Tool Test: Router Combo KitsA pair of bases with an interchangeable motor gets you two different machines for little more than the price of one
Synopsis: Even though plunge routers and fixed-base routers have more similarities than differences, many woodworkers buy both. The reason? A plunge router is the better choice for making a stopped cut, while a fixed-base router is lighter and more compact. A router combination kit has one motor and two bases, eliminating the expense of buying two machines. Models reviewed fall into the 2-hp to 2-1/2-hp range, including the Bosch 1617EVSPK, DeWalt DW618PK, Makita RF1101KIT2, Porter-Cable 895PK, Ryobi RE1803BK, and Skil 1825.
Plunge routers and fixed-base routers have more similarities than differences. Why, then, do many woodworkers purchase one of each? Because each type has its advantages.
A plunge router lowers, or plunges, a spinning bit straight down into the workpiece to start a cut, and then raises the bit out of the workpiece at the end of the cut. It also makes it very easy to lower the bit after each pass and make successively deeper cuts. Because the base of the router remains firmly on the workpiece, the plunge router is the best choice for making a stopped cut—one that does not extend all the way to the edges or ends of a workpiece. So any time a stopped cut is required, whether it’s a groove, a dado, a rabbet, or a mortise, I reach for the plunge router. On the other hand, a fixedbase router is lighter and more compact than a plunge router with the same horsepower. So it’s my router of choice for the 90% of my work that doesn’t involve stopped cuts.
The big drawback of owning both types of router used to be that you had to open your wallet extrawide to pay for them. But with the relatively recent advent of router combination kits, it’s a lot cheaper to own both a fixed-base and a plunge router. These unique kits come with two bases and one motor to service both. The net result is two routers for not much more than the price of one.
What’s new on the market
Currently, six manufacturers offer router combination kits. They include the Bosch 1617EVSPK, DeWalt DW618PK, Makita RF1101KIT2, Porter-Cable 895PK, Ryobi RE1803BK, and Skil 1825. Each has a motor that falls into the 2-hp to 21 ⁄4-hp range, which is enough muscle for most any task. Porter-Cable also offers another combo kit, model 693VSPK; it wasn’t included in this review because it has a smaller (13 ⁄4-hp) motor.
All of these routers have variable-speed motors, so you can reduce the speed (rpm) when running large bits. To limit the tendency of a router to twist in your hand at start-up, all but the Skil have motors with a soft-start feature.
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