As you may have noticed, router lifts have been gaining in popularity over the past few years - to the point that now they’re considered a near-necessity among frequent router table users. If you’re thinking of stepping up to the added convenience and accuracy one of these gadgets will bring to your work, we urge you to pick up a copy of the current issue of the Woodworker’s Journal. In it you’ll find a router lift comparison that should make choosing the right model an easy matter. Written by George Vondriska, the article offers a no-nonsense comparison of nine of the most popular router lifts available. Along with that, you’ll find some helpful general advice that anyone in the market for a lift can readily put to use.
But the article starts with an even more fundamental consideration: namely, why you’d want a router lift in the first place. As Vondriska points out, there are two things that a router lift can give you: easy, accurate bit height adjustment and easy bit changes – both doable from above the table. If you use your router table with any frequency, you know that fumbling around under the table to (often inaccurately) change the bit height, and awkward bit changes - which may involve pulling the router motor completely out of the base - can really add up in time and frustration. A well designed router lift, by contrast, will let you dial in precise bit height settings quickly, and it will also let you speedily crank the collet up above the surface of the table for fast bit changeovers.
Even if you’re sold on the value of a router lift, deciding which one to buy is still a challenge. There are plenty to choose from, and most of them look pretty much alike. What should you look for in a router lift? There are a number of factors worth considering, but here are a couple of the most important:
First, pay close attention to the list of routers that the lift will accept. This goes beyond just buying a lift that will fit your current router. Many lifts are designed to fit a certain class of router. Lifts designed for hefty 3-1/4 HP routers may or may not offer adapters for smaller 2-1/2 HP routers, but you’ll never get a jumbo router into a lift that was meant for a router with a smaller diameter motor. If a router upgrade is in your future, think ahead and buy a lift that will accept the more powerful router you’ve been eyeing.
Second, be sure to buy a lift that will fit into your router table. Not all lift mounting plates are the same size, and neither are the dimensions of plate openings in router tables. Some lifts will make it easier to adapt the mounting plate to the router table by incorporating mechanisms that snug-up the lift-to-table fit. Better still, if you’re in the market for a lift and a table, buy a router table package. It’s likely that you’ll save money, and you’ll be assured of getting a table and lift that work well together.
But what you really want to know, we’d bet, is which lift to choose. It’s not a really a cut and dried choice. There are a few variables, and your specific needs and budget will, in part, dictate the best decision. Vondriska does a good job of elucidating the trade-offs, and it’s worth the read to get a detailed account of each the lifts’ strengths and features. But in the end, he singles out the JessEm Mast-R-Lift as the “best bet”. And we agree that the overall quality, the price, and the fact that the Mast-R-Lift will accept larger routers (it’s designed to fit the Porter Cable 7518) but also offers a good selection of adapters for various brands and smaller routers make it an especially good value, and the best choice for anyone who’s still building a table routing tool collection.
Along with the noted versatility in router-to-lift fit, the Mast-R-Lift offers a good deal of range in table-to-lift matching; it’s available individually and as part of a number of router table packages. If you decide to pick up the Mast-R-Lift by itself, consider adding the optional installation template. It’s a helping hand that will make fitting the plate to just about any routable table top easy. On the other hand, if you want the whole ball of wax, think about the integrated Mast-R-Lift / Excel Table System. Then you’ll be truly routing in style, as customer reviews like this one would tend to suggest:
“This table system delivers the most outstanding precision and provides for very ease of use. I build custom cabinets and do general woodworking in my spare time and this table, lift, fence and motor(PC7518) has been the best purchase I have ever made. Best built stand I have ever come across sturdy strong and no sway. I shopped around and looked at several different set-ups including a shaper. The Jessem beats them all. I highly recommend this product to anyone from the novice to the expert. It will dramatically improve your work and pay for itself in no time.”