A router and a router table is a great combination - together they bring advanced joinery techniques and precise millwork into easy reach of the hobbyist and weekend woodworker. But the combination by itself does leave something to be desired: A standard router and router table package doesn't usually make for quick and easy set-up. Fortunately, the typically dismal ergonomics involved in setting up a router table for a cut has led to the development of the "router lift" - a great idea that we think has reached a particularly high point in the Smartlift Digital Router Lift.
In case you aren't familiar with these time-and-aggravation savers, a router lift is an after-market mechanical device that attaches to your router table, and is used to raise and lower your router in relation to the surface of the router table. The motor assembly of your router is clamped into the body of the router lift, which in turn is mechanically connected to an easily accessible height adjustment mechanism. The upshot is that you bypass the router's height adjustment mechanism in favor the the router lift's.
What makes a router lift desirable? When a router is installed in a router table, all of the height adjustment controls are tucked away under the surface of the table. Add to that the fact that most routers aren't designed to be easily raised and lowered against the force of gravity, as is necessary when they're installed in a router table. As a result, changing bits and making cut height adjustments on an unaided router and router table can be a time consuming and frustrating operation. Making the crucial height adjustments necessary in most joinery operations is particularly trying, and typically involves periods of awkward fumbling around under the router table interspersed with numerous test cuts needed to get the right setting.
The purpose of a router lift is to let you keep both hands near the surface of the table when you are changing bits and making height adjustments, to make raising and lowering the router easier, and most importantly, to make accurate cut height adjustments a simple matter. Nearly all router lifts help out in each of these areas to some degree, but a really great router lift offers exemplary performance in all. And that brings us to the Smartlift. Voted a "best new tool" of 2004 by Popular Woodworking Magazine, and named editor's top pick in a recent Wood Magazine review, the Smartlift Digital Router Lift adds features to the basic router lift design that make it, for practical purposes, the king of router lifts.
A number of qualities set the Smartlift Digital Router Lift apart. The Smartlift's height adjustment mechanism operates on a direct-drive system, instead of the usual belt and pulley or chain and sprocket arrangement. The advantage is that the clouds of shavings and dust that your router puts have less of a chance of getting into the lift's mechanical works to cause problems, and the Smartlift's "thread clearing" feature keeps any dust that does get in from making the lift mechanism difficult to operate. The direct-drive mechanism is also continuously self-adjusting, and virtually eliminates the common problem of height setting "backlash".
But the truly great thing about the Smartlift is that it not only provides height setting accuracy to .001", it makes dead-on accurate height settings repeatable. With the Smartlift, you only have to make trial and error test cuts once per bit. The Digital Smartlift gives you the ability to "zero out" each bit you use, and then record the perfect height setting for future use. Once you found the correct height for a given bit (the most challenging part of router table set up) you can easily "dial in" the perfect setting to within .001" the next time around. That's the kind of accuracy and repeatablilty that can cut the time you spend in front of your router table in half, and it’s also a big part of what makes the Smartlift Digital Router Lift as good as a router lift gets.