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Shop Test: Multibase Router Kits

With a single motor that fits in both a fixed and a plunge base,  a combo kit provides the best attributes of each base for a price below that of two separate routers. But with more than a dozen combo kits on the market, which should you buy? We recommend a midsize kit (with a motor ranging from 112  to 214  hp) with variable speed and both 14 " and 12 " collets. That narrows the field to eight models. Here’s how they fared in head-to-head testing.

SETTING ROUTER SPEED EASILY
GIVES YOU A LEG UP

Varible 1.jpg BEST: Porter-Cable’s variable-speed dial shows increments of actual revolutions per minute (rpm).
BEST: Porter-Cable’s variable-speed dial shows increments of actual revolutions per minute (rpm).

Varible 2.jpg
GOOD: Craftsman, Makita (shown), and Milwaukee have a reference chart next to the speed dial.

varible 3.jpg
HELP NEEDED: The other models (DeWalt shown) have numbers on the dial with a corresponding rpm chart in the owner’s manual, or none at all.

Aim for power and speed


We tested each router for its ability to power through cuts, and they all proved capable. Some performed better than others—pat on the back to Bosch, Hitachi, and Porter-Cable—but even the 2-hp Craftsman (which earned our lowest power grade) fared well enough to handle most woodworking tasks. (Click here for the full comparison chart.)

Equally important, speed control can impact the success of a routing job when brute force isn’t enough. For example, slowing a router’s speed helps prevent burning in wood species such as cherry and maple. That’s why we insist on having a variable-speed motor with electronic-feedback monitoring to maintain bit speed throughout a cut. All eight test models have nearly the same speed ranges, but the Makita RF1101KIT2, Hitachi KM12VC, and Milwaukee 5616-24 maintained their speed best during heavy cuts.

Handheld use reveals all


Using both bases for handheld tasks, we judged these routers on ease of use, balance and ergonomics, and absence of vibration. The Bosch MRC23EVSK stands out here because of its unique in-handle power switch for both bases (see opening photo). With the other models, you have to reach for the power switch (located at or near the top of the motor), either by extending a finger or by releasing one handle entirely.


In the fixed bases, it’s all about setting bit depth precisely and then routing with ease. All but the Hitachi and Makita have built-in adjusters for fine-tuning bit depth. Of the other six, only the Craftsman 27683 demonstrated excessive backlash in its adjuster. The Hitachi and Makita routers thread up and down in their fixed bases—not an easy way to precisely set bit depth.


For the plunge bases, we looked for a smooth plunging action—all but the Hitachi plunge smoothly—secure locks that operate easily, and precise depth stops. Three routers (Craftsman, DeWalt DW618B3, and Porter-Cable 893PK) default to free-plunge mode and lock in a bit depth when you depress the plunge-lock lever. The other five default to a locked position, and plunge only when you depress the lever. Our staff couldn’t reach a consensus as to which method works best, so making this a buying decision comes down to your preference.

THREE TYPES OF
PLUNGE-DEPTH MICROADJUSTER

Plunge 1.jpg
BEST: With the Bosch MRC23EVS, you can make fine adjustments with the plunge lock engaged.

plunge 2.jpg
GOOD: On the Craftsman, you turn the depth-stop rod to a specific depth, then lock it in place.

plunge 3.jpg
ALSO GOOD: Bosch’s 1617EVSPK uses an adjustable tip at the bottom of the depth-stop rod.

Setting a precise plunge depth revealed the greatest differences among these routers. Most have microadjustable depth-stop rods (shown above). We liked the Bosch MRC23EVS best because it adjusts with the plunge lock engaged. With the Hitachi, Makita, and Porter-Cable, you adjust screws on the turret stops to tweak a depth setting.

Set up for table service

One great aspect of the combo kit: You can mount the fixed base in a router table, and then simply swap out the motor for handheld use in the plunge base. Several of the fixed bases come equipped with built-in lift functions that work with a wrench, letting you set bit height from above the table, shown below. (You need to drill an access hole through the table’s insert plate for the wrench.) Both Bosch kits, Craftsman, and Milwaukee have this feature and come with the wrench; the Porter-Cable base has this function, but, oddly, the wrench is a $25 accessory.


Mounting one of these routers in a table can be tricky because the power switch, speed dial, base clamp, and depth adjuster usually reside around the perimeter of the motor, making it difficult to access some controls when inverted, especially when positioned on opposite sides of the motor. The Bosch 1617EVSPK, DeWalt, Milwaukee, and Porter-Cable models best minimize this hassle.

guide bushing.jpg
A guide bushing, sometimes called a template guide, mounts in a router’s subbase around the bit. By guiding it along a template or straightedge, the bit will reproduce that pattern on your workpiece.

103107050.jpg
An edge guide attaches via two rods to either base. This helps you rout parallel to a straight edge.

