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Tool Review: Multi-base Router Kits

We tested 12 combo packs in search of the best--and it didn't take long to knock a few out of the running.

There's plenty of power for most routing tasks

There's plenty of power for most routing tasks

Whether you're buying your first router or adding to those already on the shelf, you can't beat the value and versatility of a multibase kit. Of course, you could buy separate fixed-base or plunge units for about $90 to $180 each. But with many of today's combo kits, you can get both bases and one motor for just another $40 or so, much cheaper than buying two separate routers. But which kit should you buy? To find out, we tested 11 two-base kits and one with three bases. We ran them through a battery of tasks we expect routers in this class to handle. And we found good value and performance in several kits.

First off, we wanted to find out if these routers have the necessary power. All of them have soft-start motors, a feature that requires a couple of seconds for the motor to reach full speed. This eliminates the jerk produced by motor torque at start-up. Each router displayed ample power for handheld work, such as routing edge profiles and plowing dadoes, grooves, and deep mortises. To get a head-to-head comparison of power, we mounted each router in a router table, set the speed to 14,000 rpm, and fed hard maple with a power feeder while cutting a 3/8" bead-and-cove profile. Most handled this task with guns a-blazin' as their electronic speed controls maintained bit speed throughout the cut. However, four units took a hit in this test, especially the routers without electronic speed controls. (Feedback circuitry on routers with this feature monitors spindle speed and sends more juice to the motor during heavy cuts to maintain speed.)


Next, look for these ease-of-use features

Because you'll regularly change the motor from one base to the other, don't settle for a kit that makes it difficult.
Straight up is right on. Fortunately, most of the motors slide straight in and out of their bases with just a flip of a cam-lock and quick-release lever.
Fixed-base depth adjustments. Adjusting depth of cut on the fixed bases ranged from easy and intuitive to clumsy and stiff. On models with the best depth adjustments, the motor moves straight up and down with a quick release for big changes and a threaded rod for micro-adjustments. Models where you twist the motor in the base to adjust depth proved accurate, although sometimes the power cord gets in the way, and the switch moves as well.
Plunge-base use. We felt more in control using spring-loaded plunge-lock levers that you push down to plunge and then release to lock. Still, all the locks held securely. Rotating, turret-style depth-of-cut stops make routing to precise incremental depths easy.
Router-table use. With each fixed base mounted under a router table, we quickly appreciated the advantage of above-the-table height adjustments, standard on the six of the kits. Of these, only one features a hands-free spindle lock once you engage it with the height-adjustment wrench. With the others, you still need to reach under the table, either to hold in the spindle lock or remove the router motor from the base to change bits.

Top Tool: Bosch 1617EVSPK
Top Value: Craftsman 17543

Learn the complete results of our testing of the Bosch 1617EVSPK, Craftsman 17543 and 28084, DeWalt DW618PK, Freud FT1702VCEK, Hitachi KM12VC, Makita RF1101KIT, Milwaukee 5616-24, Porter-Cable 694VK and 895PK, Ridgid R2930, and Skil 1825 in the July 2008 issue of WOOD magazine, or download the review.


 

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