Last Updated on December 1, 2022 by Barry Gray
When it comes to selecting a wood router, you basically have two options. Do you go with a fixed router, or do you opt for a plunge router?
This is certainly an important question, but to answer it, you need to understand the differences that exist between both options. So, that’s where I plan to help.
I view a router as an integral tool to have if you plan to work with wood. It’s one of the fundamental tools that will make your life so much easier when it comes to working on your projects.
But even though both options are indeed listed as routers, the way they operate is pretty different. However, there’s no need to worry. I will explain what both router types do and how you can take advantage of each tool.
For me, it’s important to point out the differences. After all, I feel everyone should know the capabilities of each tool before diving into a project.
Now, I must point out that we are not talking about two vastly different tools here. However, the differences that do exist are still pretty substantial, and I get the feeling you will quickly ascertain where each tool could be used.
So, let’s start working through the differences between a fixed and a plunge router.
Which is Best Between the Fixed and Plunge Wood Router?
Let me round this off by looking at which of the two options is the best. Honestly, this comes down to a few very specific points.
If you have never used a router before, only opt for a fixed router. It allows you to get to grips with the basics without having to effectively mess around with too many switches or operational methods.
Instead, it allows you to just work those edges and complete your project with a minimal amount of fuss.
This simplicity is perfect for the beginner. I hate when tools that are apparently designed for people new to DIY make life complicated. However, that’s not the case when it comes to a fixed base router. You can take it out of the box and get to work with it.
Yet even though I’m a big fan of the fixed base router, I do appreciate what a plunge router offers. I know it’s far more specific in what it does, thanks to additional mechanisms and how it can perform different tasks.
But then, there’s the price aspect.
Generally, a fixed base router is less expensive than a plunge router. That’s no surprise considering what each model offers. Now the price difference will not always be huge, but it’s enough to make you think about which option you should go for.
I think the main point to consider is how you plan on using the tool. Don’t allow the price to dictate too much; there’s also no point thinking about the power options as you get the same corded or cordless varieties with both.
Overall, the best one for you will always be the tool that fits your needs. Nothing else matters in that respect.
The Basics of a Fixed Base Router
A fixed router can also be known as a fixed base router, and for a good reason: the base is fixed into a set position. Now, I must stress that it does not mean you cannot change depth or anything. There are specific ways in which a fixed base router can be adjusted. However, you will learn more about the key difference between the two routers when I move on to discussing the plunge router.
With a fixed router, you set the depth of the bit prior to starting. You then know that the bit will stay at that depth until you manually change it again. To do this, you need to stop the machine and adjust it. You cannot do so while it’s in operation.
A fixed base router can be used to chamfer edges, and in fact, I see this tool as perfect for all edge work. That’s why it’s great to pull this one out of your collection if you plan to work on boars where you need that perfect edge or even a shaped edge.
How a Fixed Base Router Works
The way a fixed base router works is easy to follow. Before firing up the router, you adjust the depth of the bit. This is very easy to do, and most fixed routers also come with micro adjustment wheels allowing you to easily change the depth to absolute accuracy.
When you are happy with the depth, simply line up the tool and fire it up.
One of the things I love about a router is the way it does stick to the same depth throughout. You know that the tool will produce a consistent result throughout, and I feel that it does offer some confidence when it comes to completing your project.
That is why I always feel a fixed base router is the better option for people new to routers. I think it’s harder to make mistakes with this tool, and it’s also straightforward to get your desired outcome. Honestly, when you have those two positives happening at the same time, then I can see why a tool would be so attractive to people.
Yet, let me set one thing straight. A fixed base router has more than just those two advantages.
The Advantages of a Fixed Base Router
I do openly admit that I love how a fixed router operates, and I see it as having a number of clear advantages.
I just mentioned this, but that sense of consistency is a huge deal. You have no need to rely on your own arm to help you out. Instead, you can effectively allow the tool to get to work and just know it will perform as you expect.
Depth control is another advantage of a fixed router, as most come with clear markings that make it exceptionally easy to set it up. Also, those micro adjustment wheels are excellent as well. The ease with which you can set things to a fraction of an inch makes it easier for you to work on a host of projects.
Ease of Use
This tool is easy to use, which is why I think it’s the perfect power tool for the beginner. All you need to do is attach the correct router bit for the job, set the depth, and let the tool do its job.
Nothing could be any easier than using a fixed base router, but only if you understand the limitations that come with the tool.
Light and Portable
Fixed base routers are also small, light to carry around, and highly portable. That means you will have no problem incorporating it into so many projects as it won’t take up too much space.
I love when a tool makes it easier for you regarding portability, and you will have no problems from that perspective when using a fixed router.
Thanks to those few clear advantages of using a fixed base router, I would have no hesitation in advising any individual to head on out there and add one to their tool collection.
The Disadvantages of a Fixed Router
Even though I do love a fixed router, I do admit they also come with several disadvantages that are hard to ignore. Seriously, while a fixed base router is good, it’s not always plain sailing with this tool.
