Here’s a Quick Look at The some of the router tables today, and we might help you to decide which is The Best Router Table. Home handymen who enjoy puttering around the garage or basement on weekends probably haven’t given much thought to a router – or a router table – since shop class in high school. Then – poof! – they’re faced with a job that involves cutting, shaping and trimming cabinets, molding or decorative shelving.
All of a sudden, a router seems like a pretty great tool to have in a woodworking arsenal, and a router table becomes a necessity in order to properly work with narrow stock, create perfect joints, or make clean and crisp cuts.
Hand-held routers can often do the job, but usually not with the precision you need for detail work. A router table, on the other hand, lets you keep both hands free and guarantees both accuracy and safety. That might seem like a big investment, but you can find terrific router tables pretty inexpensively.
Here’s a look at the features you should consider when looking for the best router table you can afford.
Choosing the Best Router Table
When working with any power tools safety is, of course, paramount. That’s a major reason why a router table, with the router mounted underneath and “poking through” an opening, is so important; it lets you use both hands for maximum control. Not just any table will do, though – your router table must be well-made, stable and sturdy. That way the work you do with the router won’t be compromised by the machine’s vibrations or by the table flexing under the weight of the project.
A key factor in the stability of a table if you want to know which is the Best Router Table, is a rigid top which won’t flex and doesn’t have any irregularities in the surface. A common material used for inexpensive router table tops is MDF (medium-density fiberboard), which serves the purpose well for everything but heavy-duty use. MDF tops should be at least one-inch thick and surfaced with a durable material like HPL (high-pressure laminate) or phenolic resin; the latter is the best choice. Inexpensive router tables will often use melamine instead, suitable primarily for light-duty projects. Want to spend big bucks or buying a router table to be permanently installed for commercial use? A cast iron floor model is the way to go.
The base plate that the router is attached to is also important in assuring table stability and performance. It goes without saying that the base plate must be flat and strong (to support the weight of the router), and the two usual choices for the best router tables are machined aluminum or solid phenolic plates. If it fits your budget, look for a table with interchangeable, pre-drilled plates which fit different models of routers. Many inexpensive router tables come with just one plate that’s predrilled with lots of different holes so any router will fit. That design, though, interferes with the structural integrity of the plate. It can also lead to dirt build-up in the unused holes, and that dirt will eventually poke up above the surface of the plate to interfere with your work. There should also be an easy way to adjust the level on the base plate so it sits flush to the table’s surface.
The last piece of the puzzle is the fence that acts as a guide for the stock you’re working on, and you can choose between one-piece and split fences. A one-piece fence is easier to use but can potentially be a problem when using both very large and very small diameter bits. A hole that’s large enough to accommodate large bits can leave a gap between a very small bit and the fence, where your stock could get caught. One-piece fences also can’t be offset, so they won’t allow you to joint a straight edge. Split fences (which have separate sections which can be each be adjusted on their own) alleviate those problems, but can be a pain to get aligned exactly right. The best approach is a one-piece frame which has adjustable sub-fences.
Other ideal features to look for include a table with a mitre slot to handle a mitre gauge, T-slots to accommodate flip stops, featherboards or other accessories, dust collection systems and safety switches.
The biggest goal when buying a router table, naturally, is getting the most for your money. Now that you’re armed with the basic information of what makes a good table, here’s a look at three of our choices as the best router table for home workshops or contractors who need to bring their equipment with them from job to job. That means we’re focusing on tabletop units, rather than stand-alone models.
Bosch RA1181 Benchtop Router Table
This Bosch router table isn’t intended for heavy-duty use, but it’s a very nice choice to sit on the top of your workbench because its legs are designed to be either clamped or screwed right to the bench. Perhaps most notable is the fact that the RA1181 has a large 27” by 18” rigid top, almost as large as those you’d find on full-size floor models. The coated MDF top is built well, with the flat surface slightly roughed to allow stock to move across it easily.
We like most of the features of the router plate on this Bosch router table, which is made from cast aluminum and is very strong – strong enough to hold even heavy-duty routers. There’s also a simple but effective leveling system (locking nuts and bolts), along with snap-in inserts which can narrow the size of the bit hole and avoid the issues we mentioned earlier. We weren’t thrilled that the plate is a predrilled, one-size-fits-all model, but you can’t have everything at a price like this ($179).
The Bosch RA1181 has a rigid, tall aluminum fence with adjustable MDF face plates along with two MDF faces which can be set to create a center gap that works with bits as large as 3½”. There are also two full-sized shims that you can place behind the out-feed fence face, allowing for easy jointing for pieces as long as three feet. Fence adjustments are done by means of knobs on the back of the extrusion.
