The second part of this week's Porter Cable 450 review is a closer look at the kit version, the Porter Cable 450PK. This version adds a plunge base to the package. We heard rumors that this base turns the 450 into one of the best plunge routers available today. The fixed base model certainly left a good impression. Let's take a look at what the plunge kit can do.
The Porter Cable 450PK compact router kit
The 450PK kit comes with a motor, a fixed base, a plunge base, and a cloth storage bag. The motor unit and fixed base have been reviewed in depth in the review of the fixed-base version, the Porter Cable 450. The highlights are a follows:
The motor is very powerful for such a small router. With a soft start feature, a built-in spindle lock, and full metal body it is a well built unit. The single speed setting spoils what would have been near perfect marks.
The fixed base is one of best fixed base designs out there. Built from a single piece of metal it secures the motor better than just about any other base. The depth adjustment feature is supremely accurate and easy to use. The user can make fine adjustments with ease. In this configuration the 450 is one of the best trim routers out there. It combines full size router performance with the agility of a trim router. Like the plunge base performance suffers as the bit gets larger.
If you want to learn more about the motor and fixed-base, read the review of the PC 450.
The Plunge Base
The plunge base follows the design of many other Proter Cable routers. The motor slides into the base and bottoms out on a metal lip. The depth adjustment ring of the fixed base is not used, but can remain on the motor as long as it is position high enough on the motor as to not interfere with the plunge base. A latch secures the motor in place. Like the motor mount of the fixed base, the mount of the plunge base is exceptional. It holds the motor in place without deforming the base.
This system is one of the best available today. The motor is secured in the same place every time. Locking the latch does not move the motor, like can on split-base models. It adds significant value to the package and increases the accuracy of the router, especially over time. The 450PK was engineered to last.
The plunge lever is spring loaded. The plunge mechanism is locked by default. To change the depth of the router the user must push the lever toward the handle with his thumb and hold it there. This unlocks the plunge mechanism. Simply releasing the lever locks the router in place. This system makes quick changes in depth very easy. Since the lock lever is out of the way, both hands are free to guide the router through a cut. The lever secures the router motor very firmly. If you have your doubts, you can further firm up the lock by pushing the lever beyond the position the spring moves it to.
The depth stop of the 450PK follows a design found on many DeWalt and Porter Cable plunge router. A rod on the left side of the router limits the maximum plunge depth of the unit. A set screw allows the rod to be moved up or down independently of the base. The router bottoms out when the rod hits a stop block built into the base of the router. So far this is standard fair found on many other routers. Porter Cable added a few features that take the basic design a little further.
The stop block in the base rotates and locks into place in five position. Four of the five positions adjust the plunge depth 1/4" at a time for a maximum change of 1". The fifth is a custom depth stop that can be adjusted with a screwdriver. This feature comes in handy when making stock cuts. A 1/4" height change is never more than a turn away.
For making extra fine adjustments there is a threaded insert at the bottom of the depth rod. This piece changes the length of the rod as it turns on the threads milled into the rod. If you want to change the plunge depth by just a hair, rotate the insert a quarter turn. This method is more repeatable and accurate than the light tap other routers require.
At the top of the rod there is a built in depth scale with a movable pointer. The scale can be used to track the maximum plunge depth of the router. To do this the user first needs to bottom out the rod on the stop block and set the scale to zero. As the bar is moved up the pointer indicates the maximum plunge depth. Simply pick the desired depth limit and lock the bar in place. Setup is complete. The scale reads only in imperial units (or metric, depending on where you purchased your router) and is accurate down to 1/64".
The Base Plate and Sub Base
The base plate of the 450PK is an important part in what makes the router so versatile. Two straight and parallel edges allow the user to choose which side of the router to position against a guide fence. The sub base overlaps the edges of the metal base to ensure a true and straight edge is contact with the guide fence. The router will always be in the best position for the user.
The sub base is made from clear plastic. Like the fixed base version the sub base has built-in slots for dust collection and ridges for collet installation. The sub base is removable. The kit does not ship with the base centering tool that is needed to properly install the sub base.
The plunge base can be used with the optional Porter Cable edge guide system. Guide rods can be installed on three sides of the router. Thumb screws, which are not included in the kit, secure the rods.
By default the 450PK does not include any dust collection for both the fixed base and the plunge base. Both models require an optional dust shroud specific to each base to be installed.
Each shroud is made from clear plastic as to not obstruct the user's view of the bit. This works only partially well. The bit is still visible, but the view is far from good.