I think the most significant disadvantage is what I refer to as placement limitations. Because of this, you find yourself stuck to the edges of the board you are working on.
I do hate this when it comes to the fixed router. I feel it sometimes forces you to change how you plan to do something because of its limitations.
While I do appreciate this tool having manual changes when it comes to depth, it can prove to be annoying at the same time.
The problem is that you may be using your router for various tasks, and each requires adjustments to get it perfect. But the issue I have is the need to completely stop what you are doing to then make that change.
This becomes problematic when you find yourself in a stop/start thing. It’s frustrating, and you wish you could just make changes as and when required without halting everything.
But honestly, those are the only two disadvantages I could think of when dealing with a fixed router. When you weigh everything up, it’s evident that the pros outweigh the cons of this type of router.
The Basics of a Plunge Router
But I will now move on to talking about the plunge router, and the first thing to do is address the difference in how it works. After all, this is the most significant difference between the two options for you to be aware of.
Why It’s Called a Plunge Router
This tool is called a plunge router for an obvious reason, it plunges down onto the wood. This does mean it acts entirely differently from a fixed base router, and that means you have the option of moving this router over the entire wood surface rather than being stuck to the edge.
Immediately, this should open up so many new possibilities for you.
I do love how easy it is to move this tool across the surface. That freedom as a result of not being stuck on the edge of the board is something that a more experienced woodworker would probably love.
How it Works
With a plunge router, you can still set the depth that it will work down to with the wood. However, the router bit is not in contact with the wood at the start.
That’s because the housing of the plunge router sits high, allowing you to line things up exactly where you want them. Once you have set the depth, you plunge the router down onto the surface, and the tool gets to work.
That’s why it’s referred to as a plunge router, thanks to the motion it makes in order to get to work on the wood.
The Similarities with How a Plunge Router Works Compared to a Fixed Base
I should stress that both routers do also share some similarities even though the operating mechanism is different. For example, the way in which the router bit stays at the same level applies to both styles. You set it to what you want, and the tool delivers those results.
Also, you will find similarities regarding the speed and how effective the tool is at giving you the outcome you want. I feel both options are pretty similar when it comes to how you control the movement as well.
Yet, the differences that exist between the two tools will become apparent, and this is especially the case when you look at the pros and cons of the plunge router in line with how it works.
The Advantages of a Plunge Router
As with the fixed router, I do see the plunge router as also having several clear advantages that may influence your decision as to whether or not you should purchase one.
Just as placement is a major disadvantage for the fixed base router, it’s an advantage when you switch over to the plunge router.
Thanks to the spring-loaded housing, you can take the plunge router anywhere over a board and have absolute freedom to do just that. It means you can get to work with a router bit right in the heart of a board and not struggle to get there.
It Has Amazing Versatility
I also feel that a plunge router offers so much in the way of versatility, and that’s one of the major draws of this tool. All you need to do is to move the plunge router to where you want it, line everything up, set the depth for the bit, and plunge it down onto the surface.
I really appreciate how a plunge router makes this process so easy to do. It really takes seconds to get the tool ready to use, and you can have your desired results in minutes.
When I say a plunge router is faster, what I mean is not the actual speed of the motor but rather how quickly you can finish your projects. This is all thanks to the two other advantages mentioned above and the way you can move around and get the router to do what you want in less time.
The Disadvantages of a Plunge Router
Once again, a plunge router is not always perfect, so I have identified a couple of potential disadvantages linked to this tool.
It’s Easier to Make Mistakes
I feel that it is a lot easier to make mistakes when using a plunge router, so it’s best to only use this tool when you have more experience with routers in general. For me, the potential for mistakes is linked to your absolute control over this tool.
Thanks to the control, you may find times when you inadvertently plunge the router too deep and fail to get the outcome you were hoping for. In an instant, you could run the risk of damaging the board you are working on.
It Requires More Effort from You
It’s also fair to say that a plunge router requires more effort from you. First, this is due to the router itself being larger to move around than a fixed router. Secondly, you need to maintain more control when holding the tool to get the results you want.
In that sense, a fixed router is more straightforward to operate than a plunge router.
It Can Feel More Cumbersome
This disadvantage depends on the brand and individual tool, but there are moments when I feel like a plunge router is more cumbersome.
This is directly related to the size of the housing. It has to be larger to incorporate the mechanism that allows the tool to plunge the router bit down onto the wood. This means the tool can feel slightly bulky in nature, and that can make it slightly more awkward to use for some people.
But I do feel that a plunge router only has those couple of real disadvantages. However, you can quickly work around them, so it’s not a huge deal.
Both a fixed base and a plunge router have their own distinct role to play in your woodworking exploits. For that reason, I would often suggest you go ahead and use both, if possible.
Yet, I know that’s not always an option for everyone. If you are completely new to woodworking, then I would suggest staying with the fixed router option. It’s easier to use, even though the options are more limited, and I feel it gives you an opportunity to learn more about a router without making life too complicated.
Overall though, I do suggest you grab a router when possible and add it to your collection. The way it opens up so many possibilities is astonishing, so if you have never owned a router before, then now is the time to make that change.