Router lifts add a serious amount of convenience to working with your router table – they provide a rock-solid platform and make it easy to adjust your bit height, swap out bits, and much more. With the help of a carpenter of 23 years, we researched 12 popular router lifts and compared them in several aspects including ease of use, build quality, and adjustment precision. When the scoring was finished, the INCRA Mast-R-Lift II captured our vote as the best router lift. Its adjustment mechanism is by far the smoothest and easiest to use, it offers extreme precision (0.001" increments), and it features a unique locking system to keep your router in place while working. Article Summary
If you have a router table in your shop, you know what a pain it can be when you need to adjust your bit height. Not only do you have to fumble around below the table, but it often takes several rounds of trial and error before you get the height exactly where you want it. Changing bits is the same story. You have to go through nearly the entire process of disassembly just to swap from a straight bit to a round-over.
If you work with your router table often, investing in a lift can save you a serious amount of time and headaches. For those unfamiliar with how a router lift works – it’s basically a mount for your router with a built-in adjustment mechanism that uses a series of plates and guide shafts to give you extremely fine control over its height. So instead of mounting your router directly to your regular router table, you mount it to the lift, and the lift is mounted to the table. From there, you use the lift for all your height adjustments and bit changes.
Since router lifts are a rather advanced and intricate piece of equipment, even the smallest changes in material and design can have a huge effect on how well a particular model works. Knowing this, we asked for help from a carpenter with over 23 years of experience in the field, and together we reviewed 12 router lifts that are commonly used in wood shops today. We compared things like build quality, ease of use, versatility, and many other aspects in order to find the best router lift of all. After nearly three days of research and a process of elimination, we’ve narrowed down the list to the following three lifts which we believe offer the highest level of quality and convenience.
The best router lift overall
No matter what your reason for wanting a router lift, the INCRA Mast-R-Lift II is the answer. INCRA is a powerhouse when it comes to tools, and this lift is a perfect representation of the company’s commitment to quality and precision-built products.
Saying the Mast-R-Lift II is well-built would be an understatement – not only in terms of durability, but also in its technical design. The guide shaft mechanism, top plate, and ring system are all machined from a combination of steel and hard-anodized cast aluminum to keep the lift light yet durable. There are five total reducer rings included, and all use INCRA’s unique magnetic locking system (called MagnaLOCK) which ensures the rings stay in place during use while also allowing them to be easily swapped out to adapt to different projects.
The aspects that really shine on this lift are the fine controls and drive. The guide shaft mechanism uses a system of sealed ball bearings to create an incredibly smooth drive – so low-friction that you can literally move even the heaviest of routers with just a single finger. Measurements can be made in increments of 0.001”, making it arguably the most precise lift out there, and there’s also a built-in measurement key to help you find the right height without having to rely on hand measurements and second guesses. On top of that, despite the super-precise increments, that doesn’t make this lift as slow as many others out there. The drive is more than capable of moving quick if you need it to.
Compatibility is another major benefit of the Mast-R-Lift II. Most router lifts are only capable of working with a few routers out of the box. Some can expand their compatibility if you purchase expensive adapters, but the last thing you want to do is add more cost into the equation – lifts are already expensive enough as it is. This is why INCRA has designed this lift to work with 18 of the most popular routers currently available, giving it the highest compatibility rating of any router lift on the market. Compatible routers are listed below:
• Porter-Cable 7518, 690-699 series, & 890-899 series
• Bosch 1617EVS & 1618
• DeWalt DW610 & DW618
• Makita RF1101 & RD1101
• Hitachi M12VC & KM12VC
• Milwaukee 5625, 5615, 5616, & 5619
• Craftsman 17543, 17540, & 28190
• Ridgid R29302
As far as tables go, the standard version of this lift (plate size of 9.25” x 11.75”) is designed to work with all INCRA router tables plus a few other brands, and there is a special edition available (plate size of 8.25” x 1.75”) for fitment with Rockler and Bench Dog tables. Either way, if you already have a router table in your shop, it’s always smart to measure it ahead of time just to be sure which size you’ll need.
The sheer quality of its machining makes the INCRA Mast-R-Lift II a great contender, but once you add in its benefits of fine controls, ease of use, and versatility, it’s easy to see why it has earned the title of best router lift overall. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but as we all know, tools are an investment – and this one is built to last a lifetime with ease.
A great bang for your buck
If the INCRA lift is too far out of budget, the JessEm Rout-R-Lift II is a lighter-duty option that’s much easier on the wallet. While it’s a little less advanced than our top pick, it still offers great functionality, a solid drive mechanism, and easy locking for safety.
Take a look at the image above. Do you notice how similar this lift looks compared to the INCRA model? Now look at their names – “Mast-R-Lift” and “Rout-R-Lift” – does something seem a bit familiar to you? In case you’re scratching your head wondering whether one of these companies ripped off the other, don’t worry, neither company is in the wrong here. This just reveals a little secret that many people don’t realize: INCRA and JessEm may be two completely separate companies, but JessEm is the manufacturer behind both lifts.
