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Router Lifts

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For the serious router table user, the benefits of owning a router lift are huge. Strap a 3-1/4-hp variable-speed router into one of these lifts and you have a routing system that can't be beat for convenience, power and accuracy. With a router lift, all your height adjustments can be made from the top of the table instead of underneath and bit changes no longer require removing the router from the table. A router lift is essentially a router-table mounting plate with an attached carriage that holds the router. A removable crank handle inserts into the mounting plate and turns to raise and lower the carriage with incredible precision. A dial built into the plate or fastened onto the crank measures height adjustments in 1/64-in. or finer increments. Most lifts do not give you a cumulative readout. In other words, you have to keep track of the number of crank revolutions for height changes greater than 1/16 in. Some lifts allow you to zero out the height indicator. This is a great feature because it makes it possible to set your bits to exactly the same height every time you use them. For example, it practically eliminates the need for test cuts whenever you make stiles and rails for panel doors. 

PHOTO 1:
Router lifts allow bit-height adjustments from the top of the table. No more groping under the table to release and adjust the router motor.

 

PHOTO 2:
Above-the-table bit changes can be made with most router lifts. That means you no longer have to drop the router out from under the table to change bits.

PHOTO 3:
Router lifts make super-accurate micro-adjustments. You can confidently make adjustments as small as 1/1,000 in.

 

 


Router lifts eliminate the three biggest complaints router table users have. Above-the-table height adjustments (Photo 1) eliminate the most common complaint: the need to awkwardly grope under the table to adjust the bit height. Above-the-table bit changes (Photo 2) do away with having to remove the router to change bits. Finally, accurate micro-adjustments are a reality with a lift (Photo 3). Still, as someone who just graduated from a hole cut in a piece of plywood, I was skeptical. After all, a router lift costs as much as a good router. But once I tried a lift, it didn't take long for me to become a believer. All the lifts we tested performed well. The height adjustments were smooth and accurate. Backlash (that slop you feel in the handle when changing directions) was minimal and most lifts have backlash eliminators (see Chart). We found that carriage travel varied quite a bit among brands. A router lift should have at least 3 in. of carriage travel. This allows you to start a tall bit low in the table and gradually raise it as you cut deeper with each pass. In the end, your choice of lift will depend on your particular circumstances. The main consideration is the size and type of router you own and whether you want to permanently mount it in your table.

Can I use my old router and table?
For most fixed-base routers, the answer is yes. One exception is the new Milwaukee 5625-29. At the time of printing, only the JessEm and Rockler Mast-R-Lift can accommodate this router and allow above-table bit changes. If your one-and-only router is a plunge, you are limited to the two lifts that use the router base to mount the router: the Jet/Powermatic EXACTA-Lift and the Woodpecker Unilift.Your old router table should work fine, but there are two important considerations: Don't assume a router lift plate will fit the opening in your table. Check the router lift plate sizes (see Chart) and compare them to your current mounting plate's size. We also recommend you add cross bracing under your router tabletop. Router lifts are heavy, weighing 7 to 20 lbs. Add a 3-hp or larger router and you can almost guarantee that your top will sag over time without some added support.


Bench Dog ProLift Max 40-016
Price: $370
Router type, size: Fixed base, 1-3/4 hp to 3-1/2 hp
If you like your woodworking tools built like trucks, this is the router lift for you.
Pros

- Steel mounting plate will never sag.
- Bit changes can be made above the table.
- Its full-size speed wrench has an attached scale graduated in 1/128-in. increments.
- The scale can be zeroed out.
- Adapter rings are available for most fixed-base routers ($15 to $20). It comes sized to fit the Porter-Cable 7518.
- Drop-in steel insert rings only need to be screwed down when a starting pin or template guide is used.
- Its 6-in. carriage travel is the largest of any lift.
- Jack screw has an adjustable backlash eliminator.
- A column lock prevents accidental height setting changes.
- Cooling fins on router mount dissipate heat.
- The mounting plate fits existing Bench Dog plate openings without modification.
Cons

- Small plate size will not fit into your existing table unless it's sized to fit a Bench Dog.
- It has no built-in plate levelers (they're built into a Bench Dog top).
- The hole for the wrench insert can fill with sawdust.
Coming Soon
A built-in digital readout will be available in late 2005.

