First, we must start with the absolute basics. If you’ve somehow stumbled upon this page and don’t know how you ended up here, you may be wondering “What is an 80% Lower Receiver?”.
An 80% Lower Receiver is, for the purposes of this post, an otherwise complete AR-15 or AR-308 lower receiver which still requires some machining for it to have the potential of being operational. It’s a paperweight that looks a whole lot like a functional receiver. But it’s not a functional receiver…yet. As far as the ATF is concerned, these unfinished receivers are not considered firearms – because they’re not – and they can be purchased as freely as one would expect to purchase a simple paperweight. Got it?
What would one do with said paperweight, you wonder? Well, with a little free time, some basic experience with common hand tools, and the best darn 80% Lower Receiver Jigs on the market, it’s easy to finish your AR-15 or AR-308 80% Lower Receiver and allow it to become the 100% lower receiver it has always identified as. It just needs a little surgery, some testosterone, and well…you get the point. What it doesn’t need, is a serial number and registration, because it’s homemade. Making more sense now? Good, I think we’re on the same page. Note: We aren’t lawyers, read and understand your state and local laws regarding homemade firearms. For example, California laws are changing as they pertain to homemade firearms. For a full definition and clarification of ATF Ruling 2010-10 regarding 80% Lower Receivers, click here.
Anyway, the concept is nothing new and if you’re still unclear, please feel free to contact us for more information. In this post, we’re going to talk about routers. Specifically, which routers are best for finishing an 80% AR-15 or AR-308 lower receiver with our Universal Router Jigs. More recent than the concept of 80% lower receivers themselves, is the concept of being able to finish machine the lower receiver using only a handheld drill and compact router. With a good jig and accompanying specialized end mill cutting tool, machining results of the fire control group pocket rivaling CNC mills can be had in your home garage.
In the course of developing our Router Jig and thus our Universal Router Adapter, we were tasked with purchasing and testing every compact router we could get our hands on. We limited our scope to compact routers because they are much more ideal than full-sized or plunge base routers for this application. They’re cheaper, smaller, sufficiently powerful, and readily available. As we discovered, not all compact routers are created equal. Furthermore, some of our in-store favorites turned out to fall near the bottom of the recommendations list. Conversely, we were surprised by the potent performance of a few routers that we initially didn’t have high hopes for.
Read below for a comprehensive review of the routers we tested and to learn which routers we recommend for use in conjunction with our AR-15 and AR-308 Router Jigs for finishing 80% lower receivers. Ratings are given 1-10; 10 being the best. All of the routers we tested were quality name brand routers, so as one would expect, none of the routers tested received anything less than a 4 rating. The only routers we tested that we absolutely do not recommend are those sold at Harbor Freight branded as Chicago Electric and Drill Master.
Bosch PR20EVSK – Toward the top of the price point for routers tested, but widely available online for $119 or less with a powerful 5.6A variable speed motor. The Bosch PR10E is visually and mechanically similar, but lacks the variable speed option. Both Bosch offerings will work, but some fiddling with the depth adjustment is required. To achieve the minimum depth necessary, the router shroud must be pulled past the built in depth adjustment and extra care must be taken to ensure the shroud is locked to the router body. The relatively high price point and lack of an LED work light are the only other negatives. Rating: 6/10
Bosch PR10E – As mentioned above, the PR10E is the non-variable speed brother of the PR20EVSK. The powerful motor makes the PR10E a good router for the money, but variable speed is a must when finishing aluminum 80% lower receivers with a jig. The PR10E also suffers from the same depth adjustment issues as the PR20EVSK. At the $99 price point, we’d certainly recommend the Makita RT0701C instead. Rating: 4/10
Craftsman 28212 – At $90, the Craftsman is feature rich. Variable speed motor adjustment, LED work lights, and optional dual-handle base. The dual-handle base is compatible with our Router Adapter for added stability and control. During use, we did experience an issue where the motor speed would drop under load. Craftsman advertises a “soft start” feature, which may or may not be what we were experiencing. The depth adjustment is a little clumsy at times, and hard to get right the first time. For these reasons, the Craftsman is not at the top of our recommendations. We have yet to determine whether our router was faulty, or if the speed drop under load is considered normal. Rating: 7/10
