I rely on routers for multiple tasks in my snowboard manufacturing shop; around here, they really get a workout. I recently tested Milwaukee's new 2-1/4-hp router combo kit in different stages of wood core production. With the fixed base, I template-cut wood cores, running the machine for hours at a time. I also tested the plunge-base operation and its ability to maintain depth tolerance while plunge-boring hundreds of holes in finished cores.
In addition to providing variable speeds (10,000?24,000 rpm) for larger bits or harder materials, the electronic motor control's soft-start feature prevents the router from jumping when switched on, and the electronic feedback circuitry keeps the bit spinning at the same speed regardless of load.
The 13-amp motor had plenty of power for all of the work I put it through. A threaded depth-adjustment post attached to the motor housing fits into both bases, and I found its operation to be far superior to the more common motor-threaded-into-base design; it was very accurate, allowing for precise fine adjustments.
Covering the Bases
I used the fixed base for every shaping cut I performed. The base's Body Grip–a rubber handhold molded around the right side of the base with a hand strap–made it very easy to hold the router securely with one hand while using the other to switch it on or stabilize work. In fact, this is the only router I've tried that I can imagine using one-handed.
The standard base also includes a nice router table feature. By inserting the included T-handle wrench through a hole in the base, you can make depth adjustments from the top of the table instead of from underneath (although you still have to lean down to unlock the motor).
The dual-spring plunge base has very smooth action and a very pleasing plunge feel. Most plunge bases
I've used have very stiff springs requiring more muscle than the 5616, which takes away from the feeling of control.
I dialed-in precise depth adjustment easily enough after only a few test cuts, but I grew concerned when, after gently plunging 64 holes in poplar, I found that the depth of cut had drifted 1/32 inch. I reset the stop-rod and plunge-cut another 16 holes in ash in our usual aggressive production style, and this time the depth had increased by 3/32 inch–enough to ruin a batch of snowboards if not noticed quickly enough.
I determined the culprit to be the undersized stop-rod locking thumbscrew. In my third test of the plunge base, I used a pair of pliers to tighten this screw an additional quarter turn. Doing this successfully locked the tool in place, even when aggressively plunge-cutting ash, but I still consider this a significant weakness in the design. The locking screw has a knurled plastic head and appears to be a #10-32 thread. With its minimal thread depth of only about 1/4 inch in cast aluminum, I would worry about stripping the aluminum threads with repeated use of the pliers. While not everyone's applications are likely to be as rigorous as mine, with the plunge base likely to be cycled 20,000 times in a couple of weeks, there is still the need to know that the stop will stay exactly where it is set for precise results of any number.
Milwaukee's self-releasing collets were the best I've ever used. The included thick, forged wrenches won't slip off the collet or spindle nuts like thinner stamped wrenches that are usually prone to slippage and banged knuckles. And I never had to tap the collet with a wrench to dislodge a stuck bit–I just kept turning the nut and the bit would pop loose.
Like most of the routers in my arsenal, the 5616's on/off switch was not easy to reach with both hands firmly gripping the handles; however, the one-handed gripping capability and the soft start helped, so it was not a big deal.
However, I have a real complaint about the poor placement of the cord: It extends from the back side of the machine. When approaching a workpiece, the cord naturally drapes over the edge and winds up underneath the router. I had to remember to tuck it under my thumb with the fixed base and drape it over the handle with the plunge base. I would hesitate to put this tool into a less-experienced employee's hands given the extra step required with each use. I also find it natural to lay a fixed-base router on its back when I'm done with a cut, which protects the bit and makes the tool easy to grab for its next use, but this tool sits propped up on its cord.
Overall, the 5616-24 is an excellent, versatile router kit that I got great work out of. It's very smooth and powerful, changing bits is very easy, and Milwaukee makes the only full-sized one-handed router I know of. Two design issues keep it from being a real favorite in my shop, but a careful user can adapt to both.
–Sean Martin owns Donek Snowboards in Watkins, Colo.
Milwaukee Electric Tool
5616-24 Router Kit