The next obvious question you’re probably asking yourself – “If JessEm makes both lifts, doesn’t that mean they’re exactly the same? Then why is the INCRA lift double the price?” Although JessEm builds both models, the two are not the same. Think of JessEm’s Rout-R-Lift as the little-brother-budget-version of INCRA’s Mast-R-Lift. It’s still awesome quality and offers several of the same features, but it lacks a few of the advancements that makes the INCRA so beneficial. Whether or not these advancements are important to you is completely personal preference, though, so let’s go over the differences.
First, the Rout-R-Lift is a little lighter-duty. This means it weighs less (9 lbs compared to INCRA’s 14 lbs), which can be a good thing if your router table isn’t super strong, but we prefer the INCRA’s heavier-duty build because we feel it’s a bit more sturdy to work with as well as more durable for the long term. The top plate isn’t quite as polished (in other words, it has more holes and inserts) either, so it may gather dust easier, but that’s not the end of the world. The drive mechanism also isn’t quite as smooth (it only has two ball bearings compared to INCRA’s five), but the important thing is that it’s still precise, adjusting in 0.001″ increments. In addition, there’s still a built-in measurement marker for easy adjustability as well as a locking screw to keep the router from slipping or sinking down during use.
Despite the technical differences above, JessEm’s lift offers very close to the same level of versatility. It only comes with one reducer ring compared to INCRA’s five, but it’s still compatible with 18 different routers. The thing to be aware of here is that it does not come this way out of the box – you have to buy a specific version of the lift depending on your router. Below, we’ve listed which version (aka model number) goes with which routers:
• Model #02310 – Porter-Cable 690 & 890, DeWalt 610, 616, & 618, Bosch 1617 & 1618, and Craftsman 17543, 17540, & 28190
• Model #02311 – Makita 1101
• Model #02312 – Hitachi M12VC & KM2VC
• Model #02313 – Milwaukee 5615, 5616, & 5619
• Model #02314 – Rigid 29302
If you’re looking for a lift that will get the job done without breaking the bank, the JessEm Rout-R-Lift II is probably the best bang for your buck out there. It may have a few limitations compared to our top pick, but it’s still far better than most other models available.
A heavy-duty alternative
If our top pick somehow wasn’t heavy-duty enough for you, the Bench Dog 40-150 ProLift has you covered. This 25-pound beast of a lift is as sturdy as it gets, which has earned it a great reputation among woodworkers. However, it does have a few drawbacks that dropped it to third place on our list.
Let’s start with the positives. As mentioned above, this router is super heavy-duty, machined and precision-ground from cast iron. You’re going to want to have a strong router table if you plan to drop this bad boy into it. The durable build makes it great to work with because of how sturdy it is, and it also means you can count on this lift to last a lifetime in your shop. In addition to its strength, the drive mechanism is smooth and accurate, keeping your measurements quick and precise.
Our biggest issue with this router lift is the fact that you have to lock and unlock the drive mechanism from the underside of the unit. Router lifts are meant to eliminate the hassle of going under the table, so this was a bit of a letdown compared to our other picks which have locking mechanisms built right into the top plate for easy access. Speaking of the top plate, the other issue we have is the lack of a built-in measuring system on top. To measure your bit heights, you have to snap it onto the speed key before lowering and raising. This isn’t a huge bother, but it adds another step between you and a correctly raised (or lowered) router bit.
Versatility is an area that offers both good and bad points. The good thing is that this lift is compatible with a variety of different routers and tables, which makes it more versatile than many of the other lifts on the market. The bad thing, however, is that it doesn’t come this way out of the box. You have to purchase adapter plates individually for your specific router. It’s common to have to purchase adapters separate, but when you have a brand like INCRA that includes everything right off the bat, it’s easy to see why we’d recommend that over this.
If you have a router table that offers easy access to the underside and you don’t mind reaching under to lock and unlock for every adjustment, then the Bench Dog 40-150 ProLift is a great choice. It offers unparalleled durability that you can count on for decades – especially with its lifetime warranty.
How we picked our top three
Router lifts often share a similar design, but functionality can vary depending on a few different aspects. To explain what we mean, and show you how we chose the three models in our guide over their competitors, we broke down several of these aspects below.
Ease of use
Although most of the router lifts on the market are pretty similar in terms of function and mechanism, everyone knows that some tools are just easier to use than others. And since the main reason people buy router lifts is because of their convenience, this was one of our top considerations when comparing models. To judge this, we not only looked at operational design (aka how to use each model), we also read experiences from customers who actually own and use each lift on a daily basis. We scored lifts based on the feedback from these two bits of research and made sure our top picks offered an above-average ease of use and reasonably simple setup.
One thing that will always be tricky with woodworking power tools is compatibility. Bits have to be compatible with drills, blades have to be compatible with saws, and in this case, lifts have to be compatible with both router tables and the routers themselves. There are always jigs and workarounds, but getting a lift that is compatible with both your table and router will save you a lot of frustration while setting up your routing workspace. The lifts on our list aren’t compatible with every router and table out there (it’s nearly impossible to be 100% universal due to the varying design of different brands of routers and tables), but they are extremely cross-compatible with several models of both.
