Specs and Tester's Tester Comments
Photos by David Sharpe
Router conversion kits are the latest evolution in router design and utility. By using a detachable, exchangeable motor that can be transferred in and out of either a plunge-base or a fixed-base configuration, tool manufacturers provide two routers in one package.
Since we specialize in high-end finish work with lots of production and custom door hanging thrown in, we use routers all the time, both in a table and handheld. Our first thought when we saw these tools was that we'd be able to have one router motor doing double duty by mounting the fixed base to a router table for all paneling and molding-type work and using the plunge base for cutting radii, hinge mortises, and dadoes. All we'd have to do is swap out the motor to keep cutting. These kits also look great for remodelers who don't use routers as much as we do, because they can provide the utility of having the kind of routers needed without breaking the bank.
We tested the Bosch 1617EVSPK, DeWalt DW618PK, Makita RF1101KIT, and the Porter-Cable 693LRPK plunge-base/fixed-base router conversion kits. We tested them in both plunge- and fixed-base configurations using an assortment of new, identical bits in material from oak to alder to MDF. We tested for power, depth adjustment, bit change, dust control, and ergonomic features. We evaluated plunge action, and depth adjustments in the plunge mode. We also examined the carrying cases and the accessories that come with each tool. We paid careful attention to ease of conversion, too, which we think is a critical feature. For routers like this to find a home on our sites, it's important they convert quickly, be easy to operate, and work flawlessly.
Power, Noise, and Vibration
We tested the tools for three months, both in the shop and on site, using an assortment of router bits and materials. To really get a flavor for power, we cut 3/4-inch dadoes in hardwood with a straight cutter. Each tool performed admirably, with no big differences in power, noise, or vibration between them and no noticeable power loss during the dado test. In the past, routers vibrated so much your hands would tingle at the end of the day and were so loud your ears would ring. We were happy to see manufacturers' noise- and vibration-reducing advancements in these routers?it really shows.
The idea of conversion kits adding versatility to the router category depends on the ease with which you can switch between the plunge- and fixed-base systems. We found DeWalt's kit to be the simplest to convert: Release the locking lever, then press both side buttons, and the motor slides straight out of its base.
The Bosch and Makita motors thread into their bases and work nicely. The Bosch has a locking lever on both bases. The Makita has a locking lever on the fixed base but not the plunge base where the motor seats securely and dependably into the base without using a lever.
The Porter-Cable fixed-base unit uses a locking lever similar to the Bosch and Makita setups. The plunge base, however, is different: You slide the motor straight into the base and have to secure it with a small Allen screw, which takes longer than the tool-less designs.