 




Bench Dog MiniLift 40-072
Price: $225
Router type, size: Fixed base, 2-1/4 hp or less
The MiniLift is designed for fixed-base or combination routers with motors smaller than 3 hp.
Pros
- Bit changes can be made above the table.
- Steel insert rings require no special tools to install. They are heavy enough to stay put without screws.
- A full-size speed wrench is included with an attached scale graduated in 1/128-in. increments. The scale can be zeroed out at any time.
- Carriage travel is a full 4-1/2 in.
- An adapter ring is available for Makita routers ($15).
- Jack screw has an adjustable backlash eliminator.
- A column lock prevents accidental changes to your height setting.
- Cooling fins on router mount dissipate heat.
Cons
- Phenolic mounting plate is not as strong as the steel one on the 40-016.
- Small plate size will not fit into your existing table unless it's a Bench Dog.
- No built-in plate levelers are included—they're built into a Bench Dog top.
- Hole for speed wrench can fill with sawdust.


JessEm Mast-R-Lift and Rockler Mast-R-Lift
Price: $289
Router type, size: Fixed base, 1-3/4 hp to 3-1/2 hp
JessEm has been in the lift business longer than anyone. The years of practice have paid off in its Mast-R-Lift design. JessEm makes the Rockler Mast-R-Lift, too. It's identical except for the Rockler's trademark blue color.
Pros
- Black anodized aluminum mounting plate is strong yet
lightweight.
- Bit changes can be made above the table.
- Dust-free crank port cannot fill with sawdust.
- An easy-to-read, built-in indicator dial is on the plate.
- This model is one of only two lifts currently capable of holding the 3-1/2-hp Milwaukee 5625-29.
- Adapter collars are available for most fixed-base routers ($30).
- Adjustable snugger bars guarantee a tight fit in the router-table opening.
- Jack screw has an adjustable backlash eliminator.
Cons
- Dial indicator cannot be zeroed out.
- Plastic wrench for removing the phenolic ring inserts is cumbersome to use and a drag to lose.
- Plate leveling screws are trapped between the plate and the rabbet it sits on. JessEm tables are designed with access holes for these screws. All other tables require you to drill your own holes.


JessEm Rout-R-Lift FX
Price: $179
Router type, size: Fixed base, 2-1/4 hp or less
This is the lift for a one-router shop or owners of the new
2-1/4-hp combination-base routers. Its quick-release feature permits easy router transfer from your lift to your handheld bases. Three different models fit most of the mid-size fixed-base routers on the market.
Pros
- Quick-release lever allows quick removal of the router for handheld work.
- The Rout-R-Lift FX has above-the-table plate levelers.
- Direct-drive system for raising and lowering the router means fewer moving parts and no belt to wear out.
- Bit changes can be made above the table.
- Dial indicator and crank are identical to those on the
Mast-R-Lift.
Cons
- Phenolic mounting plate is not as strong as the aluminum one in the Mast-R-Lift.
- Dial indicator cannot be zeroed out.
- Plastic wrench for removing the phenolic ring inserts is cumbersome to use and a drag to lose.