 103085831.jpg
How about a lift? By using the included T-wrench with the Milwaukee fixed base, you can set bit height (after unlocking the base’s cam lock).

Put your dollars toward this combo

The Bosch MRC23EVSK ($300) earns the nod as Top Tool in this field of eight combo kits. It has top-tier power, handle-mounted power switches, LED lights, easy base adjustments and bit changes, smooth plunge action, and a nice storage case with room for lots of accessories. 

Our Top Value award goes to the Bosch 1617EVSPK ($200). This professional-quality kit performed at or near the top in every category for one-third less than its Top Tool sibling.

Download the full comparison chart for our Multiple Base Router Shop Test

GET TO KNOW EIGHT
MULTIBASE ROUTER KITS

Bosch MRC23EVSK, $300

103084054.jpg

High Points
▲The handle-mounted power switch on both bases makes it much easier to operate without letting go of a handle.
▲Its robust motor never bogged down in use.
▲A pair of LEDs illuminates the bit area whenever the power cord is plugged in.
▲The plunge base’s microadjuster works even after locking the base and stop rod in position.
▲An included T-wrench lets you make bit-height adjustments above the top when mounted in a router table.
▲Two beefy forged wrenches make for easy bit changes.

Low Points
▼When table-mounting the fixed base, some of the controls are harder to access than others. And dust that accumulated between the base and motor made it difficult to remove the motor.
▼This router weighs a pound or more than all the other routers in each base.

More Points
  Requires proprietary guide bushings and holder (not included) or an optional adapter to use common two-piece guide bushings.
  It ran quietest among all the routers under no load (88 decibels), but tied with the DeWalt for loudest in use (110 dB).

Bosch 1617EVSPK, $200

103084055.jpg

877-267-2499, boschtools.com
High Points
▲The plunge base has easy-to-grip, ergonomic handles, an intuitive plunge-lock lever, 8-position depth-stop turret, and a large subbase opening (218 ").
▲All the controls and adjusters on the motor and fixed base are on the same side for easy access when table-mounted. An included T-wrench lets you make bit-height adjustments from above the table.
▲Two beefy forged wrenches make for easy bit changes.

Low Points
▼The variable-speed dial requires a chart, found only in the owner’s manual, to determine revolutions per minute (rpm).
▼The glossy round wood handles on the fixed base can be slippery and difficult to grip.

More Points
 Bit speed fell off significantly (21 percent) during demanding cuts, but it didn’t affect motor temperature or cut quality.
  Requires proprietary guide bushings and holder (not included) or an optional adapter to use common two-piece (Porter-Cable style) guide bushings [photo above].

Craftsman 27683, $125

103084056.jpg

sears.com/craftsman
High Points
▲Three LEDs illuminate the bit area when you turn the router on.
▲A stop on the plunge base lets you limit the upward travel, a handy feature when making a lot of repeated plunges.
▲The handles on both bases grip easily and comfortably.

Low Points
▼This router bogged down in aggressive cuts the other routers handled with ease. And during demanding cuts, the motor temperature rose significantly.
▼This router vibrated more than the others, the height adjuster on the fixed base has too much backlash, and we had difficulty removing bits from both collets.
▼The variable-speed dial is on the opposite side from the power switch and height adjuster, a nuisance when table-mounted. And if you use the included through-the-table wrench, it must be positioned in front of the fence, placing the speed dial at the back.
▼Two of the three subbases have molded bit openings for guide bushings (1316 "). Because the subbases are interchangeable, we’d prefer just one that’s guide-bushing.
▼This router tied with the Porter-Cable for loudest under no load (99dB).

More Points
  The included edge guide lacks a microadjuster. There’s also a dust-collection hood, but it wasn’t effective.
  A router-mounted chart indicates spindle speeds, but the tiny type is difficult to read.
  It comes in a fabric bag rather than a plastic case (like the others).

DeWalt DW618B3, $260

103084057.jpg

800-433-9258, dewalt.com
High Points
▲The depth-adjustment ring moves the motor up and down in the fixed base with ease, and the adjustable scale on the ring makes tiny adjustments a cinch.
▲The left column of the plunge base also serves as a dust-collection tube; an included port snaps on top to connect a vacuum hose.
▲This is the only kit that comes with a D-handle fixed base, which provides different grip options from the standard fixed base, and an on/off trigger on the handle—thanks to the detachable cord—that works better than the switch on the motor itself. (You can also buy a kit without the D-handle base, no. DW618PK, $205.)
▲Comes with a 3-year warranty.

Low Points
▼Although this router never bogged down, it heated up more than any others when making demanding cuts.
▼When using the plunge base, bits longer than 312 " will extend beyond the subbase. 
▼The variable-speed dial requires a chart, found only in the owner’s manual, to determine rpm.
▼The plunge-base depth-stop rod blocks the scale, making it difficult to use accurately.

