Routers are some of my favorite tools to review. There are so many things about a router that a manufacturer can get right or wrong. It's impossible to judge a router based on a few pictures on a website.
This week I got my hands on the Bosch MRF23EVS router, a tool I erroneously though would be just another average router. Let's take a look at what's so special about the MRF23EVS.
The Bosch MRF23EVS Router
The MRF23EVS is a variable speed router from Bosch. Some say it is the spiritual successor of the excellent 1617 Series router, one of the most widely used routers of the past decade. Bosch deserves credit for managing to improve on the 1617 series in almost every way with the MRF23EVS.
The build quality of the unit could not be any better. Parts cast from metal and thick plastic are everywhere. This give the MRF23EVS the physical presence necessary to act as a stable routing platform.
The 15 amp motor is one of the most powerful amongst multi-base routers. A knob on the front of the motor varies the router's speed from 10,000 to 25,000 rpm. This gives the MRF23EVS the power necessary to drive large diameter bits, as well as the finesse for running small ones. A long power cord made from pliable rubber connected to the router through a flexible ball joint adds convince to the impressive stats.
The powerful motor, exceedingly heavy construction, incredibly useful work lights, and excellent depth adjustment mechanism place the MRF23EVS amongst the router elite.
The MRF23EVS's most prominent feature is the trigger built into the right handle of the base. The operator can turn the router on without taking his or her hands off the handles. The trigger lock is within easy reach as well. Having the trigger on the handle is a significant improvement over every other router on the market, which have their power switches somewhere on the motor unit. This dynamic may not seem all that useful to anyone used to the old way, but most users will find it convenient after only a few cuts.
Another useful feature this generation of routers brings into the workshop are two LEDs built into the base of the motor unit. They illuminate the area around the bit when the router is plugged in. While this addition might seem trivial at first, the lights are incredibly useful and clearly differentiate this router from any model not similarly equipped. Being able to see better improves the cut.
The Fixed Base
The fixed base is made from a single piece of cast metal. The compression clamp that secures the motor does not split the base. This gives the base and, by association, the motor great stability. The clamp takes very little force to actuate, but locks the motor unit in place firmly. The motor does not move even the slightest amount when the clamp is closed. You can be confident that the bit spins in a constant orientation and that the router maintains its depth setting until you open the clamp again.
The motor sits a little high in the base, especially when the bit is raised. The router cannot be called top heavy, but it does not handle as well in these circumstances as the best fixed base routers do.
The clear plastic sub base protrudes a 1/8 of an inch all around the circumference of the router. This creates a constant distance from the edge of the sub base to the center of the bit. Unfortunately the kit does not include the centering guide necessary to position the sub base properly. You'll have to pay extra for it. The sub base with the larger opening is an accessory as well.
The LED lights combined with the translucent sub base elevate visibility around the bit to new heights. You can see the bit making the cut, material being fed into it, and the edge it leaves behind.
The sub base opening does not have grooves for self centering guide bushings. You'll either have to purchase Bosch's guide bushing kit, or make certain your bushing work with the MRF23EVS's sub base. Bosch should have made this easier for their customers.
The Depth Adjustment Mechanism
The motor of the MRF23EVS rides up and down along a threaded rod in the rear of the base. A tight fit between the walls of the fixed base and the motor unit ensures the bit stays centered and that the motor unit moves smoothly. A metal clamp disengages the motor unit from the rod for making coarse depth adjustments. A knob with a built in scale acts as the fine adjustment mechanism. A full turn of the knob moves the motor a 1/16 of an inch.
The scale just below the knob rotates freely. It can be zeroed-out independently of the position of the motor unit. It has tick marks every 1/256 of an inch, and an accuracy level of +/- 1/512 on an inch. Best of all, the scale is intuitive to use and hard to misread. This keeps silly measuring mistakes at a minimum, which is an essential property of any scale.
