lightweight and have a simple design. This makes them highly maneuverable and easy on the operator.
Whether you are a professional woodworker or an enthusiast looking to sharpen your DIY skills, this tool is easy to use and delivers accurate cuts.
Best for Table Base
If you do most of your work on a table base, the fixed base router is the perfect tool for routing operations. Because of its design, you can mount the tool on a table to improve precision, comfort and speed.
The construction of a plunge router makes it difficult to mount it on a table base.
The fixed base router is forgiving because of its preset depth of cut. It is one of the best introductory tools in woodworking as even complete novices can get almost professional results with the tool. This router is also easier to operate thanks to its lightweight design, and compact size.
Unlike the bigger plunge router, fixed base routers are more affordable. This is because of their simple construction and the use of fewer components. And this makes them the ideal choice when shopping for your first router.
The fixed base router is not the most versatile. Unlike the plunge router, the tool is best for edge work but struggles with projects that require plunging into the material from above.
Not Suitable for Working from the Middle
You cannot use a fixed router for applications that start in the middle of the workpiece. This is because the fixed bit is usually below the middle of the wood.
You should check out our review of the best wood routers if you are looking to buy one for your garage or workshop.
What Is a Plunge Router?
Plunge routers feature spring-loaded arms on either side of the tool. This allows the operator to dip the cutting bit into the material from different angles. They are ideal for woodworking projects that require working from above such as grooves.
Unlike fixed base routers, this tool has a moveable bit which offers more flexibility although this makes it difficult for newbies to use.
A plunge base router can dip (plunge), cut and lift off the material. Of the two tools, the plunge router is the more versatile because it is ideal for working from above and you can lock it for edge work.
However, the plunge router is not beginner-friendly as it requires the operator to gauge the depth while cutting.
Uses of a Plunge Router
A plunge router is ideal for jobs that require working from above the material. Its applications include making mortises, rebates, grooves, dados, and fluting and other joinery projects. You can use it for molding, beading, creating holes, cabinetry, among others.
Whenever you need to make shallow indentations inside the border of a workpiece, the plunge router is the tool of choice. You can also use the tool for edge work using a round-over bit. However, the results won’t be as precise as that of a fixed base router.
The plunge router allows you to adjust the depth of cut manually unlike the static bit in the fixed router. While this makes the plunge router less newbie-friendly, it provides a higher level of control.
To change the depth of cut, you only need to press or release the arms, to achieve the desired results.
Can Cut From Above and Middle
A plunger router can cut the material from the top and the middle. This is almost impossible with the fixed base router which excels at edge work.
With the plunge router, you can dip the tool into the material, cut from above and perform multiple projects with ease. Thanks to its dynamic design, this tool offers greater movement and depth control especially during vertical operations.
Of the two main routers, the plunge type is the more versatile. They can work from above, in the middle and even from the edge of a workpiece.
Many people don’t realize that the plunge router can do almost everything the fixed base type is capable of and more. You only need to buy the kit and you can convert the plunge router to a fixed base router.
The plunge router is relatively expensive compared to the fixed base model. This is because they are bigger, more powerful and provide improved versatility.
Not Beginner Friendly
Plunge routers are best for professionals. They are not ideal for beginners because you have to control the depth of cut manually. However, the fixed base router has a preset cutting depth.
Unsuitable for Table Base
The construction of the plunge router makes it difficult to mount it on a table base. This means you have to move the tool to the material. Sadly, this can be tiring and time-consuming when you have a lot of work.
Whether you are a seasoned woodworker or a homeowner equipping a garage workshop, a router is a handy tool. With some creativity and skills, you can use a router to create almost anything in the woodworking shop.
If you have the finances, it’s better to buy both tools once to enjoy all the full capabilities they provide. But this is not always possible. And that is why it’s crucial to know the differences between fixed and plunge router.
Understanding the differences and capabilities of each router allows you to buy the one that best meet your needs.
This article covers the mode of operation, advantages, disadvantages, and uses of both types of routers. If your work requires more of edging, the fixed base router is the ideal choice. For woodworkers that need to cut from the top or middle of the stock, the plunge router is the ideal tool.