There are several parts of a router lift that can affect how well it holds up over time. The first aspect is obviously its build quality, which includes parts and materials. In addition, the design of its drive mechanism is a major component, and so is care and maintenance. With these things in mind, we took a close look at the design of each lift along with its manufacturing process to judge durability and figure out how long each model could reasonably last under regular day-to-day use. Obviously, the longer the better, and the models we chose had proven their strength.
Massive businesses have been built on the simple development of woodworking accessories, and most shops are littered with them. The more accessories included with a router lift, the better, whether it’s extra screws, an Allen key, or something more important like different rings for the router plate. Not all of our router lifts offer a smattering of extra accessories, but the ones that did were given slightly more consideration due to their value.
Things to consider before buying
Every wood shop is different, so what works in your shop might not be ideal in another. Tools vary, space varies, and much more. To find the best router lift for your personal work space, make the following considerations.
What kind of router and table do you have?
As mentioned in our “how we picked’ section, compatibility is a major aspect of consideration when it comes to buying a lift. Router lifts are not universal, meaning you need to make sure the model you buy is designed to work with your specific router and table. For your convenience, we’ve listed each model’s compatibility within our reviews above, but it’s always smart to double-check your router’s model number and measure your router table’s space. Also, keep in mind that some models do require the purchase of additional adapters for proper installation (we’ve also noted in our reviews whether the model in question requires additional adapters, or whether everything is included with purchase).
How strong is your router table?
If you’ve purchased a router table from a reputable brand like INCRA, JessEm, or Bench Dog, then this question doesn’t really apply to you. Tables from reputable brands are typically very strong and more than capable of supporting a router lift. This question is more for the woodworkers who have a table from a less-known brand, or those who’ve chosen to make their own table from scratch. We don’t doubt your skills in the shop – we just want to remind you that lifts can be heavy (they vary from 10-25 lbs), so make sure your table is capable of supporting that kind of weight (remember, once installed, this is going to be weighing your table down 24 hours a day).
Tasks that are easier with a router lift
Having a router lift makes a lot of things easier, but what are they exactly? Besides stating the obvious sentiment that every project involving the use of a router table is easier with a lift (which it is), there are a few key examples that come to mind.
Changing bits in the middle of a project (or several times throughout a project) can be a hassle, and it usually involves under-the-table adjustments or completely taking the router out of the housing to make adjustments. With a router lift, you can simply raise the bit until the housing is above the table, make the change, then lower it back down to the desired height. This versatility gives you endless possibilities for projects without sacrificing your precious shop time.
There are a wide variety of pieces and projects out there that require the cutting of a groove. Unless you have a plunge router mounted under your table, vertical adjustments for variation in your groove depth is going to present a lot of headaches as you go back and forth under the table trying to find the right height. Router lifts allow you to very easily raise and lower the depth of the bit to an accurate height so you can get perfect grooves without endless practice passes and calibrations.
Raised door projects
Raised door panels are an extremely popular look in cabinetry, but changing bits and making long passes with a handheld router (with or without a router table) can be tricky. Being able to simply change the bit and adjust the height in less than a minute will make your raised door panel projects fly by with ease.
If you’re trying to create decorative edges and 1/18th of an inch adjustment can be the difference between ruin and a spectacular finish, the ability to precisely control your bit height is of the utmost importance. Instead of fiddling around with plunge settings or getting under the table, router lifts allow you to get the perfect height with a simple twist of the wrist.
Dovetail and box joints
Dovetail and box joints are some of the most popular joints out there due to their visual splendor. While some of us might be more inclined to the dovetail saw-and-chisel method, more industrious and tech-embracing woodworkers can use a router lift to set the perfect depth to their tails. You’ll need a jig, so having a fence handy on your router table is a must.
Other accessories that make routing easier
A router lift is itself an accessory – however, there are still other accessories you’ll want (or need) to make the most of your routing setup. There is heated debate on whether some of these products are necessities or luxuries, but we’ll let you decide for yourself.
In our opinion, a fence is a must-have for routing tables. “Eyeballing it” is not going to cut it with many routing techniques as they require a sensitive level of precision. Whether you purchase one pre-built or decide to make your own, a fence will allow you to keep your board straight while making your passes. Featherboards are an additional accessory that can be attached to the fence to help keep the board flat against the table and also to prevent kickback.
Dovetail jigs, box joint jigs, curved jigs, jagged jigs – no matter what your project, there’s probably either a jig or plans for a jig for it. Unless you do a lot of experimenting, you probably won’t need to pick up a ton of jigs with your router lift, but one or two versatile jigs can shave even more time off of your projects than the lift already does.
Wrapping it up
Router lifts are an extremely handy add-on to any router table setup. They take away almost all of the hassle of using a router table, and they also open up your setup’s versatility to take on different projects (or simply add a new dimension to your existing projects). We named the INCRA Mast-R-Lift II as the best router table overall, but at the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with any of the three picks in our guide. All offer convenience, durability, quality, and value.