Whilst the Bosch RA1181 is unlikely to win any awards for high-end design or innovate features, it covers all the basics admirably. It’s an open style, benchtop router table made from quality components, with a good sized tabletop plus an excellent fence, giving you two of the main advantages of larger router tables in a compact, portable form and at an excellent price too. If space is at a premium and you’re looking for a dependable workhorse of a router table to get out and clamp to your bench each time you use it, the Bosch RA1181 should be right up there on your list.
The router table itself is constructed from two heavy-gauge ABS plastic sides with a front fascia panel topped by a cast aluminum table top. The plastic sides help keep the weight down since this router table is designed to be moved around the shop/taken on site and once assembled the whole table is remarkably sturdy, especially if you screw the table sides to a piece of 3/4″ ply – the feet have holes specifically for this purpose.
If you want a cabinet-style router table, you could go one stage further and build your own ply cabinet and bolt the cast aluminum top to it, as $159 is a pretty good price for a cast aluminum top and fence plus all the other included components even if you didn’t use the side panels. Bosch’s own cabinet-style router table, the RA1171, doesn’t have the aluminum table top, so this is an easy solution if you wanted both.
When looking at any kind of router table, benchtop or floor standing, one of the most important feature to look for is the size and stability of the tabletop because the larger the tabletop, the more stable the work surface that it provides. With a wide tabletop you have a larger area on which to rest the workpiece as it is fed onto the cutter and out the other side, which stops it from wobbling. This results in a better finish to the cut and is much safer – trying to feed a long workpiece onto a small tabletop can be quite a struggle and means you are concentrating more on holding the stock steady than actually making the cut. This is particularly important with longer workpieces.
The Bosch RA1181 features a generous-sized 27-inch long by 18-inch wide tabletop which is as good as you get for a benchtop model (where portability is a competing factor). By comparison the Kreg PRS2100 has a 24″ by 16″ top and the Bench Dog 40-001 ProTop, which retails at almost double the price of the Bosch, is 22″ by 16″. The RA1181’s tabletop is made from cast aluminum which increases the rigidity and the surface is rough-ground which means that the workpiece slides across the tabletop much more smoothly – the smoother you can feed the workpiece onto the cutter, the better the finish.
An additional benefit of any kind of metal tabletop is that it is not subject to movement or swelling as a result of changes in the weather – tabletops made of MDF can move slightly as humidity changes.
With the majority of quality router tables, the router is mounted on a removeable baseplate (mounting plate) rather than directly to the tabletop, which makes it much easier to mount the router to begin with and then simplifies changing the router bit. You remove the baseplate from the table with the router still attached from above the table which gives you much better access, rather than having to do it from underneath.
The Bosch RA1181 comes with a cast aluminum removeable baseplate and being made from cast aluminum means it won’t sag as a result of leaving a heavy router hanging from it, which you’re likely to do if you do a lot of router table work. It has a total of 8 adjustment screws – one for each corner and each edge, which allows you to mount the plate perfectly flush to the table top – essential for quality cuts.
The mounting plate is also pre-drilled to accept a large number of popular routers (not just Bosch models) which is much better than drilling your own holes as you know the router will be exactly centered. The down side is that it has that Swiss cheese look about it and the redundant holes will collect dust and chippings.
You also get a set of 3 mounting plate insert rings which gives you the flexibility to use larger panel bits as well as small profile bits – that’s better than a lot of more expensive router tables that only supply you with one insert ring as standard. The mounting plate also has twin engraved scales that make it easy to line up the fence and keep it square to the table top/miter track.
Can I Use the Bosch RA1181 with a Router Lift?
The mounting plate on the RA1181 measures 9″ x 12″ which is not a standard size. Most manufacturers use the standard 9-1/4″ x 11-3/4″ except for Bench Dog who use 8-1/4″ x 11-3/4″. The majority of router lift manufacturers produce their lifts in both those sizes, but unfortunately nobody makes one for Bosch. The end result is you won’t be able to use a router lift with the Bosch RA1181.
If you own a Bosch 1617 series router and you want the convenience of above-the-table height adjustment you can get the Bosch RA1165 Under-Table Router Base. It’s a replacement base for the 1617 series routers, not a router lift, but it does give you above-the-table height adjustment for $44.99 which is about 10% of the cost of a router lift. The mounting plate comes pre-drilled with a hole that allows access for the adjustment wrench.
If you own one of the other routers that fit the Bosch mounting plate and also feature above-the-table height adjustment like the Porter Cable 892 and 895 and the Milwaukee 5615 and 5616 routers, it will be necessary to drill an access hole yourself. It’s not difficult to do but you need to be aware that it’s not set up right out of the box.
What's In The Box?
As well as the cast aluminum table, you get a lot of features for your money: an excellent 4-7/8″ by 25-1/8″ aluminum fence with adjustable MDF face plates (see below for a detailed examination of the fence), removable aluminum router mounting plate with 3 different sized insert rings, pre-drilled to accept all popular routers, 2 adjustable featherboards, large dust extraction port which accepts standard 2-1/2″ hoses and a heavy-duty 15 Amp switch with two outlets and overload protection
The dual-outlet switch mounted on the front of the router table is a very nice touch, especially on a router table in this price bracket.
The Bosch RA1181 is supplied flat packed and needs to be assembled but comes with full instructions, and it takes around two hours to do. Once assembled we recommend you screw it permanently to a piece of 3/4″ ply for increased rigidity and easy clamping to your bench. Clamping the ply to your bench means you can tighten in down as hard as you like without worrying about cracking the table’s heavy-gauge plastic feet.
Overall the RA1181 finds a good balance between portability and usability – weighing in at 30 pounds makes it light enough to comfortably move around the shop or carry to site but gives it sufficient heft to make it good and rigid in use, especially when clamped to your bench.
The Bosch RA1181 is a great (probably the best) router table for its price range. Currently priced at $159 puts it in the middle of the price bracket between the cheaper SKIL and Craftsman router tables and the considerably more expensive benchtop tables such as the Kreg PRS2100 which retails at $361.