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The Rockler FX lift was tested with both the Bosch 1617 (left) and Porter Cable 890 series (right) motors. Both fit the lift correctly and performed very well.
Click image to enlarge

Rockler Router Lift FX #27956

Finally, a lift for the masses!

Text & Photos by Tom Hintz

 A nice router table with a lift is on the wish list of most woodworkers. Unfortunately, the prospect of buying an expensive lift and an equally high-dollar router motor to put in it sends costs soaring well outside the bounds of many budgets.
   Fortunately, reality has arrived in the form of the Rockler Router Lift FX 27956.
   The first thing that piqued my interest in the Rockler FX was that it is designed to accept the most common routers found in our shops, the Porter Cable 890 (and 690) series and the Bosch 1617's. It also fits DeWalt models 610, 616 and 618. The popularity of these routers in the home wood shop means this capability alone often cuts hundreds of dollars from the router table budget.
   In addition, installing or removing the router motor is accomplished in seconds with the simple flip of a lever. This further negates the need for an additional router motor dedicated to the router table.

Initial Observations

    The Rockler FX lift, manufactured exclusively for Rockler by JessEm, appears to be first class in materials and workmanship throughout. The clamping and operating mechanism below the plate is finely machined, strong, smooth-operating and surprisingly simple in design. These are all favorable traits in a product I use often.
   The Rockler FX kit includes the lift itself, a 1 ½" insert, insert wrench and a plug-in crank for adjusting bit height. A nicely written instruction sheet, including clear photos, makes setting up and adjusting the Rockler FX simple and fast.

The Plate

The insert kit provides all the options necessary to close the gap around most bits safely. The wrench is included with the base lift kit.
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   Machined from ¾"-thick phenolic material, the Rockler FX plate appears strong enough to resist sagging under the weight of anything up to a small Buick. The router motors it is designed for pose no problem.
   The top surface of the Rockler FX plate is flat and catch-free thanks to a slick laminate covering and cleanly countersunk fasteners. Wood slides easily across the Rockler FX without worry of scratching or catches that could ruin a cut.
   The center hole is 3 5/8"-diameter overall and accepts specially designed inserts to reduce the gap around the bit. A 1 ½"-diameter insert is included with the lift and an insert kit that includes ¼", ½", 1 ¼" and 2 ½" hole sizes is available separately. The 1 ¼" insert has a recess that allows installing the popular Porter Cable guide bushings to further extend the capabilities of the lift plate and router table.
  The inserts are secured in the lift plate by a tab-lock system that holds them flat and tight. A special wrench for installing and removing the inserts is also included with the lift.
   The plate is leveled in the table recess with eight Allen screws around its edges. Though I have used this lift plate heavily, the leveling screws have not moved at all from their original setting when the plate was installed.
   To make freehand routing safer, a starting pin is included and can be installed in threaded holes to the left or right of the bit.

Motor Mounting

The motor clamping system is simple, adjustable and very effective.
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   A single lever secures the router motor solidly in the lift. The locking mechanism is easily adjusted to precisely fit the motor case diameter. Throughout the in-shop testing, motor position in the lift mechanism was monitored with no slippage noted.
   Because the clamping rings grab the round portion of the housing, the motor can be installed in virtually any position needed to make the On/Off switch and speed control dial accessible. Being able to position the On/Off switch can save another $20 to $30 off the cost of building a router table by eliminating the purchase of an external switch.
   The motor can also be "cheated" up or down in the mounting rings to accommodate unusually long or short bits. As long as both mounting rings are fully on the straight portions of the motor sides, clamping is secure.
   This mounting system makes installing or removing the router motor tool-less and extremely fast. This is important when dedicating a router to the router table is not in the budget.

Lift Mechanism

Quality bushings on precision-ground 5/8"-diameter shafts keep the lift stable.
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   Precision-machined from 6061 aluminum, the lift mechanism is surprisingly simple in design but very accurate and tough. The mechanism, equipped with long oil-less bushings, slides on a pair of precision-ground 5/8"-diameter columns. The clamping plates are also secured to the threaded height adjustment rod, effectively triangulating the mechanism and making it exceptionally rigid.
   Bit height is adjusted by inserting the included crank in a socket on the top of the lift plate. A re-positionable scale ring surrounding the crank socket allows re-setting the "zero" position to use the clearly marked graduations to make even tiny bit height changes with extreme accuracy.
   The height adjustment system uses a fine threaded rod in place of the chain and sprocket mechanism found on many other lift designs. In all of my testing, the height mechanism resisted dust contamination and remained smooth operating even when routing MDF.
   The Rockler FX lift height adjuster need not be locked in

A threaded shaft handle height changes plus stabilizes the rest of the lift.
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position thanks to a patented thread-tensioning device. The tensioning collar is adjustable by the user to compensate for wear should any occur. Illustrated instructions are included for this and other lift adjustments and maintenance tasks. Bit Changing
   In most cases, bits can be changed from above the table. This can be compromised by installing the motor lower in the bracket to accommodate extended length cutters. In these cases, removing the lift plate and laying it on the table to change the bit is simple and nearly as fast. Throughout testing the lift had to be removed only once to change bits and that was with a 2"-long pattern bit installed.In The Shop
Note: The Rockler FX lift was used extensively in my shop, alternating between the Bosch 1617 and Porter Cable 890 motors. To keep the locking lever tension correct a very small adjustment of that mechanism was necessary when changing from one brand to the other. Removing and replacing either of the motors required no adjustments of the clamping system.

This scale ring can be re-positioned. It's fine graduations make even tiny height changes easy and very accurate.
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Using the Rockler FX lift is a pleasure. Being able to adjust bit height with such accuracy and speed makes using the router table much more efficient.
   The positionable scale ring makes even tiny bit height adjustments simple and exceptionally precise. Throughout my testing, whatever change was dialed in at the scale ring produced exactly that amount at the work piece. This level of precision makes setting a specific cut, or sneaking up on one, much faster and easier.
   Each full revolution of the height adjustment handle yields 1/16" of change at the bit. The scale ring has easy-to-read graduations with four labeled markings indicating 1/64" increments, major hash marks between each of them denoting 1/128" of change and three fine hash marks on either side of those! Spacecraft have been built with less accuracy.

   
The adjusting handle makes even very fine height changes easy!
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   I ran a 3 ½"-diameter panel raising bit in the Rockler FX using both the Bosch and Porter Cable 2 ¼ HP routers with no signs of the motors straining or slowing unusually. The results were perfect with no chattering or distorted cuts. An Infinity vertical panel-raising bit was also put through the same tests, again using the Bosch and Porter Cable routers with no vibration or power problems. The Infinity bit left a crisp, smooth and wave free finish.
   In over two months, my Rockler FX lift has been used for all common operations including dados, rabbets, grooves, pattern cuts and more. None produced any problems. The Rockler FX remained steady and held all adjustments even during extended dado cuts in rather large pieces of plywood.

Conclusions
   The Rockler FX router lift is a great value for virtually any woodworker but especially those with small budgets. Being designed around 2 ¼ HP router motors that so many of us already have or can buy at very good prices make it even more desirable. These new-era router motors have the power needed for virtually any routing job and combined with the Rockler FX, can be used in a full-sized router table with exceptional accuracy.

   If a router lift is on your list of must-have tools, check out the Rockler FX. I did and decided to design the Newwoodworker.com Router Table Plan around it. Now, with over two months of use (at the time of this writing) under my belt, I remain very happy I did.

Resources

NewWoodworker.com Router Table Plan

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