Jet/Powermatic EXACTA-Lift

Price: $280
Router type, size: Plunge or fixed base, 1-3/4 to 3-1/2 hp
The Jet/Powermatic EXACTA-Lift is an older design but it's still a capable router lift. What sets the EXACTA-Lift apart from most of the other lifts is the fact that the router mounts to the lift by its base, allowing it to take almost any size and type of router.
Pros
- The EXACTA-Lift can take almost any plunge or fixed-base router on the market, including the big Milwaukee 5625-29.
- Price includes an aluminum router-table fence with zero-clearance inserts and a dust-collection port (not shown).
- The red aluminum mounting plate is strong yet lightweight.
- Dust-free crank port won't collect sawdust.
- Above-the-table plate levelers are convenient.
- Jack screw has an adjustable backlash eliminator.
Cons
- The lift does not raise the collet high enough for above-the-table bit changes.
- Its large plate won't fit into any existing router-table
opening.
- Carriage travel is a short 2-1/2 in.
- Height adjustment is measured in .005 in. increments rather than in fractions of an inch.
- The included fence is on the short side (approximately
24 in. long) and an unnecessary cost to folks who already own one.


Jointech SmartLift Digital and SmartLift Pro
Price: $429 and $299
Router type, size: Fixed base, 1-3/4 hp to 3-1/2 hp
Jointech has just raised the bar with these two new router lifts. The SmartLift Digital is the first lift with a built-in digital display. It measures the actual movement of the router carriage, not the turn of the crank. This eliminates any false readings from backlash. The readout is cumulative, so there's no need to count crank revolutions to calculate height change. The only thing about the SmartLift Digital that might make you wince is the price. But that's entirely due to its sophisticated digital readout system. The Jointech SmartLift Pro is the same lift minus the digital readout.
Pros
in SmartLift Digital's cumulative digital readout can be zeroed out for repeatability.
- Unique sealed gear system prevents sawdust contamination.
- Built-in scrubbers clean the threads before they enter the sealed gear housing.
- Under-the-table levelers eliminate holes on the top of the plate.
- Direct drive system has no belts or chains to gum up or break.
- Crank port lets sawdust drain through.
- Jack screw has a self-adjusting backlash eliminator.
- Adjustable snugger bars guarantee a tight fit in the router-table opening.
Cons

- Below-the-table levelers are a bit awkward to reach—but once the lift's level, you're done.
- Inserts rings require a special tool to remove.

 

 



 

Woodhaven EZ Lift Universal 1430 and 1429
Price: $160
Router type, size: Fixed base, 3-1/2 hp or less (1430) and 2-1/4 hp or less (1429)
This is the least expensive of all the lifts we tested. The EZ Lift Universal 1430 can hold the larger 3+-hp routers. The 1429 is designed to hold smaller 3.5-in.-dia. routers only. A plastic indicator dial is compression-fit onto the socket. Notches in the dial line up with a notch in the plate to indicate movement in 1/64-in. increments.
Pros
- All-phenolic construction keeps the weight low.
- Adapter collars are available for the EZ Lift Universal 1430 to fit smaller routers ($31).
- Quick-release lever allows quick removal of the router for hand-held work.
- Indicator dial can be zeroed out.
Cons

- These models have no plate levelers; they're built into a Woodhaven top.
- You must provide your own crank handle.
- Carriage travel is limited—only 1-3/4 in.
- Openings in the crank port are too small to drain sawdust.
Coming Soon
- New models, the EZ Lift 1431 and 1432, will have full
3-3/4 in. of carriage travel and sell for $165.


Woodpecker Precision Router Lift (PRL)
Price: $289
Router type, size: Fixed base, 1-3/4 hp to 3-1/2 hp
The drive mechanism features a built-in ratchet setting that has soft detents for every 1/1,000 in. of adjustment so you can feel each increment without having to look at the dial. Press down on the crank and you bypass the detents for freewheel cranking. The chain-drive system is similar to those used to raise and lower the bed on a heavy-duty planer. The chain drive runs four sprockets: one for the crank, two for the jackscrews and one freewheeling.
Pros
- Extra-tall wrench easily clears the fence.
- Aluminum mounting plate resists sagging.
- The model has convenient above-the-table plate levelers.
- The dual-scale dials can be zeroed out by loosening a set screw and turning the dial with your fingers.
- Its aluminum insert rings are durable.
- Stainless steel scrubbers keep the threads clear of debris.
- Above-the-table leveling screws are convenient.
Cons
- The insert rings require a special wrench—it's another tool to keep track of.
- Crank port can fill with dust.
Coming Soon
- Full-size speed wrenches will come with each lift.