Other impressive features for a router table in this price range include a standard mitre slot which will also accept feather-boards (two are included), a dust collection port that can be used in conjunction with a shop vac or permanent collection system, included router mounting hardware and an on-off switch protected with a “bump” cover which turns the router off in emergencies whenever the cover is touched.
The Bosch router table is portable yet sturdy, strong enough to hold just about any router you’d want to attach to it, smartly-designed and can handle projects almost as large as those that stand-alone models (which could cost twice as much) are built for. It’s a bargain at the price. That’s why we might consider it The Best Router Table.
Bench Dog 40-001 ProTop Contractor Benchtop Router Table
The Bench Dog router table isn’t quite as large as the Bosch (22” x 16”), but it has several unique features which make it almost as effective in dealing with large projects. We’ll get to them in a minute, but first let’s look at the basics and why it is considered The Best Router Table in some Places.
The cabinet is made from solid birch plywood (sturdy yet supposedly noise-limiting), although its rubber feet don’t lend themselves to a permanent installation on a work table. There is a strong, completely-flat laminate top and a phenolic predrilled plate which fits most commercially-available routers (including Skil, Makita, DeWalt, Craftsman and many others); a predrilled plate isn’t ideal for reasons we’ve mentioned, but it’s sturdy and shouldn’t affect performance greatly. The forward-offset router location is also quite convenient and gives you lots of space on the table to work with. There is an aluminum ¾” mitre track for accessories, and T-slots on the fence and table so you can use any sort of accessory required for featherboards, fence risers and stops. There are leveling screws and a dust-collection port as well.
The Bench Dog router table’s “Pro Fence” is one thing that sets this unit apart, though. It’s based on a one-piece heavy-duty aluminum fence which is machined to be square and flat, but there are several sub-fences for zero-clearance work and a bit guard to let you adjust to any type of job, as well as dual fence slots that let you move the fence to the “other side” for maximum convenience.
There are a few drawbacks to this Bench Dog router table, which you might consider the Best Router Table. The plate only has a two-inch hole so you need to order a separate plate to accommodate larger bits, the on-off switch is difficult to reach, the “noise-limiting” cabinet has a tendency to echo the sound of the router, and the plate only fastens down with two screws which leaves open the possibility of losing level over time.
We like the 40-001 a lot and we’re sure you will too. We just aren’t sure that you’re better off with this unit at its $299 price, than you are with the Bosch for more than $100 less.
Kreg PRS2100 Bench Top Router Table
The Kreg router table takes a very different approach to construction and is Definitely considered the Best Router Table in many ways. It’s built on a wide stance steel stand, and has many of the same features as the company’s full-size models.
The stand is indeed sturdy. Like the Bench Dog router table it has rubber feet which aren’t designed to be screwed into a workbench, but unlike that model, the Kreg also has pre-drilled holes so you can just remove the feet and screw the base into your bench. The top of the table is made from thick MDF and is large, 24 x 16 inches. The phenolic insert plate, as with all of these units, is one-size-fits-all, but there’s one problem that’s also a benefit. The plate is not predrilled, only coming with a pre-printed centering template, so you need a drill press to accurately drill the holes that will be required to attach your router. The benefit is that with no extra holes in the plate, its strength and stability are enhanced once you’ve got everything working. If that sounds like a deal-breaker, there’s a solution; you can order predrilled plates from Kreg separately.
There’s an added feature which makes it much more convenient to mount the router to the plate once the holes are drilled, though: “Level-Loc reducing rings.” There are three of them included with the router table and more can be purchased separately; what they do is match the exact size of the router mountings and twist into place on the plate, so that they’re always exactly flush with the surface. Precision levelers are included as well.
The PRS2100 Kreg router table has been around for a long time, and one of the longstanding problems with it has been the table’s fence. The company heard the criticisms and redesigned the fence for this table, and it’s somewhat improved. In the past, there was a cheap plastic fence with plastic cams that had to be manually tightened with a screwdriver every time an adjustment was needed. The fence is now made from heavy-duty anodized aluminum, and there are plastic cam clamps with quarter-turn locking levers that are much easier to manipulate. They’re not as reliable as the screw knobs on the Bosch router table, but they’re a lot better than what was used previously.
The rest of the fence system is good, with adjustable sliding faces for support of your workpiece around the bit, and jointing rods (included with the table) to allow you to do vertical jointing. This Kreg router table also has a dust collection port to be used with a shop vac or collection system, as well as a bit guard.
We thought the PRS2100 was the quietest of all three of these router tables and maybe the Best Router Table because of its open metal design which doesn’t “trap” sound; that design also makes it the most stable of the three options. Its features (particularly the cam clamps) don’t quite measure up to those of the Bosch, though, and it’s $40 more expensive ($229), so we’d consider this decision a bit of a toss-up. It’s a very good router table for the money, though, and like the other models we’ve looked at, it can also be used by professionals who need portable router tables to take to their jobs.