  It tied with the Bosch MRC23EVSK for loudest in use (110 dB).

More Points
  You get four subbases with this kit, but three have molded openings for guide bushings. Three (including one with a 212 " opening) are interchangeable among the fixed and D-handle bases, but the plunge base has a different mounting-screw pattern.

Hitachi KM12VC, $180

103084058.jpg

800-829-4752, hitachipowertools.com
High Points
▲During demanding cuts, the motor’s electronic controls maintained bit speed almost perfectly.
▲This kit includes seven guide bushings, two locking rings, and an adapter to hold them that fits both bases. This allows the subbase bit openings to be larger (134 ") than those premolded for bushings. And a third interchangeable subbase has a 212 " opening.
▲A stop on the plunge base lets you limit the upward travel, a handy feature when making a lot of repeated plunges.
▲Comes with a test-best 5-year warranty.

Low Points
▼The variable-speed dial, marked in increments of 1–6, has no chart with corresponding rpm. 
▼In the fixed base, you twist the motor to raise and lower it, making tiny adjustments difficult. And when mounted in a router table, the power switch and speed dial change position as you adjust bit height.
▼We found the plunge action stiff, even after adding lubrication.
▼The handles on both bases are slick and not easy to grip.

More Points
  We like having two wrenches for changing bits, but they’re thin stamped steel, not as easy to use as those with other routers.

 Makita RF1101KIT2, $240

103084059.jpg

800-462-5482, makitatools.com
High Points
▲During demanding cuts, the motor’s electronic controls maintained bit speed almost perfectly.
▲A chart next to the variable-speed dial shows corresponding rpm.
▲A stop on the plunge base lets you limit the upward travel, a handy feature when making a lot of repeated plunges.

Low Points
▼In the fixed base, the top-heavy motor makes it frequently tippy and off-balance. And the power switch, mounted near the top of the motor, cannot be reached without releasing one of the handles.
▼In the fixed base, you twist the motor to raise and lower it, making tiny adjustments difficult. And when mounted in a router table, the power switch and speed dial change position as you adjust bit height.
▼When using the plunge base, bits longer than 334 " will extend beyond the subbase. 
▼To secure the motor in the plunge base, you need a screwdriver. All other models in the test use a simple locking lever. 
▼We found the plunge-base depth-scale indicator unreliable.

More Points
  The plunge-base depth rod has no microadjuster, but all three turret stops have adjustment screws.
  Subbases on the fixed and plunge bases have molded bit openings for guide bushings (1316 "). But a third interchangeable subbase has a 212 " opening.

Porter-Cable 893PK, $270

103084061.jpg

888-848-5175, portercable.com
High Points
▲The variable-speed dial is marked in actual rpm increments.
▲A pole-type power switch provides two ways to turn the power on and off, making it easy to do so without letting go of a handle.
▲Its robust motor never bogged down in use.
▲The plunge subbase has a molded opening for guide bushings (1316 "), but the fixed subbase’s opening is 212 ". They’re interchangeable.
▲The left column of the plunge base also serves as a dust-collection tube. An included port snaps on top to connect a vacuum hose. A collection hood to surround the bit is an optional accessory.
▲Comes with a 3-year warranty.

Low Points
▼The plunge-base depth rod lacks a microadjuster, and the scale is difficult to read behind the rod.
▼The speed dial and power switch are on the opposite side from the fixed-base lock and height adjuster, so some controls will be difficult to reach when table-mounted. And dust that accumulated between the base and motor made it difficult to remove the motor.
▼This router tied with the Craftsman for loudest in the test (99dB) under no load.

More Points
  The motor sits tall in both bases, making it a little top-heavy. But the easy-to-grip handles help offset that awkwardness.

Milwaukee 5616-24, $245

103084060.jpg

800-729-3878, milwaukeetool.com
High Points
▲A chart next to the variable-speed dial shows corresponding rpm.
▲Both bases have comfortable, easy-to-grip handles, and the fixed base’s rubber overmold lets you grip it one-handed (but you’ll need large hands to do this effectively).
▲The plunge subbase has a molded opening for guide bushings (1316 "), but the fixed subbase’s opening is 212 ". They’re interchangeable.
▲All the controls and adjusters on the motor and fixed base are on the same side, providing easy access when table-mounted. An included T-wrench lets you make bit-height adjustments from above the table.
▲Two beefy forged wrenches make for easy bit changes.
▲An included centering cone helps you center each subbase to the collet. This proves useful when routing along a straightedge, because there’s no need to hold the round subbases in the same spot against the edge. 
▲Comes with a test-best 5-year warranty.

Low Points
▼Although the manufacturer claims a soft-start motor, we felt noticeably more start-up torque than with any of the other routers.

More Points
  The trifold plastic case takes some getting used to: We spilled the contents a couple of times.

Download the full comparison chart for our Multiple Base Router Shop Test

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