Plunge routers have two spring-loaded columns that retract the cutting bit above the base, and then let you plunge the bit down straight into the wood. Most plunge routers now use a soft-start EVS motor to maximize your control. Quick depth adjustments are also important, since you can make them on the fly while the motor's running. Since a plunge router can do the same tasks as a fixed-base router, some expert reviews advise buying a plunge router if you must choose only one, even though they're a bit more complicated to learn to use.
Plunge routers, though a little top-heavy compared with fixed-base routers, are usually considered the safer type, because they keep the sharp cutting bit above the base when you're not actually routing. Plunge routers excel at any type of inside grooving or cutting, either freehand or following a template. It's easier to make several passes to deepen a groove with a plunge router, since you can change the depth with the motor turned on.
Bosch and Triton share top ranking as the best plunge routers. In past years, fixed-base rather than plunge routers have been recommended most for use in a router table. However, the 2.25-hp (12-amp) Triton MOF001C (*Est. $200) plunge router is the top pick for router table use in the Jan. 2007 Fine Woodworking review. Editors give this Triton plunge router both the Editors' Choice and Best Value awards, and it also earns top ranking in the survey of over 9,000 readers of Fine Woodworking and Fine Homebuilding magazines.
Owners reviewing the 2.25-hp Triton plunge router at Amazon.com also give it top marks for its superior dust control, low runout (for accurate cuts) and easy adjustments even when table-mounted. It's also a relative bargain, with templates, an edge guide and circle-cutting guide included in the price. Triton wood routers carry a three-year warranty. However, router guru Pat Warner warns that mid-sized routers like this aren't powerful enough for more than brief table-mounted use.
If you want to work mainly in a router table, the larger 3.25-hp (15-amp) Triton TRC001 (also known at some retailers as the TRA001 (*Est. $270)) plunge router has similar features to the Triton MOF001C, with more power for heavy-duty continuous use or for deep cuts in hardwood. However, instead of coming with two collets (half-inch and quarter-inch), it comes with a half-inch collet plus a quarter-inch adapter. This seems like a minor difference, but a 2006 comparison review in Workbench magazine finds that it does cause some bit slippage -- a major drawback in a wood router.
In this bigger size range, reviews prefer the 15-amp Bosch 1619EVS (*Est. $280) , although the Triton gets points for better dust control, easier bit-changing and a longer warranty. The Bosch 1619EVS has a big 3.75-inch base opening for excellent visibility and ease of use with large bits, while the Triton base opening is 3.125 inches, just above the minimum that reviews recommend. Like the Triton wood routers, Bosch routers have variable-speed and soft-start motors with electronic speed control, but the Bosch carries only a one-year warranty.
Judging by earlier reviews of Festool routers praising their dust control, precision and quality build, we'd have expected the 3.25-hp Festool OF 2000 Basic router (*Est. $500) to do well in comparative tests. However, four different comparison reviews rank other routers a better buy. The Festool plunge routers are designed for handheld use, while the routers discussed above also work well mounted in a router table. Workbench magazine finds the Festool router's controls and depth adjustment awkward, too. The Festool router doesn't come with a quarter-inch collet, and has only a single-stage depth adjustment, which slows the process. Festool has just released the more powerful Festool OF 2200 (*Est. $800), which includes some new features including better dust collection. We have not yet seen any reviews of this model.