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I am a beginning woodworker, and I'm thinking about buying a router later this year. I note that fixed base routers are somewhat cheaper than plunge routers, which is attractive to me. As such, I'm curious to know what one can do with a plunge router that you cannot do with a fixed base router (and some patience). Is the plunge mechanism really just a convenience / time saver? Or are there tasks that can only be done with a plunge router?

  • "plunge router vs fixed base router" is a fine web search, then you can add your own answer. – jdv Jul 3 at 13:45
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    Ok, i will say it. A plunge router can plunge. – Alaska Man Jul 3 at 17:59
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    @jdv, while I agree with the sentiment I think we need to try to remember what it's like when you're just starting out and you have no grounding, so can't yet filter the good from the bad. It's hard when you don't know what are reliable and unreliable sources of info, which can actually take years to realise, good presentation being so persuasive (#lookingatyouYouTubepresenters) but actually having nothing to do with the quality of the content. Plus on top of everything the beginner doesn't know what they don't know if you get what I mean. – Graphus Jul 4 at 7:11
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First of all, you are not necessarily limited to one or the other. You can get routers that support multiple bases - Plunge, Fixed, and Offset. If cost is an issue, either buy used, or get one that supports additional bases that you can add later.

As to the core of the question, one of the common mistakes people make with hand-held routers is making a cut that is too aggressive. A plunge router allows you to preset multiple depths, so you can quickly and accurately adjust the router between passes.

With some types of router work, such as inlay, you want the cut area to be very precisely defined. A plunge router allows you to reach your desired depth of cut without having to "angle drop cut" into your work.

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    It's arguable that there's a slight safety benefit as well, in the sense that when you lift a plunge router off the workpiece, the bit "retracts." I've often seen (mostly newer) woodworkers switch off a router, and then immediately lift it up and set it aside so they can look at their workpiece - such that the bit is still spinning away as it slows down, unprotected in midair, while they're eagerly looking at the cut they just made. – dwizum Jul 3 at 15:49
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    @dwizum amen brother, preach! I'd argue it's not a slight benefit at all but a major one. Even with an experienced router user setting aside a non-plunge router that is still spinning is a major safety issue, particularly in a busy shop but even in the single-person working environment..... until such time as the user realises a spin-down cradle for the router might be a handy idea. – Graphus Jul 4 at 7:18
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    @Graphus "Spin down cradle" - euphemism for the spot on your workbench where you just set down your still spinning fixed-base router. – FreeMan Jul 19 at 18:40
  • @FreeMan :-) yeah, that spot protected by a somebody-else's-problem-field, and we all know those are impenetrable..... r-right? – Graphus Jul 20 at 6:59
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While I do use my plunge router occasionally for 90+% of the time I use the fixed base. But there are tasks that are difficult if not impossible to do without a plunge base.

I agree over all with the LeeG's answer. But would add get one that will accept 1/2" and 1/4" bits, variable speed,and a minimum of 1 1/2 hp. Buy the best that is within your budget.

Having said all of that for years I used a $10 garage sale special, it did do the job most of the time but not as easily, now dedicated for the dovetail jig. Look around for a good used one some time they can be had at a very good price.

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    What tasks are (near) impossible without a plunge base, and how does the plunge base some the difficulty? Adding that would make this a great answer; as is its mostly just a recommendation, which is not what the question asked. – mmathis Jul 5 at 0:34
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    Making stopped dado. mortise, ... are tasks that a plunge router excels at. Why I use the fixed base mostly they are easier to set up for edge routing ... that and personal preference. – Monte Glover Jul 6 at 2:13

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