The dust shroud for the plunge base completely encloses the bit above the base plate. It funnels the dust up a ramp built into the base to a dust port. When connected to a vacuum this setup collects almost all dust. Slots in the base plate allow the vac to draw air from below the router. Some dust escapes below the bit, especially when very long cutters are used or the bit is exposed below the base plate.
The shroud installs securely on the base with a simple thumb screw. When tightened down the shroud does not move. This is very important, because the shroud supports the weight of the dust hose attached to it. One of the most impressive features of the 450PK plunge base is how easy it to operate with a dust hose attached. The user can control the router with both hands on the handles and not have to worry about the dust hose.
The DeWalt DWP611PK, the superior option
The closest competitor of the 450PK is the DeWalt DWP611PK. The two tools are so close, in fact, that they may just come of the same assembly line. Black&Decker, Porter Cable's parent, also owns DeWalt. The two tools share so many features that they could be a single tool.
Unfortunately for the 450PK the DWP611PK has a couple of features that make it the clear winner in this comparison. In addition to offering everything the 450PK offers, the DWP611 has a variable speed motor and built-in LED lights that illuminate the cutting area. Both of these features make for a significantly better experience in the main usage scenario of these tools. The DWP611PK in it's plunge base configuration is so good in fact, that it may be the best inlay router on the market today. If the price is right, the DWP611PK is the better choice.
The Storage Bag
The bag that is included in the kit is nothing more than a glorified shopping bag. There are no dividers in the bag; not even a sleeve. The pieces of the kit are left to bang into each other. The ability to organize things inside this bag is as limited as it is in a trash bag.
I really don't care for the cloth bags included with tools these days. If I want one, I can find a generic bag to throw my tools into. They are not a replacement for a good hard tool case. If you see this differently, the bag certainly fulfills its function. I won't be using mine for what it was made for.
The plunge base transforms the 450PK into a full size router with trim router handling. Every feature you'd want on a router is there. The small size of the router make it more agile than any full size router. Starting with bit changes every task flows faster with the 450PK.
The 450PK is a great router for anyone who does not want to fight a heavy router. Users with limited strength or small hands will find the 450PK easier to control. This is a good router for students, or anyone who is intimidated by the large 3HP machines.
Inlay work in particular flows very easily with the 450PK. The combination of power and small size may just make this router the best router for inlay work there is. When you do not need a heavy router to tame a large bit, the small size of the 450PK make very small movements of the router easier. Best of all, the 450PK does not sacrifice quality of cut like some trim routers do. I'd go as far as to say that a router of this size should be in your collection, if you do a lot inlay work.
The fixed base offers one of the best edge routing experience available today. Meant to be held in one hand, the relatively powerful motor of the 450PK makes short work of light duty routing tasks. The excellent motor mount in the fixed base assures a square, smooth, and repeatable cut.
Not everything is rosy, however. As the bit size and cutting depth increase so does the instability of the router. The low mass of the router's body cannot dampen vibrations coming from the bit. When the bit catches and edge, the router jumps. If the bit is set to cut aggressively, the router jumps a lot. In these situations the 450PK becomes hard to handle. It is by no means a replacement for a full size router, or even a large plunge router. It can do the job if you are careful, but the experience cannot be called a good one.
The 450PK is a great package. You get one of the best trim routers and what could be the best small plunge base all in one package. If I was new to woodworking I would get this kit. It does so many things better than anything else out there. Even if you get a larger router the 450PK will never get replaced. In addition it does many things well enough to be a good option most of the time. It's low weight makes it more maneuverable and easier to use than a full size router. For inlay work in particular, there is only one router better than this one.
The 450PK can't do it all, however. The low weight of the unit makes deep cuts unstable at best, and hazardous at worst. There is still a place for the full size router in the shop. The 450PK does the small work better than anything else.
After having said all that I have to tell you to ignore the 450PK and purchase the DeWalt DWP611PK. The DeWalt is virtually identical to the 450PK, with the exception of having two essential features the 450PK does not have. At almost the same price there simply is no reason to purchase the 450PK. The DWP611PK may just be the best inlay router money can buy. The Porter Cable 450PK finds itself in the awkward position of being a clear second to a tool that probably came from the same assembly line. Back&Decker, the parent of both Porter Cable and DeWalt, made this one happen. Don't buy brands on this one. The yellow one is better.
- small and agile
- powerful motor, useful for general woodworking
- excellent plunge mechanism
- good dust collection with the optional shroud
- motor mount made from a single piece of metal
- excellent plunge lever
- fixed speed only
- the clone, the DWP611, is better
- dust shroud is an accessory