Woodpecker Unilift
Price: $289
Router type, size: Plunge or fixed base, 1-3/4 hp or larger
The Unilift dial indicators double as crank inserts. The Unilift has a manual shaft break that has to be activated before routing and released before adjusting. This is an extra step that must be done with each height adjustment and requires keeping a hex-head screw driver handy.
Pros 
- Base mount accommodates a plunge router.
- The Unilift will fit the Milwaukee 5625-29.
- Extra-tall wrench easily clears the fence.
- Aluminum mounting plate is sag resistant.
- Above-the-table plate levelers are easy to use.
Cons
- Above-the-table bit changes are only possible with a set of offset wrenches ($9 ea.).
- Manual shaft break adds an extra step to each height change.
- The insert rings require a special wrench—it's another tool to keep track of.
- Dials can't be zeroed out for repeatability. 
Coming Soon
- Full-size speed wrenches will be included with each lift.




Others Worth Considering

Routers with Built-In Lifts
Porter-Cable and Milwaukee offer routers with built-in lifts. This can be a very economical alternative if you plan to buy a new router for your lift anyway. About the only thing you give up is a dial indicator. The 3-1/2-hp Milwaukee 5625-29 ($350) offers above-the-table bit changes with smooth operation and little or no backlash. On the downside, you must reach under the table to latch and unlatch the router whenever an adjustment is made. The Porter-Cable 895PK ($440) is the only router-based lift that allows you to operate the locking latch and the lift mechanism from the top of the table. It requires two holes in your mounting plate. Put the crank in the first hole to unlatch the router, then in the second to raise and lower the router. We found a fair amount of backlash in the system, though, and the router had an annoying tendency to shift when the latch was operated. The Porter-Cable 8529 ($410) plunge worked well except for above-the-table bit changes, which were awkward.
 
New Lift from Rousseau
Rousseau has a new router lift that arrived too late for our test. The lift itself is the JessEm Rout-R-Lift FX with a Rousseau mounting plate. If you own a Rousseau table or mounting plate, this lift will fit right into your existing opening.

JessEm Mast-R-Lift Excel
The Mast-R-Lift Excel builds JessEm's Mast-R-Lift into a solid phenolic table. There's no more mounting plate slop, plate leveling or seams to fill with dust. The router carriage is raised and lowered by means of a side-mounted crank on the top. The MicroDial allows you to zero out settings. There's also an integrated dust collection shroud on the underside of the table. The complete system with a fence, top and stand sells for $875 (not including a router). Lift and top alone are $575.

Our RecommendationsFor a 3+-hp Fixed-Base Router
Bench Dog ProLift Max 40-016
JessEm Mast-R-Lift or Rockler Mast-R-Lift
Jointech SmartLift Digital and Pro
Woodpecker Precision Router Lift

All these lifts have solid construction that can handle the big routers. They are smooth, accurate and easy to read. You pay a little extra for the Bench Dog, but it's the only lift with a steel plate that'll never sag. The Jointech SmartLift Digital costs more because of its sophisticated digital readout system.

For a 1-3/4- to 2-1/4-hp Fixed-Base Router
Bench Dog MiniLift 40-072 is the way to go if you already own a Bench Dog table. The lift drops right into the existing opening. JessEm Rout-R-Lift FX is the best value in this size of lift. It's also our favorite for the one-router shop. The quick-release lever allows you to quickly remove the router for handheld work and doesn't require you to dedicate an extra base to the lift.

For a Plunge Router
For die-hards who insist on mounting a plunge router in a router table, Woodpecker Unilift is your best bet. If you're on a budget, a low-cost alternative for plunge router owners is the Router Technologies Router Raizer. For $90, you get the benefits of a lift minus the scale readout (source: Woodworker's Supply, 800-645-9292, www.woodworker.com, #109-919 or #114-671). 


See the model list