When the router is installed in a router table the mechanism can be actuated from above the table. The kit includes the necessary key to do so, which is simultaneously welcome and an odd choice considering that most accessories are missing.
As a whole the MRF23EVS has one of the best depth adjustment mechanism of any routers I have ever tested. Every part of the mechanism achieves accuracy and utility through simplicity instead of mechanical complexity. The MRF23EVS will maintain its excellent accuracy as it ages, and does not require regular maintenance or attention.
All MRF23EVS kits include no dust management features whatsoever. The motor's downdraft ejects all the dust the bit produces through the hole in the sub base or out the open sides. If you want to contain any of it, you'll have to purchase the either the RA1176AT dust shroud, or the RA1054 parallel guide, which comes with its own shroud.
While the RA1176AT shroud does funnel all dust to the collector, it is too small to fit around larger bits. Instead of enclosing the entire space below the motor with two walls of clear plastic, Bosch opted to wrap the the bit with a plastic shell roughly 2" in diameter. This leaves the end user with no dust collection when running large bits.
The LED lights built into the bottom of the motor keep visibility high despite the semi-transparent nature of the shroud. Dust collection below the bit is excellent with both the dust shroud, and the parallel guide. When edge routing in this configuration only a little dust escapes at the start and end of the cut when the bit is not supported by the work piece.
In the woodshop the MRF23EVS is a pleasure to use. It puts no foot wrong starting with the fast, intuitive setup, and ending with a clean edge. Being able to position the router without taking your hands off the handles gives the MRF23EVS a fluid, unencumbered feel. Your attention never strays from the bit and the cut. The hefty weight and good stability of the router convey a well deserved sense of confidence.
The soft start feature could have been implemented more smoothly. Despite the motor powering up slowly, there is a noticeable jerk when the power comes on. Motor power remains high at slow speed. No matter the task, the MRF23EVS has more than enough power to see it through. This router won't slow you down.
What the MRF23EVS does not do well is solely defined by the missing accessories. The lack of a large diameter sub base kept me from testing larger bits. How well the router handles when using templates depends solely on the guide bushing set you are using. Only the router's high center of gravity when the motor unit is extended above the mid point of its range can be considered an intrinsic flaw of the MRF23EVS. Handling suffers a little in this configuration, but can only be called inferior compared to the best routers on the market.
Durability is without reproach in all scenarios. I was not able to even slightly tax the motor in my tests. The MRF23EVS was undoubtedly engineered for industrial use. It'll perform well in a commercial shop for a decade or more. In a hobby shop it'll live longer than its owner.
The MRF23EVS is a very strong router with only cosmetic flaws. The trigger built into one of the handles allows the operator to proceed through a cut in one smooth motion. The powerful motor, exceedingly heavy construction, incredibly useful work lights, and excellent depth adjustment mechanism do their part to provide a flawless cutting experience.
The incomplete dust collection options and missing accessories are the only issues that prevent the MRF23EVS from getting an unequivocal buy recommendation. For some tasks Bosch simply does not provide the accessories needed for the MRF23EVS to compete with the best in the business.
As a whole the MRF23EVS is one of the best general purpose routers on the market. It will perform well in any woodshop. Only users with special routing needs should hesitate. Everyone else gets nearly flawless routing performance out of the MRF23EVS.
- trigger on the handle
- convenient trigger lock
- two LED lights illuminate the area around the bit
- incredibly good visibility around the bit
- variable speed
- long, rubber power cord
- flexible power chord connection
- strong, single action motor clamp
- accurate fine adjustment mechanism
- good coarse adjustment mechanism
- above the table depth adjustment when mounted in a router table
- soft start
- won't power on when plugged in and the trigger is locked in the ON position
- kit does not include commonly used accessories (centering guide, large opening sub base)
- sub base does not accept standard bushings
- small, but still usable trigger lock
- dust shroud is an accessory
- no dust shroud option for wide bits