DeWalt DWE6000 – This Dewalt lightweight is a very basic router, with none of the features we would expect for $99. It is not variable speed, lacks an LED work light, and feels flimsy. It’s the only router we tested that features a clear plastic shroud rather than die cast aluminum or similar. Initial impressions were so poor as a matter of fact, that we almost left this one on the shelf to collect more dust. However, in testing this router actually performed quite well. Remember the surprises alluded to earlier? This was one of them. We like the screw-type depth adjustment collar, and the collet held tight through our worst abuse. Although not variable speed, we found the fixed speed to be very close to ideal. The clear plastic shroud also allows some light through to the work area, which alleviates some of the concerns of not having an LED work light. Rating: 5/10
DeWalt DWP611 – This is the largest compact router offering from DeWalt. At $129, it’s also one of the most expensive routers we tested. It’s very sturdy feeling, with all the features we look for in a good router. The DeWalt heavyweight features a very powerful 7A motor, variable speed adjustment, and LED work lights. The screw-type depth adjustment collar is very fast and accurate. We did experience some issues with the depth adjustment slipping due to the lock being too loose. A simple adjustment with an Allen wrench solved the issue, but care must be taken to avoid user error. Once the lock was tightened, this router catapulted to the top of our recommendations. It shares the top spot with the Porter Cable PCE 6435. Rating: 10/10
Makita RT0701C – This is one of our favorite routers for the money. At $99, it is a quality and powerful router. We consider the Makita to be the best value of all routers tested, and for that, the fair price point earns it another point over similarly equipped routers. The Makita’s 6.5A variable speed motor will produce great results for all types of aluminum lower receivers. While it lacks an LED work light, the collet is oversized and remained tight through our testing. The gear type depth adjustment was easy to maneuver and lock, which we liked. Rating: 9/10
Porter Cable 450 – A large and powerful router with LED work lights. DeWalt and Porter Cable are manufactured under the same parent company. This Porter Cable offering is virtually the same as the DeWalt DWP611, but lacks the variable speed option. Like the DWP611, it carries a hefty price at $119. While the Porter Cable 450 is a heavy-duty router, for the price, we would recommend one of the smaller and more feature rich routers. Extra points were deducted due to the high price-point. Rating: 5/10
Porter Cable PCE 6430 – All the makings of a great router including an LED work light, and priced right at $99. But the PCE 6430 one falls short on motor power (4.5A) and the variable speed option which we must reiterate is a must-have for milling aluminum of different types. The screw-type depth adjustment the DeWalt and Porter Cable routers feature is hands down the easiest and fastest design of the routers tested. If Porter Cable is your brand, opt for this guy’s big brother, and one of our top choices, the PCE 6435. Rating: 6/10
Porter Cable PCE 6435 – Our favorite router, only equaled by the DeWalt DWP611. At $129, it is one of the most expensive routers tested, but for good reason. This router has it all. Sufficiently powerful 5.6A variable speed motor, solid construction, LED work light, and screw-type depth adjustment collar. The Porter Cable PCE 6430 is visually similar to the PCE6435, but lacks the variable speed option with a less powerful 4.5A motor. While the PCE 6435 isn’t the largest router, it has a nice weight and ergonomics for long periods of use which may further elevate it above the DeWalt DWP611 for some. Rating: 10/10
Rigid R2401 – This router scores points because it is widely available at your local home improvement chain and packs a ton of features. However, the depth adjustment and collet can be finicky at times. For $129 we’d recommend the Porter Cable PCE6435 or DeWalt DWP611 instead. The 5.5A variable speed motor, LED work light and sturdy construction could make this router a winner if extra care is taken to ensure the depth adjustment and collet do not come loose while milling. It seemed the depth locking clasp didn’t like to lock, and the collet required an unusual amount of torque to keep it tight. Rating: 7/10
In summation, take this recommendation for what it is. It’s rooted in facts, but laced with opinions. If you already own one of the routers listed that scored poorly with us, you don’t need to run out and buy a new router. At the end of the day, we tested and used each of these routers for multiple milling processes with good results. Variable speed is the most important feature for us, anything else is merely a bonus. If you’re a novice user and don’t feel comfortable with carefully controlling the material feed rate, some of the non-variable speed options may present challenges and less than ideal finish results. Milling carelessly with overly aggressive speeds can also increase the opportunity for end mill tool breakage. If you would like helpful hints and advice please do not hesitate to contact us directly for more in-depth instruction.