Photos by Kreg
I think any woodworker who does much work at a router table understands the problem that a router lift solves. Routers are meant to be held by the operator while placed on the upper surface of a workpiece. Routers aren’t really meant to be hung upside down in a table. While it does make it easier to perform some operations once set up, sometimes setting up a router upside down is quite awkward. Most of the controls are hard to reach upside down, and typically height adjustment is really difficult too, especially when trying to move in very small increments.
Back in the dark ages of the 1990s, when I started woodworking, different router manufacturers came out with special knobs that could be installed on your plunge router to make it easier to change the height of the bit. I still have my special knob for my old Elu router sitting in a drawer. It did make it easy to change the height in the router table, but then when I took the router back out of the table, the special knob required about 400 turns to remove so the router could plunge freely again. Special knobs didn’t solve all problems. Router tabletops are usually much thicker than the standard baseplate of a router, so it’s hard to get the bit to come up as high as needed in a router table. And when you have to change a bit, you need to take the router out of the table.
The limitation with this type of lift is that you can’t bring the collet of the router above the table. Changing a bit is still quite awkward, although with this approach you do gain the benefit of above-table height adjustment. CMT offers a 1/2″ Collet extender (CMT# 766.001.00), but I find this setup less than ideal. It places the bit farther away from the bearing and behind the router collet, so inevitably there will be more runout and vibration in the cutter. There are limitations to what this type of lift can do for you. This type saves buying a new router, but typically these lifts are a bit more money than other lifts on the market because of their complexity. I would also group this type of lift with router kits like the Bosch 1617EVPK and Porter Cable 890 series, which have some adjustment function built into the base of the router, allowing a wrench to be put down through the tabletop to change the height of the bit. They’re not poorly made products, they just don’t have as much functionality as the second type of lift.
The Grizzly T31638 is a nice price point option for a lift that can hold different sizes of routers. The construction of the lift is similar to the JessEm 02310, but rather than only work with one size of router motor, it can take three different sizes, 3.25″, 3.5″, and 4.2″. The lift mechanism itself uses four guide rods, which should keep the motor very stable during use. Although this does not accept every size of router motor known, it will take the most popular choices from all the major power tool brands, making it easy to find a motor for this lift. This lift is priced slightly above the JessEm 02310, but does have the advantage of taking more than one motor size.
Two Types – The motors of the Freud and Festool routers on the left can’t be detached from their bases. These two routers can’t be used in a router lift. The Ridgid router is part of a kit. Its motor can be switched between a plunge and fixed base, and can also be used in a router lift. (Photo by Rob Brown)
The Incra Mast-R-Lift II is made in Canada by JessEm and is a variation of JessEm’s own 02120. This lift uses a different system of inserts than the JessEm lifts. The inserts for the Incra lift are held in place by magnets rather than the usual twist-lock system found in most lifts. This lift features the same adjustable motor clamp as the JessEm 02120 to fit pretty much any router motor out there.
Chain Driven – The King Excelsior router lift is a four-post design that accepts the router’s motor (far left). Height adjustment is aided and driven by a chain that moves the motor up and down evenly. Once installed into the router table (left), the lift’s upper face sits flush with either a purchased or shop-made router table. (Photo by King Canada)
A Safe Start – During operation, it’s common to press the workpiece against the starting pin immediately before starting the cut. This ensures the workpiece doesn’t kick back or get caught as the bit comes into contact with the workpiece before the workpiece comes into contact with the router bit’s bearing. The starting pin is seen here at the far end of the workpiece.